Some things are just beautiful, that’s all.
Note: A prop is a support for an over-loaded fruit tree branch — technology unused for 30 years now, if not 50.
Here’s something troubling. It comes from theoretical physicist Lee Smolen.
Lee Smolen, Physicist Source
…all talk of future, past, and present is relative to the moment of time of the person who is speaking. All ordinary talk of time is relational.
Here’s where he’s saying this:
Lee Smolin’s The LIfe of the Cosmos
A curious hybrid of theoretical physics and American political mythology.
Smolin is saying: “ordinary time” is “future, past, and present”. Those are mythological terms, so perhaps a translation for non-Americans might help. Here’s a rudimentary crib:
He’s talking about “ordinary time.” He’s not talking about other forms of time. The American way (as is the way with all cultures) is to relate everything to its own cultural archetypes. For Americans, like Smolin, the strongest of these is the myth of the “common man,” which is “ordinary”, which is, to say, “living in the world of things that can be counted, weighed and measured,” not to mention the stuff that can be made out of it. For that, no other term but “ordinary time” will do the trick. If you’re from a non-American or non-ordinary or non-linear-time-oriented society, Smolin is not talking about the world you know. Again, that’s an American thing. American political mythology is based around the idea of the random actions of individuals coming together in struggle to arrive at the universal good. In one plane, this mythology is symbolized by the partisan politics of the American government in Washington.
Obama’s Problem of Polarization
On another plane, this American mythology is symbolized in the structures of Smolin’s physics, which lead to a notion of a “living” universe (or at least one capable of generating life out of its deepest forms) composed out of a series of networks. His entire book could be summed up like this:
The geometry of the universe is built up at the smallest subatomic level out of a series of networked possibilities.
He is, in other words, describing this:
Circuit Board Source
I find it troubling that the images of a certain age get written into descriptions of the universe. If it’s a universe, it’s a little more universal than the present time, I’d think. And there is a historical precedent for caution.
When German biologists (from the leading scientific nation in the world) came to Harvard in 1936, they showed the workings of “Der Führerprinzip”, or “The Leadership Principle”, among cells in a petri dish. The American biologists were astounded at how quickly the world’s leading scientists could be indoctrinated with politics, so that they couldn’t see the physical proof in front of them. For their part, the Germans were astounded that the Americans were talking about the random actions of individual organisms in the petri dish, coming together through processes of random, mathematical accretion to form complex chains of activity and assemblage.
The American ideology won, but it was no less an ideology than the German one. And Smolin is using it now to describe the universe. There should, at least, be a point of caution here. Still, to be fair, to Smolen the universe is random; any point of reference is as good as any other. It’s as if he has been reading Buddhism, without really getting it. In that light, here’s an image for you to look at …
Home Sweet Home
Okanagan Landing, British Columbia
If Smolen’s rather Buddhist influenced Western thinking were presented in that image, he’d be looking at the moment the photograph was taken, or the narrative of history that laid down all of the components of this front yard one after the other, because those are “ordinary” time. It follows by definition. The other time present would not be his concern, as it is not the concern of empirical science. He would, in other words, not be seeing the image, or that history, or the objects as one thing all at once or any other way outside the parameters of what might, for lack of a better word, be called ego. Now, that’s all fine and good, because, as he says, he’s picking a random point of measurement, in a universe consistent across its extant, and working up the other parts from his point of measurement. The only problem is that he is attempt to describe a universe in this way, which contains universal forces, including forms of time which are not “ordinary”. If he sees the point of attending to them or what consequences attending to them might have for physics, he does not mention it in his book. He doesn’t, for instance, speak of senses of time embedded in, say, groups, or collectives, rather than individuals. His notion of networks gets close, but replaces presence with a map of linear processes … which would never create the universe he is trying to describe. He is, in other words making a work of art. In human experience. there are thousands of alternate approaches to time, each which would support different versions of physics. He does not include them, either. My worry is that this might just be an indication of limitations within physics, rather than limitations within those perspectives. It’s quite likely that even if he saw this image …
… as the technological intrusion that it is (i.e., it is processed through a camera), that’s to say, an image of the world that speaks as much or more about the technology that made it as it does about the world, he would relate the image to the moment at which a human made it, rather than to the place and time, together, that made it, because such an experience would be outside of the boundaries of physics, and … that’s because it can’t be empirically tested, because it’s not ordinary. You could, after all, empirically test this …
… but you’d be limited by what you (and your notions of time and space) could imagine. That’s where mythology comes in. Here’s a thought:
It is entirely possible to improve the process of empirical testing, so that these viewpoints are included. It would create change on the order of magnitude of relativity theory or quantum theory.
