Earth Talking: The Language of Science Part 4

There are many ways to talk about the earth. One is to speak about it in its own terms. Take the word height, which means hill and head all at once. It’s related to the word stick, which means point, and gives us spear, tip, spike, spit, stalk, stake, and so on. All these “meanings” branch from the same root, which is a sense of rising up in a manner both physical and spiritual at the same time.

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Height Attracts Height

American Gold Finch (with a head) on a Sunflower Head. Note that the goldfinch’s head has a head (tip, point, beak) of its own, as does its wings, as do its feet. It is all height. Is there any wonder it takes to the air?

These are ancient ways of seeing embedded in language, but still alive for all that and worth dwelling in for a moment. If, for instance, we add the word open to that height, we get a rowan tree, reaching for the light.

P1490467Rowan at Height

Note that it has reached past the light into the dark centre of the sky. This is an effect of a fall day (which places more light at the horizon than up high) and signifies the beginning of the tree’s new balance with light, with is commonly called Autumn or Fall. As the light falls to the earth, so do its representations on the Earth, the leaves.

It pays to state the obvious when speaking of the earth with the earth. Notice how the rowan above has leaves that open off of its tip (aka head, stick, stalk, prick or spike). They form about half of the volume of the stalk. They will be shed with the cold.

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Cold Rowan

Most of the leaves are gone.

The next year, the buds at the bases of the leaves (which are the year they have condensed out of the year and which they pass on to the next which is the same year again), will open and branch into other stalks (They have, in effect, the same independent life as the previous stalk — just rising from the ones that came before, that’s all. This, by the way, is not the same as passing time. It is growing time).

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Time, Growing

Note how it expresses itself at different heights and intensities through the differing bodies of different species, such as the saskatoon bush here,the yellow balsam root flowers, and the blue-green big sage.

Note as well that the word branches signifies a spiritual force, not the physical object (branch). The physical object is the record of the spiritual event, as much as it is an event, or presence, in its own right.

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Apples Hanging Off of Markers of Spiritual Events

This is what time looks like in the language of the earth.

This ancient conception, that trees branch independently of the endless, unbroken time in which they stand has long been superseded by clock time, as humans reckon these things. Nonetheless, we still use the words that identify trees with being itself: bough, branch, Baum (in German), and even bud are delineations of particular manifestations of the word being. Clock time or not, for any moment of being-with-a-plant on this earth, an experience of such time is invaluable.

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Point, Branch and Bud Intersecting with Gravity and Light in a Cottonwood Tree

Time.

The point of balance (the opening bud, or the previous year’s stalk following the light again) in any tree will move outward into the growing (i.e. rising in intensity) light. This point of balance is commonly called spring, a term which signifies life force itself (a spiritual term, not a physical one, it’s worth remembering).

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Staghorn Sumac Springing

Of course, the year is not all within its spring, and not all buds and branches drive upwards to a head. Others become lateral, and others hang down. This full expression of a tree’s being with light, gravity and memory (those branches) is driven by fruitfulness, in general, and the hormones laid down by gravity, specifically. You could thus call a rowan a plant that turns gravity into fruit.

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Fruiting Rowan

Each berry is both sun and earth at once. This is not a metaphor.

The fruit in turn bends the branches, which then collect more hormones and become more fruitful. You could say that this is a plant that mines gravity to reproduce. Here’s one that reproduces by harnessing the lack of gravity (the wind).

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Salsify

The plant force that expresses itself in such patterned petals (the entire branching force rising from one point) eventually closes and then opens again. It opens in the same energy as before, but transformed by branching. This is the spiritual power of the flower. It is not be underestimated.

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Salsify Ready to Catch the Wind

Soon there will be wind. Here are a couple of salsify stalks after its seeds have used the wind to escape gravity.

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Salsify, After Its Seeds Have Flown

For this plant, branching takes place at the core of the flower. Accordingly, for it time is not laid down in branches. It is laid down as an expression of wind.

So, there you have it, a small journey through an alternate form of language, which allows for alternate sets of observations about plants and environment than those of conventional scientific thinking. To restate the obvious, if we are to have living relationships with a living earth, such living language, built out of the processes of the earth itself, must be one of our tools.

Asparagus in Glory: Science and Language Part III

The other day I was discussing how the language of science influences the world that scientific exploration and method allows us to see. Behind that is the observation that if the language of science were fundamentally changed, the world that humans could perceive would be changed. I will be speaking more about the nature of such changes later in the week. For the moment, let’s work towards those observations step by step. First step, the lowly asparagus.

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Female Asparagus in Her Glory

Remember her from the springtime?

