Invasion and Defence in the Tomato Patch

Oh, I have beautiful troubles. First the scene …

… and my beautiful defender …

Those tomatoes are about 3 centimetres long.

… and her handy-dandy repair job …

What, you might ask, could tear a web like that, other than a SCUD missile? Yeah, that’s the problem. Here is my beautiful invader …

All of 12 centimetres long, too. If I could just encourage her to eat the Sweet Million tomatoes, sigh, but she has better taste than that.

Green Zebra Tomato Juice Celebration!

Here is a joyous interlude, to fulfill a promise …

Green Zebra Juice

And a green zebra, too.

So, the yellow tomato juice tasted like the sun, and I wondered if this would taste like the moon. The answer is…

Yes, exactly like a tomato picked in the moonlight and eaten with your eyes closed and the moonlight pouring over your face like a wind!”

And then I got an idea… what about soup? I wondered, and my mind wandered, and so I made a soup, with scallops, snapper, shrimp, green zebra juice, and some green onions, thyme and savory from my garden, with parsley sprinkled on top and a basil leaf to say…


Like, way over the top, right? The green zebras gave it a lemony kick, and it was grand. Went nice with a Torrontés from Argentina, but I think a bit of tapas white from spain or anything grassy or lemony would have been great, too.


A Year of Walking and Learning

It has been a year now since I started walking into the hills with my camera as a way to write two books: one about energy and the land, and the other about the salmon returning to the Okanagan River (despite nine huge Columbia River dams standing in their way). I had this idea that the way into a literary book that was also a book of science was to gather evidence, and I really needed evidence that spanned the U.S.-Canadian border that splits my valley into two. And so I started this journey, in the hope that by travelling north and south North and South would vanish and a story of the land would be there in its place. It has been an amazing journey. North and South haven’t vanished, but I did gain more story about the land than I ever imagined. I’d like to sum up the journey today, and to expand on that summary through next week, because I think a year of walking away from literature into a new world deserves a bit of a map. I feel the books are very close now. I am deep into both of them, but, first, look what I found last night:

A Triangle: Moon, Corn, City at the Closing of the Year

Oh, and don’t forget the richness of the dark.

When I was a young man, I was trying, through literature, to raise the oral and farming cultures of this place to a level of sophistication that could be the twin of any other Enlightenment tradition in the world. Writing and academic traditions went in other directions, into the continued importation of external traditions of enlightenment, while I was off in the north, writing about pristine grasslands and volcanoes. After twenty years I realized that there was no place for me but this one, and I came home, both to the land and to the sober realization that if there is to be an Enlightenment here, I was going to have to take a blind step into the dark and hope there was land there and that I would find guides, who would show me my way. They found me, too, and often made me stop in my tracks…

Okanagan Indian Band Horses in the Spring

I stopped in my tracks a lot, in Canada, in Washington and Oregon, and in Europe, as I tried to track down this story. Here are some of the stories that this method of working brought to me along the way:

1. Water.

Red Wing Blackbird

Deafened by the extremely loud exhaust fans of the “green” architecture of the University of British Columbia Okanagan.

I already knew that the Coast Mountains and the Cascades to the west act like a wing, sucking the Pacific winds dry of water, and leaving super-dry air to fall over these grasslands to the East. What I learned is that this pattern is repeated in the land, that the clouds that pass overhead also pass through the soil, where water is a cloud, in an underground atmosphere, blowing from plant to plant, powered by gravity, sun and shadow. I saw that everything that contemporary culture does with water is on the surface. Every road breaks this pattern. In the year to come, I will be exploring new water usage patterns, both ones that use the unbroken clouds and others that farm the broken ones. This will be a primary thread in my book.

2. Technology

Chief Joseph Dam, Columbia River

Only Grand Coulee Dam, a few miles upriver, produces more power on this river.