Which is exactly what Smolen appears to be seeking. To do so, he insists on the primacy of one particular mythology. He’s saying:
This relation refers to a person speaking.
Fascinating. In many cultures, an individual is the earth speaking. In at least one branch of Wiccan culture, the individual remains still, while the stories that are the world break over him or her like waves. This individual is an incarnation (not re-incarnation) of one of the stories that are the world. In light of that example of what is humanly possible, I think what Smolen is really saying is,
“Within the parameters of dominant American culture’s positioning of individual experience in relationship to the earth and the universe, these are the effects one could expect. If the universe were different, we could expect different effects.”
As a contemporary theoretical physicist, he has no trouble positing an infinite number of inaccessible universes. It is curious, however, that he thinks they are inaccessible. I think that’s what he’s trying to do. In contemporary physics, space and time are a unified energy. For the sake of popular (“ordinary”) argument, Smolen has broken them apart into their “ordinary” manifestation, in which space is constant and either a) moves across time or b) is moved across by time. You won’t know which until you measure it, but if you measure it, the other possibility will cease to exist.
Isn’t that a perfect description of physics?
Again, alarm bells are ringing. Given the wealth of human cultural approaches to this knot, he could have, just as easily, kept time as the constant, and have space moved across it, or have had them both not separated at all.
It takes an hour of time to walk three kilometres from this fir to the valley below, or it takes three kilometres to travel an hour in time.
It seems that Smolen has not found a simple way to integrate his physics with the world. The tools that he has just make it more complicated than it needs to be. Again, that’s trouble. Here’s an example of that, from Smolen’s The Life of the Cosmos…
When we use a clock or a calendar to locate an event in time, we are givings its time relative to a system that has been set up by human beings.
Makes sense. That’s what I’ve been pointing out, more or less. Then a bit of wobbliness sets in. He continues …
Although that system is arbitrary, its use is necessary.
He’s saying that the system of physics is necessary; it’s the only “clock” that can measure the universe. I dunno. Here’s a clock that fits human parameters, works with space, time and the universe, and was the centre of the world of one of the peoples Smolen’s culture put on a reservation so that their earth could be used to grow wheat.
Sacred Palouse Falls. (From the Okanagan Okanogan archives.)
… even while the moon draws its stories onward as smoke …
The pipe burns all day above the life-giving waters …
Salamander Tadpole, Upper Palouse Falls
… and at dusk …
In “ordinary” culture that observation is called poetry, which places it outside the boundaries of physics. As Smolen continues, I think he explains why very well:
Without such a system, we would be lost, for we have no access to any absolute notion of when something happens.
And that is a problem… because? It’s surely not a problem for humans in general. Cultural history shows us that. It’s not a problem for the universe, obviously. It’s not a problem for poets. It’s only a problem for people who want an absolute notion of when something happens. That’s important, for sure, but for people, in their lives, that absolute notion is embedded in and conducted in concert with other notions which extend far beyond the physics-based ones that Smolen concentrates on. To include them, for a more complete image, I suggest ceasing to relate stuff like what is recorded in the image below to human observers.
That a human “made” that image is surely not the most important thing about it. What if the earth made it, through a human? Or through geese? Or through time? Or through matter? Those are also clocks. The presumption of physics that any clock is as good as any other, didn’t apply to biology in 1935 and should probably not apply now. I mean, we can approach the unity of the living earth as a computer network, or as a living thing. I think the outcomes we will get will not be the same. I think that matters. I think it’s time to upgrade the foundations of physics. I think it’s time to give it a better story.
Crystal Moon, by Canada Goose
Air, water, light and cold.
More goose art.
Double White Hole, by Goose
Air, water, light, cold and sun.
How do they do this? Aha. Well, there’s beautiful ice, like this:
And there’s beautiful ice like this:
The geese are why the ice is so varied. Here’s how it’s done. First, you swim around, because you’re a goose.
When it gets colder, you sleep by standing along the shore, in the water, thank you, because it’s warmer on the feet than the air.And then you nod off, because you’re a goose, and the lake freezes around you. Because you’re a goose, you panic, a little.
