The Illahie: the Braided Country

Here’s an old word: illahie. Here’s what it looks like to me today:


Well, that’s a teeny tiny bit of it. If you look it up in a Chinook Wawa dictionary…

45667_1…the trade language of Cascadia …


… on the North Pacific Coast of North America, you’ll find it defined as: “country, land.” Ya, well, it’s also this…


Mammoth Hot Springs in the September Rain, Yellowstone

… and it’s not a claim to legal land title. It’s a person’s illahie. It’s the land that one is. It has an interesting story, too. All words in Chinook Wawa, or Chinook Talk have an origin. Some come from Tsinuk, the language of the old traders at the mouth of the Columbia River. Some are from other indigenous languages, in this illahie rich with them. After all, the Tsinuk (Chinook) were trading in Wawa long before Europeans lugged themselves out this way. Some are from French, like leman, for “hand” or lapote, for “door.” Some are from English, like sugar for “sugar.” Some come from playful echoes of sound. Wawa (language or talk) is one of those. It’s the sound a baby makes (wa wa), and the sound a person makes when no one understands him (blah blah, for instance), and that’s kind of the way traders were, and kind of the way of pidgin language that lacks a certain amount of subtlety, shall we say. Illahie, though, oh, that’s an interesting one. Here’s my guess: it’s French, from the métis traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who came overland from Canada, or perhaps the French-speaking Iroquois traders who came before them, before history, and are only recorded in Skoeilpi legend, but are no less real for that. You could have Scots ancestry, too. That worked.

05 Angus MacDonald

The Great Coming Together

If I’m right, the word is “la hai”, a hedge of sticks (it’s how you planted one), even a fence (they were often woven from willows) [note: the spelling change is because the recorders were English and spelled “hai” the English way, as “hie”]…


A Stick Fence from the Day. Source

…and the prefix “il”, which makes it “il-lahie”. Does that come from the French pronoun “il” for “he”? Or does it come, perhaps, from the nsyilxcen word, “yil”, for a braid. If it’s French, it would mean “his fence”, but the French would be poor, pidgin even, so perhaps Iroquois, and perhaps Sahaptin or Salishan, spoken by someone just learning the language and poking fun. That works. If it’s “yil” it would mean, “the hedge of sticks that is braided together.” That would work, too, because the hedge of sticks in Cascadia is a game, called s’lahal. It’s an ancient game. It goes back nearly 14,000 years in this illahie.  We know, because it’s called “the stick game”, the “sticks” are made of bones, and the oldest set of s’lahal bones we have are nearly 14,000 years old.


S’lahal played in Vancouver, in 2011  Source

It’s played today with sticks, lengths of wood, because no one has much of a source of mammoth bones anymore. It’s a game played with drumming and songs, as you can see above. One old s’lahal song sings that in the early gambling to see who was going to be the hunted in the future, after the people were separated into people and animals, it wasn’t looking so good for humans. This hairless and sickly lot were down to one s’lahal bone and it looked like the soup pot for them, but then one of the spirits of one of the animals took pity on these weak mewling, naked, clawless and toothless things and gave them a song. That made the difference. Life came to humans from the song’s ability to change the mood of the game in their favour. Ever since, s’lahal has been played with songs, drumming, polyphony, antiphony, swagger, bluff and laughter. If you’re thinking, hey, that sounds like coyotes teaching their kits to howl outside their dens under the warm August moon, you’ve got it about right.

Too Young to Play S’lahal (May)

Sometimes, s’lahal can be bad for your health, though. That’s because it’s played with mammoth bones, or with arrow shafts tipped with them, signifying men. Each arrow is a song. Each song is a wager. And…when French métis traders (typically the dark-skinned sons of Quebec French men and native women) arrived it became a splendid cross-cultural joke: in French “la hal,” or “la haie,” is a pun between “a hedge of sticks” and “a suntan” — in other words, “lahal” is the stick game of the people with dark skins, or “the forest people,” because the French word “La Tenne” has always meant the celts, the forest people who painted their skins dark with walnut or fir sap (Tanne, or Tannenbaum in German), just as the English word “tan” has always meant exactly the same thing: to get a tanning, in other words, is to get whipped, which colours the skin bright red; to get a tan, in other words, means to have children with the people of the forest, and to bring their darker skin colour into your family line — a fine métis bit of wit. And maybe you’re going to get whipped, or beaten, in that game of s’lahal, eh?


