Words, Humans, Earth: the Relationship Renewed

Let’s open with poetry today, and then stand firmly in science. First, the earth turns towards the sun …P1310912

(Trumpets tooting … can you hear them?)

… and the starlings hold the moon for a moment in their beaks…



… and then the earth is born.


Walnut Leaving its Husk

… and falls to the ground. When you crack it open, there is your brain, and when you eat that, it tastes a lot like this …P1310914It is a beautiful world, full of energy traded this way and that. In the oldest form of English, Old Norse, that was the role of language. It was something people spoke to the earth and the sky as much as to each other. It wasn’t that the earth warmed with the sun’s heat, but that the earth entered the state of the sun’s heat and so was heated. It wasn’t heated in the sense of having its temperature rise by a transfer of calories of energy, but by becoming for a time heat itself. This kind of sympathetic transferal of energy was no different than the transferal within the language that came out of it, Old Norse, and from that, through a long journey, English.

P1310753Okanagan Falls, Thanksgiving

This hawk that chirrrrrrred in a couple minutes before is not about to fly from this ponderosa pine using its own energy but is about to commit itself to the universal energy of flight, which is present everywhere in the universe, much as wireless signals and radio chat shows are in the earth’s atmosphere today. This ‘flight’ can also be entered by this creature…

lac35Can Anyone Name This Beauty for Me?

It looks great against a paper wasp nest, doesn’t it.

… and when it spreads those green sails to catch the winds of flight that blow invisibly through the air, it becomes flight and is said to fly. In fact, flies have earned their name by this correspondence.


A Fly in the Fall Asters

This is the capacity within the English language which is, today, called metaphor and which is given to poetry, as if it were a form of allegory. It is not allegory. It stands in for nothing except itself, and is not a primitive form of science. It is a wholeness which science only hopes to approach and to elucidate. This capacity of energy to flow into objects and back into objects, from the essence of flight into the verb to fly into a creature that flies and back into the air, is the foundation of English. Onto it is laid the object-based magic of Anglo Saxon, from the next wave of invaders of England. They gave us our names for the things of the world, for emotions, and created day to day life out of the world of cosmic energy through which the Norse passed and to which they spoke.

P1300874Magical Implements

Modern inheritors of the Anglo Saxon tradition.

These too…

P1300784 That this birch leaf is an object, with a name, which can be used practically, well, thank the Anglo Saxons for that, and thank them for this:

P1300728This kind of object-centred magic is infinitely portable. Objects can be arranged in sentences as if one were playing chess. In a way, one is. The result is a language of the earth, with both the capacity for efficient, practical, object-centred work and for magical transformations of energy. Onto this was grafted the language of another invader, the Norman French, who provided a language of abstraction and administration. The ultimate result of that, is stuff like this:


Antique Freight Truck with a Flat Tire

… and this…

P1310372Hi-Tech Winemaking

Meyer Family Winery, Okanagan Falls

Those are good things, and a most powerful use of language and the capacity it gives for interfacing with the earth. Problems crop up in human-earth relationships, however, when the three languages that make the parliament that is the English language, Old Norse, Anglo Saxon and French, are used interchangeably, or the diction appropriate to one activity are used in place of another. For instance, in the following view of the flood control dam at Okanagan Falls,

P1300966one form of energy (administration transfer of human currency between the United States and Canada in exchange for holding back water, which can be released slowly into the Columbia River and thus modify river levels to support the massive series of hydroelectric dams and nuclear reactors on the river) is supported at the expense of another. The earth, the stuff of Anglo Saxon and its energy, the stuff of Old Norse, which is our common wealth, is mined for the benefit of administrative structures. Nothing is returned to the earth, which is said to be wild and even sacred, but which is, really, increasingly deprived of energy and impoverished. And so, here we stand, with millions of pages of environmental legislation and a planet that is dying. Fortunately, we can fix this the same way we broke it, but in reverse, and our wealth can come home, instead of going sideways.




Where Words Make Sense

Every day I rise 15 minutes earlier with the earlier sun. Today that was around 4:30 a.m. It’s not the light, but a different pull. When I draw the curtains, the sun is not even a knife blade yet, prying up the sky’s lid. When the light comes, it comes from all points in the valley at once, not from the sun. It’s not light, exactly, but a vision. Yes, a vision. It just is, without source. In other words, after 3 weeks in Iceland and a week here in the Fljótsdalur, I have become the valley. I am astounded at how little time that took, and at how complete the union.

P1400333Melarett in the Late Afternoon

A rett is a sheepfold, used to sort sheep driven down from the highlands in the fall. Reykjavik empties as farms call their kin home to fulfill their obligations. They gladly come. Each fall, every inch of the country is combed on foot, and it’s not a small country.

