Water, land and space are at a premium in a fragile environment. There are things we can do. They might be large innovations or small ones, but together they add up to a living future.
84: Humans, Class and Landscape
This is one of a series of posts about how to maintain a local landscape in the face of technological pressure. In this case, both the primary observation (all land and landscape is a system of ethics) and the intervention (be human) are simple. That’s not as obvious as it might sound. Let me try to explain. As an example, the grassland fly below is sitting on a cedar fence post from the 1960s, that is about to be pushed down to make room for a (guess) $1,500,000 house, affordable only to someone who did not make their money in this place, because this place no longer has the capacity to build its own houses in its most desirable spots for its own people — surely a measure of societal sustainability and success. (Selling the most desirable land to people from other cultures is not a recipe for cultural survival. It is a recipe for cultural replacement, with the notion of replacement becoming the culture.)
Something else you might notice: this fencepost is made from an old growth cedar tree from the British Columbia Coast, one of the 1,000 year old trees of pre-European civilization. It was stolen and transported here. What’s done is done, of course, and theft is not the issue. The issue is that this fly is standing on this history, in a world controlled by technology, yet is unable to control it. That right has been given to one particular class of inhabitants: homo sapiens. Within that group of critters, only one particular class has the means to control the technology, and that is a class of system managers from outside of this region, and those who serve them. That’s class behaviour, and that’s my point. It’s a method of human display and power-positioning to which the earth has now been enslaved. It makes all of us slavers. Those are harsh words, perhaps, but this is important. Please let me keep trying to explain. The image below shows a surviving bit of grassland, very close to where the green fly above was foraging. This is a mariposa lily with its pod open, waiting for a deer to brush it and knock its seeds into the bacterial crust on the soil. The timing of deer migrations and water patterns is probably exquisitely timed.
The only thing is, this is all taking place on a piece of land adjacent to the doomed fencepost, and likely the next plot of land for the next house. It is, in other words, also a class space. It is soon going to vanish. Eventually, so will the fly. So, putting all that together, we get something like this: in this piece of earth, a certain class of a certain class of inhabitants have the rights to self-determination, and others don’t. They are destined to extinction, in the manner that indigenous peoples were considered destined for extinction during the colonial period, due to their susceptibility to disease. (Of course, the disease was more the result of slavery and starvation than outright susceptibility, but that’s the secret few mention.) In this socially-charged landscape, the rightful inhabitants who don’t have land-ownership rights within human society are called “wild” or “nature” or “lazy” or “poor”, in the case of homo sapiens. Class behaviour for sure. The only thing is, every last one of us is equal in this place, and all of us are growing in the sun, and whatever this place is we are all part of how it is unfolding. Any deviation from that is a chose deviation, with class repercussions, not just for homo sapiens but for everything else that is here. Currently, this situation is being managed through technology, ownership and notions of capital (all pretty much the same thing), which draw down the energy of the land so it can be transferred into social energy, for class-based profit. That’s pretty efficient. It gives us houses (well, castles) like the one dominating a coyote, porcupine, bear and deer trail below.
And that bring us to another point: that house rises from the same set of social webs and the same set of class behaviours as the fencepost, the fly and the workers who built the house. It dominates the landscape exactly in the manner of its wealthy owners. It, too, is class behaviour. What’s more, as it stands in for a human, and is an expression of human bodily consciousness and social positioning, it is a special kind of human: a corporate human, much like the corporations which have the rights of biological humans to create the wealth that allows such houses to be built. And that’s my point: we can’t make accurate maps of social and material interfaces on this land without defining class and humanity. Including that house in the group of humans (calling it a specific class of human) makes discussions of land use more meaningful, in exactly the same way that including the drawn-down energy of the earth into financial calculations makes real costs and benefits more visible and more capable of being grasped and discussed. Check out this group of cows and their kids, put on the grass to eat autumn’s invasive weeds (nothing else is worth eating anymore, in this formerly wealthy landscape). Who needs a fence, eh.
Truth is, the fence is as much to assert control of other humans as it is to assert control over cows. It is an extension of human will. Those who live by it are bound to that human will. In other words, just like the house above let’s accord the cows, the invasive weeds, the surviving sagebrush and the fence human class rights as well. Does that sound strange? I hope it does. I hope it demonstrates how the word ‘human’ has been mis-used, along class lines, blurring equality between creatures, earth, societies, relationships and even virtual states. They are all humans. (Preposterous? Feel free to insert another word in place of ‘human’ and discard ‘human’ as an operative term.) After all, humans aren’t biological creatures. We are human because out of biological origins we have built up a parallel, virtual system of identity, based on the foundation of an interest in mark-making, such as the trail a five year old child made the other day, on the trail put over the old irrigation ditch made by Earl Grey back when this place was British. Elsewhere, he’s known for tea. Here, he’s a place to create identity — whatever identity you want.