I started this project on the insight that the conservative cultures of the interiors of Washington and British Columbia have their roots in the power system on the Columbia River, in the nuclear works at Hanford, and in the irrigation projects that brought agriculture to the shrub steppe. Over the last year, I had this insight confirmed, but I learned as well that this system of power has roots deep in the first American and Canadian settlement of this land and in the relationships of the new settlers with the indigenous plateau peoples. I am excited that this new insight has provided strong threads to link energy, as it is technologically understood, with plant-based and sun-based energies, as the land and the people of the land use them. Over the next year, I will follow both of these threads, with solid ideas as to how both technology and land (and plant) use can harness energy and water without the need for more intrusive technologies. Which leads me to…

3. Feral Farming

Chokecherries in the August Sun

“Choke” does not mean these berries are poisonous or unpalatable. It’s just an old English word for “wild”.

When I started this project, I was quite familiar with indigenous gardens of wild plants, farmed by fire and careful replanting with digging sticks. I had learned of this ancient work while researching for the big book on the last pristine temperate grassland, Spirit in the Grass. What I learned over the past year, after many walks in the grasslands, much research into vineyards, and a long trip through the vineyards of Germany and Switzerland, was that almost all of contemporary food crops were developed through wild farming methods in Europe. People saw stuff growing in the valleys and the hills, and made the wine industry, the cheese industry, the fruit industry, the grain industry, and so on, out of what were basically weeds. In Canada and the United States, however, we have ignored the wild plants that grow here without the need for irrigation or care, and all of their  unique flavours, to develop a technologically expensive and often invasive form of European agriculture. Now that water supply has reached crisis levels, we can’t afford this anymore. Which leads me to …

4. Whiteness

Magpies in a Choke Cherry Grove

In many ways large and small I have learned this past year just how “White” history is here, and that includes the fruit growing history that is my own heritage. It goes from the official transformation of the first priest in this country from the Father of a community of retired métis Hudson Bay Company trappers and a man committed to adapting Catholicism to native traditions, to a kind of Johnny Appleseed who brought a horticultural garden of eden to the wilderness, to the image above, which shows land that was cynically set aside to be held in trust by both native Syilx people and white ranchers until such a time as an agreed-upon solution to its ownership could be found. In 1895, though, the ranchers erased that contract, and the land has been in land claim ever since. Right now, it’s watered with the outflow water of the Vernon Water Treatment Plant and grows seedling trees for the B.C. forest industry. That industry, living off of weedy-ingrowth into formerly grassy and productive native feral agricultural space, has been bankrupted by the Western Pine Bark Beetle land other pests encouraged by over-mature, weak, single-species forests and global warming, while the ability of the grass itself to produce wealth, and of plants, such as the magpies’ beloved chokecherries, goes unremarked, while the farming industry turns its sights on genetically modified apples that will compete, so the philosophy goes, on a world market oversaturated with apples, by not turning brown. And so we’re right back to the Grand Coulee Dam and the technology of Hanford. It all comes down to …

5. Ethics.

Bullsnake Cooling Off on a Hot Day

In the middle of a road.

The land, human relationship to the land and human identity are the same thing. Division leads to division. When you see a snake on the road, and a tractor on the hill, stop, and help it move on. You will be helping yourself. Either you will end up, in the divided world, where we largely are right now, with hillsides and plains full of weeds, such as here …

Tumbleweed Climax Steppe, Hanford Nuclear Reservation

Hardly a native plant to be found, despite what the tour guides might say. Oh, and, yeah, they don’t mention the weeds.

… or you might stop in your tracks and find a way into a future that is also a way to honour those who have walked before you and have been stopped in their tracks on their own …

Red Root Pigweed, Turtle Mountain

A terrible weed for european farming methods, and a tasty, staple indigenous food crop requiring no water and healing broken land.

The choice is ours. And, yes, we are being watched:

The Goddess at Night

Prowling Through the Knapweed

Well, that’s a start. I’ll continue tomorrow, in an attempt to summarize the connections of this project with the subjects of culture, language, education, art and science. Talk to you then. Don’t forget to check out the good news here.




Where is Where?

What is place? The question is absurd.

The Okanagan Okanogan …

…is the here between these two arrows, more or less.

