Birds Made of Light

Humans are living creatures, which I think is pretty grand. I hope we can keep it that way. There are some side effects of living, though. For one, it makes us likely to notice other living things before we notice anything else. We easily notice the life in this, for instance …

Oregon Grape Budding Out in Early Spring

Green is only a late summer colour for these individuals.

The shapes and patterns of those lush red leaves are part of the chemical processes of our particular planet. So is the rock in this image of the lower slopes of Turtle Mountain:

Turtle Scale Rocks

These patterns are, quite literally, as old as the hills. The same processes are working out through them as are working out through the oregon grape leaves at the top of this page.

What’s more, water still flows along the old patterns laid down in the formation of stone. Here’s what the edges of that stone look like after a rain:

Water Follows Rock
It is channelled by ancient geological forces. In other words, those ancient forces are still completing the process of their formation. This is what an active planet looks like.

And look what follows water…
Lichens Follow Water

The life that follows water following rock is working out the story of stone.

It doesn’t just occur on such small scales. These processes also work on a large scale at the Okanagan Indian Reserve at the head of Okanagan Lake:

Okanagan Indian Band Range

Life following the rock.

We are this rock. When we fight that, we fight our own nature and get this:

Lost in the Rock

 Evidence of confused human activity. What we do to the earth we do to ourselves. What we betray in our own natures, we have to read in the earth itself. 

Luckily, what we do preserve of the earth’s processes we also preserve within ourselves. Five years ago, an ecologist stood with me in the grass at the edge of the Junction Sheep Range at the very northern limit of the grasslands stretching west of the Rocky Mountains and told me that I’d know I understood the grasslands when I started seeing trees as weeds. The words were clear and true. Still, what happens when you start seeing the grass as rock?

A Healthy Blue-Bunched Wheat Grass Community On a Steep, East-Facing Slope

 These individuals are following water and snow, which are following gravity down to the centre of the earth. The grasses, like all plants, are creatures of the air, and yet even they follow the stone, like waves of light and rain breaking over our buttes and headlands and draining down our coulees. 

To that ecologist’s signpost, I think I can add one of my own now: you’ll know you’ve started to understand the grasses themselves when you start seeing them as flocks of strange, magnificent birds circling the sun.

Tomorrow: Buddha’s Laughter. Next week: a spring journey through the grasslands of Washington.

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