Human Life Under the Sea

Water is mysterious stuff. So is air. Sometimes air holds up water.P1510849Sometimes water holds up air.

P1580801But there’s something else going on. Mud.P1590280What you’re looking at here is the bottom of a mud puddle. It has settled, on its own, after being driven through a day or so ago. It has frozen and thawed a couple times. Look at the patterns!  No person or animal has walked through this muck. Whatever is present is a record of physical forces. The mountains and craters below, too.

P1590285 The river valleys and a volcano and little bits of boulder that have settled in, probably after ice melted up above.

P1590290 Now, here’s what that looks like after 12,000 years, give or take.

P1590294Glacial Lake Penticton Lake Bottom The Commonage, Vernon

The cliff line marks where the bottom sediments were washed away when the ice dam holding back the lake broke.

Again? Sure. Here’s what the Okanagan Valley looked like on the day before the lake flowed away:

P1590288Yes, these images are taken through water. (There are still 300 metres of this stuff below the floor of the lake.)

Now, to return to my initial image, a sea of water above the grasslands and the lake …

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Bella Vista Hills, Okanagan Landing

Home Sweet Home! 

Here’s my observation: if a layer of water over the earth has amazing effects, such as the ones in the images above, what effects does a layer of air have? Might it not be similar? Well, I think it is. I think it looks like this:

P1590212 Melted Frost on Blue-Bunched Wheat Grass

I think it looks like this, too:

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Muddle Puddle Grass Seen From Above

Looking a lot like anemones in the sea.

See that ice around the grass? Just imagine it is air… see that? The plants  are using the atmosphere as a sea. They do it by internalizing some of the processes of the sea, while abstracting others and leaving some entirely. They are undersea plants. They are atmospheric plants, not earth plants. Here’s an ocean bottom apple orchard.

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It’s commonplace to note that plants left the sea long ago, as did land-based organisms such as humans. As I was walking through a grassland bright with drops of molten frost on the seed tip of every stalk of bunchgrass, I saw that we haven’t left.

P1580475Cat Tail

Don’t be fooled by the water. The plant is under the sea, but the water on its stalk is not the sea. In the ocean, sure, but in the atmosphere the sea is the air. Water is a sediment. Water is this stuff:

P1580702More Mud!

Imagine the layer of water here as air and the bottom mud as water, and the earth below it.

Water is pretty good at transferring energies and states. Look how it transfers the molecular energies of the freezing process to the mud it is blended with.

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If we weren’t at the bottom of a sea of air we would not witness these effects. They are, in other words, atmospheric effects, including the pressure effects of the depth of the air itself. This is what those effects look like. Even, ultimately, this:

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After all, the glaciers that ultimately formed these old post-glacial lakeshore clays are sediments from the air, which moved their water around and deposited it according to its own patterns. That cliff is, ultimately, a cloud, hugging the hill just like this:

P1580292And the lake? Well, since it is sediment, it is, ultimately, mud.

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Mud taking an image of the sun through the ridge line trees.

 

 

For the Love of Birds

My mother, who died a week ago on Sunday, did not like starlings. This was not because she did not like birds. She loved those. As a girl in the 1930s, she fed goats by bottle, scattered grain for birds, and marvelled at every living thing. In the 1960s, when my father got the idea of shooting sparrows for dinner, she put an end to that real quick. Stray cats found a home with her. Dogs, though, she had not much use for. They weren’t independent enough for her. No, with the starlings it was about the land itself, and social privilege. “Some confounded Englishman with no more sense than brains got homesick and brought the silly creatures over from England because he was homesick.” That’s how she put it. And it was an Englishman, actually, in Central Park, in New York, who did the deed. My mother, Dorothy, who grew up in a community of immigrants excluded from society by the Great Depression and left to fend for themselves in the woods, did not have much room for people who traded privilege for work. To her, work was life, not something that could be socially purchased. It was a way to defend yourself against the pressures of social privilege. It had an ethical dimension that exceeded individual rights. “Some Englishman, who was only in the country for two weeks and wasn’t a Canadian at all,” she used to say, as her way of bringing me up into the world, “could get any job he wanted, over a hard working immigrant with Canadian citizenship, who had a family to feed.” Well, that’s the way it was, and that was my mother’s objection: the land, and its people come first, before anything else at all. In other words, for my mother, the people and the land are one. The thing about starlings was not that they didn’t live well on the land, but that they took crops from the field and fruit from the orchard, that could have gone into her apron. They were a  tax, in other words, little different than that of the Canadian government itself, which favoured, as she saw it in her childhood and no doubt learned at the feet of her communist father, Englishmen over Canadians. Now, citizenship does not work out that way anymore, although maybe society still favours people of privilege over people living off the land and as the land or over new immigrants. At any rate, though, the starlings are singing today, in the poplars down the street.P1570578

