The Ethical and Environmental Role of Poetry

Here’s an image of one ecological niche filled two ways, both of which move water into light. One creates biological life. The other creates electricity, in support of a custom of social life called “Public Safety”. One creates new social and biological niches. It is called “ponderosa pine”. It lifts ants up into the wind and draws deer and birds for shelter. And the porcupine. Each of its cones is an earth on its own, flush with species that live nowhere else. The other relies on the the drowning of millions of social and biological niches and the semi-annual slaughter of millions of others to keep its transmission lines clear, to have the power to create social niches in a non-physical sphere. It is called a street light. One creates the earth. One turns away from it. It is a contemporary belief that they can co-exist. No. Not really. The effort of passing from social technology to biological life and back again eventually leads to the belief that the biological life fills a social niche within human society. Sure it does, but that’s not its primary role. This is what medieval discussions of the knowability or unknowability of God or his manifestation in time and space in the body of Christ look like today. They have been cast into the subconscious for too long. It is time to bring them again into the light, for Christians and non-Christians alike.

P1220014The Price of Hydroelectricity

It is also time to bring in understandings of this niche between earth and sky, or water and light, in terms that come from non-Christian culture, such as that of the local Syilx culture, to which lone trees like this in the grasslands are seen in a shamanic context, as bridges to the sky world (and the setting of many a randy story and much good laughter). There is the real power: the one that both the Cross and the Hydroelectric system draw from. Poetry has the ability and tools to make these connections. The marginalization of poetry within contemporary Western culture is one of the reasons that the flow of power between such images is not better managed and why the efforts of civic planning and environmental protection often go wrong. Somethings need to be repeated over and over again, gently, and in a multiplicity of living contexts. This is one: landscape is ethics.

 

Oh To Be a Heron in the Springtime

The Okanagan hosts the world’s only urban heron rookery. Things are full of action there at the moment.

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The Rookery, Vernon

The rookery, however, is on private land, surrounded by tire dealerships, a walled housing village, and various mechanical shops. Currently, the “owner” of the land is protecting the herons’ right to this, their space, despite the protests of neighbours about the danger these trees present. If life is to survive the industrialization process in the Okanagan, land ownership rules will change to give priority to these birds, in the way that agricultural land uses are currently protected. When all thrive on this land, all thrive. Blessed be.

The Earth is Dying (And Not Because of Global Warming)

I went up the hill, and I found one sagebrush buttercup.  Take a look, so you’ll be present in this scene. It’s important. It’s about the state of the earth and the state of Canada.

P1200220Sagebrush Buttercup

Two weeks ago, it bloomed in the south of the Okanagan, north of the US-Canadian border. Two weeks before that, it bloomed at the south of the Okanogan, at the confluence of the Okanogan and Columbia rivers. Two weeks before that, it bloomed at Horse Thief Butte, above the drowned centre of the world at Cellilo Falls. Drowned? Yes. There’s a power dam and shipping locks, you see.

What a welcome sight! An indigenous flower, in the spring. In the European story, life springs from the dead land, and a beautiful flower spirit dances in the wind among the blades of fresh new grass. It works in Europe. Here it is the death of the earth. In the Okanagan story, sagebrush buttercup is used to tip arrows, to make them into poison arrows, for hunting small game. That’s still not right, though, because this particular sagebrush buttercup was not alone. Three insects were living off of it: a tiny fly a few millimetres long, something smaller and quicker that I only saw as a flash as it scurried out of my way, and one young crab spider trying to make a living off of them. Here’s the spider…

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Crab Spider, Hiding

The green grass here is an invasive weed. Grass at this time of year should not be green.

Do you see her? Upside down below the sagebrush buttercup and with her life hanging by a thread? Here, look again…

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So, let’s put that into perspective. Out of a dozens of square kilometres of hillside existing as a bit of waste land between a vineyard and its mechanical yard and a walking path in the bed of an old irrigation canal, above orchards, abandoned orchards and houses planted in orchards abandoned earlier, the indigenous insects of this place are trying to survive on one tiny sagebrush buttercup. Well, so it seems, but no, no. That’s too rash. This community of hangers-on has company. Look at her, just up the slope and only a metre away from the gravel dribbling down from an expansion of the vineyard mechanical yard above …

P1200230A Yellow Bell!

Beautiful!

In the European story, yellow bells are pretty fairy spirits that are one of the first signs of spring from Alaska to California and which scent the air with the purest of all spring scents. In the Okanagan story, however, this is a food crop. The bulbs of this little lily mean the difference between dying after a long winter or regaining one’s health and strength in the spring. Food and health, and by extension the health of the land are the same. That’s why the people indigenous to this place call themselves the Syilx. It’s not a term descriptive of a biological or social group of humans. It’s a term descriptive of a group of living beings who care for all living beings in a place, equally, as they are but one of them and as dependent upon the unity of them all as any others. To the Syilx, this yellow bell is also Syilx, and they are it. It’s the same thing for this guy, chewing on one of the yellow bell’s leaves…

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Butterfly Larva Lunching 

She is yellow bell and yellow bell is her. Not to mention the flowers she will pollinate a little later in the spring … if they come up.