Does ‘place’ belong to settlers? If so, to which settlers? To ones born here, like myself, who don’t ask that question? To ones who’ve moved in, who do? To Indigenous peoples? Ridiculous. Is this a place?

Nez Perce Cemetery, Colville Indian Reservation

Yellow Wolf’s Grave. That’s Joseph’s grave under the tree in behind. Both gravestones, by the way, were erected by people other than the Nez Perce.

Let me be direct. This isn’t a place. It’s a people. It’s a story. It’s a living thing, but it’s not a place. When it’s called a place, there are troubles right away. For example, is this a place?

Marlin, Don’s Restaurant, Soap Lake, Washington

This is the busiest restaurant for a couple hundred miles in any direction. The eighty and ninety-year-old set comes here for the clam chowder and sweet memories of when they were kids and their parents, the settlers of this, the Wild West, took them here, to this combination of Sinatra Swank, Western Decor, and the thought that… Did Hemingway come here? Is that his fish?

Does that make it a place? If you want it to. But then what? Does that mean that this is a place, too?

Nez Perce Graveyard, Nespelem

Done the Nez Perce way.

No. Place, you see, is a thing made with fences, such as the border that divides this land in two and which causes the Okanagan to be one place and one inch away the Okanogan to be another, and just try Googling up a map that shows the whole valley. Good Luck. And it won’t have this on it, either …

Snaggers at  Work, Okanagan Falls

These men were camping at the Provincial Park just down the road from this ancient salmon fishing site. It used to be a Syilx camp, but then it was made an official provincial park, as part of a program of regulating camping, which sounds a lot like a program for regulating Indian camping. It used to include a picnic site, but who’s going to pay for that, so now it’s open to anyone with a tent and $21 a night to spare. Yeah, that’s a fish in the wader’s hand.

I was leaning over a fence across the river, when a Syilx elder, out there for the afternoon with his grandkids, asked me, “Do they have license for that?” And I answered, “No one can get a license for that.” “That’s what I thought,” he said. The reason for our conversation, that the Syilx are working hard to reintroduce salmon to this valley. For the moment, they have a small food fishery here. These are their fish. That’s not a story of place. It’s a story of fish and of people. Only someone who thinks it’s a story of place and who doesn’t understand or respect the social nature of fish, and how fish are people, wades across the river to snag them here. This kind of country doesn’t show up on a map. Here are those fish …

Fish, Ducks, Water

This is an image of people, in a story.

Other weirdnesses abound. Here is an abandoned vineyard at the mouth of the Yakima River, where the so-called Johnny Appleseed of the Okanagan, Father Charles Pandosy, had his mission, back before the Yakima War, back before the Church sent him north to British Territory after, yeah, the British and American governments drew lines in the sand…

Chamna Nature Preserve, Richland, Washington

Don’t bother asking about Pandosy in town. No one’s heard of him, or his mission, here. This is the Hanford Engineer Works. History started here in 1943.

Such stories are the real maps, yet when people say “place”, they mean the land, or a building, which is nonsense. The land belongs to the government. Land title just means that one is being given social rights to draw social lines in the sand. The earth? Ah, you can’t own the earth. If the earth belongs to anyone, it belongs to people like this…

Beetle on Rabbitbrush

Chamna Nature Preserve

So, what about a building, eh? A building belongs to someone! Yes, in a social conversation. It’s separated from the land, though, and from the earth. If it has a relationship to the earth, that relationship is social. Like this:

Fence around B Reactor, Hanford Engineer Works, Washington

Russian thistle caught on the boundary between the human and the inhuman.

Human and inhuman … neither of those can be used to define place, either. For example, in the image above, which is the human and which is the inhuman? Is B Reactor and its legacy of death (The Trinity Test, Nagasaki, The Cold War…) human? Is the old Yakima and Wanapum landscape in behind this fence and now poisoned with thrown-away radioactive gick human? Are they all human? Is the fence human? And what on earth is ‘inhuman’?

The Radiation Train, Hanford

This train transported irradiated uranium from the B Reactor to the T Building, where it was dissolved in acid and chemically separated into a big pile of trouble and a small amount of plutonium. Does that make the train human or inhuman?

