Flower Maps

What is a flower? Ah, we might as well ask what is a man or a woman or a society. That’s the way with humans. They leave maps, trails, and footsteps. Some of those look like this…

1908 Map of Assmanshausen and Rüdesheim am Rhein

Designed for train lovers.

… and some look like this …

Map of the Rüdesheim Vineyard Area

This map is written in flowers. Like the train map above, it shows where people have gone before and where you might follow. In whimsy, someone seeded these flowers once. They remain, perhaps long after that person has passed, still recording that moment of intent, still offering direction.

… and some look like this …

Wildflowers in The Vineyard at the Rise, Bella Vista Hills

The wildflowers here in the Okanagan are at home; in this case, it is the vines that are the weeds. Note as well that water is imported here, while in Rüdesheim it falls from the sky. 

In these two volcanic terroirs, the Okanagan and the Rhine, let’s think of the water as a map for a moment. In the German version, it flows past through the Rhine, on its way from the glaciers of the high Alps, and modulates the climate to allow grapes to thrive. The grapes themselves live off of the rain and snow, as stored by the soil. In the Canadian version, the fossilized glacial water of Okanagan Lake modulates the climate …

Vineyard at the Rise, Looking West South West

The only way to get this view is to follow a deer trail. Trails built for humans are completely hidden from these vines. Why? Is there something here that needs to be hidden? Did someone just not think that half of what they were doing was creating landscape images for public use? The latter, I think.

… while the snow that falls on the hills drains down through a series of plastic pipes into trickle irrigation emitters, which cause shallow rooting of the vines. Indeed, maybe that’s the real map. Instead of going deep into glacial till, as the vines do in Rüdesheim, these Okanagan vines hang around among the roots of the grasses, in the interchange zone near the surface, competing with plants far more able to live in those intertidal areas than they are. The impact of the high soil profile life of grape roots on the gas exchange between root and leaf of the grape vine is enormous.

Water Blooming

Flowers are maps of water. This is what winter snow looks like when it meets the dry air of spring. Grape vines don’t live in this land. They live in the water artificially delivered to their roots.

And so in the face of the lack of treaties of any kind, the great Canadian dichotomy between native and immigrant cultures remains, readable down to the level of the flowers, unresolved, unmediated, and left largely to unconscious, chance processes. Here, for example, is a piece of pure settler culture, down below the vineyard and the wild flowers … Dandelions Making the Most of the European Diaspora

High Density Apple Orchard, complete with all the trimmings, including posts, wires, dutch rootstocks, German pruning techniques, New Zealand apple varieties, Monsanto weed killer to reduce competition for trees with marginal growth, tractor compacted soil limiting root growth, european dandelions, micro jet irrigation to spread out the root zone, grass to keep the apples from scorching in the desert heat … it’s like a plantation in a colony on dusty sun-whipped plains of Mars.

And here is the native version…

Vole Garden in the Spring

Such tiny agricultural plots of newly-tilled soil invite new seedings, which add complexity to surrounding vegetation patterns.

For those of us who remember this place from 50 years ago, it was this wild agriculture, and its products …

Vole Garden a Few Years Down the Road

(and photographer seemingly falling off the world)

…that gave meaning to life on those colonial orchards. Now that the subdivision patterns into which the orchards were placed have been filled in and much of the surrounding land has been turned into human housing as well, the earth has become a social space, with one big flaw: it provides no room for native human cultures other than a reservation or two across the lake or up against the hills, where the men who first farmed the land pushed them, and no room for land within settler cultures, other than European models. The result is that culture is frozen at the time of contact: First Nations cultures carry land sense; settler cultures determine social contexts. This just won’t do. If the only language available for speaking with the land is that of a moment of misunderstanding, then we are indeed poorer than dirt. For some context, let’s go back to Germany for a second. Here we are again, on the pilgrimage road, this time between Paris and the old Roman fort at Mainz …

Maria, Marienborn, Germany

This entire area between Mainz and the French Border is industrially depressed. No wonder the hard-to-care-for devotional symbols of ivy and rose have been replaced with less demanding models from the local flower shop. Poverty rules here, and yet within its language old ways of being are still spoken.

Back in the 1960s, Germany was a country so wealthy that it planted roses in all its freeway medians, mowed around them, and kept the whole country as tidy as an ironed bank note. But just look at it now, as another of its symbols flows on to Holland, chock full of ducks, kayakers, and barges carrying crushed cars, liquefied natural gas, coal, and recycled household garbage on its way to processing by the sea …

The New Germany (and the Old Rhine)

Where there were once pristine paving stones, there are now environments of weeds, in an acknowledgement that without some place for other creatures to live, other creatures cannot live and the language of life, so diminished, will make human society into a prison.

That’s the new nature in Germany: if it grows, be amazed, give it space, and stand back and wonder. Here’s the new nature in the Okanagan Okanogan…

Unused Water Pipe Unknowingly Collecting the Rain for Bunchgrass, The Rise

In this case, it’s the water that’s the weed.

On the one hand, that’s what it’s like to live within social nets that have never learned to speak the language of the flowers around them, or to order their relationships with their land according to the words that the flowers are speaking. In this case, the Okanagan is lagging far, far behind Germany. On the other hand, the potential here is as great, or greater…

Lupines in the Hills

A model for reading the language of flowers, and through it the language of water and air exchange within the soil and between native and settler civilizations.

One of the areas of study here at the Okanagan Academy is going to be this language. The monk’s garden of Jena gave us the university. This wild garden has the same potential.

Wild Red Hawthorn in Bloom at Dusk

Crataegus columbianaPlacing this creature within a scientific taxonomy is not the point, however, because that taxonomy does not speak of water or land or human relationships through them, as they are mediated by this plant.

The forms with which the world is named determine what can be said and the paths that can be followed. With living maps, a living earth comes into view. I love that place.

Tomorrow: Some thoughts on language and its own maps to the earth. That ought to round off this discussion nicely.

4 replies »

  1. My parents live on several acres of land in NC, and when I was young we were rambling through the woods one spring afternoon and came upon a clearing filled with blooming daffodils. We took my dad to see it, and he pointed out that a house used to stand there, and once we started looking, we found the remnants of a stone chimney. A flower map.


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