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!

The King’s Way: Science, Multiplicity and Nature as an Artwork

I’ve been trying to say something useful about Goethe this week, which is a tough thing to do with a writer who was used for nationalist purposes ever since his youth in pre-Napoleonic Germany. When my father left Germany in 1952, his father gave him the collected works of Goethe as a portable homeland, so he would remember who he was. He gave it to a young German woman he met on the boat across the Atlantic, as he didn’t want anything more to do with all that. She gave it back to him forty years later — seemingly, still unread. Within 24 hours, he gave it to me. He didn’t want it. I put it on a shelf. Maybe I’d read it someday, I thought.

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Goethe’s Forest Hut, Ilmenau

One of the major tourist shrines of the romantic age, right up there with Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Burg Frankenstein and the Castle of Chillon.

For most of my life, I thought little of Goethe. There were translations of his poetry, of course, but they were silly romantic things that he wrote in Strasbourg, which were translated by ultra-conservative American poets in the 1970s: oddities, more than anything. But then I went on The Road in 2008. The Road? It’s best you saw for yourself. I’m not talking Kerouac here. Let me show you a section of the road outside of Marienstern Cloister in Saxony. When the Road was first constructed (grew up out of a donkey path, is more like it), it was the only thing of its kind, so it was just called “Die Strasse”, or the road. It stretched from Santiago de Compostela to Minsk.

P1150250_2The Road

The trees are to give shade to foot travellers, and to give fruit at the same time. You could increase the efficiency of communication several fold by this simple ruse.

As it passed through Germany, The Road was also known as The King’s Way, the via regia in Latin. In one sense, the term refers to “the road that the king maintains for the sake of communication, war and economy (mostly the latter,)” but it also means “the right of the king to cross country at his own will,” and “the king’s right to increase the productivity of his kingdom (his self) through artful intervention”. What the road crossed was something ancient, from which the king’s right to rule was derived: the German forest. Here’s a little glimpse of it:

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The German Forest from the Window of Goethe’s Forest Hut

Goethe had a habit of deriving inspiration by plunking himself in the middle of physical space. We might refer to this as “a nice view from a writer’s retreat,” but if we do we might remember that Goethe invented the idea, and he did so for something other than individual purposes.

The idea of The King’s Way and the right of kings comes from the old aristocratic world. The term “aristocratic” is much maligned these days, largely because of abuses which the Enlightenment sought to correct with revolution and the championing of important notions of human liberty and universal human rights and dignity. Those are important things. In Germany, though, one of the major Enlightenment figures was Goethe. He did not believe in revolution. He believed in translation. He saw the aristocratic world fading away. He worshipped Napoleon for a time, but he also witnessed the Rape of Weimar in 1806 after the defeat of the Prussians above Jena. He sought a better way. What actually happened was this:

Windknolle

The Wind Knoll, Napoleon’s Battlefield in Cospeda, above Jena

The pillar is said to be the point at which Napoleon directed the battle (it isn’t.) The bench is for admiring the view. The tracks are because for nearly fifty years the Russian Army used this site as a tank practice ground, reenacting Napoleon’s battle to hone their mechanized warfare tactics.

Goethe was one of the few men in history to receive an education exceeding that of princes, with the express goal of running a princedom for a prince (or, in his case a duchy for a duke.) At the same time, he was an early romantic writer, whose work was seized upon by early German nationalists as proof of an individual German spirit that could justify the formation of a German state and in the absence of any German identity form one around itself. The idea was to prevent the adventures of any future Napoleons. This abuse was murder on Goethe’s writing and on his soul (his great play Faust, about a Doctor of Philosophy who makes a pact with the devil to receive all the knowledge in the world in exchange for his soul), but the tension between Goethe’s life as one of the last courtiers, as one of the first modern men, and as the cynically-applied cipher for the country of Germany itself (a fate he shared with Luther, but that’s a different story) led him to try to resolve the tensions in a form of science that carried the old aristocratic world forward into the technological present. One of the ways in which he did this was this:

P1150052Goethe’s Garden House, Weimar

And some fine East German Communist re-purposed water line bridge work, too.