Sheep like this…


Now, this kind of place-based identity I know well from my home in the dry valleys east of western North America, but it’s a little different here, because here the words are right. Icelanders speak Old Norse, and continue the culture that birthed it. English is a variation of Old Norse, that travelled through many conquests and much history to arrive on the Pacific shore. It is a global language now, in which words have ‘meanings’ and ‘histories’ and ‘subtexts’ and ‘meta-meanings’, and much more, but here, in this valley that is just here, the words are just here. They are nothing else than the valley, and all the history of philosophy, science, theology and literature that has been built up around words is just talk.


Swans Walking Across the Lagarfljót

I’m charmed.


The Language of Magic

In Germany, if one of these fellow travellers crosses your path, it’s a witch and you’re done for. In England, you salute them, to avoid bad luck. Here in the land of the wild cherry and the mock orange? Well, look…

 A Friend Aloft, or …

… to dig down into the Old Norse and Anglo Saxon roots of English, a favoured one in the sky. Intriguing that the words for the physical world sound a lot like poetry.

English gets spoken a lot around these parts. It is a strange language, made out of a few ancient magical ones like Old Norse and Anglo Saxon, with layers of French and Latin hammered on. The result is a kind of parliament on our tongues. It’s no accident that parliamentary traditions began in Iceland and Britain. The language made sure of that.

Two Levels of Language Meet, Vernon

They look good together, I think.

In the quest of finding words for this land, I think it’s best to remember that English speakers know more than they think. They think in French, but they see the world in Norse and Anglo Saxon. Our friend the magpie, for instance, is not a thing in that part of English that human bodies experience. There, he is an action. The word I’ve used for him, a friend, doesn’t describe him by his colour, shape or scientific nomenclature (Pica hudsonia), but by his movement and by the movement of feelings I give to him. The action is love. Why not? He follows me in unending curiosity and grace through the grass, and so in my heart I’ve set him apart, made him sacred, and have protected him with a bond of freondscipas our language would say in an Anglo Saxon moment. This isn’t history. It’s a living thing. It’s tenuous, fragile, unmeasurable, and yet remarkably powerful. It’s also the way that English works as a language. Yes, English is a language of freondscip. Good to know.

Magpie Watching Me Through a Screen of History

In the language of the land, this Chinese weeping willow is a newcomer, the way latin and french are newcomers. This moment we live in allows for them to exist together and create new relationships. This coming together is also a form of freondscip.

Our words are even deeper than this. In another ancient sense of a friend, for example, this magpie is free. He lives in friðu, or peace, a shifting place that moves with the attention, just as he does, just like the wind. We all know this language that shifts between action and being, human and earth, in a chain of relationships and obligations and careful attention.

Magpie in a Land of Weeds…

…proving that tumbleweeds are useful for more than spaghetti westerns.

In this sense, the magpie at the opening of these musings lifts up, a word drawn from the force of a wind cresting a headland above the sea, a specific energy of the universe called lift, that has been recognized as a part of this creature’s movements.

Icelandic Golfers Dealing with a Bit of Lift

Oh, just a country churchyard south of Keflavik on a Sunday. Many a skip has broken up on the billows out there. In some fjords, 9 holes of golf in Iceland are listed as par 75. Bracing!

The language is even deeper yet. Our magpie has caught the wind on his feathers. His feathers. Yes. Wings are a newer word, drawn from the extensions of a church into the arms of a cross. They describe a shape. That’s beautiful, and wings are beautiful, but feathers, ah, those are an action again, a force that has become a thing. To feather the lift is to leave the ieorðe, which our anglo saxon ancestors remind us means “the planet we live on,” the earth. A twittering creature, a brid (breet! breet!), a bird aloft has left this “planet we live on” and is in the lift. It is aloft. This is magic. It is also the inter relational space that science seeks when it speaks of how the nature of the form of measurement determines the thing being measured.

Fences Measure the Land and Sift Humans Out of It

Magpies, though, see a great perch. They flit, or fly, down onto it, and catch the lift again to leave. Fences are for humans.

This inter relational world of interdependent ecosystems and observational strategies that drove the German poet Goethe to distraction, caused him to refute Newton at length, and which is being rediscovered today in hundreds of ecological studies programs, has always been here. It has only been forgotten for awhile, and not by our bodies, either.

What the Magpie Couldn’t Care Less About But Human Bodies Long to Get Through

A public good, fruit, on an unownable place, this planet we live on, is segregated according to social relationships. If there is the freedom of friendship here, it comes at a price, but then, if you pay for it, is that freedom? I think we need to work this out a bit, especially considering that orchards like this are going broke.

Scientists are not discovering the nature of relativity out in the world. They are discovering it in language. The rest of us are on the same path. How could we not be, as creatures all sharing this same moment on the earth? And as for the language, well, we already know everything that they’re going to find.

Magpie Re-entering Earth

As a photograph, well, an out-take, but I’m not likely to get a better one, so I’m celebrating it.

Tomorrow: these musing lead into the relationship (or not) between grapes (and wine) and choke cherries. Mmm.