The Lungs of the Earth

Bunchgrass defines the grasslands of the intermontane west. It is not, however, the main story here. It is only the canopy forest. P1590438The real grassland is here. It is far older. It lies dormant in the summer’s heat and grows and blooms in the complex snow-melt landscape between the heat sinks of the grass almost all the winter long and into the spring.P1590415This is the lung of the earth. It is a skin that allows water and air to pass into the colonies of microbes that live beneath the soil and which dissolve it into minerals for plants.
P1590407 Where it has been killed off, the earth has an entirely new skin. It changes the seasons and uses water in simpler ways. This is cheat grass, shown below with some russian thistle. Good companions. The cheat grass takes the water in the spring and translates it into thatch in the summer, which lets a little rain through for the thistles, which bloom just before frost, when the cheatgrass has seeded itself in the droughted ruins of its spring rush and is growing again, as it is in the picture of a December thaw below.P1590330

It’s less a lung than an artificial breathing apparatus that, not surprisingly, matches the compost-based, blue-water-based soil renewal understandings that colonial culture teaches its children. Compare that to a natural grassland slope, responding to water, sun and air in minutely fine-tuned patterns, however compromised by neglect.

P1520181 After 140 years, the image below shows the limit of cultural understanding of this grass, which has been achieved by colonial culture.

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No, that buck is not grazing there. He is passing through. We all are. Even if property title grants the illusion of the right to kill the earth. The image above is a social image. It is a reflection of society. This could be, too:

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At the moment it is only a remnant of one. Billions are spent dreaming of engineering Mars for life. I think learning how the earth works would be a good start. It puzzles me why there aren’t a thousand historians, scientists and sociologists walking out in this grass. Do they have a death wish? I don’t know. Here are two views of the vineyard these landscapes are woven through. First…

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… and next, only a few metres away …P1590477

 

I offer the observation that they are the same.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

The Resistance in Prague

In communist Prague, resistance meant to plant an apricot tree, like the yellow one in the foreground below. The resistance was a denial of borders, prisons and proletarian culture.
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Here’s how to resist capitalist Prague:

twocansThe resistance is a denial of property ownership within public space. What these two visions of resistance share is a denial of Prague, written within the city. Kafka, who was from Prague, tried to tell us all of this trap long ago. Here’s another form of resistance in Prague:

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Resistance? Why yes, one is not supposed to feed the swans. Just across the river, there is a tiny nature reserve, of no value to bird life, with a sign forbidding the feeding of these creatures. And the resistance? Look again above those swans…

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 Bread for the Swans

The city is an artwork. It has appearances. The people who live within it exert their humanity by resisting those boundaries, and it is those boundaries, in turn, and the resistance to them, that lead to the image of the city, such as this image of the nature preserve:

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An iconic image, for sure, and a perfect illustration of the principles of classical art, but the swans are actually begging for bread. And so, in a city proud of its regained independence from soviet control, the revolution continues, just under the surface. It is the revolution that is created by the city, and within its walls. As for art…

 

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It’s a lure, as obsolete as these baroque statues…

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Superseded by the practicalities of building waterworks and good stone paths for tourists, nonetheless they remain, even as they originally were: icons pointing to a past that never existed and yet which generates one often-overlooked thing that takes two identical forms: resistance and bondage. As Kafka knew, you cannot escape Prague. Literature was his way of standing solidly in this paradox. Now that literature is the past and cities are even more ubiquitous, what is resistance? This?

wallIs resistance the tagging? Is it the ivy, left to eat at the wall? Is it the eye that sees, stops, and is present in this moment of paradox? Is it here?

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Does art, in other words, still have its old power, but within the city rather than in its galleries? If so, what aesthetic training is necessary to help this resistance flourish?

 

Land Crisis in Vernon

Yesterday I showed you an image of an apple crisis. Here it is again, from a different angle.

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People are so hungry to connect with a farmer over a supermarket that they will pay an industrial farmer as much for his cull apples as they would pay for his good ones at a produce store, and half what they’d pay in a supermarket itself. The only thing is, he’s an industrial farmer, and not, perhaps, the thing they wish to support. For instance, that fence? It prevents deer from migrating up and down the hills, as they need to do, and forces them to wander through neighbourhoods, where they get labelled “problem deer” and get shot. As for the land itself, look:

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Yes, mud. A tractor made that, hauling those apples out. This is what has been created out of this grassland soil after a hundred years: hard-packed, water repelling mud. 10,000 years of soil creation has been negated in 100 years. I don’t think that’s what people wish to pay for either. I think that an adjustment will come: either farmers will get the idea, or people will. That it all has to happen within an industrial metaphor makes it harder. Those are, however, only human issues. For the land, the issue is clear: stop this or the land will die.

