Land

Different Borders

Here’s how the American and Canadian governments think about the border that cuts our valley in two:

Oroville-Osoyoos Border Crossing, Highway 97

It is, as you can see, pretty hard to tell one side from the other. Source.

Here is a different kind of border, one that I think we will be looking at more closely during the coming years of climate change:

Moss and Prickly Pear Cactus Sharing a Moment in the Sun

A bunch of cheat grass spoiling the party, too. This photograph was taken around the 550 metre line. A hundred metres higher up the hill and the cheat grass packs it in. These plants are growing on what is primarily solid rock rising out of the grass. March 2, 2012

Washington’s Okanogan is a cold desert, but Canada’s Okanagan is even colder yet. Here is a zone in which the desert and the mountains meet, and join. The plants here have found unique ways to adapt: cold, dry adaptations for wet climate planets and cold, dry adaptations for dry climate ones. The Okanagan-Okanogan might be in the northern region of a desert that stretches north from Mexico, and Canada’s endangered grassland species might be insignificant in the larger story of that desert, but they are the only ones that have adapted to the full range of climactic possibilities. The area is like the salmon refuges in Mexico, in which the salmon of the Pacific Coast survived the last glaciation, and from which they repopulated the entire coast again. If you take the valley as a whole, it is pretty much ready for anything that climate throws at it.

There are, however, even other borders. Here’s one:

The Border Between Earth and Air

By mid-afternoon, the night is finally burning away in the sun.

As the winter frost above demonstrates, even a little height, a little extension into the air, a slight rise above the surface of the land, can draw water down out of the sky, that otherwise would just blow on by as fog. It’s not just water that is drawn down, though:

Birds, Sifted from the Sky

A lone, dead wild cherry tree serves as a resting place on the long bird trails out of the bottomland and into the high, upper grassland lakes and aspen copses. Birds like flickers can make the long journey because they flit from tree to tree, with few distances more than a hundred or two hundred metres.

Scattered grassland trees allow for life in the sky to survive in the foreign world of life on the land. Similarly, foreign plantations of grapes allow for foreign populations of starlings to survive in what would otherwise be for them a rather inhospitable land:

Starlings at the Border Between the Settled and the Wild

Note the other border here: the fence line that serves to keep out humans. The deer and the coyotes have a secret gate up in the top right hand corner. They just need to get down on their knees and crawl through where they’ve bent back the wire. Humans, however, have to go down to the wine shop.

We could tell the entire story of the earth through a story of borders, and of what crosses them and what does not. Here is water trying to negotiate one of those stories:

Snow Melting in the Spring

Or is that “Road melting”?

On the hillsides above, snow falls down into the soil like the gentlest fog, and only appears in the marshes below several seasons later after sustaining life all the way down. In subdivisions, though, it gets transformed into surface water and ceases to be a source of life. Despite our general human misunderstanding of the value of borders and the lack of a science of managing them as the valuable porous places of interchange that they are, the natural world keeps at its work, such as here:

Russian Thistle in An Abandoned Subdivision

In this development, a victim of overextension, luxury values and the Banking Collapse, plants keep up their ancient work of transforming the fluctuating boundaries between seasons into useful work and great beauty.

As you can see below, it is slow (but not necessarily lonely) work:

The Snow Boundary

Notice how roads transform the naturally porous boundary of a season neither fall nor winter nor spring into winter. They are not really expressions of life or place.

Humans like their water to move and plants to stay still. Plants like to shift between seasons — or across the land — and for their water to stay still, as a component of the soil. That is, perhaps, the greatest boundary of all. Here’s a picture that, perhaps, says it all:


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