What is a Museum For?

Perhaps a museum is for preserving valuable cultural artifacts of more than personal significance and which might otherwise not be available for purposes of public renewal. Things like this:

Pumphouse on the Gray Canal, Vernon

Fallen off its footings and left to the local porcupine.

It is fitting that we preserve the many war memorials in the Okanagan and that we remember the terrible cultural price that was paid to transform Canadian men into soldiers in two European world wars. I do find it sad, though, that the constructions those men left behind to go to war or built when they came home again to create some kind of peace are left to fall into disrepair: orchard prop piles, orchard machinery yards, old bunkhouses and irrigation flumes, packinghouses, livery stables, smithies, and trucking company offices, just for a tiny start: honourable items of work, that touched the land. Even in the last twenty years, we have lost the World War I era flumes and Chinese bunkhouses at Greata Ranch. Forty years ago, we lost the entire townsite of Upper Keremeos. These things don’t fall down on their own. They fall down because it is in the nature of people to forget. This is what forgetting looks like:

A Poplar Tree Remembers the Day Some Man Forgot

Honouring why men went to war is noble and stirring stuff. Honouring why they came back, though, although perhaps neither noble nor stirring, is equally vital.

This is what remembering looks like:

The Current Owner of the Pumphouse Shyly Holds Its Ground

It is also in the nature of people to remember. Lets.

Ice Wine and a Riesling Fit for Kings

Ice wine and Riesling are both cold climate wines. For a riesling, let’s look at Cedar Creek, in Okanagan Mission. For ice wine, let’s go to the far north, in Vernon. If anything was ever misnamed, it’s ice wine. Here’s why: ice wine is made from grapes that have been left to hang on the vine until the temperature drops to Minus 10-13 Celsius and the berries are as hard as gravel. They’re then quickly picked and pressed before they thaw. In the process of pressing, the water is left behind as ice and only a concentrated pressing of juices and sugars gets squeezed out. This is what the wine is made out of. The ice is thrown away. Here’s ice:

Ice Wine Hanging On by Its Fenceposts Above Vernon

Real Winter, as you can see, is coming out of the Monashee Mountains to the east.

The CBC has just reported that this is going to be a record-breaking ice wine harvest year, because “hundreds of tons of underdeveloped grapes” have been left on the vines. Now, isn’t the deal with ice wine that the grapes are fully mature, late harvest, and rich with flavours? Does that actually jive with “underdeveloped grapes”? Lower sugar levels aren’t a big deal, because the water that would dilute the sugar is just being thrown away, but less concentrated flavours means leafy and stem flavours and acids and good mouth-puckering stuff. It will be interesting to see how those flavours can be developed to match the ripe fruit flavours for which ice wines are justifiably famous. I think this year is going to be an interesting test and a time for real growth in the wine industry. Right now, things just look brown, though:

Waiting for the Cold

The snow came, the snow went, and this is what ice wine grapes look like after the temperature has fallen to Minus 5 and then hovers at about Plus 1 or 2 during the day and Minus 2 or 3 at night, and then rises to a, whoa, positively tropical Plus 10.

The thing about tasting wine is that the real taste in the glass is a taste of the year in which the grapes grew, and the process by which they were harvested, pressed, fermented, and finished. That’s wine. It’s a glorious thing. It’s a kind of physical memory. This business of leaving underdeveloped grapes to squeeze the ice away sounds more like putting a brave face on a big oops, because it’s just not necessary. Cedar Creek Winery in Kelowna makes a monumental Riesling out of what might otherwise have been called underdeveloped grapes. This wine has won serious awards, and it deserves it. It is a proud, exciting wine, strong, acidic, bold, and able to stand up to anything from the Mosel or the Rhine, which is high praise indeed. Rather than pushing the summer envelope into the brown months and saying we can make the best ice wine in the world here, when maybe every year we can’t, maybe we should be saying, damn but our Rieslings can sit on any man or woman or king  or queen’s table and sing like Hildegaard von Bingen.