When this land was converted from a Cowboy and Indian culture into a fruit-growing culture 116 years ago, it embraced two complementary energies: the energy (at least as society defined it) of men, who built waterworks, cleared sagebrush, planted trees, built packing plants, and so on; and the energy of women, who revelled in beauty, kept homes, raised children, and when the men died in the Great War, took over, still wearing their aprons. These were the roles that society gave to the two main human genders, and the relationship between them, the society that grew up into the one we know today, came from the interpersonal relations between these men and these women. My mother is not doing that work anymore, I’m sad to say, but I am, still, with her in my veins, and I’d like to make an observation today about the state of affairs after 116 years of love-making, if that’s what it should be called. It’s this: those starlings are killed by the thousands now, to keep them from eating grapes destined for ice wine for chinese billionaires. Maybe you can hear my mother’s voice in that bluntness? I can. This work is done secretly, but it’s done, and the wine industry’s success, and all its lake view bistros, have this mass electrified slaughter to thank for the romantic dinners for two, with a glass of sweet, fruity white wine, that drive this industry and draw tourists to it from cities far away. This compromise is our dirty secret. And what of the true wild birds? Well, there are still a few stalks of mullein here and there, in the weed land below the vineyards, for them to feed on in the cold.

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And there are thistles for those who prefer them, although the thistles are mostly immigrants too and pretty nasty to cattle, and since cattle are socially the affair of men in these parts, the thistles are usually poisoned with some pretty nasty stuff. Here are some poisoned, nasty thistles on land no one uses for anything except for the nasty poisoning of pretty thistles, and one blurry bird feeding, so to speak.

P1570557This is where the beauty of this land has come to, incredibly enough, out of the love-making between men and women. And what of those orchards, that were planted to support everyone together, and their children? Ah, here, you have a choice: either an industrial workspace for temporary workers imported from the Caribbean, paid wages less than I was paid to do this work thirty years ago, and with as much room for beauty as any other factory floor…

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… or here, in a peach orchard kept by a woman of my mother’s generation for as long as she could.

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These are tough choices, and they are both ruins: one a widow’s vision, without a husband to do the work anymore, and one a man’s vision, in a fruit factory that has no female touch. Fruit growing is considered an industry in these parts, but it never was that. It was a dream, a hope, a love, a making, a life. The “industry” side of the whole thing was there to support those values. Against the pressures of Canadian society, however, which demanded profit to be drawn from this love, those orchards and home and human relationships are no longer in balance. The houses below, my neighbourhood, were one of those orchards once, and children, no doubt, once learned the world by climbing the cherry tree on the right in the image below. For those kids, a house was a place to go into, from their life, and when they left that house they were home again. The children of today, however, seem to be learning to play in a house with a curly plastic slide: a fun thing, but with a serious end. They will be children of houses and play. For these children, the earth will be a place to go out to, from their life, and when they leave their houses they won’t be  like my mother, who was at home in the earth and was very, very clear about the work that that took.

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These are profound changes. As for men and women, a century ago they promenaded together in “Nature” on Sundays. Now they walk their dogs on the old industrial water canal of that age, the Grey Canal, of Earl Grey Tea fame. The canal is filled with gravel and lined with weeds, and offers convenient plastic bags and disposal barrels for every dog-walker’s duty.

