Being the Mountain

There’s a thing that happens with sheep in the mountains of Wales and Iceland: they become acclimatized to the mountain, and pass that acclimatization on to following generations. Once they have been acclimatized, they never leave. No fences required. Here it’s the deer. They spread across pastures, on the grasslands, on steep trails up the arroyos, on steep mountain slopes of shale and sumac and saskatoons, and on gravel bars left by the glaciers. They’re everywhere..

White Tailed Deer on a February Afternoon..

... and an invisible man watching her.

Deer cover this earth. There is not a tussock of grass in the country that deer do not circle and weave into a net. If you try to walk in a straight line across the hills, you soon find that the only path through the grass is the path of the deer. You can fight it, but chances are you’ll just get cactus in your knee.

The Main Road …

… from the aspen ponds of the upper grasslands to the lowland willows and tasty suburban shrubberies. 

Each bunchgrass plant is an intersection between trails, a chance to go up, or forward, or down. The deer follow them all. Other creatures are weaving the land into a net here, too. Check this out:

Meadow Vole on the Move…

… even tails leave prints, eh.

The voles create a finer net over the land than the ones that deer make. They travel from slopes of deep, wind-blown earth down into streambeds, where they harvest exotic plants and flowers and bring them home. In the winter, they keep all this stuff underground and skitter around in tunnel cities lit with white light. Sometimes we get a glimpse of this world …

Vole Tunnel

There’s not a square centimetre of the entire grassland that is not covered by these trails. If you tried to follow them all, you’d go nuts. For instance…

One Ring-Necked Pheasant …

… coming and going. Following a pheasant is not about going somewhere. It’s about being somewhere. 

The trails of coyotes cut cross country, as they track deer and hunt voles in their gardens, and pass nightly from their dens high up into the hills, down over the falling slopes of sagebrush, through the subdivisions like smoke, and into the swamps far below in the floor of the valley, and back.

Coyote Street at 790 Metres

I followed this road for two hours, higher and higher into the hills, and back. 

In tight spaces, such as along the rims of ravines, coyotes move quickly in single file, marking trail intersections with their faeces. Their presence remains long after they have passed. Every coyote following them for days knows the way. On the broader slopes, they pass in a swath up to ten metres wide, sifting through the sagebrush side by side. Their movement is not random. In all my time walking in the grass, I find myself time and time again walking in their footsteps.

On the Road Again

I just turned off a roadway in what seemed like a logical spot, and discovered that, yeah, it was.

If I look across a slope, and pick up on a route up to a knoll, I can be sure that the coyotes have chosen it long ago. If I turn off a road to pick my way down a slope to another road three hundred metres downhill, I can be sure that just as I turn a coyote path will open up beneath my feet. There’s an art to moving through the land as part of the land in the ways of wind, earth, and water. All art was like that until we told ourselves that it was better to live in our heads.

It took me twenty years to realize that I’d been acclimatized to the valley, but, hey, never too late, right.

Spring Carnival

The snow keeps falling.Just this last week, the British Columbia Winter Games came to Vernon. Hundreds of young athletes celebrated personal and community excellence. On those parts of the valley where humans aren’t on anyone’s radar, however, winter is over and done with — or maybe it began way back in May and lasted through January. I peeked under a wild cherry tree, for instance, and found this tidal pool of mosses, recreating an ancient ocean on a rock.

Spring Garden

There was a time when all the forests of the world were this high. These guys are happy to keep celebrating that.

Here’s a variation on the theme, a whole savana in the lee of a Big Sage bush:

Rock Savana

In the larger landscape, these mosses are replaced by grasses, and higher up by trees … the pattern, however, remains the same.  Weird angle from twisting under those sage limbs, huh.

Just a metre away, outside of the protection of any tree or bush, the story was a little different (but just a little):

Wet Season Delight

In a couple months, when the heat comes, these lichens will all shrink back down onto the rock, which is how humans know them. Right now, though, they’re in their glory.

