Rebuilding the University

What do you do when the only university in your country is dependent upon the intellectual ideas of the management class of a different country and trains your country’s young people in the finer points of their use? Perhaps, you look to see what other people in this situation do, and where better to look than to the Middle Eastern diaspora. In keeping with the old ideal, long since abandoned in the new global university, of a university being a meeting place of intellectual, artistic and spiritual languages, I think this might be what the university of the future looks like in a multicultural country:

The Bidoun Library

A political and social gathering place of all Middle Eastern printed material, no matter how ephemeral, within an art gallery, and arranged according to the principles of artistic curation.

Brilliant. In keeping with its gestures, I have photographed this magazine rather than looking for its electronic counterpart.  There’s something permanent about having material like this that you can touch.

Fuse Magazine

Never dull. Always looking forward, or at least sideways.

What is the Bidoun Library? Well, here from the Fuse herself, scrolling up like the titles from Star Wars…

The Political Purpose of the Bidoun Library

Practically, it is a collection of all printed material on the Middle East, from five main sources: publishing for money, government publishing, business publishing, publishing of the left, and publishing since September 11, 2001.

A lot of the Bidoun Library is advertising. A lot of it covers the secret revolution within teen magazines in Egypt last year, that underpinned the revolution. Some of it looks like this:

Imagine, an intellectual tradition that travels the world, collects material on a subject, and pins it to walls for human viewing, without classrooms, curricula, or what in the world of the academic subject called Creative Writing is known as “getting a foot in the door and clawing my way to the top.” (Quote from a local novelist who, you would think, might be home writing a novel.) Imagine, an intellectual tradition that realizes that the future is now, right here, and makes it known to everyone. The Bidoun Library is brilliant curation. Compared to one comment I heard recently from a Creative Writing teacher, that she gave her students only student work as models because the work of published writers would intimidate them and dampen their creativity, it is scrupulously respectful.


Even the Paragraphs of the Fuse Article are Laid Out Like a Gallery

I imagine such a library here, in the Okanagan Okanogan, spanning the US  Canadian Border, showing in art galleries from Brewster, Washington to Enderby, British Columbia, and including everything published here, printed here, and written here, for people to walk through and use as a resource as we move forward into the Age of the Image. Right now, my city, Vernon, British Columbia, is contemplating a new Art Gallery, on the basis of a museum. That’s close. Closer yet, would be to merge with the museum and the new local library into one integrated meeting place, a university of the future, rather than a record of the past, that could pop up in any city in the region, be knocked down into boxes, loaded on a truck, and set up the next night in another: a moving target. We wouldn’t need new busses to take our children there. We could go there with them. At the moment, what material that has been collected is scattered around, some of it in distant Vancouver, some in a campus on the northern outskirts of Kelowna, and all of it in the private, academic library of a distant culture’s university.

Searching at the University of British Columbia’s Library

It would be fantastic if we could have fruit packing labels, political cartoons, advertising slogans, and all of the other museum-style ephemera catalogued here amongst the books. Now that books are vanishing, it’s time to make our galleries into living sculptures, that we can use to sculpt our societies, in the way that universities did in the distant past, because if we don’t, we get this…

Don Gayton’s Essential Book Archived in the Rare Books Collection

Like the Gutenberg Bible. Except, unlike the Gutenberg Bible, there are no other editions, although it should be widely disseminated and part of social discussion and planning.

It’s time, I think, to bring our cities to life and return the discussion to our squares and streets. Tomorrow, I’ll show you images from a city in British Columbia that is doing just this. I think it would be fantastic to gather a gallery together like this, on the subject of food culture and history in ours, the ancient homeland of the Syilx. It’s time to come home.

The Best Classroom Ever

I’ve been thinking about how to teach earth writing. I think I’ve found the place.

Earth: A Good Place to Get Down to Work

This is the view from Bella Vista towards the Monashees. The city of Vernon is below this old island in post-glacial Lake Penticton.

It’s also a great place for young people. Imagine if you were in Grade 4 and for a week your classroom left its waxed halls and moved out into the world, and then a different Grade 4 class got the chance. Why, you would remember it for your whole life. This classroom exists. It’s in the right of the picture above. Here it is, in better light…

The Allan Brooks Nature Centre at Dusk

Landscape and history and grasslands all in one spot. That’s the commonage, a rather mis-used piece of aboriginal land, in the foreground, and the Vernon Army Base to the left. The site has natural history displays, classroom space, grassland and a 360 degree view over the city and all its volcanic, glacial and post-glacial features. Everything is there in one spot. More info.