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There’s something profound about this, about how my mother’s world has vanished as profoundly as she has, and at the same time. The land has been taken almost completely from what were defined as female values a century ago. I’m not sure that this has worked out particularly well. Against this loss, here I am, though, the result of this love making, still walking the land, for as long as I can. It’s that love I have tried to pass on here every day for more than three years now. The day I heard that my mother was in hospital, I was in Prague. I went out and watched this woman feed the city’s swans with a small mountain of leftover bread from her restaurant. Here she is with the last few pieces, although “bread” might be an understatement. That looks like Czech pastry at her feet, with honey-nut-poppyseed filling!

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We live the earth by loving it. Loving it together is best.

 

Planet of Fire

This is no ordinary planet we live on. I think it’s best to walk outside and take a look …P1550050

 

There are many flames, new and old, in this photograph of Middleton Mountain in Coldstream: the spill of lava across the cap of the mountain, too hard for the glaciers to take it away completely, and which drops water onto the fir tree near the mountain’s crest, the rising sun itself, the autumn aspens in their yellow and gold and the choke cherries in autumn red, the dried wisps of the rest of the summer’s trees and grasses, burnt away, the sun caught within the dead chloroplasts of the grasses, bouncing back and forth and amplified, the sky on flame with light and turning blue from agitation, and that fir tree, which is water drawn into the sky by heat and the tree riding along with it and rusting into green flame. Under it all is the rock, cold now, but still directing water and light in the channels of its old flows, which came from the sea bed diving deep under the land and giving off pressurized steam that dissolved the rock and sent it up in flame into the sky.

Deconstruction Deconstructed

Human society is what it is: a little crazy, a little aggressive, a little beautiful, a little fearful, a little boastful, a little shy, a little ugly, a little transcendent, and very much absorbed with its own affairs. That’s why it’s called “human society” and not something like “spiritual society” or “environmental society”or “the society of ants.”

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Not Human Society … Yet

Still, it’s good to keep in mind that this “human” thing is new and was grafted onto spiritual and aristocratic forms of society about 200 years ago. It’s good because it means that the term “human society” has nothing more or less to do with the great apes living within its constraints than did those preceding patterns of organization.

Great Ape at Play, Vernon Winter Carnival

What’s more, over time the freshness of humanism (the basing of social organization around the interests of one species of great ape) has become as commonplace as was once the deference of kings to popes or farmers to aristocrats and now looks just, well, everyday.

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Everything Normal at the Armstrong Fall Fair

In the late 20th century a group of philosophers in France cooked up a method of stopping this slide towards the commonplace, in the hope of keeping society in a continual state of watchfulness and revolution, or, if you will, because it was late 20th century France after all, résistance.

The Resistance at Work, Vernon

The classic form of resistance in French history is the partisan war waged against the German invaders and occupiers of 1940. For background to that, in the German Third Reich of 1933-1945 it was a dominant belief in Germany that every German knew more in his bones than any intellectual (meaning French or Jewish intellectual or educated type). He (only males were allowed to be German citizens at that time) just needed to think and brilliance would pour forth, accompanied by simple, clear solutions where others (such as those intellectuals and dastardly Frenchmen) saw only shades of grey and points of relativity and discussion.

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Hitler Wouldn’t Have Liked this Neo-Nazi Form of Resistance, Erfurt, Germany

The work of this group of Marxist philosophers, including such famous and brilliant men as Roland Barthes and Charles Lacan, is called deconstruction. It uses intellectual tools to dissect the commonly understood physical world into components, just as science does when it studies natural phenomena to reveal the structural forces at play in natural forces. Such deconstruction (dissection) is a task that can never end, because it is in the nature of humans to continually recreate this sense of everydayness, and to dull the deep historical patterns of the world with a patina of normalcy.

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In Canada, Plastic Flowers Stuck Into Lions is Normal

Yes, it’s weird.

Against this pressure coming from the deep, animal past of humans, the deconstructionist must remain ever vigilant, lest he be seduced by normalcy and let its bodily responses overwhelm his deeper, more highly-evolved and educated understandings.

Dead Oak Tree A Long Way From Home

University of British Columbia, Okanagan

It’s all a bit too much like 1930s and 1940s German dehumanization of Jews turned on its head for my tastes, but it’s immensely popular and fills most Humanities courses in the universities of the world today. The thing is, though, it might not be quite as universal as it claims to be. It might even be dead wrong, because of that sticky matter of it all just seeming a little too much like French-German mid-20th-century politics. Such a close correspondence should always be a warning sign.

