Global Cooling

Global Warming sadly seems to be the case. It appears to be humanly created, too. Here in the grasslands of the North American west, global cooling seems to be making the situation even worse …

Man-made Blue Water Stream

In the formerly underground water environment of the Bella Vista Grasslands, early season grass has been shifted into a late season environment by human bias.

Normally, this water would flow through the grasslands on a quick fall from aerial clouds, followed by a slow descent through underground ones. Today, road beds and street drains force the underground clouds to break to the surface, where their water runs off quickly and is lost to the soil environment.

New Surface Water

This is a far, far cooler environment than the natural grasslands themselves. 

The result of all this rapidly dissipating water is the overflow of a local walking trail.

Recreation of Cool Post-Glacial Environment in the Hot Grasslands

We’ve gone back 10,000 years.

Still, the land is forgiving. The wetlands that used to catch this water after it had supported the grasslands for a full season, used it again to create food sources for the fish of the area’s deep, post-glacial lakes. Today, they are largely filled in and covered with shipping warehouses, schools, houses, and sports fields, and the land is moving this vital wetland area up onto the hill. As a consequence of this vertical move, the cool lowlands are now 100 metres higher (and a week cooler on each end of the season) than they were below. That’s global cooling. Take a look here, at the land trying to recreate its original system…

New Wetland in its Infancy

Still early post-glacial times, though.

The whole thing creates dramatic contrasts in climate. Here’s a new cat tail blooming amidst the bunchgrass, a colonizer of drought (and one of its creators)…

…and here’s a new frog-rearing pond …

It is unknown how the frogs hiding here as tadpoles will react to the shortened season that comes from the increase in altitude of their home environment, or to its intermittent water source, which is fed by roads and cloud events instead of by long underground flows. Worse, ‘landscapers’ could come by and weed whack this story down to shreds. They did last August, at any rate. For now, though, it looks like this …

A New Wetland?

If this area becomes a permanent wetland, it may have no connection to the lake and the lake’s fish, yet might restore dynamism to a grassland community robbed of its wetland lakes for irrigation and domestic water purposes. It is in wetlands such as this that grasslands breathe, just as lakes do.

The New Wetland and the Wound it is Trying to Heal

One consequence of shifting the water collection system of the grassland up from its base is that a section of grassland is cut out of the water loop. For example, the grassland below this wetland is largely non-functional in this new system. It sports only a weedy ingrowth of houses.

The View Over the Old Wetlands of Okanagan Landing

It is here that global cooling becomes global warming. The land in between the new wetland and this older one is no longer the most efficient part of a gravity floor of water and organic material but a recreation of the weaker higher system, placed at a lower, hotter, and drier altitude. This is global warming, pure and simple, and the natural consequence of the global cooling that moved the wetlands uphill in the first place.

Note: This is the first of a three part series, that leads through two other forms of global cooling and their consequences. I’m off to the Washington Coast until August 8. I’ll bring you the rest of the story after that.

Farming Crime

I’d like to briefly continue the discussion about the agricultural legacy of the story of Father Charles Pandosy in the Okanagan Valley. The story started with a discussion of his white-washed métis culture. Today I’d like to show the cutting edge of that story of agricultural bounty in a new country in the mountains of the West, as well as the surviving images of what might have been, and what will some day have to be. By the way, I can’t say the “Canadian West”, because back then there was no “Canadian West”, and no country called Canada.

Old Orchard Land, Okanagan Landing

Now a weedsprayed vegetable field left fallow. Well, sort of. It looks more like someone is mightily annoyed that the earth is not a sterile greenhouse grow medium ready for hydroponic planting.

It used to be that fallow land was allowed to regenerate by the sowing of fall rye, or lentils, which were then tilled in. Now the cost of a little bit of seed is scarcely more than the cost of a little bit of poison, but poison is the new way. Instead of rejuvenating in a fallow year, the soil deteriorates. That’s not the only cutting edge method. Here is another:

Pumpkins Galore

The pumpkins in the middle ground of this photograph are planted in sheets of black plastic, to capture heat, and irrigated with a chemical slurry released through trickle irrigation hoses.

So, agricultural land, that could feed people, is turned into a source of consumption of petrochemicals to produce material for carving at halloween and a celebration of harvest that, as the foreground shows, is really no more. Last year, all this land was planted in corn, to provide the material for tourist harvest celebrations by the lake in August… a tad early, but tourists don’t stay until the Fall.