That question, too, is absurd. There is no place, and no human or inhuman. There are, however, social relationships. There are lines drawn in the sand and there are laws that say who can cross them and who can’t, and for what purpose, but all that has nothing to do with the land, or the earth. If you want to be on the earth, or in the earth, or want to be the earth, here is a good use for fences and the concept of place…

Fence On Its Side, Turtle Mountain, Vernon, British Columbia

Just walk across.

And right beside the fence, what did I see?

Bullsnake Skin

The shed skin of a sacred animal on the slope of an ancient story…and yeah, to get here, I walked ten feet across that fence above, right past the sign that said, hey, you, don’t go across this fence, this land is private. But what do you do when you want to get a picture of the fence?

Do you have to trespass to find where you are? Or is there public land? Again, absurd. All land is public. All place is private. You won’t get from one to the other, without getting all tangled up. This, for instance, is a bit tangled up…

A Host of Immigrant Restaurants, Richland, Washington…

…carving out a place for themselves in abandoned Vietnam-era Mainstreet USA, while the burning grasslands of Ellensburg and Wenatchee to the north and west obscure the sun.

They’re all stories. When you are that story and when you don’t even have to ask who are the people and who aren’t the people, then you’ll know where you are and your identity won’t be in any place, because this will be who you are…

The People in the Soap Lake Shallows

Joseph used to come to these sacred waters to ease his aching bones.

…and this…

The People of Dry Falls State Park

Note the power lines from Grand Coulee Dam in the distance. You are that, too.

…and this…

Moon, Sewage Water Sprinkler, Clouds, Sky, Late Afternoon Sunlight, Cattle, Land Claim, and Houses in Vernon, British Columbia

This isn’t a place. It is a story. It is all here at once.

I know I promised green tomato juice today, but a friend’s comment that my identity as this place was only an emotional attachment has been troubling me. How could such an intelligent, deeply caring and beautiful person misread identity so much? I don’t have an answer, but I think it’s like the time I sat with the son of a Lutheran missionary and pastor in a truck in the rain outside the Canada Customs’ shed in Prince Rupert, B.C., and said, “If you want to find God, he’s right here,” and when my friend asked, “Where?” I, who only have cousins who are pastors, said, “There. In that shed.” “That’s just a shed,” he said. “That’s God,” I said. What I mean is, that this is, too…

Another Happy Tour Leaving B Reactor

This is what drawing lines in the sand will get you to. Lines on the earth. Lines between peoples. Lines between the human and the inhuman. Lines between names for God.

Lines are very human. It is also very human to cross them and to show that they were just dust blowing in the wind. It is also very human to love and to honour and to show respect.

Gifts for Yellow Wolf

Just a half hour before, I was given the buffalo. When I got here, I knew whose it was and why.

Just a little trick I picked up on the Camino. It goes like this: “You are walking through a story. The story is already there. The story is complete. The story does not go in a straight line. You will be alone, but you will have guides. You will meet new ones every day. Trust them. You will never come home. You will be on The Way.”

Wild Cherries, Point Alpha

Growing from a pit spat out by an East German border guard in the last years of the Wall. They were sooo sweet.

There is no No Man’s Land there anymore. Oh, please, friends, let’s get rid of any that are still in our heads.

Curiosity and Tomatoes

The problem is curiosity, way back in the spring …

The Day’s Harvest

Now that it is fall, the solution is curiosity, too…

Yellow Tomato Juice Waiting for a Friend

Beautiful, huh! And it tasted like that early morning hour when you put on a pair of runners without tying the laces and pad out through the dew in your pajamas to pick a few cherry tomatoes for your sweetie’s lunch, and pop the first one into your mouth and it’s the whole sun in there, whoa.

Tomorrow I’m going to try this with the green zebras. Maybe they’ll taste like the moon.