E.J. Kipp, 26, (left) and his brother Andre Picard Jr., 33, of the Nez Perce Nation in Lapwai, Idaho, demonstrate how a game of Sticks and Bones might go. Source

Hey, if you can’t laugh at yourself, what’ve you got? Laughter aside, though, there’s deep, ancient wisdom here: humans and spirits and animals are all woven together in s’lahal, and they are woven together in the land that s’lahal made: the illahie. The earth, and all its interwoven creatures, the illahie, is the game. It’s s’lahal. It’s the play. It’s the weave we are.


A Bunch of Bison After Losing the Stick Game

By the way, in Wawa, “sticks” are what English speakers call trees and French speakers call des arbres and Germans see as Bäume.  The bison know them differently.  Look at them there in Yellowstone with their game pieces! And that’s the illahie, the land that is all woven together, with the spiritual foundation, woven together from the beginning of the world, and keeping that beginning alive, and woven with all the rich diversity of the land bound together in a game of mutual communication and respect. Today, we have much to integrate into the illahie, after a century and a half of trying to cheat the game.


It’s going to take quite some singing. Let’s begin!

Why stop there?


What Exactly IS Global Warming Anyway

The earth is warming, globally. There are many factors for this warming, including carbon emissions, methane emissions and urbanization (which changes light absorption patterns), among others, likely even including long-term non-human cycles, but it’s not really warming that’s the issue. Warming is a consequence. Simplicity is the problem.

vineyardhill Vineyard in the Smoke, Vernon, British Columbia

Smoky Gurty (Gewürztraminir), Anyone?

From coastal flooding, increased storm activity, warmer winters (which increase insect damage to forests), to accelerated summer drought and resulting fires, the change is really a change in atmosphere. The sky contains more carbon. Lots more carbon.

P2000756 BX Creek Mouth, West Arm Okanagan Lake in the Smoke of the Washington Fires

It is a different earth, capable of hosting life differently. It is also a fire planet, rather than a water world. The life that lives on it is an artefact of the past. Well, sort of.

loontrees Female Common Loon and Chick Among the Reflections of Beetle-Killed Pines

Otter Marsh, Big Bar Lake

That’s still not the source of the problem. The last time Earth was a fire planet, Antarctica froze over, creating global “cooling” and cycles of wet monsoons and dry summers. Grasses were the expression of this new earth, and intensified it. They grew at fantastic rates at the edges of forests, in the wet season, and fuelled dry fires in the dry season. They survived those by seed and root. They even looked like flames.


Couch Grass Gone Feral

Within two weeks of a fire, it will be back, resolidifying the carbon its burning stalks gave off to the sky.

The trees that had sheltered the grasses did not survive. What was left was an edge ecosystem, of grass, without trees to be an edge of, but remember, the grass’s signature is fire. What was left was an ecosystem of fire. Fire is not the problem.


Blue-bunched Wheat Grass in the Smoke

Each one is a point of fire, shall we say.

Eventually, elephants and apes (among others) evolved to colonize the last edges of trees living as islands in the grass — or, shall we say, they evolved to colonize fire and the combustion of carbon. Eventually, that led to this kind of thing:



Later, in the Miocene Age, when so much ice was in the poles that sea levels sank drastically and the maritime ecosystem crashed, horses, the pure creatures of the grass, evolved for the treeless landscape.


Horses in the Walhachin Weeds

All of these creatures, elephants, humans and horses became the edge, that was once provided by trees. As long as these edges were contained within the landscapes of which they were part, all was well. The image below shows an edge of this kind. This is the Fraser River, the last great salmon river of the West, deep within its fault at Chapman’s Bar.

P2000134The image captures an ancient, Indigenous Nlaka’pamux salmon fishery, as you can, perhaps see below. The colour of the water comes from the glaciers to the north melting away…cut

… and settling as silt.P2000200

This is an edge in many ways: it is the boundary of cold and heat, wet and dry, summer and winter, ocean and grass, humans and water, forest and tide, and much more. The richness of trees on the western bank of the river indicates how close we are here to the rain forests on the other side of these mountains, yet even so this is where the grassland begins. Old photographs from the beginning of history here, in 1858, show half the trees that are here now. You are looking at grassland weeds, that grew in when fires were suppressed. The image below was taken close to the one above. It is 115 years old. That’s not a rainforest in it, though, or even close to one. It’s a transition zone…


… rather like this one today:

P1980287The Big Bar Eskers

These are the bends of a sub-glacial river. They are made out of ground-up, subducted and uplifted seabed from the age of the birth of the grasses.

Let me clarify. I’m not re-defining global warming to discredit its seriousness. I’m trying to show that there’s more to it than a simple story of warming or of carbon alone. Fixing carbon will give us a chance to fix the behaviours that are exacerbating global warming. Eliminating fire is not the way to do that. We are fire. That being said, here’s an old savannah on the north edge of the eskers. (Warning: it’s in poor shape.)