 So, there you go. Out of dozens of square kilometres of hillside that once fed a people and supported a host of insects, butterflies, birds and mammals, there is one little yellow bell left, and one butterfly trying to make a living out of it. It breaks my heart. In the European story, of course, or, rather, the story of Europeans who have migrated to this place, ignorant of what they are stepping on and picking for posies in the spring, this observation might be worth a shrug, because there’s no economic benefit to be made out of it. Not so fast. Here are two observations about that: 1. If this yellow bell were in Switzerland, a farmer would be paid to ensure that it survived, at a rate far in excess of the profit he would make on surrounding land, and 2. It does matter economically, not in and of itself but in what the lack of Syilx identity costs. Here’s what I mean:

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Spring Landscaping

Do you see how that works? A living, productive environment capable of supporting thousands of species has been reduced to dead soil, in which is planted a day lily, which is misplaced so that its bed becomes a footpath and a convenient receptacle for chewing gum and cigarette butts, because, get this, people respect the sidewalk, which is made out of concrete (a mountain ground to dust in the Rocky Mountains east of Banff and then mixed with gravel and water). And this is not just a single instance of the lack of Syilx thinking. The above image is from the landscaping around the Vernon Public Library. Here’s the landscaping in front of Okanagan Spring Brewery. The highlights include expensive composted earth, tulip bulbs from Holland (no butterflies eating those), a sock, a few footsteps, a cigarette butt…

P1190851 … and chewing gum…P1190865

Oh, and some bark chips. And here are some more of those, at the library…

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For some reason, the application of ground up trees, a kind of social waste made out of trees, bushes, weeds and grass collected by truck from urban lawns and mixed on a sacred part of the Syilx grassland (still under land claim, as it has been for 120 years) is considered to be caring for the planet, because burning it would contribute to global warming. Hunh? The earth is dying now, and we are worrying about it dying in the future? The future is now. This, too, is part of the same phenomenum of which global warming is a part, and the real name for it is murder. Oh, by the way, the small plants sprouting among those bark chips will be hoed up later in the spring, as part of the contracted responsibility of the landscaping company hired to maintain this aesthetic perimeter of grasses. As for aesthetics, well, here’s the brewery’s take on that:

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Okanagan Springs Brewery Staff Lounge

A little break in nature.

And here’s the library’s challenge in this regard:

P1200064 Many of the grasses are dead. They aren’t, you see, native here. Even the live ones are quite simply in the wrong place. They are planted in an ashtray. You and I and the wonderful people at the library (and they are: smart, educated, beautiful, caring, hard-working and kind — no doubt exactly the same as the dedicated people at the brewery) might not want it to be an ashtray, it might make for an incredible fire hazard as an ashtray, but there’s no getting around it: in terms of the culture of this place, this is an ashtray.P1200066What’s more, it is built infrastructure and dominates, in a way of thinking that sees nature as a thing that can be planted in the gaps between the really important infrastructure (concrete) to satisfy the ancient, heritage physical needs of the bodies that carry around the identifies of the people who are the citizens penned (civilized) in this concrete world. All this takes place in a country (Canada), which considers art and culture as being ‘heritage’ activities, which make its citizens happy and more productive at furthering the role of Canada as a global economic power among its peers, other global economic powers. In this world of the Europeans who have taken over Syilx space, the Syilx concept still applies. It’s just that rather than being applied to life, it is applied to tenuous things like identity (to be defended at all costs, but rising only from autonomous individuals, not individuals in relationship to other species) and economic infrastructure. They are all considered a unit, and fearlessly defended. The only thing is, it all leads to this:

P1190885 Vernon Veterinary Office Landscaping

That landscape cloth under those rocks cost lots of bucks. It is designed to keep things from growing. You can’t stop dandelions that easily, though.

And this…

P1190932 Self Medication Waste in Justice Park

Mouthwash for the Alcohol Addicted and Coffee for the Caffeine Crowd. The stones are meant to be a stream, but, as you can see, after a few years no one can afford to maintain that kind of thing anymore and it is given instead to the homeless crowd.

And this…

P1190900More Smoking Waste Thrown Onto More Ground Up Trees, Justice Park.

All of this landscaping, these attempts to turn living space into a concrete one that mirrors rigid lines of economic power costs a lot of money, much of it in the name of beautification and green, environmental values. A people who lived in this place would just plant yellow bells and live among the butterflies, bluebirds and meadowlarks. It would be surrounded by an environment full of beauty and food and no one would be hungry or homeless. This place is not like that now. This place is a machine, the same machine that grinds up trees into infertile tree bones and calls it topsoil, installs plants into it that have no hope of surviving, and calls the whole thing environmental care. This is a society that doesn’t live in this place, but devours it as a resource and replaces it with an image of itself. This is a place in which any person who actually lives in this place is rendered homeless. This is a colony. Wake up. The spring is supposed to look like a bit more like this here:

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Sagebrush Buttercups, Two Weeks Ago at Vaseaux Lake

Meanwhile, off in Kelowna tonight, 45 minutes to the south of my sagebrush buttercup and an hour and a half north of the one at Vaseaux Lake, an art exhibit is being launched to display what the “citizens” of the “Okanagan” are thinking about in the contemporary culture of this place, as displayed through the images they post on FaceBook. Let me make this really, really clear: the sagebrush buttercups are citizens of this place; the humans are citizens of a global non-place. And that is why the earth is becoming a non-place. The colonization of this place didn’t happen a century and a half ago. It is happening right now. Tinkering with the niceties of social culture in this place and the free expression of individuals is a great thing … for the colonial image. It helps to perfect it and helps to perfect the individual ‘identities’ of the biological bodies of humans in the virtual space called “The Okanagan”. But that’s it. Here, let me show you how that works. In the image below, the bright colours painted in the window are there to address your body, which then sends out chemical signals, which influence the behaviour of your ‘identity’.