Here’s some goose art starting to gel again…
So, folks, give thanks that Canada geese have decided to stay for the winter, because without them great beauty would be absent from the world. Note, we should stop coddling their eggs. What a thing to do to artists!
Great Blue Heron on His Barn Roof, Watching for Mice Below (Click.)
Is evolution a random process? Is life itself random? Did life arise on earth randomly and then develop randomly? [Evolutionary theory tends to say Yes!]
Are the Colours of This Gull Random? Is the Gull? Is its Behaviour?
Mid-winter thaw on Okanagan Lake.
To be fair, evolutionary theory is using the “random” word to separate itself from a conception of the universe that is determined by will and intention, with a sixteenth century God making everything happen for his own social purposes.
God at Work?
Hey, it’s winter. You’d hope He’d play with the ice, right?
Truth is, technicians of evolutionary theory really don’t use evolutionary theory for opinions on matters of God. They use it to describe observable processes. (And God, by definition, is not observable.) Should evolutionary theorists comment on matters of God, however, they’re no longer talking about evolutionary processes; they’re talking about God.
No, by definition God is uncontainable in images.
And in the middle of this dog chasing its tail is the word that is used to separate notions of intention from those of non-intentional process: randomness. Another word for that is “chance”. Those early mathematicians were actually trying to figure out ways to cheat at cards. Ironically, they are called games of chance, but the ancestors of contemporary science were trying to take all the chance out of it. Hmmmm. A little switcher, and the problem is solved: use “randomness” instead. The problem is, however, that the word doesn’t fit the world well, either. It’s also just not random. Pattern, it seems, is inescapable, and beautiful, too. Calling it “random” changes nothing, except the ability to see it.
The Exquisite Energies of Winter
What is a guy to do, when the world that is described as random, to separate it from intentionality and the predetermined fate that follows that (and the obedience to social class and the political and religious superstructures that follow hot on the heels of that), isn’t random? If it were random, it would be chaos.
This is Not Chaos
Sure, sure, sure, “random” means the non-intentional combination and combination of elements according to general, universal principles called “The Laws of Nature”, that create the preconditions on which the energy and matter architecture of the scientifically-imagined universe rest. One such “law” is Archimedes’ principle, which states that the upward buoyant force exerted on a body immersed in a fluid, whether fully or partially submerged, is equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces. Just to give an example.
Random, though, also means totally by chance, which has got nothing to do with natural laws, which, like the God they are modelled after, aren’t by chance. You could say they’re the very idea of will and intentionality that evolutionary theorists are trying to escape. Tut tut tut. What a mess.
This Is Not a Mess
In order to make their way through this maze, scientists, who are practical roll-up-the-sleeves-and-break-out-a-petri-dish folks who brook little nonsense and have built some really cool devices (like android phones running on ice cream sandwich … my my), tend to redefine or constrict words, such as ‘random’, to create a language specific to their intentions. That’s a powerful solution, but also one that locks thinking to specific parameters, while excluding others, which might also be present in phenomena.
In Romantic Forms of Art, This is Life
Now that academic art practices have subordinated themselves to scientific nomenclature it is illusion, and all the world with it.
Bizarre! Is this illusion?
No. It is a gull. Any human seeing an illusion here is under an illusion. Here’s an illusion:
Blue Heron On His Old Telephone Pole Decoration House Post Thing
Here’s the real thing.
Great Blue Heron on His Barn Roof
See? Not the same thing at all. Yes, I get it. If God is undefinable and can’t be presented in images, the old monkish game of listing what God is not (anything left over should, by definition, be God) retains its power in contemporary scientific thinking. But, wait, let’s try that, shall we.
This is Not God. This is a Bike Rack.
Umm… sorry. By definition, God is everything.
Gadzooks. May I just say that from what I’ve observed as a human living in a physical world built out of spiritual energy and mapped through stories in which I am both the land and the man walking through it, could it be that something has been left out?
I Made This Crack in the Ice by Crossing it To Make This Shot
Could what has been left out be the notion of human-ness itself? What if nature, rather than being distant, is very close, and human?
I Cracked This Ice, Too!
It’s not the crack I wish to draw your attention to, nor my cracking of it, but that I cracked myself in the process. It might sound a little obscure, but it’s a direct, physical thing, like this:
Or maybe the weight of geese. Physical, at any rate.