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The Ruins of Mid-20th-Century Politics, Conconully, Washington

In other words, deconstruction might be dead wrong, because it might just have the wrong idea about humans at its root. It might be the result of sloppy thinking.

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Bad Thinking That Lasts for A Hundred Years, Vernon

I say this because I’m troubled about those Third Reich Germans who went around claiming to be a master race in a continent of so-called sub-humans (apes, such as Frenchmen or Poles or Jews, all given the name of communists for the simple reason that they weren’t German). These Germans (my ancestors among them) were surely a barbarous lot, but if there’s any chance that deconstructionism is built on the foundation of a resistance to them as the antithesis to civilized behaviour, then it’s just plain wrong. The Germans of the Third Reich no more represented primal, brute responses coming from, say, the reptilian brain, than do the actions and theories of, say, Barthes.

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British Columbia Back Yard Ornaments: Not Nazi

The Germans weren’t individual, common sense geniuses either. They did, however, certainly represent one response to mechanization and industrialization. The thing is, deconstruction was another. Whatever a commonplace human is or however such a person thinks has nothing much to do with these responses to industrialization or with the historically-fraught relationship between France and Germany, however terrible that relationship has at times been and however vital the force of resistance turned out to be.

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Canadian Street View: Neither Nazi Nor French, Okanagan Landing

In fact, it might not be possible to determine just what a hypothetical human might actually be like, because humans are always embedded in societies and draw much of their identity from their social and environmental bonds.

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Humans Often Prefer This Stuff to the Sun Itself, Okanagan Landing

What strange creatures!

If my observation is correct and my concern well-placed, then in its work of deconstructing the commonplace wherever it appears, deconstruction might very well be deconstructing humanity itself, from a sense of wholeness to a sense of assembled components, put together like scientific theories or cell phones on an assembly line in Singapore, tied together by a fragile unifying force called “an identity” or “a self”.

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Old Tractor Taking the Place of a Human

Humans love this kind of stuff. To them, it’s like looking in a mirror.

Doing so might be breaking the bonds between humans and the earth, and might be a very real reason why the earth is dying, why so much of it has been laid to waste, and why our younger generations live through electronic social devices. These devices and the post-humanist structural networks they enable are the physical manifestation of deconstructionist philosophy, just as the physical earth and the traditions of working within it cooperatively were the manifestations of “spiritual society” or an aristocratic one.

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Grafted Apple Tree in the Author’s Garden

In German, this process is called “Nobling”. Yeah, you get the picture, right?

If we look to ourselves we see the earth. If we look to the state of the earth we see the state of ourselves. Given that humans (and I am in this group, yay), draw a large part of their identity from the environment in which they were raised and the one in which they live (in complex ways deeply rooted in what is called commonplace, non-verbalized physical experience), the deconstruction of these bonds and their replacement with a limited set of tools for further continued deconstruction is deconstructing human relationships with the earth.

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The Golf Course at the Rise

Earth deconstructed in the same way that globalization is a synonym for Americanization, with is just a fancy word for the commonplace. A bit of a contradiction in terms? Why, yes, nice of you to notice.

The result is that the earth is invisible.

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Invisible Earth

One sees the shadow, not the stone.

The impetus behind all this activity is honourable: to prevent the renewed rise of Nazism. What do we get, however, in its place? A structurally-based terror, one all-in-the-head rather than all-in-the-body: the Islamic State. What’s more, Nazism was all about nationalism, or considering the German state to be the body of its people and the people manifestations of Germany. The Islamic State, on the other hand, is not a “state” in the sense of being a sovereign country, but “state” or a “condition” of Islam, with fighters drawn to it from around the world. Not the “real” Islam but a condition or state of it, in the way a hospital patient is said to have a certain condition. It is, like deconstruction, a force against the commonplace, daily lives of people and a replacement of them with intellectual, structural concepts.

P1530744 Grape Vines and Birds Separated By Force

If this were done by humans to humans we’d have a “humanitarian crisis”. A “bird crisis” doesn’t register in the same way. Weird!