There’s not a lot of sun out on the hills these days, but what there is it finds the rocks. They bring the season forward at least a month — and, most importantly, do it when the water is still around. Close by, though, there’s another story going on. There’s still last spring to be reckoned with. Take a look at our old friends, the wild grapes on the hill:

Grapes  Alive

These grapes have survived birds, frost, melt, frost, snow, freezing, melt, birds, rain, snow, freezing, rot, and a lot else since September, and yet they’re still alive, still sweet, and still without rot. The low ground cover has stymied the birds. The yeast on their surfaces, a fungus, as well as the cactus-type intermediate photosynthetic acids in their skins, have effectively fought off any bacteria that might cause rot. The grapes have matured nicely. There’s a lesson here about making wine. This is what wine looks like when it’s not in a bottle.

Spring, summer, fall and winter, all at the same time. Those are the real seasons of the Okanagan.

Wine and Light

Talking about wine today. Thinking about how the bacterial crust on the soil shows up in the wine. Thinking that it’s a story of light. So pick up a glass, sip that sun, and walk with me for a moment through the Okanagan Llight…

Vineyard in Westbank Source

aka: Afternoon Light

Current fashion in wine talk is to gush (yes, gush) about flavours (black currant, tobacco, lychee), body (heavy, light), character (reserved, loud, bold, big), acidity, residual sugar and other things describing the capabilities of the human mouth. Why, you would think it was about us.

Woman Tasting Red Wine With Her Nose

This is the correct method. The tongue can taste sour, sweet, salt, and bitter. That’s it. End of story. The nose, though, ah, the nose. The nose can lead you away from yourself into time and space and that dandelion you picked back there on April 14 and held up to your daughter’s chin. Every wine photographer knows that wine is all about light, and that humans are just suckers for light. Humans and grapes, we share that. Wine publicists? Usually they’re knocking the stuff back and writing tasting notes. Tasting notes? Maybe it’s time for smelling notes. Source.

As far as grape plants go, even smell is not the story. It’s about what we call light, air and water.  Grapes trap photons of light, using enslaved bacteria, they mix it with air, and then they mix that mixture with water. Along the way, they steal a bit of energy, trap it in acid, then trap another photon of light, with more enslaved bacteria, to turn it into sugar. They do this as long as the sun shines. All plants do that. Grapes have a couple other tricks up their sleeves, though. First, they can absorb 25% more sun in their leaves than other plants before they stop photosynthesizing. They love heat. Second, they have a secondary form of photosynthesis in the skins of their fruit — the same that pineapples and cacti use to survive in the desert. The effect is that a grape plant is playing around and making art. They start small. Where there’s lots of light, they lay down lots of fruit buds for the next spring. They ramp it up a bit. They store acid in their fruit (young grapes are pure acid), and then convert it, later, to sugar. That looks like this:

Pinot Noir Grapes Undergoing Verraison. Source

At the Verraison stage, grapes begin the process of turning their acid berries into lush fruits. This process is a kind of secondary or delayed photosynthesis — a synthesis of fruit. The third form of secondary photosynthesis will happen during fermentation, when the manipulation of sugars goes through a third stage. Many different processes can live off of light. The wine is their record.

During and after Verraison, the skins of the grapes begin their transformative work. First, they shut their skins down during the day, build up on complex acids, then turn those into sugars during the night. It’s at night they breathe. Secondly, however, these acids are laid down in complex patterns according to how much light is shining on the berries, in union with the bacteria and fungi that live on the skins of the grapes and which will eventually lead to fermentation (or rot). Third, these acids, especially on shaded grapes, prejudice the grapes towards fermentation over rot. They are amazingly resilient. It is all a story of light.

The Vineyards of the Elbe

Radebeul, Saxony. Late June, 2010. Temperature 45 Celsius.

As I said, grapes love light and manipulate it right into the dark. Seeking light is what they’re about — and conserving it. They climb trees to get up higher at the light. They waste none of that light in producing heavy stalks. It’s all about following their growing tips, which are following the light, and where almost all of their sugars are produced, but it’s also about the shade of those trees, and how that, too, is recorded in the fruit. Light and shade: it’s a language. Out of languages like that, art is made. The grapes, however, can’t do it alone. You see, like all plants, the light’s not really their thing. It’s bacteria that really do the chemistry: they are the cholorophyll that live in symbiosis with the leaf; they are the fellow travellers around the root hairs that bring minerals to the roots; they are the soil crust that allows the earth to breathe and preserves water in the heat; they are the crust of the berries that prevent rot; and they are the yeasts that turn the whole year’s reach for the light into wine.