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So, that’s a pretty basic shift, eh! Each of the bud scales on the young asparagus stalk above will open into a fern stalk, which will open into ferns, flowers, and ultimately berries, seeds, and spiders.

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Which is the real asparagus? The white shoot, below the ground, that the Germans eat to honour life sprung from the dead land (a truly ancient practice)? The green shoot that Canadians eat to honour spring life? The fern? The spider? They are all the asparagus, of course. The entire cycle is the asparagus. Human time-biases, however, encourage human observers to label the plant by its best-known form, as food, such as these wild stalks I picked and brought home in the spring…

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Those are, however, no more than asparagus than is this…

P1490422 … or this …

spider1It’s an important point, actually. As humans, bound to time, we tend to see events unfolding along a line, from spring to fall, so to speak. It’s harder to see them opening up into themselves, passing through a set of stages (openings, really) , each of which holds the others in completeness, or at least in complete potential open to chance. It’s also hard for us to see individuals (such as this asparagus) achieving full life by becoming part of a community, as this plant does with its spider and the fly it has caught and the deer that grazes it in the spring (or the poet who cuts off one of its stalks for a spring dinner,) but it’s not that hard. In fact, once you’ve experienced the plant in that way there’s no going back — which suggests that it’s not hard at all. In scientific nomenclature, asparagus is classified, as are all plants, according to its origins, its descent from a primeval form. It could, however, be classified according to its ends, the point at which it reaches in completeness — its ability, for instance, to host spiders and attract the flies on which they feed. That particular classification system might not be terribly humanly useful, mind you. One, however, that classified it by the compounds in its berries might, and might give it such unexpected friends as apples, cranberries, bearberries, and so forth. In such a classification system, the harvesting of young asparagus stalks would not be seen as cutting a crop in its prime, but cutting it in a juvenile stage. The pressure to leave more of the plant for full, mature development would be strong under such a system, and environmental protection would be furthered … by nothing more than a chance of language. This is just one small example of what is possible, and what is currently being ignored. Without it, it’s no wonder the environment is separated from what it needs to survive.

Tomorrow: Varied forms of nomenclature and their benefits. After that, we’ll get into social effects of all of this, because humans, the social animals that humans love to speak of, are part of this story.

Ethnobotanical Knowledge: The Language of Science Part 2

Remember? Yesterday I pointed out that each of the plants below, although far apart in botanical class-action, share the power of redness, which arises at different points on each plant, stem, leaf and fruit, at different intensities, at different times, and in different ways. Here they are again.redsstuff

To refresh, the various points at which the colour red are manifested take on significance and can be developed into technologies. Two observations.

1. This was once common knowledge. Indigenous plant usage, especially medicinal plants, did not come about by trial and error. People could once read the natural world in its own language. In other words, they could read this with the ease with which people today read their smart phones.

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Staghorn Sumac (Female)

Have you ever wondered why universities don’t teach this stuff?

Most new pharmaceuticals come from harvesting substances found in indigenous plant materials, patenting them, and then marketing them. Think of it. The scientific tradition, with all its wealth and power can often do little more than refine discoveries already made, and then profit from them. I bet your local pharmacist would have difficulty reading the image above. Or this one:

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Staghorn Sumac Opening into the Light

2. The progression of plants into and through the colour red is much like the variations of plants themselves as they respond to different environmental zones. I used the example yesterday of two red osier dogwoods with degrees of redness differing because of their particular growing situations. Here’s the redder one:

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The redness of this plant is the result of shutting down photosynthesis — not because of a decrease of fall light, but because of a decrease of fall light in relation to leaves that have grown in great drought and heat. If the red appeared because of fall conditions in and of themselves, then the neighbouring red dogwoods wouldn’t look like this:

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These colour differences encode very specific differences in the efficacy of the medicinal compounds in these plants. Magic was once based on such readings, to various degrees of accuracy. Science largely set it aside. Pity. Perhaps these plants could all be classified according to their degrees of redness, rather than according to their genetic lineages. After all, there is nothing particularly special about genetic lineages. Their use as a classification system is purely random, yet has profound results. In terms of genetics, however, those red pigments come from common sources, and thus form very alternate genetic lineages of their own. What those are remains unexplored. That is an effect of language. If one says that the shape of a leaf and the manner of fruiting are the signifiers of a familial relationship, then it is so, and other relationships are seen as adaptations arising in parallel, but subordinately to the main genetic line. That might, actually, not be the case. Take, for instance, the lowly pinot (little pine) grape.