There are two tall firs there that are savannah trees that probably grew in the grass, alone, in a wet summer about 400 years ago. Kind of like this:



Young Douglas Fir in Dog Creek

Or maybe like the following image of pines and firs in the scree on Puddin’head Mountain in Keremeos. Note the burn on the valley wall on the edge of the Ashnola in behind.


Every year some trees go up in flame. Every year, the excess trees are fire waiting to happen. It will happen. They are weeds. They are the result of human intervention in the fire landscape. The thing is, that human intervention maintained that fire landscape for something like 4,000 years. Here’s why:


Interior Douglas Fir Crowded Out by Scrub

Yeah, her daughters, really. This should be grass.

Like I said, this savannah is not in very good shape. If this thing burns, the old trees are going to go up like rockets, and the young ones will burn way too hot. The place will become charcoal. Traditional burning maintained these savannahs in a juvenile state, for food. Fire burnt through quickly, left the big trees, took out the small ones, and made the grassland young again. Biscuit root grew…

Commonage, Kalamalka Lake

… and balsam root, also edible …

… and mariposa lily, also a staple…

… and so many more, even quicker to benefit from fire than the grasses they grew among.  By burning, humans, who are fire, ate the fruit of fire. Like these plants, they live in edge environments: complex interactive zones between modes of being. In the grasslands, such boundaries often look like the riparian zone below, which shelters deer, bears, porcupines, grouse, and many species of birds, which either feed here or out on the grass, and at the same time provides food sources for birds that live out on the grass: it is as much the grassland as the grass; a kind of contained edge or elongated savannah moving through zones of altitude and maintain life sources across seasons. It is not separate from the grass.

Without edges, contained within systems, without a depth of zones of resiliency and variability, edge-system creatures cannot survive. Here is what human society and technology and culture in the Okanagan grasslands has made out of these edge and savannah systems today:


Royal Gala Apple Plantation, Bella Vista

Note that the grass has been removed from fire, the savannah ingrowth has been controlled by pruning and wires, and the ecosystem has only social edges and edges with weather and atmosphere. Water from the high country maintains this system, and animals and insects are kept out with poisons and fences. It is not a monoculture, but it’s close: trees, dandelions, one species of grass, the occasional pheasant or robin, and humans. Weather and water are the sole determiners of success here. Renewal is not done by fire, but by human intervention, as in the image below:


Those are spartan apple trees I planted in Keremeos in 1973. They have been replaced by cherries, grown for the Chinese market. Humans are the fire here, and the edge is within them. From this perspective, global warming is not about carbon, but about the simplification of fire and of the interface of living systems with it. When fire comes now, it wipes out overly-simplified ecosystems, and renewal does not include humans. That’s logical. Humans have so taken on the role of fire that any fire outside of human boundaries becomes the human enemy. That’s actually insane, because this is a fire planet. It’s covered in oxygen, which is like a bomb. The solution is not to ban fire, but to act proactively against any fire which simplifies complexity, and that means any social system which prevents such proactive action. For reference, this is complexity:


Grassland Soil

A hundred species per cubic foot.

This is simplicity:

Golf Course at the Rise, Bella Vista

Two species. It is an edge, yes, but the edge of a desert. It is not contained within the grassland. It is an exception to it. The desert here is not the wounded sagebrush and cheatgrass grassland, but this green grass. Life’s drive for complexity must be beaten back with petroleum-based fertilizers and weedkillers, with the end result that the earth is simplified and turned into a machine. There are consequences to that.

Compare my front lawn.

As the grassland on the hill above my house (and that golf course at its crown) is simplified by the absence of fire and renewal, the native insects of the hill have increasingly fewer places to go. This small field of flowers, some 400 square feet, provides space for something like 50 species of bees and wasps, who come down here from the grass, and about five species of grassland birds. In imitation of fire, I collect seeds every summer, scythe down the stalks, and reseed this plot every spring. I also find it beautiful. The human world is a social one, but that does not mean that Earth and its creatures are not part of the social group. Here’s what the Syilx, the grassland people, have to say:

The word “Syilx” takes its meaning from several different images. The root word “Yil” refers to the action of taking any kind of many-stranded fiber, like hemp, and rolling it and twisting it together to make one unit, or one rope. It is a process of making many into one. “Yil” is a root word which forms the basis of many of our words for leadership positions, as well. Syilx contains a command for every individual to continuously bind and unify with the rest. This command goes beyond only humans and encompasses all stands of life that make up our land. The word Syilx contains the image of rolling or unifying into one, as well as the individual command which is indicated by the “x” at the end of the word which indicates that it is a command directed at the individual level. The command is for every individual to be part of that stranded unified group, and to continue that twisting and unification on a continuous basis. It is an important concept which underlies our consideration of the meanings of aboriginal title and rights.