The Body of Christ

Sun, Vine, and Cross in Rüdesheim am Rhein

As humans, we can see light. In the wine, we can drink it. Not only that, we can drink an entire year, and because our noses have trapped molecules of every smell we’ve ever encountered, and compare new scents to them, we can taste them. So, let’s honour that, and stop talking about jam flavours and the warm notes of vanilla oak, and just talk about the light, the light, the light.

I mean, how often are we given such a chance to get outside our own heads and think like the most ancient, most life-giving processes on the planet? Wine is humbling.

Life Raft for the Grasslands

Can you imagine drowning on dry land? It happens. On the grasslands, the difference between breathing and drowning is so slight. For instance, at a height of 860 metres, after a day of rain on top of a foot of snow, the world comes alive:

Water Coming to Life on Stone

A day before, these plants were just thin, hard scrapings on the rock, like those to the left.

Some parts of the earth are old. This, too:

Dry Land Tide Pool

So briefly as the winter snows flow away, the world’s ancient seas are alive in the grasslands. The darned stuff looks like coral.

This is a world of surfaces, a whole ocean spread out as thin as a sheet of paper, providing the skin between the earth and the air. It is a sea that appears and disappears with the seasons, like the tide, but even when it’s dry, it’s there. Here, too:

Island Refuge

Ancient soil crust migrating to a broken sagebrush trunk, to get out of the muck of grassland soil that has lost its skin of fungus and bacteria. From such islands, healthy soil may be born again.

To heck with carbon sequestration. Carbon has a role to play beyond sucking up the exhaust fumes of our cars. We should be throwing all the carbon we can out on the grass, to give these species some breathing room, so they can regroup and colonize their own tide flats again. Without them, the soil loses its water, because it’s exposed to the air. It needs to breathe. Either that, or we could do this:

A Wave of Carbon

This wall of grass was built to stabilize a slope so a series of building lots could be installed up top, but it has more important things to do.

A closer look reveals how this artificial slope is mining natural water flow processes in the grasslands to create new life:

Algae on its Machine-Woven Fibre Life Raft

Where the soil is broken, water leaks out into the air. This system allows the land to blossom into life at its exposed faces. You could grow New Zealand spinach or even a bit of water conserving lettuce on these things. 

More exciting yet, look what happens at the top of one of the steps of this wall…

New Skin for an Old Earth

The upper surfaces of these stepped walls have the newest algal growth on this dryland sea.

… and compare that to what happens on soil without a helping hand and running out of time:

Mosses Having a Hard Time Getting Established

This soil is one metre above the miracle of the retaining wall shown in the previous image. The soil crust here gets eroded away as quickly as it gets established … but then it is caught by the wall below and given a chance to farm the sun. Who said farms have to be horizontal? Hundreds of square miles of road cuts await us.

I love a good challenge. Tomorrow, I’m going to try to show how this soil crust relates to the mysteries of wine-making. Until then, the beauty of water:

A Drop of Water Falls

… and is caught. 


Black Pine

We’re talking about Pinot Noir. Don’t google it. You’ll get thousands of variations on the title of one book, rather sloppily quoted and never questioned, so let’s just go to the source. Here’s the book:

The Pinot Noir Tasters’ Bible

“There are good reasons for the hype industry, of course. There are 1,600 wineries in California alone — how is the consumer to judge one from the other?” Marq de Villiers