In the image below, I also had an intention, of moving my body into a certain position. I imagined it, in other words. I saw and felt myself there, and moved my body to get inside that thought. It happens much in the way you know where your hand is in the dark or how to get from your bedroom to the kitchen and get a glass of water without seeing a thing (watch out for the cat, though).
Human Body, Cracked
There is a force at work here that is neither fate nor intentionality but completeness. In the sense of energy, I was already there before I moved my body there and made the energy into a physical, or bodily form. Let’s call that completeness time, to get the discussion going.
What if time were filtered in to the equation? Would the gull that opened this meditation be random then? To help you meditate on that, here is an image of that gull taken shortly before the image above.
Sure gets around, doesn’t it! But, wait, if we’re looking at a gull existing in time rather than in space, what about the gull existing in a flock, rather than as an individual? How is that different, really?
Gulls with the Okanagan Lake Shrimp Fleet, Okanagan Landing
What if any individual gull’s movements were random only if considered separately from its relation to the flock and its own movements? What if the flock were the life and the individual gull only a generator of the movements in time that are the flock and which human definitions of “life” call “life”? Even the geese don’t have words for knots of ideas like that. They just cut right through it all and do this instead:
Well, lucky for us, we don’t have to answer questions like that, either. They’re unanswerable. They are questions asked with words. This is not a word…
… or if it is, it is spoken in a language of energy that words present as ice, water, light, flock and so on. That’s simply not the same thing, and to state that it is so is not to quibble with words, either. Just to point that out.
This is Not a Quibble
It is called “walking carefully so you don’t fall down.”
To show you what I have observed in light of this observation, here’s some ice I found three days ago, in some grass in a young swampland just beginning to develop as an ecosystem.
Cool stuff, huh! What you’re looking at is water funnelled into an old irrigation canal by an urban street drainage system, which has given rise to a colony of reeds, dryland grasses, weeds and rushes high above the valley floor. That unique (and brand new) combination makes for some beautiful effects.
Caterpillar? Peas in a Pod?
No, just grassland ice.
Evolutionary and mathematical theory would suggest that the formation of such structures is “random”, because it’s unpredictable and unrepeatable, but what is random, anyway? A word? Yes. A mathematical concept? Hardly.
This is Not a Mathematical Principle
It is a complex combination of water, grass, light, energy, gravity, atmospheric pressure, and the boundaries between their energy states, as expressed through time. In other words, this is what time looks like.
There are strict mathematical principles at play in the water captured in the image above, which give rise to basic forms like this …
… on a non-predictable frequency, but that’s not the same as interpreting those principles as randomness. There is, after all, the physics of air bubbles in freezing water and the play between water tension and the molecular energy of air, as they achieve a balance …
… always on the same principles but never quite the same …
… but that’s not precisely randomness, either. Again, I’m not arguing fine points of nomenclature here, or slicing and dicing words up into a rhetorical salad to make some point that doesn’t interact meaningfully with either the physical world or scientific practice. I’m trying to point out that phenomena are wordless and that there is more power and potential within them than words characteristically release.
There Are No Words for This…
…yet every human responds to them profoundly (and physically). The “thought” in play in such a response is a physical response, not the kind of cognitive one used to play hide and seek with “God”.
On the other hand, phenomena are constrained by words. The image below, for example, is an illustration of how early life formed around the frozen-thawed boundaries of different molecular regimes in the early earth.
No, not really. I made that up. Still, it might be the case, or it might not, but that’s not the point. Rigorous experimentation and analysis might increase understanding of the issues behind this hypothesis, or might dismiss it altogether, but that’s not what I’m trying to get at. I’m trying to get at this:
My point is that by applying descriptive terms to the ice (such as my hypothesis about cold-warm energy exchange boundaries playing a possible role in the formation of life on earth), certain lines of thought are opened while others are closed. That’s why words like “random” are dangerous — they do the same thing. Whatever the image below is, it is not random.
To say it is random is to close off possibilities that might lead to different comprehensions. Call those points of view. Here’s that ice again, from a different point of view.
Ah, but what is a point of view? It is a viewing self, an individual human “I”, constructed by the early romantic philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte in 1792 as a portable, relativizing tool for scientific observation, that allowed measurement to both take place and be transferable, as distinct from the pre-scientific self, which was embedded in a social group, or a church, which isn’t called a flock for no reason. The following image presents another point of view. In this one, notice that a point of view that can separate the world into points of attention can also be redefined by the earth that it chooses to attend to.