The trail goes under these cottonwoods…
… planted to create a barrier between the poisonous chemicals sprayed on the orchard below and walkers on the trail. In other words, like cattle, or people separated from land by fences of private ownership (i.e. by capital), this tree has been assigned a class and slave relationship within its virtual living space, contemporary society. It too is human. It’s one thing to define our age as the anthropocene, the age in which humans have the power to control or destroy everything on earth, and it’s one thing to extend rights of power to all human groups, by race, gender, social class, country of origin and so one, but it’s a totally incomplete effort without extending that dignity and those rights to all that we assert control over and all the means by which we do it. If the world is controlled by homo sapiens, the world lives within the human social grid. It has been enslaved. If there are parts which lie outside that grid, let’s give them the respect of real difference, which means to break down the fences in our heads that tell us we have the power to control them. If there are parts which lie within the grid, let’s give them the respect of social inclusion, and talk about the pattern of social hierarchies that control not only them but all of us as well. Otherwise, the lives we really live, and the grids of power we live it within, remain invisible and every choice we make will founder, because it is based on a big lie. Is a society likely to take on this program? Of course not. Power is power, after all. However, a primary change is possible: to stop living from the proceeds of slavery. This we can change. It will create different patterns of individual and social identity, which will create more sustainable landscapes. Will it take 50 years? That’s nothing. I remember when those fence posts first came to the valley. That’s not so long. Will it take 100 years? That’s nothing. The mariposa lily I showed you has survived 100 years of overgrazing and fire suppression, and is still capable of springing back to abundance if given a chance. Does it matter? Yes. We will guarantee abundance for our children’s children’s children if we give them a place in the land. Sometimes things are exactly what they are. It’s not exactly that the nodding onion below (a vital and exquisite indigenous food plant) is “human”.
It’s that “human” and “nodding onion” are the same thing. The word “human” is a fence. We need to bust it down.
If you don’t know how, ask a cow.
85: Environmental Depreciation Tax:
At the moment, farmers can mine gravel on their land and deduct the income from their taxes, as a loss of value. The result can be a vineyard, like the one below. Yes, a vineyard… do you see any grape plants? No, there are just roads, gravel, and dumped concrete scraps used as fill. The grapes are up higher.
Above this weedy bank.
Early this summer, the farmer spent many thousands of dollars building a loading area and a lovely wide road big enough for a semi-trailer, to a small vineyard block at the end of his property.
The cost of doing that is called an expense and can be written off against farm income. Of course, this behaviour comes with an environmental cost, which subsidizes that income but does not otherwise enter into the accounting. Private income, in other words, is subsidized by public loss. We can fix this. Putting through legislation requiring environmental values to be maintained … well, we already have that, and it’s not much use. But there is a way. Currently, farmland is taxed at a low value, which is a direct subsidy for farming, on the principle that farming provides public value. Such taxation subsidies could be removed for land that is stripped of environmental productivity. The same for land developers of any other kind. The housing development below, for instance. In this case, the yellow clover is doing its best.
Even the trashed, unproductive grassland in behind. Squeezed between an inability to develop land into housing and an inability to trash it wantonly, farmers and developers, who are very smart people, would do the right thing.
Mariposa Lily: a Grassland Crop Not Just for the Sweat Bees
86: Time for Thyme!
We don’t need lawn. Or gravel.
But what about thyme?
No mowing. No watering. The thyme below is just growing at the side of the road.
Flowers for the bees!
Something for the kitchen (black cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, thyme and a hot frying pan.
Replace that gravel, too.
Make pretty steps.
Better than bark mulch, which is supposed to “look” productive, but is a boondoggle.
Nothing grows in that stuff.
Make the valley live again. Whoo-hooo!
p.s. the water system in the images above could be ripped out. It’s there out of habit.
87: Plant Tech
We exceeded the valley’s population carrying capacity 25 years ago. Our issue is water. You’d think it would limit human population expansion, but humans are socially clever and limit social access to water instead. To forestall an inevitable class revolution, it’s time to develop new water technology now. The plant world offers many examples of what can be done. All that is absent is the application of human cleverness to something other than social manipulation and IT. For example, the beautiful weed, Bladder Campion…
Look at how the flower forms around an open chamber, with a spray of petals around its lips.
This arrangement is not designed to capture water, but no matter. We have the technology to use this example to create water collection devices, which could stand inert until it rained, catch the rain, and store it by funnelling it from their petals into their bells. At that point, the water could be drawn down a hollow stem (tube) into a larger collection device, or when the level in each bell reached a certain weight the bell could tip, the water would pour out into a trough, which would then deliver it to a collection or distribution point. Alternately, little collectors like this (or banks of them) could be placed beside individual plants. They could collect rain, just as the plant, its root systems and the soil do, with this exception: when the water evaporated out of the soil with the sun that follows rain these little bladders could release more water, slowly, to make up for the loss. I’m sure devices could even be built that could be laid out as sheets, or which could be laid out in banks like solar panels. We have the technological intelligence, we have the manufacturing ability, we have a university, we have the thunderstorms, we have a great need, we have burgeoning social pressures, and we still have the possibility of a bright future. Bright futures are made. We would do well to get in focus.