Ah, what romance. Josh Jensen, an American student, goes to France in the 1970s, discovers wine, works in the best vineyard in Burgundy, learns the secrets of the Burgundian wine-making method, and then returns to California, finds a difficult bit of land, plants it, and years later is making great wine out of the real bitch of grapes, pinot noir, that has bankrupted the hearts and bank books of so many winemakers. The book’s not really about pinot noir, though. De Villiers is on the search only for “the finest Pinot Noir”, and in Josh Jensen’s handmade offerings, he believes he’s found it. Actually, he finds it before he begins. The rest is great advertising copy. If his book was about the grape, it would have explored in greater depth Pinot Noir’s ancient ancestry — from ancient Greece, perhaps, or as the native grape of Southern France. He certainly would have spoken about it as the mother of the great white grape chardonay, and that it is the backbone of the French Champagne industry. It would have looked north to Baden and the Rhine, or east to Italy and Austria, where its traditions are also ancient, or to Romania, which held out promise for it at the end of the 19th Century, before the collapse of the Austro Hungarian empire and the greater ruin of communism pretty much did it in. He might have mentioned that it goes by many names, such as Blue Burgundy, Late Burgundy, and Blue Frankish. But, of course, he’s not after that. That this is the generic red-skinned grape for cool climates interests him less than that the best wines come from it when it is grown and produced in the most peasant-like fashion, and what king can’t find his roots in the peasantry, clouded by rumours of ancestry going back to Rome or further? It’s, like …

Kingship 101

Christ didn’t die on the Cross but fled to Southern France, where he had kids, the kids of whose kids are the Holy Kings of France, protected even today by a secret society, and a little nod to wine doesn’t hurt in the title, either, does it. In de Villiers case, the bad guys are not the servants of Satan but the egalitarian wine-making scientists of the University of California at Davis.

This is not an egalitarian book, but it is a romanticized one. What de Villiers seeks with his book is the story of a complex red wine with long aging potential — what he considers to be the pinnacle of the wine world, and which for him is the King of Wines. He has made the simplest and oldest of red grapes into a Hollywood Star. I’m not being flippant. The treatment here has all the characteristics of Hollywood: the uneducated winemaker who knows more than the experts, who risks all at an impossible task, gets it right by guesswork, makes wine the old-fashioned way, by doing almost nothing to it (which he has learned from the source itself, the peasants of France — de rigueur), does everything wrong and gets it all right in the end, earning the world’s highest glories. This is the standard plot of any Hollywood film. This, for instance:

Harrison Ford Employing The True Californian Kingship Without the Crown Pose

Of course, he could be drinking something other than … what is that? Spanish Coffee?

Do we really have to sell wine that way? I think one consquence of “The Heartbreak Grape” is that the Internet is full of references to “The Heartbreak Grape” — a title that has replaced history itself. Even the French peasantry is more interesting than that. If de Villiers is right, and hype is the way to sell wine, I think we could do with a better story than “The Heartbreak Grape”, because that’s a story about winemakers and their relationships to wine tasters and wine drinkers, not the full story about the grape (Black Pine) or the wine. We need that story if we’re going to be as honest to the grapes as we want them to be to us. Someone with the honest story of Josh Jensen (his fondest wine-making moments are when he tore up the land for days on end on a tractor, and set the boundaries of his blocks by how high a tractor working hard could climb) deserves to have the real story told. So do we, as the Similkameen Valley is poised to be flooded with wineries trying to copy his achievement in what is mythically being referred to as a harsh and unforgiving climate. Unforgiving? Harsh? Hardly. Complex? You bet.

Let’s rise to the challenge. It might just be the case that in the Similkameen the grape has the potential for a new kind of wine making — as it did when it moved to the Rhine, to California, or to Oregon. Then we could follow the French example, of calling the darned stuff “Similkameen”, instead of Burgundy, and drop the Pinot Noir thing altogether. Or at least “Black Pine”. It might be hard to sell at first, but that kind of marketing courage wasn’t absent when Jensen started growing the grape everyone said he couldn’t grow. Why is it absent now?

