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.

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