P1190826The bushes in their gravel hell are you. The chopped up gravel is the earth. And there is nothing to eat.

 

 

The Achilles Heel of Justin Trudeau’s Canada

The leader of The Liberal Party of Canada, Justin Trudeau, has put his shoulder behind the wheel of a thing he calls “The Middle Class”. This is not the middle class that Marx wanted to abolish, as a representation of the social power of exploitive capital. It’s just that group of Canadians with money to spend, who can maintain the Canadian industrial economy by, well, buying stuff. The thing is, that definition cuts across social classes, which have nothing to do with money. Sometimes art says more than words, which can usually be made to mean anything at all. Here, for instance, is a security apparatus, for a definitely non-Middle Class, non-Liberal establishment seeking to raise money to help in the fight against abortion and the liberal rights the practice embodies.

P1150835Downtown Vernon, British Columbia

Not always a liberal (or a LIberal) place, but always full of class.

Think of that as a representation of the human body, and you get the idea. And here we go, to the edge of downtown, at the boundary of a local park and the huge new, very expensive, middle class subdivision that would warm Justin Trudeau’s heart.

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More Non-Liberal Security

There’s an old Okanagan tradition of strewing one’s property with junked cars and equipment to stick it to creeping gentrification. That dog sure needs to relax a little, though. The way he was going on, he’s going to need throat lozenges, soon.

Think of it as a representation of the human body, and you get the idea. More than that, think of it as a representation of a social body, or, rather, its boundary. And what is Trudeau’s middle class up to? To da!

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Vernon Subdivision for the Well-Heeled

The architectural style is a mix of Provence and the American Southwest.

Here’s the Bella Vista Hills, as re-sculpted by Trudeau’s middle class, for its enjoyment…

p1040409The Golf Course at the Rise

A bit of reused sewage outflow can really add a nice nitrogen gleam to the grassland hills.

Why, you’d almost think that a couple classes were at war. Here, for example, is the golf course’s neighbour’s land use strategy.

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Private Rights at Any Price

It always seems to be the earth that loses in these inter-human squabbles.

Maybe all this talk of class is not really descriptive of what’s going on. Here’s the middle class’s university.

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Symbols of Power and Post-Modernity at the University of British Columbia (Okanagan)

Now, that’s a colonial name, or what.

And here’s the institution’s landscaping.

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Landscaping at UBCO

Why do they even bother?

Now, is it just me, or is the aesthetic and cheesy abuse of any kind of respectful relationship to the living things of the earth pretty universal, across class lines here?

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Vernon Alley

Lower class alley (a residential area) used as a middle class parking lot and garbage disposal for the middle class business behind that red door.

How is that different than this?

dogNow, this cultural aesthetic has another manifestation, among the young (ish). This is Justin Trudeau’s demographic. Here’s a downtown business in Vernon, British Columbia, in the process of a remodel. That doesn’t stop a bit of irony from creeping in …
P1150839Indeed. Healing would be the perfect thing. Blabbing on about the not-so-middle middle class is just a way to continue national partisan party politics in the intrusion of our communities into a fragile and threatened biosphere. Politicians are the representations of the polis, or the community. The thing is, this is the community, too:

P1150739Syilx Indigenous Stone Fish Below Turtle Mountain

This character in an ancient story about social equality, which is written on the land, is surrounded by a very non-Middle Class neighbourhood. This, by the way, is what the middle class subdivision of Turtle Mountain looks down upon.

Canada and images of it are not ‘reality’. They are social and political struggles written out upon the land. It doesn’t matter what class Canadians belong to. This is what Canadians take part in. Given the need to address those issues, the desire of all classes to maintain the social and political construct of “Canada”, as it is, whether by building up the middle class or tearing it down or whatever, is selfish (if not plain insane) — unless someone like Trudeau can demonstrate how supporting it can make things better, i.e. reduce the erosion of the social commons called “the earth.” So far, he hasn’t done that. I hope he finds the courage to do so.

Canada: Ideology Gone Bad

Ideology is an Invasive Weed (Part Two)

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In cold post-glacial lakes there are no weeds. The weeds grow in wetlands draining into the shore. In Canada’s version of the Okanagan Valley, it’s not quite like that, as I showed two days ago (Click.) Why, one would think that Canada is trying to turn this lake into an image of the famous muskeg of the Boreal Forest (Perhaps around the tar sands of Northern Alberta?), or maybe just the algal bloom and general over-fertilized muck of Lake Erie (tobacco field petroleum-based fertilizer runoff). I dunno. The geese do, though.

P1130521 Goose With a Feather Fail and Orange Peel

Florida 1. Okanagan 0. Third inning.

Poor things. They’re grossed out at the hell that human mis-reading of grassland lake systems as summer boating and swimming paradises have made out of the lake (see yesterday’s post) and are hanging out at the children’s playground instead of dipsy-doodling down on the lake shore, which isn’t really a shore anymore.

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Playgrounds are Designed to Teach Children the Skills Required to Do the Work of Adults in Society

Complete with wheelchair ramp. Note that these training devices for domesticating the wild human body don’t reference the natural habitat of such creatures (the earth). This playground is a visual representation of contemporary ideology. It should be a warning. Shouldn’t children be playing in the lake? Na, they’re probably grossed out by it too. They’re also smart enough to pick up that it has certain approved roles in adult society, and not others. No point wasting their time, eh.