Art & Urban Renewal

Today, an idea that I’ve brought back to the valley from my years in Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, where the sculptor and painter Ken Blackburn has worked for years to free sculpture from materials into sculpture of community. Like much of the Okanagan and the Okanogan, Campbell River has a surplus of unused and underused urban and industrial space. Ken has developed strong partnerships between the arts community, the arts council, the John Howard Society, a variety of public boards, the city administration, and the real estate community. His new project this winter is a partnership between the arts council, artists, a landlord, and a real estate company. It’s pretty exciting, and it’s transferable. Here’s what it looks like from the street:

The New Downtown Campbell River Artist’s Studio and Gallery

Here’s how much it cost the artists: $0.00. Here’s how much it cost the city: $0.00. Here’s how much it cost the arts council: $0.00. Here’s how much it cost the landlord: $0.00. Here’s how much it cost the realtor: tax deductible light and heat.

Here’s the idea: underused space will remain unattractive to retail business and citizens until it can be given a bit of life. That’s where the artist’s come in. There’s going to be a big sign up top, and other signage on the door, people coming and going and buzz, and even here in opening week this in the window:

True Words

So are Enderby, Falkland, Armstrong, Spallumcheen, O’Keefe, Stepping Stones, Okanagan Landing, Coldstream, BX, Silver Star, Vernon, Lumby, Oyama, Carr’s Landing, Okanagan Centre, Winfield, Rutland, Kelowna, the Mission, Westbank (really), Drought HIll, Peachland, Greata, Summerland, Naramata, Penticton, Kaleden, Hedley, Keremeos, Cawston, Similkameen Station, Chopaka, Olalla, White Lake, Yellow Lake, Okanagan Falls, Vaseaux, Gallagher Lake, Tuc El Nuit, Oliver, Osoyoos, Anarchist, Oroville, Ellisforde, Palmer Lake, Tonasket, Riverside, Omak, Okanagan, and Brewster, to name a few. Even their urban blight is beautiful.

Even this is beautiful:

Downtown Kelowna

A former human landscape, inviting a bit of renewal. The cars are a lovely addition, don’t you think? And that light pole, whoa.

So, the idea is: a landlord, seeing no profit from a seemingly unsaleable retail property, agrees to donate the use of the property (while it’s still for sale) to the arts, as studio space; the realtor, hoping for an improvement in the livability of the street, pays the light and heat, the arts council provides insurance, promotion and a bit of curation, and the artists? Well, they get to paint. Here we are:

A Proud Daddy and His New Baby

There’s an entire street here that could be renewed by this project, or by other projects that might follow.

 If the place sells, then the artists are given three months notice, and provided with new studio space elsewhere in the city, to repeat the performance. It’s Ken’s dream that small cities like Campbell River, in the first years of their awkward post-industrial identity, can partner with such places as the studio-space-starved Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, to provide studio space for artists in a vibrant and beautiful setting, at a cost that a big city like Vancouver can’t match. Here’s what Ken’s been up to personally:

Don’t Ask Why

Part of Ken Blackburn’s iPop series, “Don‘t Ask Why” is patterned after wallpaper and industrially-repeated designs, as a way to get back to landscape, now that it has been alienated from human sensibility.

Here’s another image from the iPop series:

 Yield Signs Run Amok

Note the wallpaper returning to the world in the lower right.

And here’s what’s been happening along similar lines in the Okanagan:

Vernon Public Art Gallery

Could it be the world’s only art gallery in the basement of a parking lot? What an opportunity! Note the cars. This appears to be a recurrent Okanagan theme.

It seems that renewal is in the air. I say we pick up Ken’s idea and run with it. Campbell River has an entire pulp mill that could be converted to an artist’s haven, world class. On that point, here’s a spot that might be perfect, too:

The Old Rendering Plant in Spallumcheen!

Now hardly meeting its potential as a reprocessing plant for used restaurant oils. What could the artists do with this, eh!

Here’s a closer look of a potential new Okanagan home for world art:

Spallumcheen Rendering Plant

An artist’s colony waiting to find itself? Certainly looks like it. Sure, art galleries can bring anything into their walls and thus frame it and turn it into art … but what if they were to put their frames out in the world? That would be inspiring, too, and hopefully in a way that provides new pathways.

What are we waiting for?

Tomorrow: A review of a wine book, The Heartbreak Grape, and its relevance to the Okanagan and the Okanogan.