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Pinot Noir, Meyer Vineyard, Okanagan Falls

This is the wild grape of Southern France, which has thousands of variations, all farmed, and even appears with differently coloured skin (pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot auxerois), with all of their different flavour characteristics. This is not a matter of breeding. The genetic material of this ancient plant changes to fit environmental conditions. In fact, change is a major characteristic of the plant. The point here is that within the plant there exists a huge potentiality for variation, which manifests itself in different conditions. It is a lesson to remember when looking at any plant. Here are three variations of mariposa lily growing on Turtle Point in Kalamalka Lake…

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That’s not all. In most places where this exquisite grassland lily (and vital food crop) grows, it isn’t this colour at all. It’s usually white, but, well, not exclusively so, and not without variation…

mariposa

If you travel through the northwest, you will find the same thing with Indian Paintbrush, as it varies geographically from pinks in the John Day, up through whites and scarlets in the Columbia and the Methow, to crimsons in the Okanagan, deep crimsons, almost purple in the Cariboo, and Oranges up against the shield volcanoes in the West Chilcotin. If you travel across the land with a system of scientific nomenclature in hand, you will be able to record those differences, but you might just miss the story, that there are qualities in the land, and in the plants response to it, rising from an original potential essence, that are causing the changes, and that they show up in more than just lilies. If you travel with the system of scientific nomenclature, you might find it a little to easy to claim that the differences are the result of random variation. It’s the same thing, but it misses the answer to the question of why. People used to be able to answer those questions! They wrote them up in complication systems of spiritual belief, that looked like this sometimes:

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Part of a Reconstructed Map of Giordano Bruno’s Memory Theatre

All areas of knowledge are codified under the influence of various gods and astrological signs.

Sound Whacky? Sound like those rolled-up astrologies you can buy for a buck at the drug store and that look like candy cigarettes? Maybe, but the gallery of the Abbey of Saint Gallen in Switzerland, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and a top listed UNESCO world heritage site, is arranged precisely like this. And those were the monks who created handwriting and attempted to recreate the world as a book and thus restore God’s creation to its original form (Eden.) Putting all the religious stuff aside, they were trying to find a kind of ecological or environmental balance or unity. Aren’t we all.

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Sankt Gallen Stiftsbibliothek Source

There’s a bust of a goddess (Agriculture, Physics and so on) above each stack. The volumes in the stacks are not “books” but bound manuscripts.

Shakespeare was in on it, too. His stage was a room in which memory was organized in much these ways.

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And so was an alchemist’s workshop.

olaus worm bigger2 And so are early scientific collections. I’d show you the amazing ones in Gotha, but I lost my photos. This will do…

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Science is a continuation of this process of editing, collating and organizing. The how of the organizing is a language, and that language means that some things get spoken and others do not. This, for example, gets left out:

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Japanese Red Maple in the August Sun

I read the colour and the sun here, with the ability to reach deeply recessed parts of the human body and psyche that are probably codified on someone’s zodiacal chart somewhere and rejected as fanciful nonsense.

Of course, much of it is. A series of principles for sorting alternate spiritual systems out would be most helpful.

Tomorrow: Other organizations.

The Language of Science, Part 1

Look around. Earth in a bit of distress? Not quite looking up to her old self?

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Attention, Tractor Drivers! Snakes are Sacred, You Guys!

(Poor little baby bull snake meets the Seasonal Foreign Worker Program at the exact point at which it meets a vineyard road wider than most highways in most countries. Such freedom of movement! So seductive! So deadly.)

Words made it so.

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Words Did This

Vineyard wasteland after a rain.

Is the patch of earth above a dry landscape or a wet one? A hot one or a cold one? The questions are absurd. Only a long process of unattached abstraction hiding behind a veil of calm could create even the possibility of such a question. Here’s a small example of what it looked like before its transformation (note: this is a transformed landscape as well):

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God

aka Lichen on Dead Stalks of Big Sage.

I’m working towards an environmental idea. Just to be clear, I’m not advocating Christianity here (or arguing against it). I’m merely pointing out that there used to be a word for unity: God. For a lot of well-known historical and political reasons, most of which revolve around attempts to escape a history of people killing each other in the name of forms of prayer to this unity, this unity was put aside. The whole concept was awfully explosive 200 or 300 years ago in Europe, just as it is in Syria, Iraq and the Gaza Strip today. Sadly, though, the idea of interconnectivity was shelved with the personification of this force, as was the aristocracy that shared that personification. In all that, my words just above,

“unattached abstraction hiding behind a veil of calm”

are one definition of God that survived the collapse of the unity of faith and politics in the West. It survived because it was taken up by the new technicians of the sacred: physical and theoretical scientists and their technicians. Out of it, given enough time, they have made stuff like this:

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Vineyard at the Rise, Vernon

People believe in the romance. They pay big bucks for it. The reality is that of a near mono-cultural assembly line. Or a laboratory.