The Face of Agricultural Work Today

Instead of tilling the field, this young farmer is measuring out his chemicals for the day. The whole thing pays for a nice truck, though. Yay.

Here is the real point of the enterprise:

Agricultural Test Plots in the Dead Zone

The land, you see, must be kept sterile, so that this carefully plotted and isolated agricultural test can proceed. Well, actually, it’s a choice.

Here’s what this year’s batch of corn being grown under this chemical farming regime looks like:

Stunted Corn

The land has been mined out. These stunted corn plants can find nothing to support themselves with within this inert ground rock, that used to be productive soil.

Meanwhile, on the edge of this End-of-the-Bounty-in-the-Desert road, the real future goes unnoticed…

Wild Asparagus Colonizing a Fence Line

And weeds reclaiming wounded soil. What a contrast to the field behind. 

There are spots for millions of asparagus plants like this, on land boundaries that are currently producing nothing. Notice as well that this asparagus does not need chemical intervention. It’s doing just fine. The thing about cropping wild land, or feral agriculture, is that it is contrary to the Big Lie about Father Pandosy: this is agriculture that allows native space and merges settler and indigenous culture.

Catnip and Bumblebee

Right next to the asparagus, in the same fenceline, a little bee industry is also going unnoticed. But not completely. We are there, bearing witness to the future.

The White dream is over. It is time to go wild. It is time to actually harvest this land, rather than to farm it. Farming has proven itself to be ecologically and culturally bankrupt. Unless you want to sell pickup trucks. By the way, I feel that I can make these comments, because I lived for many years as a child and a young man at the forefront of that farming dream, and at the forefront of its chemical interventions as well. I’ve done my time. I’d rather live on a living earth rather than a dead one that stank like DOW or Monsanto chemicals.

Note: I’ll make a post tomorrow about water and then Okanagan Okanogan will go on its first ever holiday, as I’m going camping off the grid.  I’ll be back daily around August 8.

White Washing Water

Talk about water, which is a large part of the talk in a near-desert environment, is also talk about people and grass. Here’s a story about that.

Last of Washington’s Grass

The Horse Heaven Hills

Just to the south of the Okanogan, the horses of these hills were the wealth of the Yakima People. American settlers thought the horses were wild, because they were not fenced, so they herded them up, and took them. Here’s what the Horse Heaven Hills look like now, once you get above the slopes and the vineyards and towns and fruit farms in the Yakima Valley:

Wheat Fields in the Horse Heaven

Wild land cleared. No Yakima People. No horses.

Do you think this is way off topic? Hang in there. Just a bit more background. For eleven years, an oblate priest by the name of Charles Pandosy tried to minister to the Yakimas at the mouth of the Yakima River. He did manage to become an able farmer and a friend to the Yakimas. Conversions? Zero. Still, he learned their language, and defused a possible massacre at the beginning of the Yakima War. He was also accused of being a spy by the US Military, had his crops burnt for his friendship with the Yakimas, and was escorted out of Yakima territory, as were all White settlers. Realizing that he was good at building relationships if not ministering, the Catholic Church sent him north to the Okanagan, where the Syilx lived, who he knew from their trade down the Columbia to Yakima Territory. Pandosy established a mission at Duck Lake, to be near the Syilx, and then in Kelowna, and spent the rest of his years establishing missions across British Columbia. He returned briefly to Kelowna between each one. Once a mission was established, priests more diligent at ministering were sent in to solidify the gains he had made. To mince no words, the technique approximated a concentration camp system, built around small subsistence land reservations, without water, and the removal of all children to residential schools, after 1876. Many Syilx children from the Okanagan were sent to the Kamloops Industrial School.

Kamloops Industrial School, 1890

At schools like this, religious education was synonymous with industrial training (with no Irish, colonial society needed an able work force), forcible indoctrination through outlawing native cultural practices, family bonding and language, as well as the retention of children past graduation age to bolster federal subsidies on a head count basis and to remove children of their right to Indian status.