Weird Things People Do to Trees

Trees are ancient creatures. Then humans came along. Somewhere along the way we forgot this:

The Green Man
An ancient symbol of human origin, the green man remains relatively common in churches and city squares in Germany and England, reflecting a time in which people felt kinship with trees. This one is in the town square of Görlitz, Germany, a half kilometre from the Polish border and keeping his eye on the politicians coming out of the city hall across the street, with its private gallows (no longer, one hopes, in use.)

Now things are going in a different direction. We seem to think that no one’s looking. Here’s a tree at the entrance to a subdivision marketing itself on a horticultural theme:

Hawthorn Dying of Drought
The orange colour of the wood and bark are signs of irreversible damage due to drought. So is the dead bark at the tree’s crown. The French lavender seems to have come through the winter OK, though.

Maybe hawthorns aren’t as easy to tend as they look. Here’s one of a squadron of them soaking their feet in a lawn at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna:

Hawthorn Drowning
Note its struggle to try to grow past its water-damaged crown, with new shoots from the roots.  By the looks of things, even the new shoot needs a scuba tank.It’s no easy feat to create a waterlogged environment where there was once well-drained grassland, but it seems it can be done. Note as well the orange bark: it seems the water disappears by midsummer. Oh well. Next time try mock orange, I guess.

I think what’s been going wrong with these trees is a misconception that trees are made of wood, which is, of course, a dead construction material, as we all know. Here’s another way that water can hasten a healthy tree along to that exquisite form:

Well-salted Aspens
It seems that if you spread your city wastewater on the grasslands it kinda soaks down underground and accelerates the depositing of salt into shallow lakes. It also seems that poplar trees don’t like that either. Who knew! Interesting art installation, though.

Of course, since trees are wood, and not living creatures, there’s no need to accord them the dignity of removing their corpses from our mistakes. And should a tree ever find its way downtown, right into the heart of human environments? Ah, well, beauty, really:

Tree Turned into an Art Gallery
Waiting for a new show.  We are all curators.

Sometimes the way in which we human curators of The Big Show forget that we share the planet with our brothers and sisters leads to such art forms as dance:

Fence Holding up its Posts
Another great art installation! Notice the very healthy looking wild hawthorns to the right. No orange heat-baked bark there. It’s not, in other words, the climate that has failed the hawthorns we saw above.

Wood, of course, is no longer always the building material of choice. Here’s Vernon’s new public library, complete with the traditional good luck charm of a sacrificed tree at its peak:

Foldable Christmas Tree Builder’s Blessing
You know that sympathetic magic has come a long way when it’s so sensitive that it acknowledges that a made-in-China-from-recycled-milk-bottles-and-clothes-hangers-and-shipped-across-the-sea Christmas tree is considered a more appropriate good luck charm for a metal-framed building than a tree cut down in the forest up the hill.

Somehow, I think the Green Man would not be amused. People, let’s all remember that we are not alone, and that the others are watching us.

Keeping an Eye Out …
for 3 people walking, 3 workers lunching in a chain-link compound on a hill, and one border-collie-labrador cross attempting to herd the humans wherever it seems they’re most likely to go. Whew.

I suggest that under the circumstances it would be prudent to conduct ourselves with a little dignity.

Grapes at Work

Our grapes are up to something we never suspected. You know those leaves on grape plants?

Grape Leaves Waiting for the Light

Assmannshausen am Rhein, late June, 6 a.m.

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into usuable (and storable) energy. There are, however, a number of different photosynthetic processes, discovered by different types of plants in different ages of the world. Grapes belong to the oldest group of photosynthesizers, which steal energy from hydrogen in a two part process involving complex sugars. Plants of this type lose 95% of their water to evaporation. There is another group of plants, far less ancient, which evolved to live in extremely hot, dry climates. They breathe at night, convert their carbon into an intermediary compound, and complete their photosynthesis in the sunlight, without needing to breathe. Through this process, they maintain most of their water. They include the sedums and many succulents, including…

Never Underestimate a Prickly Pear Cactus

One of the joys of the North Okanagan climate is the way in which hot climate plants such as cacti have found dry microclimates in what might otherwise be just too wet. When you’re a cactus, it’s not just about the desert.