88: Community Hardwood Lumber Woodlots
Plant a maple tree. Plant it beside a road.
Roads collect water. Roads shed water. Ditches, which line roads, collect water. Or maybe they’re just barren spaces, and just for show and meeting government regulations, but great for gophers, yes. Yes, great for gophers. (Note: Don’t worry. I didn’t fall over. I was just lurching. Don’t know why.)
Or rocks. You could get all up-to-date, low-maintenance, weedless, hip and modern. It’ll cost a fortune, I know, but with dump trucks and loaders and diesel engines all over the place, which is fun, and, bonus, you’ll never have to do a thing again, ever. Ever. Ever ever ever.
Well, maybe not weedless.
Maybe rocks collect dust and water and seeds, which is the whole point of rocks.
Well, forget the ditches, then. Just do the whole yard in gravel. That way you won’t have to mow.
Oh, right. Gravel is small rocks. Rocks and dust and water and seed all have a thing going. Shoot.
So, back to basics.
Plant a maple seed. After all, a road is just a big long rock, that collects dust and water and seeds. You can help, right? In a dry climate, where water gets more expensive and harder to source every year, why don’t we do away with ditches that don’t ditch and plant trees that take all that water away. I know, I know, they’re going to look pretty great and be full of orioles and gold finches and blue birds, but, hey, trees are like rocks. They collect things.
For the cost of a handful of maple seeds, our grandchildren will have a hardwood lumber industry. No irrigation required. The choice is clear: either no labour with that or hours of weed whacking every year with this:
And gophers eating your carrots. Sustainability is not hard. It’s often the easiest thing of all.
89: Beauty and the Bees
When the big (failed) subdivision was put in on the slope above my house, the road fill was seeded with blue bunch wheatgrass, the signature grass of this grassland. Slowly some big sage, also native, is moving in.
The green you see above, scattered amongst them is a combination of two noxious invasive weeds, rush skeleton weed and dalmation toadflax. The idea is to protect the land for this:
Well, her grannies ate the bunchgrass back in 1890. Now she just gets a few weeds here and there. We must be looking at 1000 acres per cow. If we keep going at this rate, we’re going to get this, which is a cow trail in a “pasture” much like this, across the valley from my house and down along the shore a ways:
Wouldn’t you rather have this?
These gloriosa daisies get along well with the native bunchgrass and the flax, and that mustard in back.
Why, think of it: we could save our bees and butterflies from extinction, and actually have something to be proud of, while the bees and butterflies settled in. Why, alfalfa gets along well with these girls.
So does native yarrow.
If we’re going to have tourists, why not make it worthwhile? Why not resurrect the ancient principle of yil, of weaving social activity with the landscape to encourage the greatest number of species in order to ensure they all thrive, and humans, who are the weavers of them all, among them, so they can continue their weaving? It would be worth it.
You’d come, right? Maybe for the lavender that likes this arrangement, too?
The bees of these grasslands have survived for a generation in private flower gardens on their edges, gardens which are now being torn out and replaced with gravel, in a mistaken idea that this will conserve water. Well, mayyyyybe and maybe not, but without species-specific insects the ability of the grassland to support life will be lost, and without flowers to bridge the landscape for them, there is no chance for them to grow together, and for us to grow in awareness with them. It’s so simple.
Right now, there was one inspired gesture, almost a secret.
The tour busses stop at the honey farm four kilometres to the north. That’s roughly four to six busloads of Japanese travellers a week. They prowl around the scanty gardens of the honey shop with their cameras, looking for something to photograph, and they find it, but I suspect they would come here, and pay more for the honey gathered from these flowers. Wouldn’t you?
It would be an honour to walk here with any of them. With anyone.
“Look what we’re doing,” we could say. “We’re weaving ourselves, and the future of our children, into the earth,” and then we could say …
… “isn’t it beautiful? Here, taste it.” Right now we can say, “Oh …
… that’s private property.”
90: Weaving Water to Combat Desertification
I know, I know, Chinese elms are a weed.
They grow well here, though.
Their flowers feed spring birds.
In turn, those flowers have a zillion seeds …
… and pop up everywhere.
Thing is, though, they do a couple interesting things. For one, in environmentally simplified landscapes capable of only producing social stratification symbols for humans, who like that kind of thing, a lot …
Golf Course at the Rise
From 200 species to 1. It gives aficionados a shiver of power right down the back of the neck. Much desired in elite social classes.
… in a kind of stratification that is often quite remarkable for its naked power …
The simplification here is from earth-as-living-and-working-space to earth-as-recreational space (the recreational activity is “looking” or “aesthetic enjoyment.”) It watches life flow away, as if human intelligence were not part of it.
Well, human intelligence is what you make of it, and what I’ve shown you so far today are social representations of human power. The elm, however, for all of its problems, offers a different one. It offers habitat, where habitat has been destroyed, while offering as well human social good, such as beauty …
… and the transformation of water into storable energy.