It also means you are not downtown have a coffee at Starbucks.
A huge number of points of view are possible.
They are all human. You can talk about gas pressures and molecular structures till the cows come home, but, in the end, this is just ice.,
Before There Were “I”s to Focus Attention, There Were Words
To “understand” ice is one thing. To know what in the heck it is, you’re going to have to go out and spend some time with it.
You could, for example, eat it, touch it or just throw stuff on it instead of going out onto it yourself (Safety first!)
A Messy Experiment in Out of Body Travel
The scientific world view is built upon best guesses confirmed by experiment, which are then used to build the foundation for future hypotheses, which are confirmed by further experiment, and so on. At each step along the way, language guides which hypotheses are formed: it makes some possible and makes others extremely unlikely. In this sense, scientific descriptions of the world are cultural artefacts.
As Soon as You Name This It is a Cultural Artefact
Too much naming based on ladders of hypothesis and proof, as essential as they are to the system called science, risk turning that system of exploration into a self-fulfilling cultural prophecy. Perhaps an example from ancient Syria might help clarify that point. Beware, this was translated from the Latin, from the Greek, in 1911, by a New Age philosopher.
In like manner, also, as the light of the sun is present in the air without being combined with it — and it is evident that there is nothing left in the air when the illuminating agent is removed, although warmth is still present when the heating has entirely ceased — so also the light of the gods shines while entirely separate from the objects illuminated, and, being firmly established in itself, makes its way through all existing things.
Iamblichus, On the Mysteries (Source.)
Translation? Sure, I’ll make a stab at it:
In the same way that sunlight is present in the air without being part of it — and nothing of it is left there after the sun has gone down, although the air remains warm for awhile after the sun has stopped heating it — the light of the gods also shines separately from the objects it illuminates. Because of its indivisible nature, it makes its way through all existing things.
Iamblichus is talking about ancient spiritual matters. Inn his discussion (which gave rise to medieval scholasticism and from that to contemporary science itself), two points are relevant to my point here:
1. Life rises from the earth when struck with the light of the sun (for Iamblichus, a supreme force, which gives rise to the gods as well),
2. Godhood (or the sun) is present in an object proportionately to the perfect shape (beauty) of that object. (The more beautiful [perfectly shaped] an object, the more the god [or the sun] is present within it.)
Not exactly the stuff of science, is it! Well, no, but it could be. That’s my point. Here, let’s look at that ice again. First, life is rising from the earth, when light strikes it…
Well, grass, at any rate. Of course, the grass came from seed, so it’s not really quite the way Iamblichus describes it. Sure, the new grass wetland has evolved from the combination of forces in an unlikely location, but the grasses themselves evolved millions of years ago, so the sun didn’t really animate dead earth to make all this magic happen (that was long, long before), and this stuff …
… evolved billions of years ago. All life stands in an unbroken chain with the cell divisions within these organisms and others like them. It has all happened in time. Read there, read as if time were space (um… it is!), it has all happened at once, much like this:
A Flock of Gulls, Okanagan Indian Band Beach, Okanagan Lake
Another word for this is Time.
That’s all a bit different than randomness, and a bit different as well from the intellectual rigour of science, which sought to separate itself from romantic interpretations of Iamblichus’s philosophy and the alchemical traditions that came from them.
Human I in the Ice
It’s not a romantic concept. Fichte tried to turn you into a more portable version less easily confused with God. Oh, those parsons’ sons!
Humanly observed, nature exists in human social time, in which the term “random” is a human social marker, moreso than a marker of actually physical processes. One such human social marker, for example, is the word “random.” Another is the notion that time progresses while space remains stable. It could just as easily be the opposite. There is certainly a sense of that reversal in Iamblichus.
Mom and Son Feeding Ducks
Is this time or is it space? No, it is space-time, which is a kind of word sandwich meant to say “human” without saying “human”.
Ah, what’s to be done? Well, one way to get at time is to go back to the beginning of life, with one eye on Iamblichus and one eye on molecular biology, which creates energy and material transfers and physical replications by such processes as gas permeation of membranes (for example, oxygen uptake into lungs), electron transfers across membranes (photosynthesis), and intricately folded hydrocarbon strings designed to adhere to specific atoms and molecules in specific positions (DNA, photosynthesis, and so on). It all happens at the point at which the sun strikes carbon in the presence of water and carbon dioxide, at particular energy levels. Here’s that ice again…
That’s not such a far cry from cell biology. Liquid water is required for life on earth, but perhaps frozen water, and its ability to separate processes on spectrums of time and energy, played a role…
…, in relation to water in its liquid state. What is separated in the process of freezing could be in the process of thawing.
and freezing again…
… and thawing and freezing and freezing and thawing and freezing and thawing and freezing and thawing as the earth turns…
… like breath.