The geese don’t know a thing about the niceties of economic triage, which is a cozy term to describe the ideology that holds (with trumpets) that all things in the world are subject to the practical demands of reducing public expenses to allow for increased corporate profit.  The political class of the city in which I live (Vernon, British Columbia) holds that it is the business of the government to reduce costs above all other things, and to create opportunities for private investment and profit. This ideology holds that it is the role of government to provide services that have only costs (roads, sewers, and so on), but no potential for profit. Did you get the irony in that? The government’s role is to reduce the costs that it’s responsibility is to provide? Kind of like this, I think.

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Adventure Playground Ideology by Another Name

In the terms of contemporary society, this is called “reality” and “practical thinking” and even “good government.” It is only good, however, if viewed from within its own ideology. When looked at from the world of the geese, maybe the world looks like this?

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Sometimes the Worst Picture from a Human Perspective is the Best

Ah, but these are publicly-kept non-migratory geese that have their eggs destroyed every spring so that they don’t have more geese, which will mar the expensive trucked-in sand  choking out the lake’s natural boundary with goose poop and making it useless to the ideology of summer. (Without cheap petroleum, no one would have thought of trucking sand across entire mountain ranges to make a place for half-naked humans to lie and soak up the sun and dream they were in florida.) Sure, go ahead.

P1130557Milfoil Crap, Ideology and Human Lies Washing Up on the Beach

Like the geese, I’m grossed out, too. This is like an oil spill.

Would you play there? No. The problem with that is that, by extension, the question could be asked: Would you play on the earth? The answer is, sadly, God no.

P1150163 Yup. That’ll do it.

The whole playground that has been made out of the earth because of the cheapness of petroleum and the ability it gives to create ideologies without connection to the living earth is based around the principles of a)  the earth can be discarded because we all outgrow our childhood fantasies and b) wildness will always heal what we do once we have done that.  In ideological terms, this is called, “growing up”, and “it’s just business,” and “we need balanced development.” It’s even called “responsible.” Sure.

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Impromptu Curling Rink on Okanagan Lake

It’s not just the shore that gets eroded.

For some reason, nonmigratory geese, which choose not to migrate (and to self-domesticate instead), and which are further domesticated by human intervention, are called wild. I think these images show that the humans have become domesticated, too. I’d say what has been done to the lake and these geese has also been done to us. You won’t read it in water management reports or civic government public information session promotional brochures or proselytizing Ministry of Environment apologies for goose egg coddling initiatives, but you sure can read it in the lake. Like the playground, it is our mirror.

P1130573 Oh, Canada.

Ideology is an Invasive Weed (Part One)

Sad news. My beautiful lake, with its jewels of melting ice reflecting the sky …

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is a bit of a sewer, too, when the freezing line gets in close to shore and the wind kicks up. Well, even a teeny little bit of wind, really.

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Water management in the Okanagan Valley sometimes is interpreted as “managing budgets” by chopping up invasive Eurasian Water Milfoil plants with a big waterborne threshing machine so that people can swim a hundred yards out in the summer and not get tangled up in the icky weeds (a gift of summer boating visitors two generations ago).

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Tons of chopped up milfoil leaves and stems are then left to rot all the winter long. In land-based terms, this is called a compost pile.

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More like compost soup.

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Given that a lake breathes through its shore, well, if we want a living planet, this makes no sense whatsoever. But, what the heck, the pebbly volcanic shore has already been replaced with ancient ocean sandstone. In lake terms, that’s the equivalent of covering the lake’s lips with duck tape.

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This is a form of environmental triage. It would cost millions to try to deal with the milfoil problem, or the nitrate problem that is feeding the damn stuff, or the missing fish that have no oxygen because of a) milfoil and b) rotting chopped up milfoil crud, or the tourism and agricultural industries that babble on about the pristine water. They do. They babble on about that. Presumably, someone must believe this mutually-agreed-upon delusion.

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Not to mention the shrimp that were imported to the lake some 40 years ago to feed the fish but lo the shrimp ate the same food as the young fish, so that was a flop. Worse than a flop. It was a disaster. It would cost millions to deal with that, too, so there is an experimental shrimp fishery now, on a trial basis, to see if harvesting shrimp is economically viable.

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Economically viable? What on earth does this have to do with economics? How about environmentally viable? I think ideology has gotten the better of us. I think people can say the nicest, smartest-sounding things, when what they’re really looking at and promoting full throttle is death.

P1130546Even if we scooped up the damned weeds when the wind drove them onto shore in October we’d be better off than this, but, of course, there’s no budget for that, either, because governments are run like businesses and ministries of the environment are really ministries of the manipulation of public opinion to keep things exactly as they are at the expense of the earth, and light.

P1110941Geez.

Human Nature

What is nature? I’ve been asking people, and they’ve been looking at me strangely, and have said things like, well, you know, green stuff. Sometimes people answer like this, too: natural things. Or even: wild things. I think I’ve got it now. This is considered nature:

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Gull in a Midwinter Thaw on Okanagan Lake

Shucks, though. What if it isn’t nature? What if it’s actually a representation of a matrix of ethical, social and physical issues? What if it is, in other words, human? Sure, sure, sure, it’s a gull, but that’s not what I mean. I mean, what if it were something actually pretty much like this:

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Human Nature

At first glance, it’s a few cat tail rushes buried under ice and covered with a skiff of snow. Or maybe that’s at fifth glance, or something. I don’t really know. 

I find it an intriguing idea. This is, after all, something that only a human could make, a kind of intersection between physical forces of energy and human capacities for perception and their cognitive processing.

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A Bear Would Not Make This Image

To put it in a language that bears (and dogs) can understand: it smells of human.