Check out what the lightning did a month ago.
That is transformed water there, bound with the sun and storing carbon for a human generation. No hydroelectric dam necessary. No one wants it, for some bizarre reason. It is quite portable…
…and can be used in measured amounts, according to need… the rest can be stored for many years.
When its elements are returned to the earth as water, energy and carbon, new elms will take them up again.
(Note: One doesn’t have to “remove” carbon from the atmosphere to remove problem carbon. One has to replace elemental understandings with process.)
The thing about elms is they grow everywhere in this climate, can be harvested quickly or after a generation, can be stored for a short period or for a generation, and can be used in measured amounts, in balance with new plantings.
What’s more, they take up water that otherwise flows as an element through a species-poor earth (made of lone elements), and in the process provide habitat for species that are otherwise homeless. They are arks. Yes, they are weeds, but they are healing the kind of error below, which wastes potential.
That’s a green of the Golf course at the Rise behind the young Douglas fir at the crest of the slope. The patch of green in the middle of the image is yellow clover that is mining water that has bled out from the single-species (well, two, a fir) zone of the golf green. Excess water and waste fertilizer is collected in the road cut you can see just below the fir, which spills down the infill from the road. It wells up as a wave over the bedrock under the post-glacial gravel. This is a way in which the earth heals herself, by giving forth life from gravity. From gravity! Here’s a paper wasp, finding forage in the yellow clover that would otherwise be lost — weightless, shall we say, only a place for elements to pass through, like subatomic particles in a cloud chamber. Weeds, however, turn deserts into life.
A reasonable goal would, I think, be to create the greatest amount of life, to use the greatest amount of water within the systems of life, and to harvest the excess as human social energy. This must be the definition of sustainability. Mustn’t it? Because this isn’t:
Death Maker: B Reactor, Hanford
This machine makes nuclear bombs: the most horrific human social arbiter of them all.
So, here are the elms (below), in a hillside reduced to knapweed, an abandoned landscape nursery, rock, yellow clover, mustard, gold finches and wasps. The gold finches feed in the elms in the early spring. They feed in the clover in July.
After a generation of drawing off carbon from the very technological excess which has allowed for the bulldozing of this living landscape and its reduction to a single-species vineyard and a single-species golf course up above, both human social displays, it can keep us warm in the winter dark, cycling water through human social space not as liquid but as life, and giving to us life, and roots, rather than liquidity, that either evaporates (witness the promise that the bulldozing attempted to fulfill) or flows away, leaving a desert, or, in human social terms, poverty. Choose life. Oh, and plant sunflowers, so the gold finches have something in August …
… because whatever they ate naturally is gone, and looks like human social strategies to turn the simplification of the earth into human class power (in this case, the irrigation of a vineyard to increase the social display value of houses, through the removal of that water from the earth):
… and without gold finches, and the memory of them across a span of fifty years or more, as is mine, from the elms that sifted them out of the air in migration in the Similkameen fifty years ago, for a few hours every spring, to the present …
… without that, we live in a desert, a desert which includes the barrenness of human individual life, crying out for connection but ultimately leading to isolation. In the image below, a lot of water was removed from life to create this coloured plastic, as a place for a human child to play in nature — a nature known as “outside”, and one otherwise unwanted, except for the social distance it provides between the next human “inside”. It is space — almost empty space.
Water is life. That is not a metaphor. If we take it away from life, it is just technology creating the illusions that are human social display …
Winemaking in Okanagan Falls
…and human class power.
This isn’t a war. We’re in this together.
We don’t have to remain alone.
91: 24 Apple Pies: Revitalization Fruit Growing with the Transparent
We know who makes the best summer apple pies. Here she is, the summer pie maker.
She was born in Russia 220 years ago. Look how young she looks in my garden.
Here in Vernon, she usually ripens in late July. This year, three weeks early (two weeks before my apricots). Here she is, hanging out with marigolds, tomatoes, garlic, spinach (for seed) and marjoram.
These are amazing pie and sauce apples. We could have a massive industry here, supporting a large processing and food industry. Instead, we have sweet fall apples to compete with industrial-scale production from Washington, while the warmer contours of the food industry are left to wine: a luxury product, exuberantly priced. People want pie. Don’t you? And tart apple sauce for those pork roasts in October? Of course you do!
The sustainable beauty of transparents is their sweet tartness, their earliness and their processing suitability: no cosmetic pesticides necessary, and a very short season for other pests. What’s more, they respond well to climate, so we could pick them continuously for a month, from the bottom of the valley to the top, using water in the cool zone, where water consuming fruits like this belong. Besides, they’re even better when grown to be picked in September, just before mountain frost. And they are a remarkably easy tree to grow, incredibly resistant to bacterial disease. Look how clean they are!