That has merged with light.
Whatever those things are.
The fact that it looks like life is because a living human has observed it. Dead humans don’t observe stuff like this. Neither do android phones running on ice cream sandwich.
If you want warmth in the late winter, it’s best to leave the ice of the valley floor, pretty as it is.
Sunrise on Okanagan Lake
That’s ancient seabed, that is: settled, squashed, lifted up into the sky and, well, going further! And look at this…
Look how rain is etching that seabed! Sometimes the etching is horizontal, which is as mysterious as the grass etching the sky above. Sometimes it is vertical, which is gravity drawing rain down to the earth’s core (It never quite makes it but splashes off back to the stars [it never quite makes it there, either.]) Dizzying!
Ancient Clay Clot with Weird Nonintuitive Etching
And isn’t that etching made by water lifted up by light? And isn’t that light created by gravity in the core of the sun — the same gravity that is drawing water into the earth’s heart? And aren’t these lichens living on the floor of that ancient sea and still catching photons (splashing droplets) of the sun after all these years …
… and getting a little closer? It’s as if the years weren’t even there, or were being reversed. One way of looking at it is to say this is a story of time, but what is time? Space?
Those physicists did us no favour by not coming up with a word for this. Oh, wait. We had one: grass.
Might it all be a story of light, blossoming?
The Big Bang Waiting for a Bee
(Also known as Mock Orange… Einstein missed that step in his equations, I think.)
Might technical society’s insistence on the verities of time and space be a quaint ghost of the 17th century French court, which insisted on dramas that unfolded in something called real time?
The Court of Versailles Lives On
Ah, when time is written out of the equation (which is to say, written more deeply into it), the world becomes even more beautiful.
Sad news. My beautiful lake, with its jewels of melting ice reflecting the sky …
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.
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).
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.
More like compost soup.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even 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.
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:
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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…
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 …
A Human Self Image
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.
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.
Take a look. This is N’ha-a-itk. Maybe you’ve heard of this creature from the time when all people and the earth and the creatures were one, through the lens of a little colonial linguistic derision … the Ogopogo of legend? I was across the lake from the N’ha-a-itk a couple days ago, in such glorious light that I had to stop. I wanted to call out to all the people in all the cars roaring past this old plantation to stop, that wherever they were going was of no consequence compared to this light here with the N’ha-a-itk, but they seemed pretty intent on driving on by, and what could I do? Get arrested for looking crazy? That saddened me. The day was joyous, and, I tell you, the light is turbulent here and rarely as amazing as this, turned orange by coming in immediately above the peaks just before a winter dusk. Legend’s the word for it. You can read about the Ogopogo critter in previous posts, here and here and here. And yesterday I told the story of how growing up in a valley in which the mountains were the sky taught me to read the rock. I tell you, this is the rock:
We’re looking at it here from the old North-South trail, that ran up this side of the lake for 10,000 years. You can lay a totem pole on its back and get it to stare up into the sky and it’s not going to look much different.
Except totem poles don’t have heads.
Actually, there are a group of N’ha-a-itks here. Those were the southern one. Here’s the main one, hunting at Rattlesnake Island, on Squally Point, already out of the sun. A couple kilometres makes a lot of difference here.
It is a nature of respect among the Syilx people that respect given is respect received. That’s what this land teaches. That’s what they learned. That’s what I learned. There are faces on the southern N’ha-a-itk’s snout here…
…that’s a kind of photography that is recorded in the mind, at the place and time at which it meets the earth. Place and time? They are the same thing when you think as the earth. Placing science at that intersection instead and looking for nonexistent archaic animals says a lot about science, a lot more about the people who would engage in such an enterprise, and even more about a culture that condones that degree of disrespect to indigenous people, to its own people and to the earth itself.
It’s hard to take such attitudes seriously, except they are so dangerous. When you are the mountain, you speak as the mountain and the mountain speaks as you. Anything else is a path to environmental death. The art in which that is handled is ethics. We either get this right or we are not human anymore.