Trees Making Art

Trees making art? Yes, yesterday, at the Bishop Bird Sanctuary on the shore of Kalamalka Lake. The event was a poetry reading. This was the opening (and closing) act. Our artist was a chestnut. Here is her easel…

Tree Easel in Use

Note the water bottle for the tree’s human assistant. A tree does need help at this, however talented she may be. The human artist within, behind, and throughout this project is Joanne Salé. Let’s hope she does much more work as fine as this, and finds as many great partners.

And here’s her art …

Chestnut, Working on Some Fine Details

Notice how she keeps her work out of the light.

Here she is 90 minutes later, still at it…

Starting to Loosen Up!

And with her other brush (she is ambidextrous)…

I think she could do this with one hand tied behind her back

Applause for her human assistants. It’s great to see such big animals step back and get out of the light.

Stopping a River Dead in Its Tracks

When Jonathan Schell published his anti-nuclear argument, The Fate of the Earthin 1982, one of his main arguments against nuclear proliferation was that the destruction of life on earth would render all life meaningless, back to the beginning of time, including all human history, and what you did this morning. It was a powerful argument. Here is what that looks like:

Grand Coulee Dam

The great river has been reduced to a couple tiny mountain freshets. Any water that gets through wells up from underground, after having passed through the turbine rooms to left and right of the main wall of the dam. In effect, the Columbia has been stopped dead in its tracks. It is a completely different river that begins right here, at the base of this concrete cliff.

Grand Coulee Dam is a perfect graphical representation of the Great Depression and the desire to stop history and to begin a new history right there and then (One that led directly to Nagasaki.) In other words, the dam is what politics looks like. Here is Sherman Alexie’s poem of the end of the world,that took place right here.

Imagine. Stopping a river.


Wild Life on the Hanford Reach

Here is a basic guide to life in the Hanford Reach, the last free-flowing (note: not wild, just free flowing) stretch of the American stretch of the Columbia River.

First, the security camera operators…

Second, Canadian tourists asking a local for directions …

Third, a non-unionized member of the cleanup crew…

Fourth, a grass removal specialist, off to make the rounds of the reactor grounds. First, the long shot, to show his native environment …

… and then a closeup to show his work equipment …

Fifth, one of the few remaining members of the water cleanup patrol arrested by two nameless invaders from a tribe of wild animals downriver…

Sixth, other members of the invading tribe working hard to haul a 4.5 foot long young sturgeon from the perhaps isotope rich sludge at the bottom of the river so they can let him go and try again (entombed reactors in the background) …

Seventh, another boat from the rather extensive invasion fleet…

Eight, hope for the future …

I consider the capture and killing of increasingly rare and ancient animals for sport to be rogue behaviour, not befitting membership in the earth community. Compare this to a representation of an elk / human interaction by the original people of the river, who lived on the sites above…

Elk or man? Who is negotiating with whom? The question has a new urgency.



Nuclear Apples at Hanford Town

The last free-flowing part of the American stretch of the Columbia River takes place in the former Hanford Engineering District, managed by the US Army from 1943 onward in order to produce plutonium for the Manhattan Project. This stretch of river is called the Hanford Reach, and is 51 miles long. Chinook salmon spawn here, if they can avoid a navy of fishermen with sonars, the last salmon spawning in the bed of the Columbia. No one grows apples here anymore, though. Those people were all cleared out early in 1943, and their towns, Hanford, White Bluffs, and Richland were all razed to the ground. By apple season that fall, 50,000 men were camped army style in tents on the Hanford townsite, building the industrial complex that would soon be shipping plutonium to the weapons labs in Los Alamos. No one picked the apples. The entire crop, tons upon tons of apples, fell to the ground, in wartime yet. Sometimes men went out there and picked a few. Mostly they just swore at the waste of it all. Here’s Hanford now…

Abandoned Orchards at Hanford

(You’ll should a better view of those trees if you open this image in a new window.)

Hanford Engineer Works was located at this site because of the proximity of cold water, low human population, and the availability of plentiful electricity. The water came from the river (radioactive water returned to the river after its 1 second pass through the reactors raised the temperature of the river 1 degree), the people were cleared away (although they begged to be able to pick their last crop), and the electricity came from Grand Coulee Dam. Originally designed to irrigate all of central washington, to allow for the settling of over 100,000 small, family farms, as a way of reintegrating the dispossessed of the Depression into productive national life, it was sidelined by Hanford into a project (hugely subsidized by the US government) for large industrial farms. That’s where things stand today. To industrialize the landscape, the Army cleared the small, family farms from Hanford as well.