As another bonus, there’s a variety called Lodi, which ripens five days later, and stores longer. We could further extend our production. The trick of surviving in the Okanagan is about using water cleverly. These apples which take up water in our wettest month, June, and then are done, are a good start. We could exceed the employment of the grape industry, easily, which is a darned good use of our water, too. Think transparents. Think pie. If you’re in the Canadian Okanagan, there were some at Quality Greens last week. They’re probably all gone, but you might like to check.
92. 1 Hour, 42 Jars: The Oregon Grape Revolution
Keep your eyes open.
Oregon Grape, Okanagan Lake Shore
Ripe when the stems turn red.
Spend an hour.
Go to the kitchen.
Soon you will have 30 Jars of jelly and 12 jars of herb-and-honey-spiced reduction. Share the wild. If you’re sharing domestic fruits you are sharing domestication. Sure, if you want to become industrial nitrogen.
The choices are clear. Off you go. There’s still time this year. Imagine, though, if we bred these things and cultivated them everywhere water gathered at the foot of stone slopes. We’d change food culture world-wide, because there’s little that can compete with Oregon Grapes.
If we stopped spraying them with pesticides, herbicides and other gick in landscaping planting, every building could be a habitat. Every building. Food doesn’t have to be private property.
93. Give the Children Water
Schools aren’t classrooms. Classrooms are courses within schools. Putting children in classrooms teaches them about classification and abstraction, how to think in groups and how to put their words into sentences. It is very bookish behaviour. If we want them to put water in a dry world, such as the Okanagan, if we want them to rebuild the earth, we need to put them in water. We need to give every school a wetland.
Otherwise, they will build words and classrooms, as we have done, without adding wetlands. We could have a wetland city, in this dry climate, 400 miles long. We could work to extend water rather than to extend roads and parking lots, and could work hard to find room, here and there, for roads, as we now do for water. People tell me how hard these things would be, how nothing is possible without a funding source. First the funding, they tell me, then the service. Nonsense. First the water, then the water. It is very, very simple.
94: Going Lemonless, Mmmmm.
Every day trucks from Mexico, California, Texas, Arizona, Florida and no doubt all sorts of other places with names and histories of their own drive north full of lemons for the houses and restaurants of the Okanagan Valley in Canada. They sure are pretty things.
Nice sour things full of citric acid.
Thing is, we have citric acid here too, and it looks like this (well, growing over the fence of my neighbour down the way.)
That’s right, until Veraison, that special time when the grape vine lays down malolactic (apple) acids in its skins and starts to colour up with all kinds of exquisite sparks of taste and complexity (in the skin), grapes are almost 100% citric acid.
Veraison usually comes in the third week of July or so here, but it’s going to be early this year. Before then, vineyards need to thin out their extra clusters. They throw them away. We could have a second crop on every vineyard, tens of thousands of hectares of production, of wonderful grapey citric acid, for our salads and all our other special things. I tried it last year, a little past version, and the juice made wondrous salads, with gentle grape flavours, and the whole thing was not so sharp as a lemon, but subtle and very fine.
Without spending a drop more water than we are spending now, we could transform our food culture and add a completely new souring agent, one with hundreds of complex variations, to the world food table.
We would be a global food destination. Talk about added value. Talk about something you chefs should be getting onto like last week. I mean, the wine is getting to be pretty generic these days, and vineyards are scarcely paying and all, and this could change everything. Let’s go!
95. Let’s Go Nuts
As part of the effort to make the Okanagan sustainable, we should plant filberts. This scrubby and beautiful bush provides a rich harvest of nuts in the fall.
Filberts are native here, and would grow well in all the boundary areas where Russian olives now thrive. Russian olives are sour dates, with more pit than fruit. No one wants to eat them.
But filberts, ah, they’re wonderful, and their catkins are gorgeous in the winter.
There’s a wild bush down my road, and the one I planted five years ago, as a four-foot-tall sapling, is now fifteen feet tall and rich with nuts. Here’s the wild one, hanging out with a sumac.
There’s room in every yard, along thousands of kilometres of fence lines, along Okanagan Lake, all the way through the wetland hayfields between Penticton and Brewster, for these nuts. There’s no need to bring nuts in from the Coast, where they have squirrels and fungus. Wouldn’t you like your winter’s supply of nuts to come with no additional water expenditure? Wouldn’t you like our recipe base to expand deep into winter? Filberts, that’s the thing. A filbert and almond orchard was planted at Palmer Lake back around 1980, and was abandoned, and turned into horse pasture. The thing is, after all these years, despite the predations of starving horses …
… the filberts are still alive and well, as is that almond you can see in the back. Almonds are more tender and a more finicky choice. This is a remote location. The people are in the main valley, and mostly in the Canadian Okanagan. It’s time to do this right. But, hey, if we want to do almonds as well, I’m all for that too.
But we should do it.
96. End the Fraser War of 1858-2016.
This is the fifth in a series of archived posts on building a sustainable Okanagan together. This one is about water. And fish. And property rights. Today we’re at Mud Lake. It’s also called Rosemond Lake. Mud Lake came first, I bet. At any rate, this is the view looking to the North shore of the lake. Mud Lake is closed to power boats. It’s pretty quiet.