We Are the Earth and the Earth is Us

I want to show you an image of the mind. Since that’s difficult, let me show you an image of the world instead, with my fingers crossed that the mind will be revealed in it if I give you the context. It’s an image of an abandoned rangeland fence high above Okanagan Lake. It speaks of the end of the ranching industry and the development of the land into a residential golf course resort. Given that this is the most sensitive and threatened grassland in the north of my valley, and one of the few left, this development required special approval. (In fact, the road built up the hill to service this resort destroyed an 8,000-year-old rattlesnake den, which seems to be way more than rude.) The way to get approval to build houses and golf courses on sensitive land is to sell ‘green’ or ‘environmental’ values that will ‘conserve’ species for ‘posterity’. Such conservation is pretty darned unlikely, but that’s why this stretch of land has been left ‘wild’ as ‘habitat’ for native species: it’s a social negotiation. In my mind, it’s less a living landscape than a zoo, but let’s just leave that, because this is Syilx land and thus sensitive in its own right. And just look at the view. As romantic as can be. You could sell $350,000-$1,700,000 golf course house lots like hot cakes with a view like this, especially to someone from cattle country, who’s changed his Angus herd in for a covey of oil wells and is missing them terribly. Fair enough, but that’s not the image of the mind I promised. That’s just a little background. Here’s the mind:

P1510311You see, the ‘wild’ness promised consists of a hillside overgrown by sagebrush (overgrazing in the past, combined with fire suppression) and trampled by deer (barred from the valley below by very operative orchard and vineyard fences) which have no business here where there is nothing for them to even nibble on. In other words, the ignorance that sees this rich landscape, transformed by ignorance into an impoverished landscape of weeds, is the same ignorance that the land displays in its weediness. The fence is the means by which that was accomplished. It remains, its work done, as something no longer extricable from the land. In other words, it too belongs in this transformed landscape, or this impoverished mind: just another weed, in a landscape of weeds. It is as if the land reflects precisely the attention given to it: settlers who come in as alien species, leave behind a landscape of alien species, and for images of beauty choose records of the moment of claiming a rich land, such as this fence and the bittersweet image of the loss of that richness (again, the fence). Now, let me make a proposal: it is exactly like that. The Earth is us and we are the earth. Calling the view in the image above “nature” is the problem, because that proposes an active force separate from human forces. It isn’t.

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.

view

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.

 

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.

 

Did You Lose Your Mind? Don’t Worry. I Found It.

Ah, the noble stag, majestically ruling its wild kingdom in parallel to the worlds of men. Here you can see a young mule deer buck framed against a hillside sculpted by humans into muck.P1500473 If you are a human and not a Google Bot looking at this, do notice the exquisite metal sky put up to keep the stags from floating up off the earth into the pinot gris. Majestic! Romantic, too.P1500524 Here’s a stag posing nobly beside a waterline that delivers water across the weed belt (Except for a couple sages, there are no native plants in this image.) into the gewürztraminir and pinot noir plots.

P1500512 Not just King of the Weeds, but King of the Weeds and the Muck!P1500504

Again, if you’re a bot, this is probably lost on you, but if you’re a human the scene will likely give you a sense of complete satisfaction. After all, that bottle of plonk you had with dinner last night was romantically created out of just this romance. Here’s the big picture: two stags wandering through the wasteland. Nothing to eat for miles, except some bushes down in a ravine and, um, well, the predators hang out there, too, so you’d have to be a porcupine to feed on anything down there.

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Locally, these are called problem deer. Here’s one of them 2 evenings ago, as the sun was going down, pulling the purple, red and orange colours out of the sage. As for the sage, yes, it’s native, but that amount of sage is a result of over-grazing and under-burning. Yup, you got it right: weeds, again. This is on the edge of that ravine no self-respecting deer would enter (you have to cross the freaking coyote trail just to get down into the deeps). You got it. Nothing to eat for miles.

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The kings of the wild are living in a new wilderness: Weed Planet! That’s what we have made. It is an image of ourselves and an image of the poverty of our social and scientific understandings. One might think human kind has completely lost its mind. No. Look. I found it. Yesterday!

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Yay!