They do not include grape plants, but they do include grape skins. Grape skins have the ability not only to photosynthesize normally during the day, under certain conditions, but at other times to accumulate carbon from the air on cool fall nights, and then to close their pores during the day and photosynthesize their stored carbon. What does this mean? No one knows, but it does seem prudent to work on the principle that the next time a winemaker tells you that hot days are necessarily lost to wine production, because normal photosynthesis shuts down in the heat, or that cool nights have no effect on grapes, because photosynthesis is shut down, well, believe the winemakers of 200 years ago instead, who insisted that it matters. It does.

Dancing with Pinot Noir in Okanagan Falls

While the grapes are doing one thing, the leaves are doing another. These old leaves at the base of the vines are no longer photosynthesizing. The assumption is that they are no longer productive. This may not be true. No one knows. Grapes and cactii, though. Partners in adaptation. Who knew.

One recent study has shown that grape leaves are capable of absorbing 25% more sunlight than normal leaves, without radiating it off as heat or shutting down. When you factor in the curious chemistry of grapes, which are laid down as acid, which is then replaced with sugars, and consider that on the surface of this transformation all the complex flavours of grapes are laid down in reaction with a completely different photosynthetic process that seems capable of dealing with both shade and darkness, independently of the leaves and right at the intersection with a complex ecosystem of yeasts, fungi and bacteria on the skin of the grapes, well, maybe you’ll start getting excited too.

 Chopaka Gewürztraminir. 1995.

Back in the day when you could make the best wines in the valley at home. Seven Stones Winery owns these vines now. Drat.

I hope so. It is always beautiful to learn how little we know and how processes deemed simple and mechanical just aren’t. Go, grapes, go!

Getting Out of Town

History eventually becomes the present. For instance, to look back to the day when the entire Okanagan was a part of Oregon and the only business going was the raising of cattle for the gold fields of the Cariboo, we need go no further than the Kelowna suburb of Lake Country.

Range Horses and Incoming Flight to Ellison Field

1858, the year in which Father Pandosy fled the Indian Wars of Yakima for Kelowna and Frank Richter fled them for Chopaka, when the Okanagan was still the Okanogan and the US-Canadian border wasn’t even a glint in its Mommy and Daddy’s eyes, lives on.

The past is not a far country.130 years ago, five white men owned the Okanagan north of Osoyoos. It was a country of grass. Everything else was a subdivision.Just downhill from these grasslands, that different, and less easy-going, conflict of histories is taking place. Here we are in the town of Winfield, once an apple-growing town, then a suburb of Kelowna, and now? Well, look:

Subdividing Subdivisions
Grass = ranch = fruit farm + regional supply centre = retail fruit stand.

And a little bit to the right…

A Bedroom Community Subdivided
Bedroom community + urban community = a lot of orchards turning into grass. All of history in one glance, all strangely twisted by the camera lens. Thank you, Lumix.

Of course, the Syxilt history is missing from this. Ah, here they are in West Kelowna, once nicely tucked away across the lake but now the biggest land developers in the valley (history seems to love irony):

West Bank Indian Band Grand Stand …
… with a big word for anyone with a zoom lens.

So, what of Kelowna itself? Has it gone past the urban history of its suburbs towards something else? Let’s take a stroll, shall we. Things are a moving and shaking, here in the old fruit industry hardware store and banking centre.

Banking Industry in Kelowna
The global view?

How does that impact the retail trade? Have a look:

Retail Industry in Kelowna Draws on Life Experience
I think the conversation might be like this … “WTF, there’s no one shopping, let’s slash prices on all these clothes, model (without them) for some life drawing classes, and with the money we make skip town for some music from anywhere but here.

Still, the shops in town doing the best business appear to be, hands on, the bridal industry. Their window displays can be quite stunning:

Bride with Cardboard Vampire

Any guy will, apparently, do…as long as he’s not human. In East Germany, this was known as internal migration. When there’s nowhere to go, you travel in your mind.