From an aristocratic perspective, Secretary of State Goethe has a perk, a kind of country estate in a park he constructed out of a collection of water meadows on the Ilm River. From a modern perspective, though, Goethe installed himself within the park as an embodiment of the spirit of the state, right in the middle of a refined version of this:

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The View from Goethe’s Forest Hut above Ilmenau

Time is not clockwork in this world view, and space is not measured by civic plans. Rather, civic plans are measured by their relationship to space. Welcome to Goethe’s invention of the modern age through the recreation of the pre-Medieval one.

Goethe had a fine townhouse up the hill above his garden house, yet it is the garden house (and its extension of the aristocratic hunting lodge-poet’s forest hut connection into civic space) which he wanted to be remembered by, along with his scientific articles on light (which I discussed yesterday and the day before). Why? Well, because of this …

P1150041Dawn on the Ilm River, Weimar

… and this path from that water to his garden house …

P1150040Park on the Ilm, Weimar

Well, before we answer flippantly, that Goethe was just another garden variety romantic, remember that he loathed the romantics, and before we answer flippantly as well that Goethe was just another garden variety royalist, remember that we are in East Germany, and the hard-headed East German government chose to preserve this point of privilege, and, I promise you, they were pretty bloody-minded about stuff like that. It was preserved in the most modern state in the world (Yes, East Germany. It was a jail, but very modern as well.), in the Republic of Farmers and Workers, because it was the king’s way. Germany is kind of complicated.

greenman

The Green Man, Königsbrück

The pre-modern German forest man who became a symbol of 19th Century German Nationalism. In other words, this is Goethe Version 1.0.

Goethe’s attempt to recast the modern world on the same foundation in the forest that gave birth to the old aristocratic one speaks of a choice: one is either of a place, in the full depths of its time, and extends all of its past forward into the future, or one is not. Like Goethe’s Faustone must choose (In Goethe’s sense, one must choose the most complete path over the one that sets completeness aside for expediency.) It is not, however, a choice between the Green Man …

P1130704_2 The Green Man, Schönefeld

… and the Green Man …

P1130702_2The Green Man, Schönefeld

… and the Green Man …

bismarck

Bismarck.

Leafy moustache and all.

Those are symbols only. Goethe wanted modern men to be the Green Man. Even the East Germans didn’t give up that idea.

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Proletarian Picnic Tables in the Aristocratic Pleasure Garden of Schönefeld

These are strange choices to Western imaginations (and, believe me, they unsettled me completely when I confronted them in No Man’s Land in the Fulda Gap on my way east and then again and again every day I went further into the country), but that’s only because two World Wars were fought to obliterate them (after the cynical ways in which they were abused by German military and political elites), and did, to all peoples except the Germans. The rest of the world shed German nationalism by turning away from Himmler’s SS. The Germans shed it by turning to the king’s way.

goethehausCrowds at Goethe’s Town House, Weimar

Goethe served wine all night to French occupying troops here in 1806, to keep them from burning his books and furniture to roast stolen chickens. Now people queue for this most important of German shrines.

The king’s way is, in a sense, the old aristocratic method of governance, through poetry. Each of the nearly 2000 German-speaking princedoms that made up the Holy Roman Empire in Middle Europe was governed on the principle of a poem. It was this which the poet Goethe tried to bring forward, in his transference of aristocratic privilege to democratic rights and responsibilities (such as the Park on the Ilm) an in his science. There is no reason on earth that science must be one monolithic project, based upon one approach, and no reason why it must be pursued according to one principle of procedure and logic. What Goethe proposed was that it be pursued in the multiplicity we know today from poetry (where the principle survived and from which the aristocracy learned it in the first place,) an energy in which each scientist was pursuing a different but parallel method, which fit together not because they broke with tradition but because they extended it and used tradition, not individual perception, as the touchstones for authenticity. This is why Weimar is now the heart of German Classicism, and why Goethe’s Weimar, a creative city of intellectuals and writers who shaped modern German consciousness, is the foundation stone of the German Empire of 1871, the Weimar Republic (note the name) of 1919, the postwar German Association of Communities (West Germany) and the post 1989 country of Germany. In Weimar, that looks like this:

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The Roman Villa, Park on the Ilm

In Weimar, anyone can walk through a painting made out of living things on a living earth, walk deep into the past, and meet it, living in his or her own present.