That’s because it’s not “nature”. It’s “human nature.” I don’t mean “human nature” in the sense of “what humans do”, but in the sense of “the earth and humans are mirrors of each other; nature is human.”

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Just Another Neighbourhood Human Hanging Out in the Rushes

There is also, of course, “bear nature”, but that’s not exactly the same thing. Nor are “grouse nature” or “golden retriever nature” or “green sweat bee nature”. There is, mind you, a kind of nature in which these various natures come together. We cannot see this nature.

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This is Still Human Nature, Everywhere You Look

It’s there, though, in the way in which two genders come together to produce a new generation and humans and their physical extensions come together to produce new life, a kind of spiritual and ethical life like this…

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Image of Ditch Ice Looking Like a Fish’s Head

aka a physical manifestation of ethics

I’ve been talking lately of how a human (such as myself) who came to consciousness through relationships with the physical earth comes to see no boundary between the earth and himself and herself.  For such people, the earth is both body and memory. A waterfall across the valley is, in this manner of presence, for example, a way of thinking. It is part of the thought process of such people. To give another example, here is a kind of self portrait …

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A Human Self Image

Moi.

It is called Human Nature. No, no, no, not a middle-aged grey-haired, grey-bearded human with twinkling green eyes and a sense of goatish fun, but something very serious indeed: a way of restoring or maintaining the integrity of living, organic systems through a process of continual self-observation, reflection, and adjustment. You can call that beauty and you can call that love. I do.

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Humans Everywhere You Look!

Or, rather, not humans. When a human and its natural environment are one, there is no environment and there is no human. There is only human nature.

This post is for Betsy who suggested the term “Human Nature” for what I’ve been trying to describe.

And what is “human”? Ah, that’s coming soon.

Lost Knowledge: Apples and Culture

I weep. At the beginning of the 1980s, I grafted the first Fuji apples in this country, as part of an attempt to free us from the trade rules of the Canadian government, that needed to balance an export surplus to the United States with fruit imports from Australia. Sweet deals were cut to ensure the prosperity of big cities in central Canada. We were proud of those apples. It seems like there’s little pride now.

P1030102 Too small, unpicked and poorly pruned. They look like Fujis, but who knows with such small misshapen, brown things.

Back in the mid-1970s I was pruning some of the first apple trees ever planted in British Columbia: huge old half-dead Royal Rome snags that had been grafted just after the Second World War. The poorly-healed grafting stubs, 4 metres up in the sky, were hollow, and you could stick your whole leg inside and stand there as if you were the tree. My job that day was to prune the tiny fruiting branches called spurs, in order to renew them for another ten years. The trees below were more expensive to plant by at least a thousandfold, and are totally dependent not on the art of pruning or cultural care but on petrochemical fertilizers, hormones, and pesticides. They were never designed to last more than ten years.

P1030095Ten Years Was Quite Some Time Ago

Oh, you couldn’t sell these apples in a store. They’re too small. No one would buy them. They’re too used to buying large apples — or not buying them because they cost $1 a piece for something that tastes industrial.

You could almost get angry with the farmers for throwing their money away on capital-intensive technology, except it was the government which sent men around to teach them that this method would make them rich. The government then went on to subsidize plantings like this. You could almost get angry at the farmers for asking, now, that the government renegotiate the Columbia River Water Treaty, which was designed to transform British Columbia from an agricultural into an industrial society, in order to make Americans pay for the economic subsidy they have gained by cheap Mexican labour.P1030091 Well, almost. I mean, if you are going to keep trees as slaves, or if you’re going to treat agriculture as a chemical industry, or if your marketing scheme consists of head-on competition with corporations with complete access to your market through the North American Free Trade Agreement and who have economies of scale sixty times your own and who control the wholesaling and distribution networks that you also use, and then, after all that, if you’re going to do this, why? What are you bringing to the table? Rotten apples?P1030082Still, there might be a point to the farmers’ insistence on economic adjustments for international trade policy. It’s not agriculture that has proven to be a failure in British Columbia and Canada. It is British Columbia and Canada that have proven to be a failure to agriculture. On the other hand, I think there’s a primary rule in operation here, from a planetary perspective. If you’re going to drain a vital wetland to plant apples, you should do it for more than profit-taking or industrial purposes. You should be like Tom McCloughlin and his Red Rome trees back after the Second World War: you should plant because you want to make a living future. Making an industrial one in its place is a form of capitalization, and money will flow, always, to the most industrial, urban model. It is no way to grow food and no way to respect the earth. To do that, you have to plant trees that do not need fertilizers, thin them by hand rather than with hormones or poisons, and prune and graft them for renewal rather than slaughter. Oh, yeah, and you need to pick the damn apples and give them to people. If you’re not going to do that, you have a huge wetland or grassland debt you will never repay.

P1030076What’s more, here’s where the industrial model leads: GMO insanity.

3306-2-01115756e42195682aa49f245e23fdb40ec475eb-s40-c85Granny Smith Apple (left) and GMO Arctic Granny Smith (right).

Here’s the U.S. National Public Radio article on that apple on the right. These apples are the perfect image of a culture drugged by its ignorance.