Mara Lake is in behind that shore, just a few feet away.
It is noisy with power boats and is pretty much fished out. Maybe we can do something about that. You see, that gravel berm is not a natural shoreline. It’s the bed for a railway that no longer runs. In fact, before there was a railway there was no Mud Lake. There was just Mara Lake, pooling in a big wetland where the Shuswap River flows in. That wetland is now Mud Lake. It is the amputated lung of Mara Lake.
It’s connected by a narrow passage. You can go through it.
You can come out where you should have been in the first place, and where the lake’s nutrients should flow but only kind of seep, a bit.
The fish need to live in cold water. Mud Lake doesn’t provide it, but fish need to eat, too, and Mud Lake provides that. It just needs to be flushed into Mara. What’s more, if the Shuswap River flowed there again, its cooler water would aid fish reproduction, while the wetlands would help clean the river. At the moment, it spills its muddy runoff for a couple kilometres out into the lake. That’s bad for fish. So, look again:
Mara Lake was amputated from its lungs to build a railway, but the railway no longer runs. This is easy to fix. Here are the ripples from my kayak passing over the life-giving organs of Mud Lake.
Land and water alienated for a public purpose should not become private property when that purposes passes. This is a principle that occurs again and again throughout the Okanagan, as railroads, roads and irrigation systems are decommissioned. Mud Lake, just off the Okanagan’s northern tip, is a clear example of how much we could achieve. The privatization of water has led to one kind of investment … a kind we no longer need nor use anymore. The system of privatizing water and land solely on a first-industrial-user basis was a compromise laid onto common law by the Fraser War of 1858, when a couple dozen Englishmen stared down 40,000 armed American miners who had just slaughtered a few thousand British Columbians and were eager to kill more without an excuse not to. One of the consequences was Mud Lake. Fortunately, we no longer need corridors for transportation. The system was successful — so successful that no we have too many. What we need now are planes, for staying. We need Mara Lake to be reborn. We need the war to be over.
97. Invite the Syilx into Government.
I’m working on a series of 100 practical things we can do in the Okanagan to create a sustainable culture. They are archived in the menu bar above. Let me give you a hint: this is not it:
Let that be our parliament. It is the pow-wow grounds at the Okanagan Indian Band at Head of the Lake. This is the biggest change of all, and the most important. We’re not going to get there all at once, but it’s not impossible to get there, and getting there is worth it. Please follow along through this argument, although it might be hard reading. I repeat: it’s worth it. Here’s how it works:
- All of this land between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean belongs to its First Peoples.
- All of this land between Brewster and Kettle Falls Washington and Enderby and Merritt British Columbia, belongs to the Creator, who gave it into the care of the Syilx People.
- They never gave it away.
- The Creator was, arguably, given to the peoples of North America as a concept by fur traders who preceded recorded European exploration of the West by 250 years. There is evidence, although not conclusive — although how could it be.
- The Country of Canada takes its justification from the Queen of England (and Canada), who takes hers from God (and the Crown Jewels.)
- The Okanagan takes off from God, too.
- No argument there.
- Sure, I own the small piece of land my house sits on, and the Queen owns 94% of the rest of the place and leases it out to American logging companies, and I own my house itself, and my apricot tree, well, actually no, the robin owns that …
… waiting for dinner! Bless her. That nest has been rebuilt in the same spot for five years now, and who knows how many before that. I can lay no claim to it, except in a claim to care for it for her. If her kids would only leave my strawberries alone, but … oh well.
9. There are multiple levels of government in this place, which there should be, as this is a successful and dynamic democracy and a prosperous, liberal industrial state. It is a complicated place requiring a great amount of democratic discussion.
10. Let’s expand that discussion.
Currently, Syilx participation in those levels of government is minimal, although it is mandated by the Government of Canada, which set fair accommodation of the Syilx, and all native peoples, as sovereign peoples, as a condition of British Columbia (this place on the North Eastern Pacific) entering the dominion of Canada. Fair enough. Thing is, I have sat on local committees and only once has there been native participation (there has, however, been resistance to it, despite my protests), and that only in the body of one single man in a sea of 60 immigrants … not just Canadians but Canadians new to the valley, some only a week or two into the experience. All this in a situation in which in the last 145 years only two land issues between the sovereign governments of the 198 independent aboriginal nations of British Columbia have been settled. My revulsion aside, you might ask what right do I, a man with obviously European ancestors (Rhenisch, Silesian from Kattowice, Gleiwitz and Wroclaw) have to be commenting on First Nation issues? Good question. None, except… I was born in 1958, which makes my personal memory and experience of this experiment over a third of its total. Pshaw, that’s nothing. True. How about this: my grandparents came in 1929, which makes my family experience two-thirds of its total. Pshaw, that’s nothing either, not when considered against the, what, 500 generations of the Syilx or the, I dunno, 1000 generations of the Haida. That’s kind of my point. Still, I do think, though, it gives me the right to speak a little bit about European culture in this place. What I’d like to offer is this:
Every political decision made in this place should be made with the full and equal participation of the Syilx. It should have been so in 1858, but it’s not yet too late to start.
