All images from the Canadian Tire Hardware Store parking lot in Vernon, British Columbia.
If you’ve ever lived in the north, you will rejoice with me. The loons are here, passing through to the Pacific. (Hint: in Europe, they’re called divers. See the one in front, checking out the possibility for a dive?)
Well met, travellers! For those of you not from the north, imagine a bird older than any others, that is the spirit of any lake it lives on, which migrates to the ocean rather than to the heat. They come in pairs, except at migration time. The group above is a family group. I’ve seen 65 at one time, though, on Lac La Hache, waiting for the ice to melt so they could disperse to area lakes. Humans might think they are the spirit of the earth. Loons just are. Happy Day! The image above is the close up. The one below is what I first saw when I went down to Okanagan Lake this morning.
I’ve noticed before that leaves that have finished photosynthesis give off more light than they receive, because their photoreceptive structures, which trap photons of light, bounce them around about twenty times before they are eaten by the blue-green algae they hold captive at the centre of those little light pens. When that little animal, or what is genetically left of it, is dead, the structures still do their work. Instead of capturing light, they intensify it, by a factor of up to twenty times. Look at the images I managed to catch of this magic today!
Yes, that’s a ray of the sun that is shining, and not the leaf, but look how it is shining!
Pretty amazing! We’re used to seeing these kinds of effects in plastic, through which a bright light is projected… or at least we were before the invention of digital video, and projection by excited diode instead. But that’s not what’s really happening here. Here, the excited “diodes” are the chloroplasts (the light pens of the leaves). It’s not the same as exciting individual atoms into high energy states.
When leaves are surfaces, reflecting light, they are dull. Life is the process of having depths. Well, as far as a leaf is concerned. I can’t but think that there are practical applications for energy capture, lying within these effects.
Until we figure them out, the leaves have us beat … even when they are “dead.” Engineers, come on, you can do this!
But there’s something else going on. Mud.What you’re looking at here is the bottom of a mud puddle. It has settled, on its own, after being driven through a day or so ago. It has frozen and thawed a couple times. Look at the patterns! No person or animal has walked through this muck. Whatever is present is a record of physical forces. The mountains and craters below, too.
The cliff line marks where the bottom sediments were washed away when the ice dam holding back the lake broke.
Again? Sure. Here’s what the Okanagan Valley looked like on the day before the lake flowed away:
Now, to return to my initial image, a sea of water above the grasslands and the lake …
Bella Vista Hills, Okanagan Landing
Home Sweet Home!
Here’s my observation: if a layer of water over the earth has amazing effects, such as the ones in the images above, what effects does a layer of air have? Might it not be similar? Well, I think it is. I think it looks like this:
I think it looks like this, too:
Muddle Puddle Grass Seen From Above
Looking a lot like anemones in the sea.
See that ice around the grass? Just imagine it is air… see that? The plants are using the atmosphere as a sea. They do it by internalizing some of the processes of the sea, while abstracting others and leaving some entirely. They are undersea plants. They are atmospheric plants, not earth plants. Here’s an ocean bottom apple orchard.
It’s commonplace to note that plants left the sea long ago, as did land-based organisms such as humans. As I was walking through a grassland bright with drops of molten frost on the seed tip of every stalk of bunchgrass, I saw that we haven’t left.
Don’t be fooled by the water. The plant is under the sea, but the water on its stalk is not the sea. In the ocean, sure, but in the atmosphere the sea is the air. Water is a sediment. Water is this stuff:
Imagine the layer of water here as air and the bottom mud as water, and the earth below it.
Water is pretty good at transferring energies and states. Look how it transfers the molecular energies of the freezing process to the mud it is blended with.
If we weren’t at the bottom of a sea of air we would not witness these effects. They are, in other words, atmospheric effects, including the pressure effects of the depth of the air itself. This is what those effects look like. Even, ultimately, this:
After all, the glaciers that ultimately formed these old post-glacial lakeshore clays are sediments from the air, which moved their water around and deposited it according to its own patterns. That cliff is, ultimately, a cloud, hugging the hill just like this:
Mud taking an image of the sun through the ridge line trees.
As long as not too great a mass of water is involved, surface tension is stronger than gravity (and stronger than adhesion). Take a look:
This water ran down the twig (it did not adhere strongly) under the force of gravity, but instead of leaving the end of the twig, it formed an obloid (a drop), which will drop at the point at which gravity overcomes surface tension, but not before. If you gave it a shake, you would change the energy balance in favour of gravity. Now look again:
The same process is at work in this riparian zone in the grassland, and in the grass around it, although at differing stages in the cycle. The questions that intrigue me today are, can this process be used in reverse? (Yes, of course. Plants do it all the time, by moving water upwards through their stems.) What energy can be added to this grassland to increase flow? What energy can be added to decrease it? Where? Here?