And, yes, this is still about water. There’s a myth told by tourism organizations in the Okanagan. It holds that Father Pandosy started the first orchard and vineyard in the Okanagan Valley, and was a tireless advocate of the valley and its promise as an agricultural paradise. Incredibly, nobody mentions the Yakima War, nor the fact that in 1859 a fully commercial orchard was planted in the Okanagan, although five miles south of the new Canadian-US Border at Osoyoos, or that in 1859 a young Austrian by the name of Frank Richter was spying for the US Army against the Apaches, was wounded, captured, escaped, hopped from US Army post to US Army post, then in 1864 wound up here:

Richter Pass

The Okanagan is at our back here. The US Border is behind the hills to the right, and cuts across the feet of Chopaka Mountain and Hurley Peak in the distance. Frank Richter started cattle ranching here in 1864, where it was still possible to live a free life on the land, which was no longer possible in the overly-settled USA. He also planted a fully commercial orchard. What’s more, it appears that he had a son by a Similkameen woman just over the border.

Richter was a friend of Kamiakin, chief of the Yakimas, and often hosted him on his ranch. He has been called the greatest leader of the Indians of North America, and one of the greatest men the continent has ever brought forth. Even the US Army Generals said that. He was also Charles Pandosy’s friend, and trusted him above everything. But he didn’t give a damn about Pandosy’s vegetable gardens. If you want to know Pandosy’s context, it’s that: the Okanagan was settled out of an Indian-Settler partnership, mediated in part by a Great Chief and a priest who rejected authority, went native, so to speak, and sought to improve the lot of people, especially himself, by giving them something to eat and providing an economic basis by which the people, Indian and settler alike, could be physically sustained. That was enough faith for him, and a faith that Kamiakin respected and Frank Richter put into practice. Farming in the Okanagan is a dialogue with the Similkameen and the Syilx. It was coopted. And now, the water.

The Hanging Tree Dog Creek

In 1871, at the northern end of the Intermontane Grasslands (of which the Okanagan Okanogan is a part), six Secwepemc girls from one family were found hung dead from this tree, ostensibly in a suicide pact because they had all fallen in love with one French Canadian Hudson’s Bay Company trapper. As the story goes, rather than destroy their sisterly bonds by having to choose between themselves, they hung themselves from the tree instead. Hardly a traditional Secwepemc response. The story goes on, that their father cut them down in the morning, and buried them on the hill, here…

… or more likely here, just below that slope, where the stones of Secwepemc summer houses can still be seen:

A love story? Or white wash for a different crime? In 1871, the year British Columbia was incorporated into Canada and was given a new racist Indian act, Indian nations were stripped of their land and, especially, their water, by illegal acts of White ranchers in collusion with clerks of the provincial government. That’s why our water use is so screwed up. We’ve never settled our history. That’s why there are weeds out on the land. Here’s what Indian grass looked like:

Cariboo-Chilcotin Grassland

The Junction Sheep Range

The land was managed by fire to keep it in this state, for 4000 years. Here’s what White grass looks like, after 150 years of denial of that knowledge:

Sagebrush and Weeds

No grass.

There are no land claims without water. There is no land ownership without water. Without water, the land has no value. Without a story about land use, there is no claim to water. It all pieces together into this: there are no Okanagan people without a relationship with the land. Look to the land. It shows what these relationships look like. They are written there. This is what the white-washed myth of Father Pandosy the White Settler looks like now…

Spraying in Bella Vista

Seeing is believing. Men are growing things that don’t belong here, and have to spray them for pests that have followed them here, and then sell them as products of the land. They are not. They are products of Martian space stations in alien territory, by people who purchased land from other people who stole all the water and never had the decency to admit it or to share a glassful of it on a hot day. We’re living in a cheesy sci-fi novel. If it were only just a novel…

Mustard Loving It

The mustard I use comes from France. The best mustard in Germany comes from Bautzen, near the Polish border. What’s with that?

Wild Mustard Loving It

This is a plant that has absolutely no problem whatsoever with climate change.

Tear out a water dependent farm, and what do you get?

Beautiful Mustard

Colonizing old orchard land.

After only a hundred years of applying European farming methods to this land, we’re left with memories …

The New Landscape

Thistles, Orchard Grass, Roses, and Mustard. With an old orchard truck thrown in for the joy of it.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a valley-wide food culture so great that the East Germans and the French would charter planes to come and taste the new mustards of the west beyond the west? Besides, it just looks so good.