Hanford High School

Now that the Hanford Engineer Works are being cleaned up, this last remaining building in Hanford is a great place for a museum of past agricultural practices, which include the old idea of family farms and the politics in which they were embedded.

Might as well tell the truth. It allows for a better present and a far better future. Here’s some of that diverted water from Grand Coulee returning to the river at Richland, after winding its way across the Columbia Basin, helping the agro-food industry along on its way. (I was raised and trained at an early age to be a manager of the horticultural side of this system.)

Water from the Grand Coulee Diversion Returning to the River

And here’s some of that water hard at work, just before making the plunge …

Overhead Irrigation, Granny Smith Apple Orchard, Richland

In a hot, near-desert climate of super-dried air, irrigation like this doesn’t just irrigate the roots of the trees. It also changes the climate.

The engineers got what they wanted. The land is a machine.

Tomorrow: The antidote to the machine: nature at the Hanford Reach.




The Science Fiction Universe

A river isn’t exactly water. Sometimes it’s this:


Some of the 2004 Process Tubes on the Front Face of B Reactor in Hanford

An excellent way to turn a river into plutonium, which is another word for “concentrated river dropped on Nagasaki.”

Sometimes a river is this …

Pumping Station, B Reactor, Hanford, Washington

In this form, a river is moments away from being brought close to boiling temperature as it runs through ‘the girl’ and back into the river. This is another word for ‘power’. Notice the caps left off of valve assemblies at the right, as part of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

Sometimes a river is this …

Salmon that No Longer Swim Upriver…

…turned to concrete as playthings for children.

And sometimes it’s this…

River as a Series of Mathematical Arcs of Force

A guy just has to hang on.

Oh, speaking of hanging on, here we go…


Personal Water Craft at Work

This baby was invented here on the impounded water that used to be called the Columbia River, but which is now an open air pumping station, much like the metal one at Hanford above.

Pumping station? Yeah. Like this …

Box Canyon Dam, Pend Oreille River, Washington

Transforming a River into electricity.

One of the effects of turning the river into a machine is that you can extract cooling (to make plutonium) from it, or electricity…


Turbine, City of Nelson Power Station, Bonnington

The river is used to operate this big set of magnets, which does look like a UFO.

A side effect is that water can be extracted from the river, and used to create coastal habitats in desert climates. It gives a kind of buzz, which is very addictive…

Automatic Sprinkler System, Richland, Washington

Creating a splash of green for human visual pleasure while humans, in their automobiles, pass at speed. This type of movement is akin to the operation of ski boats and personal watercraft on the impounded river.

In this sci-fi universe, in which young people are trained in mathematics and then transform the earth into a series of mathematical patterns, the sun can look like this …

The Home Base of the Reactor Men, Richland, Washington

With the sun burning through a haze of burnt forests hanging in the air. Again, this is the same universe as in the images above.

Here’s another view of that sun …

This Too is a Product of the Hanford Reactor

Once you start transforming rivers into purified products (like water, plutonium, electricity, and mathematics) that don’t exist in rivers, there’s no end to your journey.

Warning Sign at B Reactor, Hanford Nuclear Reservation


If you want to get away from it all?  Why, if escape into the purity of mathematics isn’t your thing, you can sit with your sweetie on a bench watching the mathematical dancers on the water, or you can go to the local nature reserve …

Chamna Natural Reserve, Richland, Washington

A new, uncharted environment of weeds and other invasive species between the freeways and the Yakima River at its confluence with the impounded Columbia.

And that might be about it, because this …

Tumbleweeds, Hanford Nuclear Reservation

…is off limits and full of snakes.

An entire world can be turned into a book in the Bible if you work at it long enough and hard enough. Welcome, folks, to the sci-fi universe.