Skip the Ice Wine and Go for the Gold

Just a hint, from your friendly neighbourhood blog. Warning: this wine is not for people used to buying their white wines from Australia or South Africa. This is a northern wine that displays this northern grape in its full splendour.

If we’re going to talk about grapes, let’s do just that.

Leisure Economy or Value Added Economy?

In the Okanagan, the economy is largely built around real estate development, which is built around people playing on water. Well, sort of:

The Leisure Economy in November

A summer culture waiting for summer to come again.

And the boats? Ah, here they are:

Tucked all in and Waiting for the Snow

(And nicely shaded by weeds.)

This is the consequence of a leisure economy. It doesn’t really work in the cold months. Every Sunday in the summer in Okanagan Falls, for example, a flea market is set up on a dust flat in the centre of town, but when the snow comes, the fleas go. Here it is on November 20:

Leisure at Leisure

All summer long, thousands of people visit these stalls to pick up treasure for a bargain and a song. Now it’s sleeping the winter away.

But, wait, what is that across the road? Ah, look:

Winter Leisure in the Okanagan

Read the Fine Print: Today’s Double Feature: Money and Money. That’s nice. Oh, but underneath it? What does that say? 

Let’s get closer and have a look, shall we:

A Clear Case of Red Bull

Okanagan Falls is beautiful because it is the only working class town in the central Okanagan Valley. If you want to know how the leisure economy is doing, it’s always a good idea to check in with Okanagan Falls. Right now, it suggests some weakness in the ability of the leisure economy to support the people who work in it. The government has a plan, though. Government is all about planning. It has redefined the future as a value-added economy. The first plank (their word) of the Community Futures of the Central Okanagan’s plan for agricultural development, for example, is hinged on “A move away from traditional commodity products within the Central Okanagan and into highly differentiated, highly value-added artisan agricultural and food products.” I’m not sure what that means.  I think it might just look like this, though:

Value Added Agriculture in the Making

The Rise Development in Okanagan Landing was built around a private golf course, for owners only, and a vineyard. The value-added here was less the niche marketing of high quality grapes, than the marketing of expensive houses to investors. When the economy went into the tank two years ago, the development went bust and the vineyard tanks were put on hold. Ouch.

And it looks like this, too:

Waiting for the Snow

Old Fruit Land Pressed into Service to Grow Corn on the Cob for a Value-Added Agricultural Tourism Operation in Vernon.

Shouldn’t “Value-Added” mean to make the most of one’s resources? We’ve figured out how to have summer festivals, and summer corn-on-the-cob for summer barbecues on the beach with our summer boats, and in the other months? Well, the Kelowna Food Bank, for one,  has 30,000 clients a year. And we’re moving away from commodity production of food to artisan agricultural products? Hello? Folks, we’re not even using our land. A retirement lifestyle is great for people with the financial means to retire here. For everyone else? Well, it means you retire from eating, or something like that. As Roderick Haig-Brown said, to learn the success of a resource policy, look to the health of your people. There you’ll see.

And that’s why we’re talking here.

What Season is This, Anyway?

Spring, of course! Take a look.

Mid-November, and Spring Has Sprung in the North Okanagan

A day before, these new weeds were sitting under three inches of snow. The snow will be back, you can be sure. In fact, as I type this, it’s flying around again in the air.

Here’s a closer look:

Weeds Taking Advantage of the Wet Season

And healing a road cut while they’re at it. Talk about public service gals! Sorry about the fuzziness. The photographer was being hauled around by Mr. Winston, the Blog’s Deer, and, I tell you, the deer weren’t far.

With 30 centimeters of precipitation a year, and most of that in snow, and most of it (frozen and liquid) evaporating into the dry air, it makes sense to do your growing now when the air is damp and then to steal the last drops of the snow when it melts in the spring. Leave the summer to the cactus. That’s what the moss and cheatgrass are doing here:

Growing While the Living is Easy

And of course, although the rockland community in the grasslands is pretty OK with leaving the summer to the prickly pears, it’s not as if this isn’t their season for plumping up, too. There’s enough to go around:

Prickly Pear Cactus

These ladies are the camels of the Okanagan.