Well, no surprise that it worked out like this, I guess. It never really was a definition of God, anyway, or an honest one of unity, for that matter, just a mirror image of the monks and nuns who worked it up in the first place — an idea made in their own image, too, to top things off.

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The Monastery of Maulbronn

Self portrait by monks, or Unattached abstraction hiding behind a veil of calm.

God himself? He can’t be defined. You can just point and make some kind of physical noise or gesture. Here, I’ll show you:

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God

No, not the grasshopper, and not even the entire scene of grasses, stalks, stones and clay. Not even the air around them. Not even the bonds of energy that are holding all this together. You can’t make an image of God, that’s the thing. There he is, yet not what you are looking at or what you can describe. He is nothing and everything, whether you ‘believe’ in him or not.

This drove early scientists bonkers. Responses varied. Some said there was no God at all. Others saw God everywhere, as a presence (never as that pesky nothingness and not-there-ness noted above.) The first group held that the earth was a collection of blind, mechanistic physical processes, combined by chance. The second group held that, well, that grasshopper is God, really, but along with everything else. Then that bunch went off to see how he put everything together as a collection of blind, mechanistic physical processes, combined by chance. There was a lot of truth in what they found along this path, but, still, nobody asked the grasshoppers what they thought about all this.

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That’s probably because grasshoppers don’t think. They are fully present instead. To think, you have to stop being present. You need a bit of distance. Either that, or you have to be continually present, as these aspen leaves are, glowing in the sun.

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Not with Sun, In the Sun.

Sometimes the old words are best.

The net result of all of this struggle against a God that didn’t exist was a concept almost universally taught in schools in the West. I’m pretty sure that you have had it drilled into you wherever and whenever talk got around to poetry or writing. It’s called metaphor. It says that things (including God and the sun) aren’t what they seem. I know, I know, Wikipedia begs to differ and, in fact, here she goes, differing away:

metaphor is a figure of speech that describes a subject by asserting that it is, on some point of comparison, the same as another otherwise unrelated object.

Source

Of course Wiki’s right, the electronic dear, and a darned useful logical tool this metaphor thing of hers is, too. It allows concepts to be created out of thin air, and after that one can argue about them until the cows come home.

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Rodeo Performer Relaxing at Home After a Season on the Road, 150 Mile House 

How such a power tool is used, however, is vital. On this, I’m afraid Wiki gets thrown off her horse, to whit:

One of the most prominent examples of a metaphor in English literature is the All the world’s a stage monologue from As You Like It:

 

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
William ShakespeareAs You Like It, 2/7[1]

 

This quotation contains a metaphor because the world is not literally a stage. By figuratively asserting that the world is a stage, Shakespeare uses the points of comparison between the world and a stage to convey an understanding about the mechanics of the world and the lives of the people within it.

 

Source

Yes, (the bad writing of the passage aside), the rhetorical tool it describes is commonly agreed upon. In case you haven’t seen it in its raw form, here it is:

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The Western Mind, Ready for Work

It’s awfully handy. The passage, too. It displays a mighty fine bit of Shakespeare, and that carries a lot of cultural weight, but, well, you see, if the world were a stage, in God’s mind or even in the minds of men, women and children (Shakespeare had all of those in mind by the way), or in the mind, presence or being of this fellow …

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 California Quail in the Sagebrush, Okanagan Landing

Pit pit paKAh! pit pit, he says. PAH! PAH! Listen.

… then that metaphor would be less a way of cutting open a window into the world than of closing windows and screwing them tight. It would be directing its readers away from unity to a universe of secrets by means of a bit of sleight of hand (brazenly changing one thing for another and then using the simplified changeling in the place of a dynamically unified original.) Well, that’s an old philosopher’s trick for confusing opponents and getting them to concede, whether they’re right or wrong. It’s called “The Straw Man” and it was a favourite of my grandfather’s friends at the University of Freiburg in 1928, when they used to go out and fight on the streets and then come back to their friend the medical student and get bandaged up and sewn back together. I really don’t have much stomach for it. Here, let me try again. The following image shows what I think of this sleight of hand business…

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Bird1, as dissected by Bird2, on the Grey Canal Trail: a play in one act.

The pile of feathers represents what is commonly termed “Survival of the Fittest. The idea is that the force driving the differentiation of species into new species is the survival of those individuals with traits best fitted to circumstances, while others die out. Of course, it’s true. It’s just incomplete, that’s all. Thousands of species are going extinct today due to activities of what is not the fittest species on the planet, just the deadliest. The frame of mind that might see these (self-defined rational) humans as the most fit is the same that might render birds into abstractions in the first place.