 I am in no way suggesting that there is anything evil or deadly about deconstructionism, as there is about the Islamic State, but I am suggesting that dominant ideologies become environments, which cast up mirrors, not all of which are complementary.

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$550,000 House with Eastern Canadian Maple Tree

We humans are not making ourselves look very wise.

Disturbingly, such a condition of eternal revolution and states of mind becoming physical states exists in contemporary Germany. It is called “the National Liberated Zone” and consists of all areas, even if it’s just one skinhead’s head or his apartment in a suburb of Cologne or some small town north of Dresden, which are controlled by nationalists (i.e. by neo-Nazis.) You can’t find this state on a map, but it is there.

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Anarchist Street Art Infiltrating the National Liberated Zone, Naumberg, Germany

This is war in the post-human world.

Where does this all lead? Well, to reiterate what I mentioned above: what is missing in all of this is the earth. Human society is about human society. If we, as humans, wish to survive, we will have to either continue the process of deconstructing ourselves into silicon chips, and accept the continued degradation of physical and human-social environments that logically comes with that, or we will have to include the earth as part of our social group.

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The Human Earth

Bobbling antennae and all.

Deconstruction won’t get us there. Only reconstruction can do that. It’s anathema to deconstructionists, of course, but it might very well be that to survive and to pass on the remaining knowledge of life on the physical earth to those who follow us so they can build living structures and relationships from it, we might have to develop an understanding that deconstruction is a tool that works within certain boundaries, while reconstruction is an equal and corollary function, working within others.

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Red Osier Dogwoods in October

Reconstruction works here. Deconstruction does not. This plant is part of the humans social group, or we are dead.

Given that social media devices are so powerful and so ubiquitous, it’s not likely that they’re going to disappear any time soon. Accordingly, the challenge is to construct modes of using them which open up earth-based experience in ways which cannot be fully understood using human-based or machine-based social or intellectual modes.

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Vineyard in the Fog, Bella Vista

Not to be understood with a smart phone. Sorry.

It used to be that a spiritually-enlightened human had to transcend the self. Maybe he or she could become a saint. It might be that he or she might now need to transcend the machine and that the enlightenment might not be intellectual or divine knowledge but the commonplace — not the machine-tainted commonplace of the Third Reich or the anti-barbarism stance of the deconstructionist resistance, but acceptance. One might just have to put down the cell phone and plant a potato, tend for its plant, pick it in the fall, make a bowl of soup and share it with a few friends.

Okanagan Okanogan Plants Some Spuds

Yield, four months later: 450 pounds (>200 kilos)… whew!

We can’t escape the social structures we live within, but we can extend them with generosity, and we can transcend them.

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A New Apple Discovered

Transcendence looks like this sometimes.

Art is one means of doing so. Science is another. Agriculture is another. Foraging is another. Whichever one it is our individual gift to give, the earth must be part of the generosity and the transcendence, or all of our physical technologies (which are only extensions of our intellectual technologies) will make us poorer rather than richer, because they will lead us away from the earth and we will be unable to see her.

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Garter Snake, Catching a Breath After Some Underwater Fishing

Her.

And if we can’t see her, we can’t see ourselves. Humanism, you see, isn’t enough. The “human” is safeguarded by giving it away.

Teleportation, Anti-Gravity and Art

Defying gravity?P1540796

It’s a trick of light.

bright If the sun had moved its substance to earth physically, there would be no water and no life.

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Reforming itself in a new form, that’s the trick.

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The process of the sun transferring itself is not finished.

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At the moment, it is both here, and there. Look at it caught in this old, exploded star that my ancestors call, variably, water and Wasser and wetter and wody.

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It is the sun, defying gravity and moving itself across space by turning itself into energy, and then, through the lens of the earth, turning itself back.

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Art matters.

 

The Art That Insects Make

In the summer, light strikes the leaves of the dogwoods unevenly, as they flit about in their environment of light and shadow filtering through other leaves that move and shift with sun and wind and the turning of the earth through its days. Look at the result!P1540244Amazing!