Here’s the deal: the apple on the right will destroy the organic apple industry and the culture it feeds, which is lived and worked for by people who don’t use petrochemicals, prune their trees for renewal, and thin their apples by hand. Farmers can do this, because the apples are worth something, people want to buy them, and they are not a part of the boondoggle of contemporary apple wholesaling. All that knowledge and inter human, human-earth care will be thrown away the instant GMO apples are commercially planted. They are the AIDS of apple culture. And for what? So an apple doesn’t turn brown. Why, isn’t it interesting that all of this comes out of a community that has been fuelled in recent years by a white diaspora fleeing the increasingly humanly brown colour of cities to the East for a self-defined pure white past (It wasn’t, really). There was a time before that, for a few decades, in which people knew a few things: they knew to plant trees for the future, they knew how to work with them, artfully, to create social wealth, they had a culture of their own rather than one belonging somewhere else, and they bred new apple varieties rather than creating chemical gunk. The thing about farming is that every generation gets the farmers that reflect its deepest impulses. Two generations ago, these were farmers who wanted to work artfully with their hands. The government taught them this art, at the same time it taught them to introduce more chemicals and petrochemicals into it. A generation ago, these were farmers who wanted to work technically with statistical charts and chemical soups. The government taught them how to do that…then it shut its doors. It doesn’t teach anybody anything anymore. It has nothing to teach. It drank its own Kool Aid and considers government to be the business of statistics. Now it appears that society is reflected in many cases by farmers who want to let their apples fall to the ground for the lack of knowledge and economic misunderstanding, waiting for a governmental or industrial fix, earning industrial fixes from that government, rather than knowledge of how to work with land. No one has that anymore. It was purposefully bred out of the system. The most recent subsidy of the Okanagan apple industry by government was a new packinghouse, to set the packing of Okanagan apples on an equal efficiency footing with that of Washington, in the southern half of our valley. Well, isn’t that an industrial subsidy? Yes. Of course. That’s what an industrial, capitalized urban culture can understand, after it has lost knowledge of how to work with the earth. Well, here’s the thing: the taking of living land and turning it into a slave plantation has a debt, which can only be returned by adding more life to the land. The only place you are going to get that is from the addition of human effort. Capital or chemical effort just won’t do, because capital always flows to its source, which means that it doesn’t stay with the land, which means the debt is not repaid, and cultural and environmental and social poverty are the result. This is what poverty and food banks look like:

P1030075A government with a sense of the relationship between earth and human life would not have created the poverty which requires food banks, requiring subsidies of cash and industrially processed food and vast amounts of volunteer labour, to keep its children from starving to death. A society that had a connection with the earth would have found other, less-urban solutions to the problem, by moving the wealth of the earth to the people. Oh, and it was a mistake to grow these Fuji apples in the first place. We knew them as sweet apples off of the tree, with a snap when you bit into them in the frost, but raised on petrochemicals and turned into zombies with controlled atmosphere cold storage they taste like chemicals and stale water. If you bite into one and don’t taste that, it’s because you are used to eating petroleum products, not food from the earth. We grafted those apples to support farmers in crisis, looking for the income from Asian markets to compensate for the high land prices resulting from the transformation of this section of earth into the urban diaspora. It was, in other words, a social act, a commitment to transform our conversations with the earth into ones with the greatest social connection in the world ($$), without losing the earth in the process. It would have been better to have planted community orchards, because we did not, in the end, pay our debt. Farmers now are largely city men, who earnestly and honestly wish to get back to the land, or industrial farmers still chasing the colonial dream, and a few organic farmers under siege, who are making all the money. Thousands of acres of productive land has been turned into horse pastures in recent years. Many thousands of other acres are vacant: settings for large houses. Many hundreds of acres of productive fruit land within the city of Kelowna is producing apples on unirrigated trees. The apple fall to the ground. People who glean them are trespassing and breaking the law. The slave holders who own them claim that the land is not economically productive and must be turned into houses instead. Why? Because of their complete ignorance? So more people can come, and decrease the earth-human balance even further? We have a university in this community, but it doesn’t study or teach this stuff. That’s because it doesn’t know it either. It, too, comes from a distant culture and has little connection to this earth. The debt to the land, which goes back to the original colonial theft and its twin, the promise of health and renewal, remains unpaid. The interest is mounting. The sins of the 20th Century are going to take a long, long time to pay down. I think a good start would be to stop thinking of trees, and people, as economic slaves and to begin to govern again with the future in mind. That is how you make a future. What has been made here in the last twenty-five years is a past.

 

The Cunning Mouse Hunting Heron of Okanagan Landing

Look, maybe there aren’t that many wetlands left, because they are full of “airports sport fields houses roads road fill single wide trailers left over sidewalks trucked in from across town golf courses and and and and and”, and not many fish, but that’s not going to stop the blue herons from getting lunch. Here’s a Great Blue out hunting mice in a hayfield two kilometres from the lake.

hunter2 Here’s another Great Blue down at the tiny outflow of an itty bitty creek consisting mostly of road wash (salty, mmm) and boulders blasted out of the mountain (for the road), but, still, looking for fish…

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Now, Great Blues are solitary birds, largely, but, um, that seems to have changed, too …

lurk

He Learned His Tricks from the Canada Geese!

I mean, how else do you find the mice? Beats me.

If you’re a heron on a planet turned into a mistake, it pays to keep your eyes open. Oh, as for the hayfield, sorry, that’s an orchard that’s been turned into a tax dodge. Hay is not produced here. Only bales of weeds. Which are spiked by a tractor and driven three kilometres down the road to feed cattle. Sort of. I wonder. If they were released from their pen, would they wander down to the lake? Who knows, in these changing times.