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Three Red-Tailed Hawks Hunting Together Above the Vineyards

Not abstractions. Not Buteo jamaicensis.

 It’s a strange kind of fitness, after all, that sees a species destroy not only its own habitat but that of most other species at the same time, and all at while it translates living birds into sets of classified ideas. What arrogance made men believe that birds had anything to do with them, separate from the unity they share? Well, the idea of a non-physical, non-present God, for one thing, a God of thought and will, who made them in his own image, and so on. Well, crumb, but they missed something in the long trains of thought that led them to that handy conclusion, this:

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Red Dogwoods Just Beginning to Turn Colour

The delayed reddening is the result of receiving water and fertilization from a choke cherry tree, and shade as well. Here’s one growing in full sun, with far less water or shade, just a couple hundred metres away:

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Red Dogwood In the Sun

One species, delicately registering subtle environmental changes. That is a profound unity. Any concept of natural history or biological science, and any struggle for environmental protection, that doesn’t see that is, like most things in a human-centric world, centred around human struggles for social power. (Which is how the unity was smashed apart in the first place.) In the Shakespearean passage quoted by Wikipedia above, for example  (repeated below for your reading pleasure)…

stage… the important thing is not the passage’s playful mask of fiction and truth (although Shakespeare so loved to play with those) but that word “stage.” There is a particular attitude which reads “stage” as “theatrical stage.” A reading like that makes the whole passage a delightful fiction. Little fooling confusions between physical reality and appearance were de rigeur in baroque Europe (out of which science sprang). In the Duchess of Baden’s pleasure palace in Kuppenheim, between Baden Baden and the Rhine, for instance, insects and dropped playing cards were painted into the flooring, in the hope of making someone squeal and provide the opportunity for laughter. I haven’t sat down today to fool with Shakespeare, like that, or with you. I’m only using Shakespeare as a rhetorical wedge, to open up a discussion on a word, metaphor, that seems so obvious as to brook no comment, and I’m doing that to make a statement about the social relationship between humans and the earth. One of my main points is that a dissecting rational consciousness is not the only way of seeing the world (although it is the one most of us have been schooled in). There is, for example, another form of consciousness that looks like this …

buckThe Neighbours Up on the Hill

… and another like this …

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 Western Ground Squirrel, Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park

… and another which reads “stage” in terms of the world. In other words, to it the world is a stage and whatever a stage is, it is the world. This, for example, is a part of that stage…

crooked Abandoned Fenceline, Bella Vista

… as is this …

lines Weeds, Cut and Baled as Hay, Bella Vista

That’s an industrial apple factory in the foreground.

… and this …

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“Red Hill”, John Day River, Oregon

The appropriate way to read this stage is to walk it, with the body, not with the mind, and to respond to it as a body, not as a mind. The new cultural study called “Walking” is an attempt to codify these responses, using the human body, rather than the Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions, as ground zeros for Western readings of the world.

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Woman Meets Ancestor, Horsethief Butte, Washington

If you don’t walk, you won’t find her.

But there, I’ve gone on a bit much again, I fear. Maybe this will help: as humans, we have a tendency to read the play that is unfolding on this stage through the patterns of our own minds, which means that looking out through a couple trees over water and distant mountains automatically triggers thoughts of narrative, hunting, voyage, shelter, family, security and return. Perhaps, then, if my images above are just plain confusing, the one below will be more “framed” by the body, as a cognitive organ? (Yes, you read that right.)

charlotte3Charlotte Lake,  Chilcotin Illahie

Looking northwest over the Coast Mountains. How’s that looking to you? Like a stage? Like a good place to settle down and raise the kids for a few thousand years?

There’s yet another ready possibility for readings of the word “stage.” This one reads both stage and world as the same thing, plus it throws “theatrical stage” into the mix. In this way of thinking, Shakespeare’s theatrical stage is a rather wooden version of the one that, today, is called the Earth. It even includes the ecosystem of the actions of people upon it, their intentions, their readings, and their joys and sorrows, as part of a whole that is larger than they are.*

*This is one of the definitions of poetry, a method of merging body and mind that contemporary culture avoids at its peril.

P1480706The Stage

(aka Late Afternoon Boats on Okanagan Lake) Note: NO metaphor involved.