Not human anymore? Challenging, I know, but I hope to explain what I mean in my next post.
Today, let’s go on a little journey to my home valley, the Similkameen. I’d like to show you the link between a part of the earth, my recent posts on photography and light, and how this blog came about as an exploration of the power within earth systems to generate, store and move energy. This is more than personal. Here’s the old Similkameen moon.
These photographs were taken from an orchard I was pruning in Keremeos. I was a child and learned the ways of the earth five miles to the east. What I want to show you today is consistent in both places. Here’s the view east to my home farm.
Lousy pictures, I know, but, hey, I was pruning. The pic is just good enough to show you that in an environment like this the whole idea that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west is not immediately apparent. Here, this is the view to the North over the eastern shoulder of Puddin’head Mountain and the post-glacial flood chute leading to the Okanagan.
See that? Same darned sunrise! What about to the south?
See that? Moon’s going down, sun’s coming up (to the south!) and it’s doing so on the mountain itself, not in the sky. Now, just imagine Harold at 4 years of age, sitting in the crotch of a peach tree and learning about the world from a trickster valley like this… and contemplating this kind of stuff:
See that? The mountains are the sky. Clouds skitter across the earth most everywhere, but not always in the air. When you look up to read the weather, you read the mountains. If you crane your head up to look at the atmosphere, not only are you risking hurting your neck but you’ll only see chopped up bits of blue and white (black and white at night). At no time do you get the idea that there is a dome of air above the earth, or an atmosphere around a nearly spherical planet: you get a river of light above a sky of stone. The moon shows itself and disappears at wildly different times, too. And what is the moon’s light? Why, a reflection of the sun.
Spots of light like this change by the minute.
When I was 5 years old I was sitting on a branch of a ponderosa pine tree, kicking me feet and watching the mountain (again.) My favourite spot was a grove of aspens trees high up above the farm. Every fall they turned bright yellow. I thought they were talking to me. I also thought it was the sun. The sun part was right. Well, it’s the wrong time of year for golden leaves, but here’s Young Harold’s grove of trees, a bit blurry, but, hey, it’s been half a century, right?
Notice how the shadows and light have changed places. In the Similkameen, the twists and turns of the valley, and the steepness of the valley walls, mean that different vertical faces get heated differently by the sun, and at different times. The result is wind, either from cold air flowing into the valley from an unheated slope or air shifting from one side of the valley to the other because of heating high up. If you’re thinking of Young Harold in his pine tree, remember that the branches are swaying and the needle brushes of the pine are scattering light in all directions as they move. After enough years of this, you’re going to start putting things together and coming up with a project about environmental energy harvesting using the power of the sun as it intersects with the forms and energies of the earth, and, presto, you have this blog. Not only that, you have this:
The town of Keremeos remains in the shadow of K-Mountain. It’ll take awhile for that to change.
I’d like you to contemplate those clouds as a form of photography: light and shadow making patterns on a mineral plate. It’s just, well, ever-changing, that all. It’s not “fixed” in a single image. Here’s a form of photography that’s a bit more fixed in that sense, though:
Macintosh Apple Trees
I mean, aren’t trees the same thing as a photograph? Light strikes the earth and forms an image, that remains stable over time? Well, yeah, it grows and changes, but that’s where 12-year-old Harold comes in. Harold?
12-Year-Old Harold: I’m learning to prune apple trees this spring. My father is teaching me by putting me out among the trees and letting me figure it out on my own. It’s very frustrating.
But isn’t it a great way to learn? Think of the close attention you have to pay to how the trees are growing!
12-Year-Old Harold: Ask me in 44 years. Right now it’s just hard.
It’s beautiful, though, and the branches are warm in the sun.
12-Year-Old Harold: Yup.
I’ve thought for years that that pruning was my first art form, as it was very sculptural, but I realized yesterday as the sun and the moon and the clouds played across the stone sky of the Similkameen that, really, it was a kind of physical photography, that I learned to walk through. Here’s some of that light glowing like the moon Puddin’Head Mountain, a big heap of basalt and shale over towards the ancient volcano at Crater Mountain.
I guess that with this kind of photography the developed image is in the mind of the observer. I guess that if you’re a kid there, you become the photograph. Well, that’s a human thing. You become the environment that raised you. It imprints itself on you and you become it. If I had been raised in a city, human-earth relationships would not be so vital for me, or I’d understand them cognitively and wouldn’t be out in Keremeos at 8 a.m. pruning on a February morning, watching the eagles catch those valley winds and soar almost a mile above me. That’s why I’ve been taking so many pictures of ice lately, taking the energy of this valley one further step.