As the syilx point out, nature is not something present by accident. It is something created by the intent of those creatures of fire and grass when they maintain edges by weaving them in to community. Here, take a look at something known as a global warming catastrophe, the haunt of the Mountain Pine Beetle:



Most of the ingrown and replanted forests of British Columbia, and expanse of fire pine with an area larger than most European countries, has fallen to the beetle in the last ten years. We have all wept. I made firewood, because we all thought fire would come, and I wanted to protect my house.


But look, today:


Not only did the grass, which had become ingrown with trees since burning was stopped in 1920, come back, but so did the forest. Wave after wave, fire to grass to fire to grass, in a process of continual renewal. The lesson is that in a fire landscape, with fire grass and fire pines, the fire of beetles and the slow fire of rot are as much fire as flame or human intervention, and the forest is neither the trees nor the grass but their weaving. Maintaining edge systems in relation to each other is key. Here’s one, essential to the grasslands:

P1970943 Rocks are islands of cold in the heat of the grass. They catch water, initiate savannahs, shelter animals, catch heat, and disperse lichens, which maintain the soil. Here’s another:

Vaseaux Lake

Here the great desert of the American West meets the snow.

Water provides edge habitats where the water planet and the fire planet meet and continually create new life at the intersection. I don’t mean directed life, like this:


I mean this:

The grasslands survive because of wetlands like this. Water savannahs, let’s call them. The wetlands survive because of grasslands like this:



Wetlands and grasslands are two sides of the same thing. They are two sides humans, who live at their intersection, as do all savannah and riparian creatures. Simplification is not the answer. Adaptation to survive boundary events is. Right now, global warming is a huge boundary event, one in which the forests have been turned into latent fire, the grasslands have been tilled and sown with wetland water, the wetlands have been paved and filled with burnable wooden houses and the only thing that keeps this going is petroleum, the burning of fossil carbon. The only thing that powers the orchard below, for example, is fertilizer made from fossil carbon and tractors powered by fossil carbon and fruit delivered to cities by fossil carbon:


The fires that have filled the air here this last week are the result of this oversimplification of what it is to be a human habitat. A human habitat is not a village. That is only a substitute for a savannah. It is only an attempt to keep one from burning. It will burn. The challenge is not to stop global warming but to adapt social systems to allow for fire. That might include stopping global warming, if by that is meant a rise in mean atmospheric temperature due to the greenhouse effect of atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, but the base change is to become syilx, quickly and thoroughly. The real global warming happens when fire and water are removed from living relationships. Carbon follows.

What are Those Americans Up to Now?

I don’t know. Look for yourself.apparel


Downtown Kelowna, 2:40 pm. August 20, 2015

I think the Okanagan’s brothers and sisters (nominally Canadian) in Okanogan County (nominally American) need our support in working towards a different post-national vision than this.

Alien Architecture in the Okanagan

Here’s a trail in the grasslands. Note the old house to the right of the trail. Ya, the round brown hillock. You got it!IMG_3260-2 copyHere’s who lives there.


Weaver ants! Thatch, in the earth, that’s the way. The door is on the roof.anthill-1That’s the traditional house style of these grassland valleys for humans, too. You let the earth keep you warm. The doorway in front is the woman’s entrance.


Men entered from the sky. You can see this all better by clicking here. Contemporary Okanagan architecture looks like the stuff in the image below. Click on the image to see it up close and personal. Best to wear sunglasses, though, I think. Those colours are looking way too bright.


These “houses” look like they were dropped here from outer space.

Growing Food Without Water in the Hot Okanagan

Well, it’s dry, eh. And hot. Whew. P1960593

This is 9:30 A.M. The afternoon was 38. (That’s 100 for you folks down south.)