I don’t mean to put all the important stuff into captions, so let me say that again: there is no metaphor in this kind of consciousness. To it, metaphor is just a tool, and when expanded to a properly viewable scale that looks like this:

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Metaphor, With Its Masks Off

I’m not just slicing and dicing words. I think this difference between modes of consciousness is vitally important. To explore a little further a mindset that breaks a unified world up into a cognitively observed play covering a hidden, practical reality viewable only by the initiated (i.e. educated), I offer this image of an oregon grape in early July …

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 Kalamalka Lake Shore in Early Summer

Note how the so-called “Autumn Colours” have already begun. (Autumn: another word not really helping anybody out, is it.)

Now to get to the heart of the matter. A consciousness that sees Shakespeare’s words as less than literal is the one that created Western traditions of science and claims that the oregon grape in the image above represents something other than an oregon grape. What that ‘something’ is varies. If one were a poet caught up in such a mindset, it might represent, say, a stellar cluster in a cloud of gas. It would be something to admire, like a parlour trick, a little bit of a beautiful idea in a day, passed on and forgotten. If one were a scientist caught up in this mindset, it might represent Mahonia aquifolium. It might represent a key player in an ecosystem. It might represent Nature.

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Celtic Nature

Growing on the approach to a Celtic Hill Fort above the Rhine. You can be darned sure that to the Celts, this wasn’t “nature”. Each of the plants you see here, and even the soil beneath them, had deep spiritual significance. This was a book. But that’s a discussion best left for another day. I just wanted to show you what nature looks like (when seen by conquerors) as opposed to what it looks like to people who are indigenous.

In neither the mind of the poet who accepts metaphor nor the mind of the scientist who utilizes standardized tools of comparison in the place of metaphor, however, is the thing just what it is, without being cognitively transformed into an argument and into the forms of an argument (and remember, they are spun out of thin air).

greeneyesThe Oregon Grape and the Fly Are One

Now, of course unity is a difficult thing. In the mindset that sees Shakespeare’s stage as a metaphor, for  anything to happen unity must be broken. Otherwise, we’d all be standing still. (Interestingly, photography, the art form that rose up with technological science, sees everything as still.) See?

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Photography: Eternal Stillness

That is, perhaps, an illusion. It is easy to find movement and change within unity, as long as the cognitive point of view of a human observer is not at play. It could all be moving within movement, for instance, and together movement and movement are what the English language calls stillness; it could all be moving within the mind of God, and humans are all somewhere off in a corner with the other Great Apes, cracking nuts with their teeth; it could all be within the energy of the universe itself; and so on. Lots of ways of shaking it up. Intriguingly, images below were one of the class of ideas that led to the disparagement of God over the last couple of centuries (and the loss of a concept of unity with him):

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The Energy of the Universe Turning Okanagan Lake into Wave Forms

See those waves? That’s the effect of wind on the water. The wind in this region comes largely from two sources: from the turning of the earth, which is a function of the formation of the planet out of a spinning disk of gas in the early solar system, and from localized heating and cooling caused by the sun on the hills (and opposing slopes of cool shade.) When early scientists discarded the idea that this is the mind of God moving over the water, by pointing out that it was just the wind, they missed the fact that wind or not, it was still part of a unity at least as large as the solar system, and 4,500,000,000 years long, at least in this present iteration.

Point of view is an important tool. Scientific understanding as we largely know it is predicated on an individual human rational point of view. It could, in other words, be best understood as the working out of the possibilities of this point of view, just as the medieval conception of God was a working out of the lives of the medieval monks who cooked it up in the first place. The gaps or limitations in the world view of this scientific understanding are, thus, as much the limitations of this chosen anchoring point (the observing self) as anything else. Thing is, though, it’s not just an observing consciousness but a dissecting and systematizing one, too. It is a bit of a problem. Here, let me show you one small way in which this works.

P1480854 They’re not called red osier dogwoods for nothing! Now, a peach from my garden…

P1480963 They’re not called “Red Haven Peaches” for nothing! Now, a young staghorn sumac from up the road…

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On its way to full colour glory. Do you see how that works? No? Let’s try again. Tomatoes from my garden?

tomsYellow clover, maybe?
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Well, a ridiculous name, really, but at this time of year it puts on some mighty fine colour in its stalks. Now, in scientific nomenclature, these are all varied plants, with varied latin names, classified according to patterns of leaf and stalk and seed, to place them in what are called “families” but which are, actually, lineages of genetic material. This classification system is a powerful and useful tool, but it is not neutral. If these plants were classified as one related energy, based on the colour red, for example (and this is just an example), like this…

redsstuff… the various points at which the colour red were manifested would take on significance, in the same way that genetic markers take on in the science of metaphor, and would be put to use and developed into technologies quite different than the ones that come out of the traditions of metaphorical science. Such forms of classification were also a part of the Christian and aristocratic traditions before they were thrown away, and were relegated to the territories of art and poetry, and even to spirituality. Well, that was a long time ago and those art forms are lost, or nearly so, and the world is dying for the lack of what men and women once knew.