Winter in July

Here’s a thing about living in the intersection of climactic zones: the seasons are wrong. For instance, because this area of North America has been colonized by Britain, Canada, and the United States, it calls this month “summer“, in a calendar divided into four seasons, because that’s, well, English, and Canadian, too. Even so, it doesn’t really fit a location where ancient grasslands meet older glacial water at the point where new forests meet volcanic, mid-Pacific rock and where water is moved up into the high country and back down by lightning storms in the evening. Time and space are different here, but summer it is. Here, for example, is the beach and estuary on the Okanagan Indian Reserve at Okanagan Landing, yesterday morning as the sun was rolling over the hill like the open end of a welding torch …

All the Attributes of Summer

Water, sun, beach, leaves … it must be summer, eh. Sea-doo hour has not started yet, either. I mean, look at that retro wind-powered watercraft. Whoa.

Now that much of the earth is colliding with shifting climactic zones because of a warming climate, it is time to get the seasons right. For one thing, it’s a lot easier to describe the living processes of a landscape when the seasons are right, rather than to have them turned on their heads and winter lumped together with summer, dry with wet, spring with fall, and all in the name of (got a headache yet?), ta da!, summer. For another thing, it’s a lot easier to integrate new experience with indigenous experience in this space, if the terms used are as accurate as deep, ancestral physical knowledge. For another, if climate boundaries are moving some thirty kilometres a year (they are, and often more), it sure would be useful to get a handle on how the system worked before it became a moving target. But, for the moment, with a nod to convention, let’s call the image above summer, if we like, but, ah yes, then the troubles start. What’s this one, pulling back a bit on the zoom lens and looking to the right?

A Different Season

Altitude matters. This season is occurring a hundred metres or so above the lake. Let’s call it Fall. In this season, water that evaporates from the lake (and boy, it does, to the tune of some 351,000,000 litres a year) is shifted into high country forests by thunder activity. It doesn’t make it back to the grass. Not yet.

And this one, turning around?

Fall in Subdivided Land

In the winter, this terraced, stabilized cut in the post-glacial clay was rich with lush fungal growth and bright green grass. Now that it’s summer, so to speak, almost the last of its energy has left. Spring will come for it in October and will last through March.

And to make it even more confused, there’s this:

Grassland Beetle Crossing a Road to Get Back to Its Life

The greatest desert here, in a landscape that sells itself as a desert, is human made. That’s another problem with naming seasons for purely social reasons.

Here’s another problem with seasonal naming …

The Approved Form of Landscaping for Humanly Inhabited Environments in the Okanagan

In this way, water can be conserved for the summer environment down on the lake. Well, I think that’s the idea.

The water can also be conserved for this aesthetic splash, carefully inserted between gravel deserts:

Weed Seed Collection and Germination Device

This wild chicory collector is maintained for absentee investors from the Oil Patch by automatic sprinkling and a community landscaping (Um, mowing) contract.

This is silly. We need better terms. The ones we have seem to tend to draw the landscape into simpler and simpler relationships. So…….(deep breath) ….. What does the landscape offer by way of terms?

Hoary Marmot Guarding His Rock

Otherwise known as a complex mix of climates and seasons.

This land is the intersection of new water (rain, snow, dew) and old water (post-glacial meltwater lakes), the intersection of dry and wet environments (and seasons), including forest, grassland, and tundra, and the intersection of very hot and very cold climates (and a lot of foggy temperatures in between, where they mix in complex ways.) That gives a series of interleaved seasons existing in time: dry, wet, hot, and cold. Because it is a mixed environment, many of these seasons can be in the same place at the same time, as the marmot above knows. The intersections between these seasons (and not the main part of the season in itself) are particularly productive spaces. It is where energy can be moved from one form (and one time) into another.

Butterfly on Chicory

Wet season water becomes a dry season flower, which supports a dry season butterfly. If we just said, oh, look, summer flowers, we’d miss the way water flows through life.

I’d rather water flowed through life. I really like living on a living planet, rather than on an asteroid. The living things of this earth have that figured out, as expressions of this earth. So are humans. It’s about time that the cultures that we have made by rather accidental processes of history started to live here. If we don’t make the adjustments, our deserts, green, blue, and brown, will just spread. Oh, yeah, and concrete, too, in between the weed collectors and the rocks …

Beetle Turned into a Nomad by a Monocultural Understanding of Water

This is what is called Winter.