Period. No limitations or exclusions or excuses. None. No saying, “but this is Canada, and we’re all Canadians.” The terms of that takeover have not yet been met. This land is in Syilx care. There is no negotiation on that. We can join them, but that’s it. And they’d be welcome of any help. This is who they are, and it’s who I am, too.
This does not mean, though, that I’m advocating a single Syilx representative on every council and board in the region. That means 1 vote out of dozens, as big of a change as that might be. It would mean a bit of important ceremonial recognition, but little else. No, I’m advocating a change. I’m advocating a Syilx vote for every Syilx community in the region. In my city, Vernon and Coldstream (there’s kind of a disagreement over class, which gives 2 administrations, which is so White, isn’t it), there are at least eight traditional villages. Here’s one. It’s currently a trailer park, a dredged creek, an airport and a soccer field. Everything to the right of the creek has been in the courts since 1895. It is currently for sale.
This is not too much to ask. The European people of the Okanagan might be honest, and might have purchased their land in good faith, and they have, of course, but, ultimately, it’s not ours. It’s Syilx land. Ultimately, if I want to prune my apricot tree I should be conferring with Syilx elders about that. Now, I know that’s impossible, and no one, especially Syilx elders, who have grandchildren to care about, for the love of God, wants to get involved with that, but regulations can, and regulations are created by committees, and committees work on majorities, discussion and either consensus or majority vote. Eight Syilx members on every committee? That would make the discussions relevant, and would likely lead to something like a 50-50 sharing of power.
This hill above Kalamalka Lake stands just above the point of a triangle of three village sites. You are looking at three votes.
Here’s my thinking: the earth is dying; we did this; no excuses.Now, we can’t give the earth a vote; but we can give a vote to its fruitful places, the ones suitable for human settlement, through the people who answered that call and whose survival is dependent upon honouring it. That there are no people in the view below is kind of the point.
They’re there in spirit, and they need to be invited back there, not in some romantic fashion, but in the hard, nuts-and-bolts practical work of working together. They keep asking. Let’s answer “yes” this time. Let’s ask them. Anything else — anything else — is racism. That the “land” and the “water” below is a Provincial Park is racism (unless we use the time it has bought us to move forward) …
I told you this one was hard. Now, let’s work towards it, slow step by step. Let’s be brave. We can do this. If we can’t, we should pack up and leave. Me? I’m staying. What about you?
98. Eliminate Black Plastic
Black plastic sheeting serves 4 purposes, but all look like this:
- It warms the soil for earlier crops.
- It keeps trickle irrigation from evaporating.
- It replaces human employment for weed control with profits for the petroleum industry, and rural economies with urban ones.
- It makes the investment in an expensive tractor worthwhile (tractors lay this stuff.)
The thing is, at the end of the season the plastic is taken to the landfill, the soil is depleted, people have no income, huge public investment is made in separating water systems so that there is no back suction of fertilizer-enriched water into freshwater systems (yes, every house owner subsidizes farmers on this one), weed seeds in the uncovered strips are laid down astronomically, and the difference between the actual labour cost of growing food and this enhanced cost becomes the farmer’s profit, minus the inputs of supplies and machinery, rather than the profit being the farmer’s labour. In other words, the whole system pays for the supplies and machinery, in order to replace farm-based economies with bank-based ones. That’s simply unsustainable.
Are there real reasons for farmers needing to sell their souls like this? Of course there are. But let’s just look at it: we need to efficiently distribute and conserve water, we need labour costs in balance with prices, we need heat, and we need healthy food and healthy growing conditions. What we don’t need is plastic. It’s amazing that society can subsidize, to the tunes of trillions of dollars a year, infrastructure to move more-or-less unnecessary automobiles …
…. when the same infrastructure could heat tomato plants, and feed us. Now, I’m not proposing that we ban automobiles or plant tomatoes and peppers in the middle of the asphalt, but imagine if we built permanent fields, using rock to gather heat, and planted tomatoes there. I did it with wood. My tomatoes will be ready in 3 weeks.
