There is No Such Thing as Wilderness (Unless We Make it So)

In a land that was heavily populated and culturally farmed for 6000 years, only in the last 160 years, the time of European, American and Canadian colonization, has there been wild life.

Healthy Okanagan Grassland

This natural hillside is not dead from drought, is not heavily invaded by foreign plants, and  is not wild. 

The Syilx people fully became a people when they learned to farm this land. Some researchers put this at about 6,000 years ago. Others put it at the beginning of the world. At the same time, the land became the land when it found shape in conversation with people. It was a form of socialization with the other peoples of the grassland, including important food crops like Mariposa Lily…

Mariposa Lily Seed Heads in the Dry Season

At the slightest brush, these open seed pods loose their seeds to the wind. They don’t travel far.

… and arrow-leaved balsam root …

The Miniature World of the Arrow-leaved Balsam Root

Edible and beautiful, too.

…fellow foragers like insect people …

September Wasp

This individual was about 55 mm. long. That’s a serious size for an insect and worthy of considerable respect. When one socializes with environments like this, one considers the fate of such fellow inhabitants one’s own. As such, they are worthy of every social and legal protection given in settler culture to land boundary disputes, road-building appropriations, and sewage treatment plants.

…visitors from the wetlands …

Dragonfly in the Heat

This individual is foraging a kilometre from water…in this case the fertilizer and algae-choked water trap of a private golf course, which begs the question: is a creature from an artificial diversion of a natural upper grasslands pond wild, domesticated or a weed?

… and, of course, social insects …

Weaver Ants Farming Aphids on Sagebrush

Okanagan Lake in the distance, far below.

…and other social insects who build the moon each year to live in …

Paper Wasps and Their Summer House

When you cut these things open after the residents have left for the year, the things look like a cross section of the human brain. Either that or a pomegranate without seeds. Next year, their descendants will build the moon again. They are out foraging these days on yellow clover, an introduced species, which has escaped from the cattle industry. Does that make them wild or domesticated?

The point is, nothing happens here by accident, which is to say nothing is wild. This saskatoon bush, for instance, is not wild.

Saskatoon Singing its Late Summer Sproing! Song

Notice how this individual has colonized the water collecting on the downslope of a glacial erratic boulder. Likely, it was planted there by a bird that excreted one of its seeds when it perched on the rock to survey the scene or to sing what had to be sung.

If the grassland were seeded with islands of stone, which could encourage more saskatoons, or even small gardens, would they be wild or farmed? If they used the natural processes of the slope and support it in its work, would they not then be part of its active process of life and not wild? I think that both the land and wilderness are choices. Neither happens on its own. This, for example, is wild …

Knapweed Hell & Pinot Noir Vineyard

Notice the abandoned landscape and grape plants, left here when the housing development went broke.

Activity without attention to the land in which it is situated is reckless and leads to barren environments and wilderness. Wilderness is an area void of life capable of sustaining a rich community over time. Community can mean many things. Some of them are distant, even ethereal.

Gin in Its Wild State, Before Domestication in a Bottle

And growing in a domestic hedge. Once incorporated as a part of human social environments (bar culture), life like this becomes beautiful for its emotional content (and socially-lubricating zip). If seen, instead, as wild, it will be trimmed off with a gas-powered hedge trimmer, zzzzzzzzzzTTTT!

The ethical challenges continue. If two domestic plants create a new environment on their own without cultivation of any kind, have they gone wild, or have they domesticated the land? Is there a difference?

Catnip and Pinot Noir

Somehow, this combination (escaped from abandoned plant pots) keeps the true invader, the knapweed, at bay. They also provide rich habitat for birds. If there were 500 hectares of this stuff on the hillside, would it be wild? Or would it make wild land domestic through supporting so-called wild processes?

Isn’t it about relationships? Here, for example, is some alfalfa, an important hay crop in this area, imported all the way from Turkey…

Alfalfa Thriving in a Community of Weeds

Is a domestic plant living naturally among a bunch of other escaped domestic plants wild?

What if you harvested those seeds, right where they are, would that be a wild harvest?

I See Alfalfa Sprouts in the Future

I see a future in alfalfa sprouts.

If so-called wild crops are harvested and become part of food and aesthetic webs within human social networks, are they not part of human social networks? Are they not socialized? Are the humans who take part in this process not humanized, as were the Syilx  long ago (and now)?

A Wilderness of Canada Thistles

And one native thistle hanging on.

There’s just enough time to turn this colonial thing around and replace the age of moving onto the land into the age of becoming it. It will happen anyway, but we can choose which land to become. The one above, or this one.

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