Forests are burning up. Smoke everywhere. P1960538 All the upland water still being evaporated by the city on the dry hills. Surreal. P1960611 People in town are being asked not to water their lawns. “The lawns will come back,” the officials say. Yeah, right. P1960603 Shrubberies are toast. Wait. Aren’t those coastal shrubberies? What’s with that? I count 7 dead ones at $30 a piece. Crikes! P1960616 And look at this hill, eh. Nothing will grow here without irrigation, that’s for sure. (Those are irrigated trees around a house up top.) P1960687 But, wait, what’s that in the centre of the picture? P1960688 Ah, asparagus growing wild. Without water, except what is shed by that rock. So, maybe not that dry, eh. Maybe it’s a matter of getting one crop off and then having a rest. How many crops come off an agricultural field in a year, anyway? One, usually. Whoa, what’s this, two months back? P1810242 Flax! P1810232 That’s two crops! And, blow me over, what’s this, just to the left of the asparagus, growing on no water but what is shed from the rock? P1960690 Feral plums! P1960696 That’s three crops. Oh, and on the rock? Yeah, watch your step. Again, two months ago. P1830598 Prickly pears! And what grows in cracks in these rocks? P1950621Saskatoons! P1950619 That’s five crops. How many is enough? They are growing with no water. This land isn’t dry. Inappropriate agricultural and water technology is dry. The land is fruitful. It’s close to the end of the year. In a couple weeks it will be the dry season here: effectively winter. People will be on the lake, splashing around in their summer, but that’s all in their heads. So, are those the only crops? No, not exactly. In a ditch down the hill, where it’s even hotter, there’s this:P1960559Feral apricots! And in the ditch just around the corner from our asparagus, cared for and watered by no one, there’s this: P1960626 Feral apples! I could go on. The only drought is a drought of knowledge and technology, coupled with an insistence that food must be grown on private land and then either sold for a profit or donated to charity, by people who have paid for it, to be given to the people who can’t afford to pay for technologically-produced crops. It’s insane. To take productive grasslands, with a dozen or more food crops across a season, and reduce them to farmland for two generations and then let them go to this, on a principle of private ownership is a betrayal of the common good. It is theft. P1960705 You see, that’s not hay. That’s weeds being baled and sold for whatever marginal amount of nutrition there’s in it, to maintain low farm taxation status. Oh, and this…P1960666 No, that’s not a fallow field. A fallow field isn’t weed-killed from one end to the other and let to bake to nothing. A fallow field has a rejuvenating crop on it, to build up its microbial environment, which is the real soil. That’s a dwarf apple orchard in the middle of the picture, and a field of decorative pumpkins in front of it. This is not farming. This is farming:   P1800658That’s the fall crop. (The sagebrush are the result of unethical over-grazing by cattle.) By the time the deer can be harvested in October, early spring’s crop will be sprouting. When the sunbathers by the lake are skiing on the mountain, spring’s crop will already be growing under the snow, which is not, by the way, cold. It acts as a grid of tiny lenses, creating a greenhouse 5 millimetres high. That’s enough. In mid-March, it will look like this, on what are now the driest of slopes. p1600207   Lambs quarters! Better than spinach. This is not a dry country. If there is dryness, it means someone created it. That means it can be reversed. The real global warming is not an effect of smokestack and tailpipe carbon emissions. It is the effect of 19th century technology and thought applied in ignorance. It’s time to apply what we know and start over, in earnest, with open hearts and open eyes, and to listen to the robin wait. P1960557   Everything in its season. rowan1

Save the Earth, Save Yourself (Seeing in the Dark, Part 3)

I promised to write about the environmental and scientific consequences of reading the land as darkness, in an embodied science, rather than as light (the kind of science we have today). I meant no criticism of science or of the strength of its method, only a method for working with (and even viewing) what it cannot apprehend because of its initial assumptions. Here’s one.P1660066 Ah, over to you…

You: Harold, you’ve been taking blurry photos in the fog again, haven’t you? What is it with you and the fog?


You: Oh, you poor crazy thing. OK, I’ll play along. What is that?

Ah! I thought you’d never ask. It’s this!


You: So, a bluff above Kalamalka Lake, in Vernon, British Columbia. In the fog. Harold. It’s rock. In the fog.

Well, it’s a story, see. A rocky mountain sheep, with two lambs and a trickster rabbit.  It changes every time you look at it. That’s the story. By looking at it, you are reading yourself.

You: HUH????

Well, here you are… P1660051

You: Another rock? Harold, this is not science. This is weird poetic geology.

Awww, look at you, lying there, staring up at the sky in front of the herd of sheep. Talk about story! Look at that fir tree growing out of your navel!

You: Oh good grief.

The story’s quite complex, really. Especially when trees get involved. Trees are time. The rocks are timeless. There’s enough there with which to read most human social and physical needs, aspirations and struggles. Look at that, um, rather feminine cleft on the ridge line.


You: Freud would have a heyday with you, boy.

Freud didn’t know how to read the land like this, but he was going in the right direction, because if the land, viewed by a human, is a map of the human’s self, then reading the clues of the human self should give you a a rough approximation of the land. The only difference between Freud’s method and this more traditional one is that Freud’s was scientific, in the terms of the science of light, in that it predicated itself on the point of view of the individual, and then sought to define the world according to the images cast up by that mask.