10 New Agricultural Locations in the Suburban Okanagan

British Columbia, the province of Canada that claims the Okanagan as its own territory, is a jurisdiction in which some 94% of land is owned by the government, in trust for the people. Largely, this means that the land base is viewed as the hinterland for early agricultural settlements — carved out of Indian Territory since approximately 1870. As this agricultural land is very limited, it has largely been filled with cities or their loose suburban substitutes now. As a result, and because these are now populist political societies, the land base is used to support demographic majorities, ie. urban agendas, whether that is the use of the entire province of British Columbia to support the city state of Vancouver or the use of the Okanagan Valley to support the central city of Kelowna or the use of the Okanagan plateaus and side valleys to support agriculture in the main valley. In all cases, the land that could support many is used to support a few, often to excess. In other words, instead of moving onto the land, Okanagan, British Columbian, and Canadian societies are mining it for energy; wealth is created by concentrating that energy in as few hands as possible. Notice that this is not true wealth. It is only a concentration. The situation is similar in the American Okanogan, except only 42% of Washington is government-owned (although that’s still a substantial percentage), the city state is Seattle (also completely outside of the bio-region) and the economic hub city isn’t even in the Okanogan at all, but further south, in Yakima. In both jurisdictions, the land serves the political agendas of a certain political and economic class. In other countries, this kind of situation might lead to land reform, and the dispersal of land to the people. Sometimes that works. Usually not. Sometimes, it’s a nearly-unparalleled disaster, such as in Zimbabwe. Here, it’s not even in the cards. That’s understandable. This model of concentrating resources works too efficiently for people to give up its seductions easily, and the image of the regions within the National states of the USA and Canada mean that there are millions of people willing to exploit the original colonizing metaphors. One option we do have to ensure that the wealth of the land flows through all of the people and that the land is given back the capacity to feed the people who live upon it, is to change how we use the land we have. Much can be done. Currently, the primary agricultural model is to give private citizens or corporations monopoly rights to land, and to subsidize them with low taxation, cheap water and other incentives, with the social expectation that they will use this monopoly (private ownership) to create jobs, food, and wealth. The miles upon miles of abandoned orchards in the Northern American Okanogan, the lack of even adequate returns on many of the thousands of acres of vineyards in the Canadian Okanagan (and their subsidy with vast amounts of oil money from the tar sands in Alberta), the insistence of Okanagan fruit farmers on growing apples that no one wants, usually for less than the cost of producing them, and the untenable prices for scarce agricultural land caused by its exploitation as urban investments, should indicate that the current situation is fragile and will soon either collapse or need to change. If it collapses, it is likely that much land will be gentrified, and food production will be out-sourced to Mexico, with all the environmental and social costs that accompany that (among them, the fact that millions of Mexicans come north to work, because this system is starving them, because their land is used to feed, well, us). This is an acceptable risk for transient urban populations. It is not an acceptable risk or outcome for people who wish to live as the spirits of this place, and have their grandchildren’s grandchildren do the same. It is also not an acceptable outcome for all the species that humans share this valley with. Now, in some other country, under different political ideologies, it would be possible to have the city states take on the role of exploiting land monopolies and growing food from them. That’s not in the cards, either. What is in the cards is the repurposing of the land that is already public within urban areas, and the use of land outside of urban areas in ways that do not interfere with the current water delivery systems, in which great political power and debt is invested. This is an avenue of great hope, and holds within it the capacity to change social perceptions and ideologies, land use, and to feed the people whom the current monopoly system is depriving of food. We can, in other words, feed ourselves from the land we have. To do so, we have to work with the life processes that surround us, instead of relying on the current colonial technologies, such as upland dams, public water delivery systems, and the skewing of food production (Well, largely its silencing) by the supermarket food selling model. What follows are some thoughts on the potential within the region for new food production areas. Many of them could be easily used, some with and some without adaptation, in other areas, as these tensions between the commons, monopoly rights and privilege are pretty universal across the continent. I won’t document all the exciting work that is taking place in reclaiming land in Detroit, or the communal gardens that saved the East German people from starvation under the continual capital depletion of their society under stalinism, or any other exciting movements like that around Canada, the United States, and the world. It will be enough if I add my perspective to the discussion, by documenting what is possible in a desaturated atmosphere east of the Coast and Cascade mountains on the Northeast shore of the Pacific Ocean and the Northwest beach of North America. There is much that can be done, and all of it is socially transformative. What’s more, it’s cheap. Young people without deep capital reserves can farm again. Sometimes it will be one weed at a time. Here are a few urban opportunities. I will show you some rural ones tomorrow. So, here we go…

1. The Boulevard Median

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There are several acres of easily accessible soil in this subdivision boulevard alone, beautifully sloped and with prime sun exposure. The land could be watered solely by water collected from the road surface, which would cut down on infrastructure costs. It could supply vegetables and fruit to the people living here on the hill. Instead, it supplies decorative plants meant to give the image of agricultural bounty, including the jerusalem artichokes in the foreground, which are grown for their flowers and not cropped, although harvesting would actually increase the size of the flowers. Currently, strata fees in the residential neighbourhood pay for the aesthetic upkeep of the boulevard. Free land for a farmer would mean that instead of paying, the residents would receive wealth from their common land, plus they would be giving one young farmer space. In a society which exports most of its young people to distant city states, it’s vital to hold onto as many as possible, by offering real opportunities. And, yeah, that’s a single family castle.