I’ve even taught writing there once. We were talking about colour that day. It looked like this:

Colour Writing

That’s the day ten years ago that a group of teachers and I discovered together that when led past primary colours by a man in a purple shirt and a grey jacket they start writing clearly about the land and its social context as one thing, as, of course, it is. Photo: Myriam Dostert

So, you know, kids get bussed up there on field trips now and then, but a week? To make this life the centre of their world, just as it is the largely unacknowledged centre of their city and their land?

The Canadian Army’s Plywood Sculpture Installation and Vernon, B.C.

Seen from the Allan Brooks Nature Centre. Photo: Myriam Dostert

Would using such a perspective not be worth cutting back on the cost of building a new classroom down in the city below, or on the rental of a portable classroom, even? English, science, and social studies curriculums could be almost completely covered up here, with almost automatic integration and the ability to make use of perspective, within nature, rather than outside of it. Well, I think it’s a great idea. So, let’s go there, right!

Oh, dag nab it. 

I think we’ve run into a snag.

It seems that all we can do is look from a distance…

The Allan Brooks Nature Centre

Fast asleep.

Let’s wake up.

Tomorrow: more thoughts on earth writing teaching.

The Ethics of Nature Photography

Humanly created machines are great at capturing light and holding it tight for another day. It’s not so special, though. Everybody in the neighbourhood is into it. The juniper people, for instance …

Gingko Leaf and Juniper

Unlike the gingko, whose light ranchings days above these junipers are done until the spring, the junipers remain all saddled up outside the light corral but sleeping with their hats tipped over their eyes. They’ll start munching on light again when things warm up and the ginko will put out new leaves to join in the feast.

Even though light scarcely filters through the winter cloud these days, it’s still all here, a whole summer of it. Photosynthesis is one way to take photographs of light, but the seasons affect different light eaters differentlyHere’s a moving picture of light that can be viewed instantly…

Staghorn Sumac

All summer long, the sumacs have trickled away the energy of the sun and reconstituted it in elaborate photographs we call fruit clusters, which they hold up to the sky. Eat that, James Cameron.

Another way to capture light and store it is to make photographs, as I have done to present these moments to you. And what is a photograph but a way of mechanizing the touch of light photons to the human retina — a kind of photography, for sure, that is caught in memory and out of which humans construct a visible world, that they then walk through. Some of our brothers and sisters use the process more holistically. Instead of using the intersection of light and water to create thought worlds, as humans do, they represent it with their bodies.

Moss Photograph of the Sun

This isn’t digital photography, mind you, nor even film or daguerrotypes. It does, however, develop— very, very slowly. 

Such light photographs as the moss makes on the above rock can be viewed two ways: as the present moment, which follows the future-trending progress of time as the moss grows, or as a future photograph which is viewed, in the present, in a half-developed form. The latter idea fascinates me. If I were, for example, to destroy this moss photograph by overturning its rock host in the first world, the one of conventional time growing into the future, that would be that. Time would move on, undamaged, without it. If I were to do so (God forbid) in the second view of time, the one in which the photograph is not yet fully developed, I would be destroying the completeness of the earth and myself, and preventing the story from reaching its full depth. I would be locked as a biological stranger in an impoverished present.

Northern Flicker Late in the Day

The photo is a bit weird because I had to muck around with the exposure, as my little time-compressing, mechanical-brain camera machine was not calibrated to deal with so much sky so late in the day and originally turned the flicker black as coal. Unfortunately, as a result it caught only part of the light, and so left everything looking a bit like an ice cream bar advertisement that spent too many summers sitting in a corner store window.

In the image above, a flicker, a biological life form, is adapting well to an earth narrative that long ago sacrificed the future development of the Peace River to produce its own technology. The rivers’s future development as part of the chain of light developing on this planet has been altered by this intervention. What is done to the Earth is only neutral if the present is considered to be the real focus of time. That’s quite the human bias. In fact, to think like that, a human has to separate herself or himself from the world — powerful technology, for sure, but one that might not lead to the survival of biological earth.

High Density Apple Orchard Viewed from Above

Life as a machine.

And what is a machine? It is the human will, set above the will of the Earth. There’s no way we’re going to have a healthy environment unless these machines are set to work more closely with life’s development. Time had to be stopped to produce this image called an orchard. The expectation is that it will develop further within human social networks, when the light pictures it makes, apples, are eaten by humans. If such herding of time is going to have any ethical meaning, then the social networks need, ultimately, to develop within contact with the earth, the water, and the sun. Anything else is a fantasy.