P1540242There’s more to this story than just sun and light, and I’ll get to that in a sec, but for the moment look at how small patches of some of these leaves are delayed from maturing and shutting down photosynthesis in preparation for fall.
P1540241Frozen in time, that’s the thing.

P1540239Now, here’s the other player in these beautiful game. See the aphids on the underside of the leaves below, below the fruiting cluster?P1540233They are very responsive to light and growth and settle in the choicest spots, and then, as they divert the sap flow through their own digestive systems, they change everything. In effect, they become part of the plant, and the plant’s living processes are blocked and re-routed by the intervention of the insects and the whole year’s worth of redirected minerals.P1540227Aphids, light, shadow and the mysteries of an earth continually in motion.P1540224The scientist in me thinks this process could be put to use. The farmer in me knows it can. The poet in me is in love with the earth. The artist in me is just plained thrilled to see his body alive in the earth like this, down to the tiniest thing.

 

How Universities are Causing Global Warming and What to Do About It

I would like to show you the little valley I live in. I think the future depends on what we see here.view

 

Vernon Creek Valley, Okanagan Landing.

Okanagan Lake is to the right of this image. Downtown Vernon is to the left. My house is just off the right of the image, in the settlement of dark trees halfway up the image’s border.

Now, I don’t know what you see, but I’ll give you some context by turning you around gently. Look again. Different light, different colour in the grass, same hill.

P1520181Plus, there’s less cheatgrass (red) when you get this high. And what if we look more closely?

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At the top of this rare bit of remaining grassland, there’s this:

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So, that’s the context. So, let’s look at the valley again. I want to show you the ideal university of the future. It’s in the 33 acre abandoned orchard below the sagebrush hill, in the middle of the image, between the two 1970s-era subdivisions with their dark evergreen trees, and below the yellow splash of choke cherries in the ravine and the blob of dark poplars along Earl Grey’s old irrigation canal. Yeah, the tea guy. That’s right.

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I envisage it as a large outdoor classroom and laboratory, teaching farming, innovation, plant breeding, plant propagation, new plant species, new water regimes, new food processing opportunities, land-reading, agriculture (the intellectual version) and its appropriate spiritual components, along with appropriate engineering, mathematical, geological and artistic opportunities and interventions, as it supplies food for people and extends the deepest traditions of human culture forward in step with the earth. This is a form of Enlightenment, which was the process by which pre-industrial society in Europe was reformed along industrial and intellectual models. Some stuff was left out, for no good reason. The earth of today is a mirror of that process of leaving out. Here’s a cottonwood tree that was left out. In its place are some uses for cottonwood trees and some methods of observing cottonwood trees, but not ones which start from the actual energy of cottonwood trees.

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Cottonwood Tree on the Grey Canal

Hence, my farm university, or my university based on touching the earth.

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Earth Language. Repair Needed

Here it is from the golf course (to the right of the subdivision like a green island of trees).

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Unfortunately it is selling for $1,900,000, a price set by the standard of the golf course developers who have bought the hillside we’re standing on. It’s not a farming price. It’s a luxury price, set by the value of oil in the tar sands in Alberta. It’s a social price, which the retired farmer deserves, given the social context in which she must live. The culture that scars the boreal forest for oil, however, and sets such prices, is the same that uses the lake in my valley as a playground. Here’s an image of the lost wetland in my valley bottom, in the approach to winter. Forget this as an image of fall…

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Carving Pumpkins (Recreational agriculture.)

… this is the real image of fall in the valley:

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The golf course is not doing well, by the way. There might be a lost boreal forest behind it and a lot of aerial carbon and a lot of wealth created by this transformation, but, socially and ethically, the money created by it doesn’t flow very well. It’s like bitumen in a pipeline at times. They can’t even fix their road. Look.

P1510641This 3-metre deep gully was 10 centimetres deep 3 years ago. This is runoff from the golf course road.

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Our little gully is behind the dump truck up above. It is being filled with crushed “mantle”, or the ancient bedrock below its overburden of seabeds and volcanic flows and glacial till. They ignored the ditch (a metre deep at that point). They had some decorating to do instead…

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Crushed Mantle as a Decor Element

This is a replacement for landscaping with living things. This is called being “water smart”. It is called being ethically responsible.