If we could do that, we would not need reservoirs in the mountains or $70,000,000 price tags for improvements to water infrastructure.
We can do this. Note how time is a factor here: the bulrush that drew water up into the sun in the spring, summer and autumn …
Is now catching it. The fine ribbing on the cat tail leaves (the convex outward edges of the channels that drew water up all summer) provides a surface stronger than gravity, and stronger than the low pressure winter air or the weak, winter sun. The process has been reversed and gravity has been defied… not all at once, but in increments, built upon the foundation of the season before.
The water we’re observing here did not fall as rain or snow. It is frost, that condensed out of the air due to the texture of the plant surface and its different temperature gradient from the air. These are all factors that can be used to defy gravity…clear, if we look at it over time and from outside of human models. What are we waiting for? Sci-fi? Magic? Mumbo jumbo? Heck, even if we didn’t want to mess with gravity, we could harvest water. Look at how this squiggly willow does it.
Photography is a means of recording temporary effects of light. It began by a process in which light energy created structures of silver crystals on a glass plate. Now it is created by processing input from light-sensitive censors. Let me introduce you to the early forms of a different kind of image-making, which records time and pressure, instead of light: the mud puddle. Three forces are at play to form its images: water, air and temperature, along with a possible initiating disturbance. Here are some of its images. Notice the tracks of the vineyard operator, going back and forth to check his thermometers, to see if it’s time to make ice wine or not.
In each image, notice how the sun’s interaction with the puddle environment has created a water shadow.
And of course, in each image sun and tires have made their own shadow images. Precise records do not require precision technology. They require eyes.
Plants lay down their intricate patterns based on cycles of pressure and release, which are in turn formed by intricate and varied patterns of water, carbon and gas pressures, like this I guess.
Note the rounded nature of the gas-water interactions, and the more angular ones of carbon. You can see how adept water is at mimicking that angular carbon energy in the following image:
As water is frozen it turns crystalline, and takes on sharp angles. Amazing. When frozen in a plant structure along with carbon, it can sometimes add roundedness to the carbon, such as in these haws:
The cyclic patterns of pressures rolling off of the tensions between the liquid-crystal dynamics of carbon and water can be intercellular, such as in this ponderosa pine …
… or expressed through seed (a great abstraction) such as in this wheatgrass, in which the seeds are laid down along intercellular pressure patterns, but the grass is itself made out of a vast number of individual plants that come from that seed, growing together.Same with these rushes.
We are from this planet. We are this tension. I love it. I hope you do too.
My mother, who died a week ago on Sunday, did not like starlings. This was not because she did not like birds. She loved those. As a girl in the 1930s, she fed goats by bottle, scattered grain for birds, and marvelled at every living thing. In the 1960s, when my father got the idea of shooting sparrows for dinner, she put an end to that real quick. Stray cats found a home with her. Dogs, though, she had not much use for. They weren’t independent enough for her. No, with the starlings it was about the land itself, and social privilege. “Some confounded Englishman with no more sense than brains got homesick and brought the silly creatures over from England because he was homesick.” That’s how she put it. And it was an Englishman, actually, in Central Park, in New York, who did the deed. My mother, Dorothy, who grew up in a community of immigrants excluded from society by the Great Depression and left to fend for themselves in the woods, did not have much room for people who traded privilege for work. To her, work was life, not something that could be socially purchased. It was a way to defend yourself against the pressures of social privilege. It had an ethical dimension that exceeded individual rights. “Some Englishman, who was only in the country for two weeks and wasn’t a Canadian at all,” she used to say, as her way of bringing me up into the world, “could get any job he wanted, over a hard working immigrant with Canadian citizenship, who had a family to feed.” Well, that’s the way it was, and that was my mother’s objection: the land, and its people come first, before anything else at all. In other words, for my mother, the people and the land are one. The thing about starlings was not that they didn’t live well on the land, but that they took crops from the field and fruit from the orchard, that could have gone into her apron. They were a tax, in other words, little different than that of the Canadian government itself, which favoured, as she saw it in her childhood and no doubt learned at the feet of her communist father, Englishmen over Canadians. Now, citizenship does not work out that way anymore, although maybe society still favours people of privilege over people living off the land and as the land or over new immigrants. At any rate, though, the starlings are singing today, in the poplars down the street.