Now, the thing is, if this is spring, but our agriculture is based upon a spring in March and April, why do we do that? And what are we missing?

Tomorrow: The answer, and why that matters economically. A lot.

Knowledge Economies

What is an economy? A form of management. The terms comes from ancient Greece. It concerns the management of an estate. What is an agricultural economy? Management of agricultural resources. Like this, perhaps:

A Failed Economic Model

or… what happens when the economists turn their back on the household and leave it to the staff to figure it out for themselves, or not. An economy of ignorance has destroyed the knowledge latent in this scene.

What is a knowledge economy? Management of knowledge. What is a knowledge economy in the Okanagan? Ah, take a look:

The Failure of a Government Knowledge Economy in the Okanagan Orchards

In the 1980s, the British Columbia government set out to provide knowledge to Okanagan orchardists, that would set them on the road to independence, by financing the removal of old orchards and their replacement with new modern ones. Thirty years later, only the advertising sign remains. It can hardly be called a knowledge economy when the knowledge is actually ignorance.

A smarter way to apply knowledge would be to have it grow from the ground up. Take this, for example:

Okanagan Centre (Uphill)

Almost half of the farmland in this picture is under utilized or fallow.

A simple urban management change could see underused farmland being made available to young people at low rates, coupled with support for them through microloans. Work and community consultation would deliver knowledge to the young, about how to grow food on the land, knowledge to the managers, about how to reconfigure their urban-rural interface economies, and knowledge resources to our university, which it could develop into a knowledge product unique in the world.

Yes, knowledge economies are about packaging data, but you have to take care of the house. Otherwise it falls down, and becomes too expensive to maintain by any economy, a knowledge one or otherwise.

Tomorrow: What we can learn from weeds.

Financial Matters

Up in the British Columbian Okanagan, we have just come through a civic election. Throughout the valley, the call was heard for responsible civic management, financial audits, and streamlining local governmental regulations to attract business. The goals are solid: to spend our money wisely and to provide jobs for our people, especially well-paying jobs, and especially for our young people. I think this is why:

Beurre D’Anjou Pears Frozen on the Tree on Election Day

If the goal of our communities is to care for our people by effectively distributing resources to where they are needed, something is wrong. If the goal of our communities is not to effectively distribute resources in support of our people, something is very wrong.

In the past twenty years plans to increase prosperity by streamlining government have repeatedly failed throughout British Columbia, and rarely for lack of good will, passion, intelligence, or commitment. They fail because you can’t buy prosperity (usually you have to work for it), cutting governmental costs often cuts the ability to develop unacknowledged community assets, and many structural problems are not local but provincial or even national. To date, the development model that sells Okanagan land to outside investors and homeowners has resulted in both prosperity and poverty. The prosperity lies in housing construction and sales. The poverty lies in the neglect of our ability to use our land to create wealth out of the energy of our young people, supported by community investment.

Snowman on Election Day

The family energy to work with children is alive and well.

Sometimes investment comes from Edmonton and Calgary oil men, who develop expensive vineyard properties into exciting opportunities. Sometimes, though, it is as simple as civic governments re-imagining land use policy to allow for full utilization of agricultural opportunity. It costs a lot more in governmental resources to feed the jobless and homeless than it would to take care of this problem:

Resources: Food, Wood, Work, Dignity, and Beauty

All dependent upon a food distribution and production system that could stand close scrutiny.

The answer is not to cut community management, but to direct it towards creative community planning, that will free latent opportunity. I believe it is time to consolidate the last thirty years of real estate investment in the Okanagan, by completing the land-use side of the equation. Tomorrow, I will suggest how that might be done. For now:


The Morning After the Election in Okanagan Falls

Moving Borders

According to the old European story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, this is the time of the year when the maiden earth descends to spend half a year with her husband in Hell, before returning to earth to bring crops back to the fields and the sun to the sky. The story is present in the Okanagan, too. Here, at this time of year, it looks much like this:

Cornfield in the First Snow

Dead to the world and waiting for the story to begin again.