Tomorrow: Part 2. Alternate spiritual traditions and alternate forms of classification.

 

Geese are Smart

Geese are geniuses at being geese. We couldn’t do anything like it. We suck at being geese, but we are capable of recognizing goose goosiness when we see it.

P1480271Yet we put them in ridiculously small, crowded cages. Don’t have to. We could display them in a goose-friendly setting. We don’t. Our shame.

~

This is an image from the Interior Provincial Exhibition and Stampede in Armstrong, in the north of the Okanagan.

 

Ancient Stories Written in the Rock

At the bottom of Skaha Lake, where the Okanagan River once collected itself in a series of oxbows and reefs before dropping over the falls (a series of steep rapids), the point at which it first caught the current was here, at this stone dog. (In the trade jargon of the North West, by the way, “Skaha” means “Dog.”) Look at him below, crouched and guarding the red fish as they come up the throat of the river from the desert lake to the south, and the desert river below that.dogThe whole journey of the fish passes through hundreds of monoliths and water lines like this one, each with a name and a story. In Washington and Oregon, many have been drowned by massive hydroelectric dams. Some remain, like this raven at Celilo Falls.

ravenAnd the magical, shifting creatures carved by the wind out of the sandstone at Peshastin, which greeted Skaha’s sister fish as they swam up the Wenatchee River a century ago.

 

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But most are gone. Fortunately for all of us on the Columbia Plateau, the falls at Skaha Lake may have been drowned by an irrigation dam (a very low one), the fishing camp below them may have been turned into an expensive campground for tourists (no picnicking or rock-viewing allowed), but the dog remains, still. There is an abandoned rail line running along the shore behind the dog, an abandoned fence running up from that, and an abandoned highway above them both. Above them, and just to the north of the new highway, there is this figure …

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The colonial world has passed, and its people have largely left the land. The dog and the other ancestors are still here, as are their stories and the trails and waterways that are their lifeblood. Anyone can see them. Their story is not hidden. A thousand years from now, they can still be told.

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Okanagan River, South of Skaha Lake

This is where the salmon spawn. Note the ancestral face on the Gallagher Lake Bluff in the background.

This is a form of classicism, that belief that there is a cultural foundation that a culture can return to over and over again, to renew itself in its primary forms. When I was a child, a half century ago, that classical age was said to be the early 20th century, when the orchards were carved out in this land. This age was, in turn, based upon a reverence for the culture of ancient Greece (tellingly called “Classical Greece,” and which is still taught to our children in school.) Now, on Canadian national radio, classicism is largely a matter of following the careers of the pop stars of the last twenty years. It works just as well as a classical foundation, except that it produces a different world, one based upon individual gifts, celebrated, but not this…

bird

Ancestor Bird With Skull Eye, Peshastin Pinnacles

… or this…

eagle

Eagle, Palouse Falls

Whether one chooses the German poet Goethe as a classical figure (as the Germans do), or the career of David Bowie (as CBC Radio’s “Q” does) or the poems of Homer, the Icelandic Sagas, or the stone monoliths of the North American North West, one is doing the same act of reading oneself by reading that which lies outside of oneself. The only thing, though, is that the relationship to story, land, and people is different in each. For that reason, these things matter.

fallsAncestral Figures, above Okanagan Falls

These things also matter because many of the stories of the Plateau cultures of the Northwest got their start at the speed of a man walking from one place to the next and observing the shift in position of the landforms around him.

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Tricky Moving Mountain, Palouse Falls

The movement gives the mountain character and agency. It doesn’t matter if the movement comes from you or from the mountain.

This movement, with different characters coming into play with others, appearing in different combinations, disappearing completely, or only being visible at certain times of day, in certain qualities of light, is as much a foundation for narratives of the world as are the fictional forms mastered by Tolstoy in czarist Russia or the scientific ones taught at great expense in contemporary universities, but with very different relationships between people and the land around them.

moonset

Coyote Howling at the Moon (among all the other people), Palouse Falls

(Nicely coloured by peregrine falcons.)