Sure, some efficiencies of scale would be lost by a rock wall method. Farmers wouldn’t get to drive around on tractors, so much, either, but, hey, the darn things cost major coin, and, besides, what I didn’t tell you was that the farm I showed you above was a self-pick operation. Farmers aren’t doing the labour of harvest in the first place! In short, no tractor is actually necessary. Walking tractors would do …
Or maybe just a wheelbarrow. What would you need a tractor for? Moving manure once a year? Moving tomatoes four or five times? Tractors are useful machines, but I reckon that if we’re going to sell tomatoes as healthful products, as better than industrial tomatoes sold in supermarkets, we shouldn’t be compacting the soil with heavy machinery and killing it, reducing our yield rather rapidly over time, or growing tomatoes on plastic, destroying the soil, using unnecessary hydrocarbons, creating tremendous waste (it’s cheaper to lose 50% of a crop than to pick it yourself) …
… and hauling all that plastic to the dump at the end of the season, just to provide income for farmers on the difference between the potential cost of their labour and the actual cost of their supplies and equipment, on a pricing structure that incorporates all this waste and charges more than twice the cost for self-picked fruit than for fruit picked by the farmer. That is a way of moving wealth from the land to manufacturing centres, on the backs of the land. It might provide an economy on paper, but it doesn’t provide my black krims…
… or my late season Christmas tomatoes, protected against frost by a reusable (and recycled) tarp, months after the plastic-grown tomatoes are all finished and the only thing available is industrial, from the supermarket, shipped in from thousands of miles and grown there by people using walking tractors.
By the way, my insect control system is that marigold. That’s it. I don’t need more than that. One other point, if I may: I have these late October tomatoes because I don’t prune off the extra branches from my plants, to ensure even ripening in a concentrated season on a single stalk, which is the recommended method. I’d rather have fresh tomatoes for 5 months, a bucket every three days, than all of them at once and then nothing. What I’m proposing is a ban on black plastic. We don’t need it. I’d love to go further, with public infrastructure for growing food. Supermarkets, with their huge parking lots, are already displacing huge amounts of growing space. Community gardens and farmers markets already exist, on a small scale. It’s time to be done with the myth that farmer’s knowledge and cleverness can solve these problems, when the problems have to do with forcing agriculture into a non-agricultural business model. If we want food, the movement has to be the other way: the society provides the infrastructure; the framers fill it. That’s what’s happening right now, but the infrastructure is incapable of providing healthy food or of using the common resource of water wisely. It will take a lot to change this, but it’s not really that complicated, and the first step is simple: outlaw the use of black plastic for agricultural production, period. Let’s get smart again. Let’s stop doing this:
Call this removal of unpicked self-picked (and overpriced) fruit what you like, but if you call it farming you’re romanticizing the growing of money. We can’t afford this. There are too many of us in a small space.
99. Water Harvesting
- Wherever there is a crack, stuff grows in the Okanagan.
- That crack above has yellow clover and feral grasses, but there are cracks, right on the sidewalk beside the main highway through town, which are growing wireweed, purslane, amaranth, wild lettuce and plantain, which is to say four food crops and one medicinal plant great against mosquito bites. As for downtown Kelowna, the Okanagan’s urban knot, have a look at this wild lettuce, growing behind a downtown restaurant.
Now, it’s not going to fly to grow our food in these cracks beside the highway, or in alleys, due to pollutants from traffic, but let’s consider a few principles here:
- The roads and sidewalks are collecting water and …
- the cracks are delivering it and …
- in what appears a total desert, life is flourishing.
In other words, the Okanagan is neither a desert nor dry. Look at how a simple roadway can be a seasonal river. That water could have been easily diverted at that joint, and used to grow the thistles I mentioned yesterday, or sunflowers, for a bird seed industry, or anything you like.
The land is simply not dry. Only the air is, and not always. Here’s that alley again. Note the tree on the right, and the water pouring out of a roof drain, uselessly onto asphalt.
Water is limited in the Okanagan, and so is agricultural land, but consider: every sidewalk and every road has cracks, and every road has ditches, and they all work on the same principle, collecting water, moving it and generating life with it. It’s not necessary for water to flow freely to create crops in this climate. With that in mind, here’s a crack:
Rocks like that are everywhere in this region, split by winter frost and spring thaw. They collect water. Not only that, they collect bird droppings, which contain saskatoon seeds, which bloom and give fruit. The image below shows a very common local sight.
The rock shelters the young plant from deer, better and more elegantly than snow fencing around inappropriate, irrigation hungry Japanese maples …
…and collects water and manure (from birds and marmots) and nutrients (from crumbling rock) to nurture the plant, despite the ongoing lack of free-flowing water. The trick in this climate is not to get water to flow but to get it to stop as soon as possible. This principle can be applied throughout the valley, for landscaping projects and even for creating farming land where no water is otherwise available. And we’re close. Look at the decorative rocks in the landscaping above. They are visually appealing (perhaps) and collect heat. They could have been arranged to collect water as well. We’re close on this one. Let’s take that one extra step.
100. Scotch Thistle
Currently scotch thistle, an invasive plant, is poisoned with government money, for the damage it can do to the cattle industry.We have arrived at the point at which the benefits of growing scotch thistle exceed those of maintaining the cattle industry with the aggressive poisoning of these plants, and the toll that takes on wild pollinators.
The solution: an agricultural and food industry based around the miniature but delicious artichoke hearts in each thistle head. Spontaneous seeding of remaining cattle land can be managed.
Advantage: this agricultural crop requires no water and maintains endangered but vital bee populations. The potential for breeding larger heads exists.