You: What on earth is the difference?

Perspective and point of view, for one. These images are actually written in the physical world, not just in body images developed in the mirroring of psycho-sexual forces in childhood. They require the surrender of the self and an acceptance of identity in place. Freud’s require an acknowledgement of the primacy of human biology. I think we’ve grown beyond that. It is so, like, 1890s.

You: Huh? I mean, Huh??

Here you are now. (Below.) Or, at least, you your own ancestor, with your cougar friend (middle foreground).

P1650966 In stories like this, motion is represented by distance and fog — by layers of light, so to speak.


Psst! Note the red mountain goat mid-image.

Forget logic. This is how your body apprehends the world. Either you accept that or you abandon it and try, like Freud (and his science), to sublimate your experience of the world and of your self-in-the-world.

You: Harold, we call that childhood.

So does Freud.

You: You’re supposed to grow out of that.

Yes, according to narratives of light. In narratives of the body, though, time, or narrative drive, is also represented by trees, especially in their multi-generational growth and succession.P1650943 By birds, too, like this raven checking me out.

P1650892 Either you are a part of the world or you aren’t. You can’t play it both ways. The consequences are actually real. For example, people who thought this lump of rock was only a geological formation, a volcanic burp, so to speak, the core of an ancient volcanic plug lifted up into the sky by subduction, cut a highway through it, which entailed a lot of blasting and the obliteration of the formation’s connection to the lake below, and much of its story. Now, the story contains holes, just as the geological science did when apprehending this behemoth, and contains as well the record of that invasion and disruption. That is part of the story now, too. It is, however, what it is. It can’t be covered over.

You: Well, not unless one rejects your thesis.

Yes. That is the great covering over. That is the colonial moment.P1660004

You: Colonialism is the highway? Come on, it’s just there to move Mexican lettuces into the British Columbia Interior.


You: What is wrong with that kind of colonialism then? It sounds to me like progress.

Yes, it’s that, but it can’t tell this story.


You: Harold, Harold, Harold. That’s not a story. That’s a hill.

Actually, it’s the twin of the rock bluff we saw earlier. As you walk (or drive) through the Commonage south of Vernon, it shifts position in relationship to you. By moving, you provide the narrative to this story. Characters change position. They interact in different ways. The hill becomes grass, then becomes stone, and then you enter its story.



Ancestors in the Rock (in the mind)

In light-thinking, you enter it’s map, like this:



It doesn’t map stories. It maps a system of logic and the distancing from story.

You: The growth of childhood into mature adult identity. Yes.

Or the avoidance of responsibility and adult identity. Here, look at it again.


And again. The red circle below is the stone bluff in this narrative. The yellow circle is the grass hill.


You: What is that industrial site hiding behind the bluff there?

Ah, that’s the landfill. Anything that people don’t want in town goes there, is processed into compost, is burned, or is buried in gravel. Right behind a sacred, ancestral hill. Right behind your mind, actually, and you, lying there with your sheep friends. Today, if you climb the grassy hill, in addition to a view of the extended narrative of the bluff, and what it can tell you about yourself and your relationship to the land, you also get a view of the dump, and garbage, and the kind of activity that mapping does to the land. Things are what they are. You can, however, sublimate it all and hire a psychologist to try to put the pieces all together.

Freud: I am in the business of building selves, not doing jigsaw puzzles.

So am I, Sig.

Freud: So, tell me about your mother.

She was in the business of building a family. That was her identity.

Freud: Tsk, tsk, tsk.

This isn’t all poetic thinking here. In the image below, for example, these principles can be seen working out ecologically. Have a look.P1650797 This is a grassland hill in the Commonage just a bit to the south and west of the grassy hill— a little higher, and on the north-facing slope. What you’re seeing here, geologically, is post-glacial or peri-glacial deposits of gravel, eroded by water into gullies, likely immediately after the glaciers melted. Those gullies capture snow drifts, which retain water as the winter melts away, extending the reach of water into the coming dry season, and providing not only habitat and water concentration (which allows for richness of riparian life, a vital part of the grassland ecosystem) but a system of heat-cold water pumping through the landscape and into the wetlands in the hollows along the highway below, where people like to throw their unwanted refrigerators and kitchen stoves and one man keeps bees. Here’s another view.

P1650799 This, too, is a story, and an ancestral face no different than the figures in the bluff above, or the lake below the bluff. These ones, however, aren’t in human or animal shape.



They are the shapes that humans and animals move through.