 

 

 

 

 

Irony in the Garden

Here’s my front yard. Note the flowers I have planted instead of a lawn. It has been a very exciting place lately. Dozens of species of bees and many species of beetles have been working it for weeks. They’ve all come down from the grassland up on the hill. A big neon-green toad has made her home here, and seems to be getting rich on it. Today, though, was special. Check out the pair of American Gold Finches feeding. They were there for an hour.
P1420041Now, here’s the thing: they were eating catnip seeds. Perhaps they were getting a nice buzz from it, I don’t know, but, um, the neighbour’s cats hang around this stuff. I’m not sure how wise all this is. Still, no harm done, and an hour of beauty. No mowing. How many acres of denuded grasslands have I replaced for these birds and insects in 300 square feet? Lots! Here’s the environmentally approved way of reclaiming grassland after invasive road construction. Note the species diversity.

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People aren’t meant to live alone on the planet. We’d all die of grief.

 

The Ethical Dimension

I’d like to talk ethics today, with East Germany in view, though, because it was a society that allowed an alternate vision, not only of what might have been possible (good and bad), but into what we were all like back before the Wall came down in 1989. For instance, out of a sense of common land, through a convoluted and violent process, East Germany adopted a communist mode of government after the Second World War. The choice resulted, among other things, in the infamous Plattenbau (prefabricated) apartment buildings of the Soviet block. They were infamous because they were done on the cheap, had no balconies and had common public space that the residents had to landscape with their own sweat, and out of their own organizational abilities. What happened to that positive energy after reunification with the West? Balconies were added to the apartments, as you can see below in Riesa, Germany, and, in some cases, North American style adventure playgrounds were added for the kids.P1130995   Doesn’t sound like much, I know, but look at the alternatives: a communal ping pong table … P1130994… and communal laundry facilities… P1130992_2 You can bet the piping was diverted from a state-sanctioned infrastructure project, because someone’s wife was in tears. And why was she in tears? Ah, imagine. You only got a nice modern apartment like this if you were married, so you did that the instant you got out of high school, and the next day the poor girl has to do laundry, but the social code of the laundry is controlled by the building communist block warden, and the girl hasn’t earned the space to hang up her new husband’s shirts, so, chances are, they wind up in the mud, and then the tears, see? It’s not as simple as it might look, though. In 1989, upon unification with the West, East Germany had the most progressive system of women’s rights and support for mothers and children in the world. The feminist movements of the West, including the Okanagan, are deeply in debt to 18-year-old East German women dealing with blocks wardens from Hell. The Western perception that East German communism was repressive misses the vital detail (among others) that the West, too, is built upon East German communism. The repression, in other words, is just good old fashioned human oppression and exploitation, following whatever patterns it can find and take advantage of. It’s what humans, a top predator, do. In my valley in Canada, that can look like this: P1390638 A boat, a Sea-doo, a boat pulling a kid in a tube, a kayaker, a guy swimming (good luck, Dude), and another boat, all in a tiny space. This use of a post-glacial lake and a local drinking water source is surely as insane, and as liberating, as the East German Plattenbau experience, and likely a lot more destructive of the environment and human relationships with it. Sometimes, this exploitation looks like this: wine The valley is famed for wine, or tells itself it is. Here is a bottle of cheap industrial chardonnay vented by a large Eastern Canadian winery that moved into the young Okanagan wine industry a couple decades back and transformed it from a farm-based industry, based on the work of farmers with the land, to a form of investment that created sales by marketing savvy alone. This bottle of wine, half-consumed at the site of a failed winery building in Vernon, suggests that someone came for the view, with a bottle of wine, and couldn’t stand to finish the damn thing. The most sensitive grassland in the North Okanagan was sacrificed to build this vineyard to help sell houses. The class of people who would do such a thing is, I believe, exactly the class of people who waylaid Luther on The Road, after he was excommunicated in the ancient Roman-German city of Worms, and walked out expecting to be killed that night by bandits, as an outlaw. It was not safe for anyone to be on The Road at night. Instead, Luther was abducted by a prince, who kept him under house arrest, feeding him bread and water until he agreed to translate the Bible into German. The translated Bible was then used to dismantle the Catholic Church in the North of Europe, in Luther’s name but against his wishes. The class of people who did that is precisely the class of people who transformed the young romantic poet Goethe into a symbol of Germany itself, and used him to create a state quite the opposite of the one he would have wished to see. The class of people who did that is precisely the class of people who reduced local Indian reserves by a factor of 90% upon annexation of British Columbia into Canada in 1871. This is not a new story. Within it, however, there have been few people who have shown us an alternate way, who have had the ethical courage to point out alternatives. Goethe was one. Without alternatives, there is only the illusion of choice.