Three years ago, one of the bankers holding the whole hillside in receivership could have fixed the gullet on a lunch break, by taking a bag lunch, driving up the hill with a shovel in the trunk, moving gravel for 1 minute, or even less, eating the lunch, and driving back to work, but, no. That didn’t happen. Now it’ll cost a few thousand dollars, with back hoes and dump trucks and what-have-you.

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What a waste. Now, a politically-correct and academically-correct (which means scientifically-correct) stance towards this bit of human self-absorption is to approach it neutrally, which is to say to observe it but nothing more. Here, let’s try that:

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Hmm

There’s an issue at play here. Humans, who do this observing, are social creatures. If they’re going to look at the earth, they’re going to see social stuff. This is social, for instance:

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Weedy Grassland Along the Grey Canal Trail

Observation works for social relationships, but it doesn’t mean that they develop into healthy ones. The gulch above is an unhealthy social relationship. Now, let me show you another unhealthy social relationship.

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The Green, Green Grass of Autumn

This cheat grass is growing on a deer trail. It takes all the water from the spring earth, reducing the earth’s ability to store water for an entire season, transfer it to the wetlands below, and support hundreds of species along the way. It reduces the ability of the land to support human populations, or any others. Socially, its presence is heavily tied with a crazy colonial social idea that things sprout in the spring and mature in the fall. Cheatgrass is smarter than that. In its social relationship with humans, humans are not. They don’t adjust grazing patterns or land use patterns to cheat cheatgrass out of its cheat. Ideology stands in the way of that, as does a cultural insistence on raising children in different environments. Concrete ones, for instance.

Forty auto minutes south of this point there is a university that trains thousands of students in the set of disinterested observational skills I mentioned above, extends those concrete worlds, and embodies some unhealthy social relationships. The result is this.

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The Enlightenment Botanical Garden Becomes Decorative …

… and then invisible. Not only is the earth, at this university that prides itself on ‘green’ values, a decorative element, but it’s mis-treated as well. What a change in 200 years!

I think it would be fair to say that this university represents a culture that has turned from the earth. I think it’s a powerful culture. I think it has many strengths. I also think it has a tragic flaw. I also think we can turn this thing around. To do that, let’s look at the set of intellectual approaches it has laid over the earth. First, the valley again …

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… and now the annotated version, showing a little of what I see here…

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I suggest opening the image in a new window (or just clicking on it) to see the details. When you do, I hope you will notice that barely one single thing here, short of the deer, coyote and bear trails squeezed up onto a hillside where none of them belong, represents an ability to work with the earth. Even the grazing lease and the no trespassing areas are heavily compromised and nearly non-productive. There are a few remaining farms, although heavily industrialized and producing petroleum-dependent and nearly-unaffordable food, and the habitat in the ravine and in the subdivisions is important, but beyond that? There’s a tiny riparian area winding through the stream in the residential areas on the far side of the airport, and a bit of weedy grassland on the hills across from us. I hope you will see as well that all this stuff represents an application of university culture, or, rather, the culture the university serves, and which we need it to do a better job of challenging or re-imagining. That’s where that $1,900,000 farm comes in. It has the potential to change everything and to build, on a rigorous foundation of practical, scientific and artistic work, a new paradigm, and, in a century, a new valley. Here’s the current state of affairs…

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Still Fixable

From foreground to background: deer fence, weedy grassland, vineyard designed to raise house prices, two abandoned orchards, a productive ravine full of coyotes and hawthorns, and just the hint of the beginnings of the city housing in the wetland below.

We can do better. We must do better. It’s a matter of ethics, and survival. The university’s stance, of ethical disinterestedness, has lead to powerful technical science (in this sense, psychology and the arts are powerful technical tools as well) and an ethical situation that is far from disinterested. Here, let me show you. The depth of magenta in the image below indicates the depth of ethical compromise present in the land. Notice that the closer one gets to water, the more compromised, ethically, land use becomes. Notice as well the green areas.

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The green oval is Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park… the only piece of permitted human habitat in this scenario. Even there, however, the grasslands are being heavily taken over by trees and park staff spend their time making urban social amenities (paths, picnic areas, shooting cougars, and so on).