Nonetheless, map intelligence, based on the human-self-centric methodology of light-based science, focussed as it is on the empirical and using the self to remove body-based knowledge from the pool of empirical data (this is called ‘growing up’ and “mature understanding” in science-based or individual-based culture), puts roads into this ecological body (in the sense that a biome is a life form) and destroys, or at least vastly alters, its ability to function. The road becomes a part of the biome, and its intrusions alter the flows of energy in the land. Compare this …

P1650543 … to an un-roaded section just to the left of the above image.P1650544


In the road image, the riparian area (the shrubs in the left bottom corner of the image), and its ability to harvest water and support life, has been transformed into a road, and its ability to harvest water and support social threads. Each is an image of the intellect that approaches it and its attitudes towards self and the body. One leads to a living earth. One leads to a dead one. In the dead one, this landscape is known as “brown” and “a desert”, yet look at it up close, yesterday. (Below) Here’s a riparian area storing water. Note that the highway below has already shed its water, hastening drought rather than building capacity.

P1650825Similarly, here is the lower face of the dynamited bluff, above the lower highway that separates it from Kalamalka Lake and the old Syilx villages below. Notice the lichen, slowly rebuilding the land’s capacity, which has been set back, in evolutionary terms, 10,000 years. That’s 10,000 years of complexity in your mind.

You: Huh?

You’re that rock.


Here is what that (you) should look like.



You: It’s a tide pool!

Yeah, not a desert at all. This is a better model for your mind. What’s more, it’s mine at the same time, and the earth’s. And hers…


The alternative is Mars.


4 billion years in the past.  That’s four billion years of your knowledge and identity obliterated. That is personal and ethical erosion. It is the ultimate self-negation.


Choosing to Be Human

“Gravity” is commonly understood as the force, devolved from subatomic bonds extended during the Big Bang, that brings things down. This vineyard hill above my house, for instance.


The same force brings a stone down from a high trajectory into the swirls of a river, where it then tumbles down slowly to land among flashing schools of mountain whitefish in the shallows where the current just begins to pick up again after slowing in the deep pool at the foot of a mountain, where black bears come down seven thousand feet from the high country, cross the thread of the river when almost all men are asleep, and shake the moonlight out of the fur like water. It can also look like this:

P1600326 … and this …P1600477

The Big Bang, gravity, God, the tug of molten dew off of the bowed stalks of bunchgrass, the energy rippling through the muscles of black bears and mountain rivers riding over a thousand feet of gravel left by a post-glacial river as big as the Missouri and inhabited by ancient, scaled creatures whose hands are specialized wings for steering themselves through water, those are all pretty much the same thing. It also looks like this:


The force is the same, and is unbroken — unlike the cat tail stem above, that failed to resist it. On a planet on which any difference between God, the Big Bang, gravity and a cat tail is not a quality of anything you can pick up in your hand and put in a vase in front of a window, but of experience, the missing variable in discussions of gravity is time. Rock, water, fish, moon, sun, star, man, log, bear, and fire, are not substances in the world. They are boundaries — not ones drawn around things but within them. For the things themselves there are no boundaries. The boundaries have to do with their extension, their thinning out, in time.



Time is the way in which gravity and the tendency of entropy, the way in which all energy (supposedly) decays, becomes spirit. That might be the nearly-abandoned farm of an elderly widow above, a woman born in an internment camp during the Second World War, but it contains a gift of life she is still trying to give to us. There are moments at which earthly understanding supersedes that of mathematics. There are moments at which the answer is to choose to be human. We are all born with the potential. Not all make the choice.


Why Poetry Matters

In poetic tradition, the number three is sacred to the Goddess of poetry, as is the colour red. This is not the age of the Earth in which people are comfortable talking about goddesses, or poetry, so let me rephrase that, with an image:hipthree


Three Red Earths in a Field of Energy

As this is also not the age of the Earth in which images are easily read, let me rephrase my original opening again:

 The number three … The birth-reproduction-death cycle

is sacred … unites the three defining components

to the Goddess of poetry … of the earth

as is the colour red… through the force of life.


Three Drops of Blood

The birth-reproduction-death cycle unites the three defining components of the earth through the force of life. One more thing: in contemporary culture, statements like this are to be understood, or dismissed. The sense of “understanding” at play is that of comprehension of a logical meaning or sequence within the statement. That is a new form of the Old English word “understand”, and one far newer than the comprehension of the birth-reproduction-death cycle which the word might claim to grasp. In terms contemporary with the lives of people who lived intimately with the earth, the word “understand” means “to stand among”, “to stand on”, in the sense of “being close to.” In other words, to say that one understands the statement “The birth-reproduction-death cycle unites the three defining components of the earth through the force of life.” is to say that one stands in the middle of this …


… that one stands upon it, that one accepts its truth as one’s own, and that one is intimate with and willing to be ruled by it. Rather than being an expression of individual strength, it is an expression of humility: the strength is in the earth.