Narratives can also be very easily dismissed. Here is an ancestor at Ellison Park, on Okanagan Lake south of my home in Vernon.

ancestor2

He fits into a story, no doubt into many stories, but can also be easily discarded as fancy by what is called a “scientific mind” and its notions of “reality,” which are, really, just notions of a form of classicism. The land is the land. The stories we make out of it not only make us, but make our relationship to the land, and if we’re going to save the land, that matters.

skaha

 

Skaha Lake, Looking North

(Our dog is on the far shore of the lake, about 500 metres to the left of the left boundary of the image. The rock formations in the foreground and in the centre right of the image are the same stone as both the dog and the falls, and if you walk around just the right corner, well, there’s your dog again.

dog-1We discard these wise narratives at our great peril. Discarding scientific narratives would also be perilous. Joining them appears to be a good idea. It’s too bad we didn’t do that long ago. Destroying these stories is akin to burning books. It leads to cultural poverty, and that leads to diminished capacity in the land itself.

 

 

Staring at the Sun

Can you eat the sun?

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American Gold Finch

Yes. Really?

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Elderberries, Okanagan Falls

Yes. Can you stand on the sun without burning your feet?

P1470992 Yes! Can you become beams of light?

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Yes. Of course. Can there be more than one sun?

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Red Haven Peaches, Okanagan Landing

Yes. There are many suns. Can the sun make a nest like a bird?

P1470855Arrow-leafed Balsam Root

Yes! Can time be stopped until the sun comes again?

P1470833 Yes! Can you stare at the sun for hours without going blind?

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Yes, you can! Can you pass the sun on to others?

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Greata Plums, Keremeos

Yes. Is this called “living”?

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Lady Bird and Dill, Okanagan Landing.

Yes, indeed. Is this called “dying”?

P1470768 Yes, it is. Is that a part of life?

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Red Osier Dogwood, Grey Canal Trail, Bella Vista

Yes, but not simply. Are the sky, the earth and the sun one?

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My Father’s Hydrangeas

Yes! Do you know the secrets of the universe?

P1470159My Father’s Hydrangeas

Yes. Does all this happen on earth?

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Malling Apple Rootstocks, Fruiting, Bella Vista

Yes! Is that what the earth is?

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Trembling Aspen

Yes. Is that part of the sun?

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Sailboats Riding Gravitational Winds, Okanagan Lake

Yes. We are living in the sun. Does that bring tears to the eyes?

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Onion Harvest, Okanagan Landing

Yes, it does. Is the wind a part of this sun?

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 Milkweed Seeds, Waiting for the Wind, Skaha Lake

Yes! Are we alone here?

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Black Wasp

(There are hundreds out today. This is their time. They look like queen carpenter ants.)

No! We are not alone at all.

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What is that? I don’t know! Isn’t that cool! Isn’t it cool as well that the force that makes this apricot leaf also makes this caterpillar?

P1480883And elderberries, too?

P1480640That’s enough to fill a life, it is. But if you want more, there are always grapes.

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And rowans peeking from the background.

Pity about the fence. On behalf of all humans, I apologize for that. Some of us are trying to do something about that, but humans are such frightened things, it’s a big task. Please be patient.

In the meantime, there is the sun, and sailboats riding on molten comets…

P1480727 … and nectarines!

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Would you rather a world made out of machines?

 

 

Environmental Poetics

If sun …P1480038

 

Trembling Aspen

… or shade …
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Jerusalem Artichoke

… were continuous …

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Saskatoon

… or even divided …

P1470919 … there would be no life.P1470912They act as a pump. They pump time…P1470842

Saskatoons in Summer Drought

… together …
P1470771 Staghorn Sumacs (Male)

… and bring fruit …

P1470490Star King Red Delicious Apples

… and allow the mind to see itself …

P1470473Summerland Red MacIntosh Apples

… out in the world.

N0000303.RAW Poplars, Mud Lake

Poetry was once the language that could mediate these energies. Environmental science needs its tools, because within it the body is the earth and the earth the spirit.

P1410986Blown Salsify

Just blow and the wind catches it.

~

In the next few days I’m going to try to assemble my posts that support this idea, to have something special for our 800th post together here.

 

 

Garage Sex, Okanagan Style

The marriage bed.

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Go away for 3 weeks and the neighbours move in, with each other on their mind. Madam came first.

Mrs.

Yeah, she didn’t pose very well, but there was all this, um, mosquito netting in the way of my lens, so I did what I could. Notice how she has learned to blend in with the black “Tuck Tape” background, to stay out of my way. She’s grown about 30% since I came back home. The gentleman arrived 2 weeks later …

mr

He’s about 25% of her size. The black sheets don’t help him. He is, as you can see, going for red, the colour of love. It’s a slow dance. Well, that’s what’s going around here with the black widows. How’s the action at your place?

Try This on Mars, I Dare You

Life in the sky…
bee…  vanishes (This is a form of ripening.)

subtleAt first it is nowhere to be found. Bones are everywhere. The sun has burnt everything away.P1470323Not everything. There are bee caves.

beecave

 

And this year will come again.

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Hang on!