Next: Ogopogo — a step further yet!
The image below is a habitat for Canadians. I am one of those. We build structures out of trees we allow to grow as weeds on indigenous land, and line them with products manufactured out of petroleum, which we then inhabit. Notice the thule reeds in the foreground.
They are hugely expensive structures built largely for citizens of the petro state of Alberta, to spend their summers in the grassland, before flying off to Mexico or Arizona for the winter. These houses are mostly empty now. They sit on land but have no land that people can or wish to use to grow food or even to walk through.
The image below is an indigenous human habitat. The reeds are the home for birds and insects, are an important food source, and two hundred years ago were the raw material for summer houses. Even the birds didn’t (and don’t) use them as winter houses. They migrate. So did the Syilx people: they left their earth, the grasslands, and moved to the water in the valley bottoms, just as the deer and birds did, where they spent the winter in pit houses entered through a tree trunk with jutting branches rising through a central smoke hole — a technology likely picked up from watching weaver ants. It was very shamanic. Plateau peoples, such as the Syilx, had many shamanic wisdom stories which told of travel between earth and sky, based upon climbing trees just like the lone trunks that rose from the grasslands and the ones at the centre of each pit house. The world above, by the way, looked just like the world below. That kind of balance between spiritual and physical worlds is the mark of a traditional culture at home in a place.
From the reeds, the people learned how to weave both baskets and houses. This balance between natural and inhabited worlds is the mark of a sustainable society.I don’t think it would be a sign of disrespect to say that the deep integration between people, landscape and spiritual concerns over thousands of years means that a woven colony of thule grasses like this one…
… was both a deeply beautiful and deeply spiritual presence — even a being. Whatever way the Syilx define it, I think that’s a fair assessment. There is another kind of beauty in Syilx Territory, though. It is, perhaps, a very Canadian thing. You might have to live in a house made out of an ingrown forest and financed by petro dollars, or at least weed forest extraction dollars, in order to contemplate it as beauty. Yesterday, it looked like this:
Lake Ice Breaking Up, Okanagan Lake
There is the old shamanic light of the sky world, brought down to the water. There is the romantic reading of the intersection of time and mortality with the physical world that powered the first visions of Canadian colonial culture. It was called wilderness in its heyday. It’s not wilderness now. Now it’s art. Look at the sky world glowing in the banded chunk of ice below.
That’s the whole sky in there, that is.
I can’t pick it up and carry it anywhere, of course. I can’t mine it, log it, or bundle it up in any way and ship it anywhere else. I can show it to you. I can marvel at it and try to pass on my joy at seeing it and the affirmation it gives me, as a man both deeply at home at this place, not in a Syilx way but in a way running parallel with it, and also as a man embedded in Canadian colonial society, as are all Canadians today, even the contemporary Syilx. Deep attention leads to integration. A sustainable future starts here:
Or it can. This isn’t wilderness anymore. It is melting ice. It is a spiritual substance.That is a profound change. When this was a pure colonial society in the wilderness, this ice would have been an image of the presence of God. Now, thanks to the deep attention of scientific tradition to the world, it is ice. Well, and sky, too.
Like the thule reeds, which founded technologies and sustainable ways of inhabiting the earth, it is a path towards integration with a place. It is a way a people based in technology can climb a pit house pole into a sky world, one that looks exactly like the world below but which has been transformed into a spiritual representation instead of a physical one. In the traditional Plateau model, the lessons gained from the difference between spiritual and physical grasslands imbued the physical grasslands with an intensified spiritual quality, which was part of the process of sustaining them.
I see great hope for art to lead us to the earth at last, right when she needs us to rally behind her to save her. In this old colonized and weed-grown Syilx homeland, spring might not start with flowers bursting from the hillsides; it might start right here, in winter. It might start with that ancient Greek concept of balance, which bears the name of “beauty”. I mean, when the sky comes down to earth, it is a time for rejoicing and a time for taking that energy and making life out of it.
That’s what I’ve been trying to do here: to be a lens through which light and water can flow, like the thule reeds and like the chunk of ice above. it is a kind of spiritual house. Somehow, and I can only trust in this, physical houses made out of this place and sustaining this place will follow.