A better solution might be what the Quilleute community of La Push, Washington had to say after the Twilight movie craze descended on the largely white and vampire-loving logging town of Forks, just up the road:

Getting Real in La Push Source

It was the American transcendentalist writer, Henry David Thoreau, who said that as soon as all apples were grown from clones and grafted trees, in tight rows in dedicated orchards, democracy would no longer exist. What we got from that was Father Pandosy’s one apple tree in Kelowna, and Frank Richter’s orchard at Richter Lake … and the long, long road through galoshes and maples leaves back to our American roots again.

Post-Canadian Clothing Store for Vampires and their Gals

Oh, but look … even they’re having an end of season sale.

Maybe the border will be the next to go. What say we go off to that World Music Festival and play them a little Okanagan/Okanogan music? I already have the back up singers:

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Tomorrow: grape vines are up to something mighty interesting. A story of photosynthesis, wine, and green energy.

The Art of Walls (and Citizenship)

In the urban spaces of the valley, walls are vital. These very public spaces are used to enclose very private ones. It is a relationship that doesn’t come without its stresses, as the following photograph makes clear:

Wall Doubling as Art Gallery, Vernon

The wall that separates this hotel from an auto wrecking yard, has been graced with a language of rectangles, seemingly inherited from the hotel.

It makes for an arresting display. Now, these rectangles are serving a vital social purpose. They are there to cover up this kind of thing:

Graffiti in Vernon

The private signing of the public faces of private buildings by people in interpersonal turmoil with little respect for private/public nuance, before being reconstructed as a rectangle.

In Okanagan public space, walls are usually quickly returned to their original function as blank canvasses, kind of like the green screens on movie sets, that are used to place a desirable environment behind an actor.

Wall at Work Next to Highway 97 in Vernon…

…as a projection space for a woman and a stop light.

Once a wall has been tagged, as this example from one of Vernon’s capital cities, Edmonton, shows, it is not possible for any other citizen (or the sun) to use it for their own projections. The effect is eerie. There is, however, an effective method for combatting this form of theft, and it is used widely throughout Vernon:

A Little Military Imagery Helps

A soldier goes into the heat of battle, leaving gas behind.

Once a wall has been vaccinated in this way, the taggers of Vernon leave it alone. It’s not just military imagery, either:

Indigenous Woman Wrapping an Electrical Service Box, 30th Avenue, Vernon

 Taggers also leave history alone. Note the lovely correlation between a kerchief (and hidden hair) and the window behind her, advertising wigs. Oh dear.

It seems that taggers and graffitistes of various kinds understand that historical gestures have already stolen privacy from wall space. There’s nothing left of value to steal. History, it seems, they do not want to own. Here’s a further use of Okanagan wall space:

Wall as a Neutral Frame for the Big Floor Show of the Trees

University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus, Kelowna. Frost seems to have stopped this little strip tease partway through.

Of course, that’s what it all looks like when very clever, artistically trained big city architects get into the game, but, still, it is intriguing. Cities are canvasses. Citizens write on these canvasses, all the time, projecting upon them what they hope to see there. It works, as long as the canvasses are blank. Then everyone can own them: the building owner and people on the street. It is this ownership that taggers steal. To see how remarkable this all his, here is a version of tagging from Europe, in which ownership is not the issue:

The Anarchists Have Arrived. Erfurt, Germany

These guys have gone so past the idea of private and public space that they ignore it, and make art instead.

But then, they have proportional representation. What they have on the street reflects that. Canadians and Americans have a first past the post system. It is a kind of horse racing, lovingly described by the Canadian government here. If voting was done through art, maybe it would look less like this…

University of British Columbia Landscaping

Eastern Canadian oak leaves for citizens, and grasses with a military haircut for buildings, arranged in  a perfect street grid.

… and more like this:

 Two Trees On Stage, UBC Okanagan Campus

I love this architect.

What a beautiful idea: include the trees as our brothers and sisters and make it all about them for a bit and let them take their bow. After all, the environments people build for their children determine for a large part how they are going to act. Less attention to neutrality and more attention to individualizing space should return great dividends.