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Kalamalka Provincial Park: In a Grassland, Trees are Weeds

It’s a strange kind of “nature” or “wilderness” that allows the replacement of the only habitat for butterflies, succulent plants, edible bulbs, and hundreds of other species, to be replaced by over-crowded, fire prone groves of low-value trees and only a handful of other species. This is actually called desertification. The only ‘nature’ it displays is ‘human nature’ and the ethical stance it displays is ‘disinteredness.’

But, again, our ethical valley.

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The green line in the foreground is the only allowable natural animal habitat outside the land use grid. Note how it dead ends, without access to the water it leads to (the water goes underground from there, but life doesn’t follow it.) Every scientific approach and attitude is an ethical decision. Every view of the land is ethical at heart. The current university teaches young people how to benefit from and fine tune the predatory land use shown above. It is a form of schooling, in, I may add, an attitude that has an end date. Predatory? Yes. Humans are predating on the earth. And, may I say, also on themselves and their ability to form social bonds with the earth. Here, this is another social image:

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On a  healthy planet, it will be recognized as having equal social value to humans as inter human relationships. Instead, it is called “nature” or “art”. That’s a start, but after a couple hundred years of separating that from scientific procedure, it has led to an overly-disinterested science, so technically powerful that its power has blinded it to all of which it is ignorant, including that “nature” or that “art”, and because it is all-powerful, those unseen elements become obliterated.

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Road Overspill

This is the best that environmental science can do to save a riparian area in a dry grassland hill.

I think a correction can and should be made. Opposition to the blind spots of disinterested science is why I have been arguing for a different kind of science, not to replace science but to rebalance its abilities to allow for outcomes that include the earth and the wealth of resiliency, and why I propose a different kind of university. It’s time to remake the earth. Remaking it, and ourselves, in the image of an android phone is a dead end. That path leads only to the replacement of humans and this …

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… with robots, or at least with robotic intellectual tools, which, ethically, is almost the same thing. That work is nearly complete. Global warming? Well, when one removes the ability of the earth to utilize solar energy and translate it into cooling ecosystems, what do you think is going to happen? Oil is not the cause. It is the symptom. This is global warming:

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Eroding Vineyard Hillside

Ten years ago it looked like this:

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Ten years ago it stopped water and the sun in their tracks and turned them into life. We can still repair that loss.

 

Of Bears and Men and the Stars

Bears build their highways in the shade.

P1510732Look at the planetary forces they live in. You’d think they were creatures of the stars.P1510792

 

Now, here’s a golf cart highway up the hill to the left.

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And the view?

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Hail on the last day of September. More of that life among the stars thing. Conclusion? We have a lot in common with bears.

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Yet treat the earth as if it were ours.

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 South

Bears, though, share, with us…

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… while we build alien landing strips.

P1510810Note the blue rocks!

 

 

Putting a Face to Nature

This is not nature.

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It is a shrub. This is not nature.

P1500096 It is another shrub. This is not nature.

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You got it. Another shrub. This is not nature.P1500160It’s grass. This is not nature:
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It’s choke cherries at the end of the season. Yeah. Another shrub. This is not nature.P1500653It’s wire weed, reclaiming a road shoulder, with a beautiful disrespect for gravity. What then is nature? It’s a human concept. These things aren’t. But, you see, there’s a trick here. Look again. This is human.

P1500105This is human.

P1500096 This is human.

P1500083 This is human, too.

cc And this. It’s you.

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Yes, you. And even this.

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By nature, a specific kind of human attention must be meant. Otherwise the term is just no use at all. Unless, of course, you believe that you are not of this planet. If that’s the case, then you can use it. If you do, however, this is not human…

P1500105 This is not human…P1500096 Nor this… P1500083 Nope, not this, either…,cc… nor this…P1500653

… but this is, perhaps…

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Grassland Artifice

This grass was humanly sown to stabilize a slope after road construction. It has replaced a rich, living landscape with a single species.

This is how profit is drawn from the earth and turned into human economies. The life of a thousand species is concentrated down to one (humans). How could it be otherwise. It’s the mirror of human economic organization under the current world economic model. All discussions of the earth are ethical discussions.