It is a powerful story. But here in Turtle Island, it works only in fields, which are defined by fences. Why are there fences?  Why, to keep humans out. They certainly don’t have any effect on the other mammals who share our space. Take a look:

Deer Making use of an Abandoned Orchard

Someone might as well, eh.

On the other hand, look at what fence lines do to human activity on the land. Here’s a bigger view of the same abandoned orchard, in context:

Abandoned Bella Vista Orchards with Weeds

Notice the subdivisions in the background, kept at bay by fencelines. Now, is it just me, or don’t they look a lot like plowed fields as well?

Truth is, British Columbia land use is split three ways: surveyed private property, First Nation reserves, and an Agriculture Land Reserve, to support farming (and Persephone). That’s where the fences come in, to keep the stories straight. Where the land isn’t fenced off, though, it arranges itself differently, such as here:

Black Sage Hillside, Okanagan Falls

These bushes don’t need fences. They have arranged themselves musically, according to a conversation with water.

What the Okanagan would look like if humans arranged land divisions on water as well, is worth imagining. As for all those fences, well, we could use boundaries for different purposes, such as the deer do with our fields. Even those other immigrants, the starlings, do that. Here they are catching some fine late afternoon light:

Starlings, Showing Us the Way

Better adapters than humans, they have learned to arrange themselves musically in this landscape.


North America was renamed Turtle Island by the poet Gary Snyder, as a gesture of respect to the aboriginal cultures of North America. The term originated with the Iroquois tale of the origin of the continent out of mud carried to the surface of the sea on the back of a turtle. In the Okanagan, the story reappears in the guise of red mud dredged up and rolled out by hand.  What does it all look like today? Here’s the youth version, in Penticton:

Penticton Youths Love Turtles (And Other Things)

Seemingly, the Canadian Armed Forces, who provided the building, is not high on their list. This graphical representation of North America is as complex as contemporary culture. I love the added touch of the fiberglassed air conditioner, as a gesture towards (or away from?) global warming.

Turtles have a long and honourable history in the valley. Here they are, just south of Brewster, at Wenatchee:

Turtle Rock, Wenatchee Washington

Note the two heads. These two-headed formations (usually one gives birth to the other) are common throughout the North West. The water in the foreground was formally the river, now a slough cut off by the rail line.

Far, far to the north, in downtown Vernon, British Columbia, a different turtle bathes on the shore of a vanished lake. The lake was called Lake Penticton, and for a couple thousand years washed up at the foot of Turtle Mountain:

Turtle Mountain, Vernon, BC

Looking across the shallows of Lake Penticton, of late planted with apple trees, more recently stripped of them again.

Remembering that myth of the earth being rolled out of good, red Okanagan volcanic clay, take a look at this closeup of the mountain:

Volcanic Glass in the Red Basalt of Turtle Mountain

Turtle eggs, or what, eh.

Thing is, Lake Penticton survived for two thousand years at the end of the last glacial period, but broke its ice dam and drained away 10,000 years ago. Memory goes back a long, long time in this country. The stories written in this land, and recorded in human memory, predate the Bible by 7,000 years. We even had a great flood:

Hand-Painted Turtle and Sun Saved from Flooding Behind the Wells Dam

Well, kinda saved. The signage talks about the Egyptian hieroglyphics.

If ancient civilization is projected to be under 150 feet of water along the Pacific Coast, what would we find if we hiked around the shores of Lake Penticton, 100 metres above the current level of Okanagan Lake? More turtles, I bet.

Okanogan Earthquake

Breaking News: Earthquake: 1:09 a.m., November 18, 2011. Okanogan, WA!

Perhaps for the first time since Mexican drivers drove cattle through in 1858 to feed the California miners who had trudged north to the Cariboo, Okanogan, Washington is in the news. All the time in between it has been living on as a film set waiting for a film.