This aristocratic vision brought forward into the new industrial, bourgeoise age is one of the faces of German communism. To most East Germans, it worked itself out more like this:

schreber 2

East German Garden House, Jena

It was in the crucible of these houses that East Germans eventually brought down their totalitarian state. Along the way, they produced most of the fruit and vegetables in the country, something which the government was less interested in pursuing.

Across the street from this garden house, is this:

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Goethe’s Poem The Erl King Set to Stone (Music by Schubert)

In Germany, Nature is an art form. There is no such thing as wilderness, or wild life, but there is a continuum that extends back to the primeval forest that was the crucible of the Germans as a people, to Wodin, the pre-Christian god of the North (for some), to the Celts (for others) and through Christianization to the Garden of Eden, which is the intersection of eternity and time. In other words, as the Germans show by having given themselves to it entirely, the entire concept of Nature is an art form. So too is the science they built upon it. Goethe knew that better than most. This is not, by the way, something you can take a democratic vote on. What you can vote on is stuff like this:

green

The Jena Green House Cooperative, in its Post-Communist Days

But the barbed wire remains. One has to take these things down piece by piece. There’s not enough energy to do it all at once. In its prime, this greenhouse provided hothouse plants for the garden plots of Jena, in an atmosphere much like a rectal exam. You can vote on rectal exams. Sometimes the way to vote is to build a garden house.

Why is a man of the grasslands of Western Canada writing about Goethe? Not because I want to, I can tell you that, what with my family background and all.  Rather, because on the Road my identity was burned away and reforged. Because when I came back, I was a new person, if you could say I came back at all. Because Nature and Wilderness are used as the foundation stones of all of Western Canadian culture. Our science and our politics and our civics and pretty much everything else are predicated on the eternal independent viability and life-giving force of this thing called “Nature” and “Wilderness” and “The Wild”, but that’s nothing more than a time-photograph of colonization of a landscape created by and cared for by peoples, such as the Syilx of my valley, who treated it much as the Germans treat theirs. The “wilderness” that Canadian settlers found here was not wilderness at all, but an artistically created space. Rather than drawing on the energy of the natural world, for the last 150 years they have been drawing down on the human capital of just such a project as Goethe supported, and it doesn’t work. It has led only to environmental poverty. There is almost nothing left, and the remaining capacity of the earth to support the people of this place has been reduced to a few simple elements, corresponding to the natural laws of non-Goethean science, without space for humans, while the real solutions are invisible. There are few lenses that allow us all to get outside of this world view, but Goethe offers one. That he offers a form of science that, although created 200 years ago, is still more cutting edge than the cutting edge, is a bonus. All the nationalist rot that accompanies Goethe is just the stuff that drove him half mad. But that’s a different story.

Tomorrow: political realities and ethics.

 

Pollination Dance

When one insect …

P1380650 … crawls, buzzed on nectar …

P1380652…out of a mariposa lily and flies off to the next flower …

P1380653Zebra Wasp Takes Wing

… another insect that was over on the next lily …

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Sweat Bee Gathering Pollen

… is not far behind. And when she’s gone, if you go over to the lily just up the hill…

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… and the one just to the left of that …

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Crab Spider, Waiting for a Nectar Lover

… you may find you’re not the only one waiting. Not to worry, there are other flowers, with other insects, all flitting between the same 200 flowers (except maybe that one with the spider… best to take a pass on that)…P1380694

 

Tiny Grey Bee (about 1 cm. long)

Of course, some bees are not grey, or neon green, or yellow. Some are as black as ants.

blackbee … and some flowers are, for the moment, without visitors.

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There are just a few days for this every year. Out of them is made the next year. That’s the kind of planet this is. Everything else follows.

 

 

Temporal Photography … With Cool Insects!