When this land was converted from a Cowboy and Indian culture into a fruit-growing culture 116 years ago, it embraced two complementary energies: the energy (at least as society defined it) of men, who built waterworks, cleared sagebrush, planted trees, built packing plants, and so on; and the energy of women, who revelled in beauty, kept homes, raised children, and when the men died in the Great War, took over, still wearing their aprons. These were the roles that society gave to the two main human genders, and the relationship between them, the society that grew up into the one we know today, came from the interpersonal relations between these men and these women. My mother is not doing that work anymore, I’m sad to say, but I am, still, with her in my veins, and I’d like to make an observation today about the state of affairs after 116 years of love-making, if that’s what it should be called. It’s this: those starlings are killed by the thousands now, to keep them from eating grapes destined for ice wine for chinese billionaires. Maybe you can hear my mother’s voice in that bluntness? I can. This work is done secretly, but it’s done, and the wine industry’s success, and all its lake view bistros, have this mass electrified slaughter to thank for the romantic dinners for two, with a glass of sweet, fruity white wine, that drive this industry and draw tourists to it from cities far away. This compromise is our dirty secret. And what of the true wild birds? Well, there are still a few stalks of mullein here and there, in the weed land below the vineyards, for them to feed on in the cold.
And there are thistles for those who prefer them, although the thistles are mostly immigrants too and pretty nasty to cattle, and since cattle are socially the affair of men in these parts, the thistles are usually poisoned with some pretty nasty stuff. Here are some poisoned, nasty thistles on land no one uses for anything except for the nasty poisoning of pretty thistles, and one blurry bird feeding, so to speak.
This is where the beauty of this land has come to, incredibly enough, out of the love-making between men and women. And what of those orchards, that were planted to support everyone together, and their children? Ah, here, you have a choice: either an industrial workspace for temporary workers imported from the Caribbean, paid wages less than I was paid to do this work thirty years ago, and with as much room for beauty as any other factory floor…
… or here, in a peach orchard kept by a woman of my mother’s generation for as long as she could.
These are tough choices, and they are both ruins: one a widow’s vision, without a husband to do the work anymore, and one a man’s vision, in a fruit factory that has no female touch. Fruit growing is considered an industry in these parts, but it never was that. It was a dream, a hope, a love, a making, a life. The “industry” side of the whole thing was there to support those values. Against the pressures of Canadian society, however, which demanded profit to be drawn from this love, those orchards and home and human relationships are no longer in balance. The houses below, my neighbourhood, were one of those orchards once, and children, no doubt, once learned the world by climbing the cherry tree on the right in the image below. For those kids, a house was a place to go into, from their life, and when they left that house they were home again. The children of today, however, seem to be learning to play in a house with a curly plastic slide: a fun thing, but with a serious end. They will be children of houses and play. For these children, the earth will be a place to go out to, from their life, and when they leave their houses they won’t be like my mother, who was at home in the earth and was very, very clear about the work that that took.
These are profound changes. As for men and women, a century ago they promenaded together in “Nature” on Sundays. Now they walk their dogs on the old industrial water canal of that age, the Grey Canal, of Earl Grey Tea fame. The canal is filled with gravel and lined with weeds, and offers convenient plastic bags and disposal barrels for every dog-walker’s duty.
There’s something profound about this, about how my mother’s world has vanished as profoundly as she has, and at the same time. The land has been taken almost completely from what were defined as female values a century ago. I’m not sure that this has worked out particularly well. Against this loss, here I am, though, the result of this love making, still walking the land, for as long as I can. It’s that love I have tried to pass on here every day for more than three years now. The day I heard that my mother was in hospital, I was in Prague. I went out and watched this woman feed the city’s swans with a small mountain of leftover bread from her restaurant. Here she is with the last few pieces, although “bread” might be an understatement. That looks like Czech pastry at her feet, with honey-nut-poppyseed filling!
We live the earth by loving it. Loving it together is best.
The 1600s gave us two powerful technologies. The first was a refinement of book technology, which replaced the human body with a manufactured and portable form. We’re all, I think, rather familiar with that. The other was this:
Ceiling, Strahov Monastery Library, Prague
In terms of book culture, this ceiling is decorative and symbolic. In terms of its time, however, it represents the highest achievement of the same power that led to book production but which became manifest within a completely different language. It too is the book of the world and the book of God’s Creation, and reveals, as did the new technologies of science, the hidden world and its forces, expressed through a language of poetry, not as a textual artifact but as a means of being in the world and reading it. What we are left with are textual interpretations of such readings, but not exclusively. This knowledge can still be regained.