Where’s a Good Film Crew When You Need One?

Roadside Sign at Okanogan, Washington. An early form of the film pitch.

In between, in anticipation, people have managed to turn their local grain elevator into an Irish Pub. At 1:09 a.m., the big break came and the earth shook underneath Okanogan. Here’s downtown, looking over one of Northern Washington’s kazillion abandoned fruit packinghouses.

Okanogan, Washington, with a View of the Epicentre

The epicentre of the quake is behind the brown hill in the mid-ground of the picture. Warning: CBC News has the epicentre a few miles north, near Riverside. Dang! They need a less picturesque map.

Still, this is ancient country, that has been cracking up ever since it drifted across the Pacific and smashed into North America. The Okanogan Valley itself is an ancient fault line, that has in the past shifted around 100 miles on a north-south line. Obviously, it’s not done with us yet. Here is the valley at Riverside:

The Old Okanogan Fault, Riverside, Washington

All grown up and filled with post-glacial gravel and hayfields. No Irish Pub, though.

Every earthquake needs an Irish Pub. No reported injuries from the earthquake. Well, yeah. As they say in Dublin, ‘Go mbeire muid beo ar an am seo arís.’ Which translates into Okanogan as “May we all be alive at this time next year.”

I’d raise a glass to that.

Cider: the Apple’s Soul

Apples are like people. Every apple seed gives a new individual. The only reason there is more than one tree’s worth of Golden Delicious apples is that the original tree has been cloned millions of times. What would it be like, however, to have the fruit from every tree from every seed from that original tree blended together? Why, it would be like tasting Golden Delicious, in time. It would also be a lot like a healthy human society, in which every individual contributes towards making the society rich and supportive. Well, at least in theory. But it is more or less the traditional way of making cider. For the Okanagan, a blend of apples from Brewster to Swan Lake, across 300 kilometres and 8 weeks of approaching frost, might give us the taste of our land. Cider matters. So far, there is one craft cidery in the valley: Orchard Hill Cidery in Osoyoos, and  As I mentioned yesterday, here’s an old cider apple from Virginia:

Winesap Apple, Virginia, late 1700s.

At Orchard Hill, out of sheer interest and love of the fruit, I asked what apples they used to make their cider. “That’s a secret,” Mrs. Dhaliwal said. Maybe. Two can play that game. Take a look at this image from their web site:

Orchard Hill Cidery Apples

Might that be a winesap on the right? And, gasp, might that perhaps be a royal gala keeping it company on the left?

And what of the cider? Well, a real English or French cider is made out of specialized cider apples, which are, mostly, like chewing on lemons, tea bags, lumps of wood and bark, leaves, and hunks of parsnip soaked in honey. The most pure of all are picked wild out of hedgerows, where they have seeded themselves. A winesap is a good start … for a tart sweet apple juice, or for providing the body for a cider. And Orchard Hill’s Red Roof Cider is like that … a good beginning, and most excellent for sipping beside the pool in the summer, or on the deck while the barbecue turns the air into downtown Beijing and the season’s first royal galas, from Brewster, are all sliced up real pretty on a plate, but it lacks the deep, complex flavours that would convince you to drive 500 kilometres for a taste. We could do it, though. Over on Vancouver Island, Merridale Cider does. Their Scrumpy will make you see light in darkness. It is the cider equivalent of a $80 bottle of hand-squeezed Cabernet Sauvignon left to ripen late, with the starlings being chased away by one’s children, and the night fogs wafted over the berries by hand, then fermented with wild yeast and left to breathe for the winter and the next spring in 10-year-old American oak barrels. It’ll make you put down the 15-year-old single malt. Here’s the worst part: You cannot buy it in the Okanagan Valley. They make just enough for Southern Vancouver Island and Greater Vancouver. I weep.

Mrs. Dhaliwal told me, “We used to make a very dry cider, but we found that people preferred a medium sweet one instead.”

Well, Mr. and Mrs. Dhaliwal, ahem. If you plant the trees, and make the cider, we will come and we will stay.