I was reading Prefix, a classy Canadian photo magazine, and there it was: a discussion of photography that wasn’t locked in time, but which presented lengthy images of particular views, rather than ones at 1/125th of a second. Wow, I thought. I could try that! So I lugged the forty-year-old tripod out into the garden, dealt with the legs falling apart and the clamps dislodging and falling apart to little bits of mysterious plastic (one is still not working, sigh) and set it up as best I could, given that it’s now a bit of a cripple, and… well, magic happened. I’m hooked. I love this kind of photography. We could set stuff like this up on a wall, and have it go for hours and hours. We could loop it, and it would go for days. I think it’s endlessly beautiful and fascinating. I’d love to see a gallery full of these things! I’ve put the shortest of my experiments below … see how many insects you can count, from miniature bees to spiders, to wasps and hornets, and other things that zip and hum. I recommend watching this with your sound turned down. There’s a lot of noise on the street, and your hidden gardener trimming his hedge… a bit hopelessly noisy. It’s better without the sound, I think. Have a look.

So, what do you think? A great way to document which insects are hanging around (that wasp was spooky!), or something more than that?

This is the Best Day

The future starts today. The Tsilhqot’in people have been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada as having title to their own land. It has been a struggle lasting over 140 years. For those of you who might not know the background, the northern part of Oregon, the former British colony of British Columbia, more lately the westernmost province of Canada, never settled treaties with one of the most complex assemblages of indigenous peoples on the planet. Instead, it just took their earth and made it into a new thing: land. Now it has given an important piece of it back and, better yet, accepted the Tsilhqot’in, the ancient trading people who (back when Egypt was just beginning to organize itself) brought obsidian, ochre and flint to most of the North West and into the Great Plains, as a fellow level of governance. Our roads still follow the ancient trading trails, and, finally, we can build a country together. Here’s the news in full:

http://aptn.ca/news/2014/06/26/supreme-court-hands-tsilhqotin-major-victory-historic-ruling/

I gave my heart to this country years back, when Canada was moving into its cities. Out in the Chilcotin (as the region shows up on maps), the stars are different, wild, untamed and almost audible, and the lakes, well, they look like this:charlotte3

Charlotte Lake

This is the Illahie, the homeland. Whatever British Columbia, the government, or Vancouver, the city, is going on about, well, today, that all changed. 

I sing my joy to the skies.

 

Don’t Think So Much. Stay Awhile Instead!

As a writer, I’m pretty used to changing points of view. For instance, we could have another look at that line by reading, “The guy with the grey hair and the green eyes is pretty used to changing points of view.” As a poet, I’m even used to going further and switching it up even more, to read a difference between that and “The man with the grey hair and the green eyes is accustomed to changing points of view,” but the earth teaches something else. As that green-eyed guy we met above might have said twenty years ago when his hair was blonde, “Oh, look at the beautiful red hill.” Look:

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Painted Hills, John Day River Valley, Oregon

As the grey-haired guy might say, “That’s not a hill.” He’s right. It’s a human point of view that sees it as a hill. He might say (if he was feeling long-winded),”By gosh, it’s an old seabed melted by old seawater 100 kilometres underground as the pressure of the weight of the continent thrusting above it lowers the temperature of the evaporation of water but not its energy exchange characteristics; under pressure the seabed vents to the surface in such fine particles that it resists all water absorption and can’t support life and proves remarkably impervious to erosion. In other words, this is what clams look like 100 million years (or so) after they were clams.” We might. It would be pretty cool (and awfully long-winded, which would kind of offend our poet friend, that young guy with the kick in his step.) We might say, “This is the red blood of the earth.” We would be right. If we were the earth, though, we wouldn’t say a thing. We would be our energy and presence, without a narrative. The narrative is a human point of view. Outside the narrative is energy. You’ll never get there (the trying is instructive, though, plus fun), but you can get close. You can get to this, which is the way that energy registers in the human… (heart, mind, spirit, soul, it’s not overly important what you call it.) To get there, don’t look, exactly. Feel this:

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Be it. And then don’t drive away back to your ‘life” unchanged. This is your life. And if you don’t know where to go then, good. You’re ready to sit down and talk to strangers.