Free Energy and Free Carbon

When’s the last time someone said to you, “Hey, free gas at the pumps today?”

Chinese Elm Meets the Power Line Crew

This is all the wood that no one in the neighbourhood felt that they couldn’t split.

Here’s just a little of what I managed to drag home in the heat …

When’s the Last Time Someone Said: “Oh, I got a lot of these propane cylinders around here, why don’t you take some home?”

Elm wood waiting to be hauled to the back yard, and smelling like wine.

Really. It smells like wine.


When’s the Last Time You Opened a Bottle of Wine With a Maul and Wedges?

Or an oil well, for that matter.

Every gram of wood carbon that goes up the chimney is a gram that is already a part of the carbon cycle and a gram of petrocarbons that is not and that gets to stay in the ground where it belongs. Long live weeds!




The Red Shift 2

Palettes of colour can provide lenses with which to enter into the landscape. That was the story last week. To put on those glasses, click here.  The earth may be an art installation, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have certain genres of its own that go beyond human interest in light, colour, and beauty. Today, an attempt to describe the red shift that is taking place in the western North American Grasslands, in less human terms. So, here’s one of the signature flowering plants of this formerly rich wildflower world, the pungent, lift-your-heart-to-the-sky yarrow …

Still Hanging in There After All These Years

Yarrow and Rabbitbrush hanging on among the new immigrant weeds.

I can’t give you the complex sagebrush and ashen scent of this flower, that lingers for decades in the back of your mind and describes all this land between the mountains, where the clouds float overhead and the screams of red-tailed hawks carry for miles above the bunchgrass, but I can get a bit closer …

Yarrow in Its Glory

Once one of over fifty varieties of flowers from which the bees of the grasslands collected honey, in many areas yarrow is now their only nectar source, for weeks at a time. Note the spiky cheatgrass trying to steal her water in the lower right hand corner of the image.

This is, however, a story of great hope, because after decades of cheatgrass, the yarrow is still here: one of the species that can survive its water-hoarding. Yarrow is, however, also a cultivated plant that with a bit of coaxing can be brought to flower in raging colour. Here is a plant that a landscaper forgot to load onto his truck while developing the golf course subdivision up the hill a few years back …

Red Yarrow Going Rogue

A prince among weeds.

For all the red shift the colour of this plant makes in the landscape, look what else it does …

Wild Bee Collecting Necar

I watched a variety of bee species on this yarrow community for fifteen minutes. Not once did any choose the native white yarrow to the right.

Here’s a closer view …

Just One of the Species Making Use of the Red Shift

Perhaps keeping the grasslands alive as a landscape is as simple as introducing the right weeds. If a bit of colour up on the hill brings the landscape back into balance by replacing lost, brightly-coloured flower species, which insects can easily find in that sea of brown and grey, with brightly-coloured variants of plants that have shown that they are a match for the worst of weeds, then I’m all for painting the hills red.

The Red Shift

I think it is interesting that the civilization that has determined the expansion rate of the universe through a physical property called the redshift, has been the civilization that has expanded over the earth and transformed it from a physical space to a visual one. The red shift shows up on earth, too. Here’s what it looks like close to home.

Natural Intermontane Grassland Farwell Canyon

Except for the temporary introduction of a fence (no longer used), this land has not changed in 4000 years. 

This is just one of the grasslands in northwestern north america that claimed the old lake bottoms of giant lakes that formed at the end of the last period of glaciation, about 10,000 years ago. When the ice dams that formed the lakes broke, the water rapidly cut down through the lake bottoms, to produce terraced benchlands. The grass that thrives here, and the sagebrush that grows at the lower, hotter, and drier altitudes, are yellow and grey, like this…

Benchland Above the Chilcotin River

Note the pale straw colour of the blue-bunched wheat grass. These are the signature colours of the American West. 

The photograph below, however, shows what they look like today in the Okanagan, a few miles south, where weeds have largely overtaken the natural grasses:

Bella Vista Grassland Today

Notice the addition of stray alfalfa (green), russian thistle (brown), and, especially, cheat grass in full seed (red).