2. Denaturalized but Undeveloped Land

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It took five years, but the clover has finally moved into the bare gravel on the road margin to the left of this image, turning a failed subdivision into productive space, supporting many wild insects and birds and with the potential to support a large honey industry. Last year there was virtually no clover here. Clover has the advantage of being able to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, and to grow without real soil. It would cost next to nothing to seed all subdivided or otherwise unused land into clover and use it to support an expanded honey industry. God knows, the bees need all the help they can get. Alternately, the clover could be grazed, mown and fed to livestock, including rabbits, or harvested for seed and fed to free range chickens, etcetera. There is no reason that private land monopoly should extend in situations in which the public interest in the land, that granted the monopoly in the first place, is not being upheld. Clover is only one of many crops that could be grown here. Mustard is another, as indicated by the bright green and yellow patch on the hill below the house and above the boulevard median in this image:

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Yeah, that’s the castle again. This time, notice as well the potential for fruit trees. These flowering plums are suffering, due to poor varietal choice and ridiculously inept rodent protection, but it could easily be done better. This, too, is what could be done better:

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Clover, People!

For the love of the earth, if you don’t plant clover the skeleton weed will come and then, soon thereafter, the whole ranching industry will collapse, as well as most species on the grasslands. Private ownership rights do not extend this far. $40 worth of seed. That’s not a lot to ask.

3. The Retaining Wall

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What? You like to bend over while picking vegetables?

4. The Crack in the Asphalt that No One Can Afford To Fix

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Might as well build it right in, to harvest this water, and to grow beautiful purslane (like this) for salads, or if there’s a contamination issue, just to mine contaminants from the road runoff, so the water can be used elsewhere. Purslane is a mighty fine water purifier.

5. The Street.

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Street Sidewalk in Kelowna

So what if homeless people eat the stuff. Is a food bank more efficient? Hardly.

Yes, this is a downtown Kelowna street, not an alley. If it can grow wild lettuce and mustard, it can grow herbs, spinach, cress, lettuce and even grains. There is no need to protect farm land and production monopolies from the stomachs of poor people. Let them eat their city.

6. The Road Margin

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Same deal with the wild lettuce, except here it’s against the road surface instead of the building surface. Self-irrigating. This location can also be used to mine run-off water for sand and soil, like this:

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Plants will do as well at this as rocks. Queasy about road contaminants? Fine. Go for the honey again:

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7. The Base of a Retaining Wall

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This escaped lavender is showing the way: in this landscape, any cut made in the soil profile will concentrate water. Placing rocks along the cut face will deliver the water underground directly to the plants at the face’s base. Similarly, this fire hydrant …

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In this case, that’s a bit of domestic russian sage that has escaped from the boulevard above. Hey, beats the skeleton weed I yanked out of here before snapping the image. You could grow a decent crop of currants along that entire wall, for kilometres, like these that have moved in just down the hill…

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Wild Syilx Currant, Bella Vista

Fruit and honey for free.

If you’re going to cause the hill to cough up its hidden water, you might as well use it rather than running it down the storm drain or growing knapweed or skeleton weed with it.

8. The Rooftop

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Alley, Downtown Kelowna

Note that a tree growing on one square foot of space and irrigated by a downspout is capable of being trained to provide cooling shade, beauty, and fruit to a rooftop garden. Notice as well, the garden to the right of the tree, and this one…

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Tomatoes and Beans Above the Restaurant, Downtown Kelowna

If you cover the land with buildings, it doesn’t mean that the exposure to the sun is lost. Irrigation can be done with grey water from the kitchen and the bath.

9. The Subdivision

All that’s missing is a collection and distribution network. I promise you, if there were even a small food collection fee, the gleaners and bottle collectors of the valley would regularly pick up everything. There are many people who look to $100 dollars of money a month as the difference between existence and a healthy, happy life. Currently, the natural gleaners of the human genome are being under-utilized. That’s a big price to pay for ideology. Here’s a little tour of a mature subdivision. There are thousands of acres of stuff like this in the Okanagan, all growing more food than the inhabitants can deal with. All that’s missing is a collection and distribution network. I promise you. These are just a few of the many crops that could be harvested…

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Assorted Fruit Trees (in the grass.)

P1090986 Honey Locust

P1090975 Smokebush (red)

P1090983 Sumac

P1090958 Walnut (The tall one)

Currently, this homeowner bags the nuts for disposal in the annual garden waste pickup program. The labour is not the issue.

P1090980 Elderberry (Behind the Post.)

P1090974 Cranberry Carageena (for the bees)

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A Much-Loved Cherry Tree (and a smaller peach tree too)

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Junipers for the Floral Industry (and for gin)

Well, you get the idea.

10. The Walking Trail

P1090438This section of Vernon’s Grey Canal Trail, in the bed of the infilled old, clay-lined Grey (irrigation) Canal, runs for about 3 kilometres and produces two crops of alfalfa without irrigation other than the rain that the clay trap of canal bed keeps in place. You could support several cattle or a kazillion goats on that. All you’d need was some small-scale baling equipment. In fact, this model is so good at retaining water and placing crops within easy human access that it could be used to grow asparagus, dandelion, spinach, lettuce, mustards, grains, amaranth, saskatoons, chokecherries, currants, etc, etc, etc, with easy access to harvesting.

Pretty exciting, I’d say. If you add all these observations up, you get enough crop land to support dozens of young farmers, to feed hundreds if not thousands of hungry people, at zero land cost, almost no input costs, no irrigation costs, and often zero transportation costs. Multiple tons of food could be produced with no cost to anyone other than some labour. What’s more, if we did these things they would develop into an industry of environmental innovation and forms of social renewal that would make us world leaders. Even the commercial farmers would not suffer: truly hungry local people are not the market for their industrial products, anyway.