Even when it looks to be a dead thing. As I said, we don’t live in an age of poetry, nor in one of images or of understanding in the original sense of the word. That’s not the earth. That’s just culture. The original force, however, is still present, meaning “here in our time.”

P1590872 This Image is Contemporary

So is the knowledge that informs it.

This knowledge has been given to us by our ancestors, who knew the earth intimately. We cannot claim to understand them, or their earth, if we do not stand under their knowledge, which is to say, if we do not stand within it.


Winter Haws

The magical tradition, from which poetry rose, honours these fruits as well, as does the Christian tradition, which draws parallels between them and Christ’s blood. Although this is not a time of the earth in which Christian or magical traditions dominate world affairs, their knowledge is still with us.

That this knowledge was originally expressed in language as poetry is precisely the point, because it means that the tool for accessing it is within poetry. As such, through to the end of the Christian age, poetry remained the most vital tool for training future state administrators. It was commonly agreed that a balanced social, spiritual and human world could not be created on earth without the use of the tools of poetry, with their deep roots in the intersection of spirit and the earth.


A Model for Governance

If you know how to read it.

This correspondence between the earth, human social affairs and poetry can serve as a simple yardstick: if anyone dismisses the roots of poetry within the physical earth, they are dismissing as well both the tools for understanding that earth, humility, the concept of understanding itself, and that earth. Unfortunately, the image below is rarely recognized as poetry today.

P1580073 Poetry today is one of the learned arts, taught as a communication form to transfer emotional material between the discrete individuals of a post-goddess world. It was not always so. What culture today finds through words was originally a direct expression of what was observed in the world and turned into a sequence of signs and symbols, which contemporary poetry calls metaphor and symbol.

P1580075 This is Not a Metaphor

P1580068 This is Not a Symbol

P1580066 As you open into your time here on this earth, you may find, as I have today, people calling absurd the notion that poetry is a function of the universe. To such people, this is not poetry:P1580042 Nor is this…P1580034 Nor this …P1580030 Yesterday I was even challenged by a linguist, who claimed that linguistics was a mature science, while poetry was a method of communication. If that were entirely so, either the following image would be a piece of communication….P1580029 … which it is not, as it has neither narrative, symbol, significance nor meaning, or poetry would be a human invention, which is to say it would be an application of rhetorical rules delineated by the logic of grammar and thus subservient to intellect. It would be much like learning to construct a speech or to strip down the engine of an automobile.P1580027 To a man whose identity is one with a certain stretch of the planet, it is an impoverished view of the earth, but, hey, it might be good enough for a lot of good work, except that attempting to govern the earth and to shape it by such mechanistic processes creates not this….P1580009 … or this …P1580005 … but this…

P1600900…and, closer, this …P1600891

… which is unsustainable, mismanages earth, water and health and provides industrialized food and industrialized landscapes in place of humanity and beauty. So, an observation: a mechanistic world view that does not “stand under” or “understand” the earth in the poetic sense produces a society that does not stand within the earth and, in its reflection, an earth that one cannot stand within…


Heck, they even build fences around it.


These new, created spaces exclude all humans (and other large mammals) except the creators of these spaces. We call such land engineers farmers. They are neither farmers nor poets. They are industrialists, transforming the earth into a factory and interhuman (and human-earth) relationships into relationships of power based on the authority of privately-reserved wealth. Goddesses don’t like that kind of thing. Nor do Christs. Nor do poets. Nor do living environments. Look how the weight of molten snow soaks the seeds of blue-bunched wheatgrass, and how the weight of winter water and snow bends down its stalks to the snow …


..where frost releases the seed onto the snow …


When the snow melts, the seed will be carried to a place attractive to water, where it will sprout, perhaps, into a new individual. Poetry acts like that, because it is as organic and responsive to the environment as that, and consists of organic observations like this one. Yes, poems are constructed of words these days (although also out of sounds, images, performance and video), but that doesn’t mean that it began with words. It began with the ability to be within the earth and no matter what new territory it rises from, it retains that ability. In fact, it nourishes it. It is, in fact, this:


Anyone who tells you otherwise is either not a poet, or does not live on the earth. You should know this. It’s vital.

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.


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:


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…


… and next, only a few metres away …P1590477


I offer the observation that they are the same.