Now, this might not be the full red shift, which is an effect of the speed at which objects move towards or away from a viewer, but it might be this similar red shift. A red shift due to optics or radiation transfer … yes, that’s what painters and plants work with. When this land was colonized, in the period during which modern astronomical physics was also invented, it was the task of painters to observe the world and to create palettes of colours that could give name to it, so that its colours would be available to others, later. This form of painting lost the aesthetic battle to abstraction. Perhaps, though, it still retains value. Here’s another view …

The Red Shift

Our painters and designers are going to have to come up with a new palette of colours.

This is not just a story about colour, though. It’s also a story of change, movement, and expansion. As I said, I think it’s fascinating that it shows up not just in theories of the structure of deep space and the universe itself, but in the smallest details of local life. My gut says that these phenomena are connected, and that one can be understood in terms of the other. My gut also tells me that this …

Bluebird Box (click)

Such boxes are set out along trails to provide habitat for bluebirds, as a part of the process of ensuring the continued health of grasslands.

… is a sign that the landscape has been completely transformed. These boxes are over five years old. They have never been used. There are no bluebirds. There is just not enough grassland left for them. The world that was tan and blue, is now grey and red. It appears to be moving away from us at the speed of light. It is brand new. It has never been described. What stands before us is the great age of exploration.

What’s the Matter with Fruity Sex?

There are many ways to read gene sequences, but only one way to store them. It entails giving them away. Here, for example, is a functioning spontaneous gene bank:

Plums Gone Wild in an Abandoned Orchard Okanagan Landing

When apple trees tried to go wild in this way, they were cut down in every orchard, field and ditch, so that they didn’t interfere with a 1990s-era government-funded insect control program. No one thought to archive their genetic material. Many physical windows into the area’s fruit growing past were closed down that way. It was like burning down a library.

The exciting thing about this method of genetic manipulation is that it is done by sexual reproduction, which is a living process. Its results create changes in living organisms over time. It is always  putting out something new, so if you don’t like what you see, come back later: an entirely different plum will be there. You can taste that, and compare. You can develop a memory of taste over time — you can remember time by taste, even. All our original agriculture crops came to us by this method. It is still ongoing. One thing this gene bank has over genetic modification in laboratory settings is that in the evenings it provides shelter for deer, who lie down here above the road while the dark settles over the world. The laboratory schtick just gives double talk like this: the Arctic Apple. If those GMO fruits get introduced, the sexual reproduction of all apples will be damaged beyond repair, and a large chunk of what has made us human will go with it. So, I guess I’m asking: what’s the matter with sex? Anyone got an idea on that? Henry David Thoreau did. In 1862, he said that when all apple trees were grafted and planted in rows, democracy would be dead. These aren’t discussions about markets, industries, storage facilities, shipping facilities, or markets. These are discussions about soul.

Surely This is the Life!

Billions are spent to send men to the moon. Now the talk is of Mars. Telescopes are trained on space to find distant planets, orbiting distant stars, that are capable of sustaining life. But, you know, the universe makes the kind of stuff it’s good at. Chances are, if there are other worlds, they are just as likely to be here as anywhere else.

Crab Spider on a Mariposa Lily Bella Vista Grassland

Two species that seem to be surviving the replacement of the grasslands with weeds, more or less.

These spiders spend their lives in aerial, floral worlds. Think of it. There is a plant, that eats the sun and lives in the air, only lightly settling down on the earth to keep from being blown away, and there is a creature that lives within it, in the light. Maybe this earth is not one world, but thousands, if not millions, all of them possibilities of the universe that take on a particular shape when they strike a particular planet — in our case a world of life. Maybe the world is a universe in which worlds show up in different life forms, and this one is raised up into the air and the light. At any rate, it’s beautiful, and sometimes surprising, too…

Green Sweat Bee and Crab Spider Together

No doubt, the spider was waiting for something a little less formidable. (That’s her, to the left of the bee. Those narrow purple petals are actually very stiff, and force the bee to climb down into the pollen and then up onto the pistil to get to the next patch of pollen, and up and down and up and down. They make a pretty good hiding place for a spider, too, should she need one.)

Beauty is the sense of balance that sorts the universe out, and since science is a part of the universe, it sorts scientific ideas out, too. A little more time spent out in the grasslands might give many of the answers being sought for right now among the stars.