Water Planet

I tell you, this is one beautiful planet. It does great stuff with water and light, for instance…



Okanagan Lake, Friday, 3 pm

Of course, as a child of this planet I’m not a neutral observer. I’m meant to see this stuff and feel completed by it. But, still, it’s pretty great. And the earth does great stuff with light, too, or what makes it through the water…

Okanagan Lake, Wednesday, 3 p.m.

And it mixes them up, very finely, too…

Okanagan Lake, Thursday, 3 pm.

The sun at the bottom of the lake, laying a moon road across the water?


Whoa. What’s it leave for the moon to do?

The moon at its old work of pulling the heart’s sea here and there

Ah, like I said, this is a great planet. Even the water is infinitely variable here.

Water Passing Over the Grasslands on Its Way Somewhere Else

While down here, far below, the water of the grasslands holds increasingly still…

First Ice on a Flooded Vineyard Road

Building in patterns like clouds driven before the wind.

The clouds, however, take the idea a step further …

Right Above the Neighbourhood Kids, as They Were Walking Home from the Schoolbus and I Was Nearly Tripping on Them Because I Had My Head in the Clouds (Again)

It’s time, I think to head over to the Cloud Appreciation Society and rejoice together.






Sabo Cooking Past and Future

Ah, what’s the way to sweeten strip loin marinated in pomegranate molasses and cooked with fresh mint just so? Sabo, the ancient sweetener of the Mediterranean, what the world had before balsamic vinegar and merlot reductions scented with marjoram and ooh la la.

Sweetening, the Palestinian Way

Three cups grape juice + heat + time = heaven. No doubt, this is the reason that those Egyptian grapes, the Traminers, are so beautifully florally scented. Sabo: more complex than honey, with deeps and valleys as individual as wine.

What to do with that sumac lemonade that’s beautifully sour and maybe too sour for some times of the day? Aha! Sabo.

Sumac Lemonade

The colour of late summer. Sabo binds with the flavours and they all come out totally new. Dark sabo is best for this.

And turning sabo on its head, what to do with that sumac lemonade, also in the Palestinian way? Aha, Sabo!


Sumac Tea + Heat + (Not a lot of) Time =

Sumac Sabo!

The ultimate in a complex, sour, concentrated, rich, rounded fruit flavour. A drop’ll do you. It’s like suddenly finding yourself sitting on Mount Olympus with the gods. The taste won’t leave you for a long, long time.

No wonder the Romans brought sabo home with all sails furling. Cane sugar and lemon juice, we need you no more! And to think, it starts with this…

Enough Sumac for 4 cups of tea or 2 tablespoons of sumac sabo!

In the language, or the spirit, of sabo joy, a new logo…


What Happened to Colour Theory And What To Do About It

Today, a note about what happened to the promise of a science based on unity rather than dissection. The first part of this discussion is here, if you missed it. Here’s another image of unity of the kind that inspired the poet-scientist Goethe to invent a science of things as they are.


All summer, a farmyard tree’s leaves collect light and cast shadows on the ground. In the fall, when the sky is shadowed by cloud, they cast leaves, full of light, right where the earlier shadows fell.

This image shows a symmetry that Newtonian science left for the poets to admire. Goethe  insisted that this was also a point of departure for scientific investigation, using humans, rather than prisms, as measuring devices. Well, time went on. Throughout the 19th century, European society married the ideas nicely in a conception of art as an ennobling impulse for the citizenry. The ideas show up here, for instance, at Kyffhäuser Mountain, southwest of Berlin.


Emperor Wilhelm I

aka Greybeard

The monument was erected to commemorate the formation of the German state. It was erected at the old Kyffhäuser Castle in Thuringia because legend had it that Emperor  Friederich 1 was living under the castle with the dwarves, and would show himself again when the lawless non-Christians who were mismanaging the country had been set to rights. Truth is, Friederich had led thousands of Germans on a disastrous crusade to Jerusalem, that saw the army picked apart by Turkish bandits until the emperor, in a fury at his troops’ complacency, drowned while attempting to show them how to cross a river in Northern Lebanon.

Friederich I

Sleeping Under the Mountain With His Dwarves. Note the 800-year-old beard. Every century he wakes up, calls for beer, then falls back asleep.


Pretty much only the official biographer made it back from the ensuing mayhem. Seemingly, Friederich, who was well known in legend as Barbarossa, or Red Beard, had come again, with a grey beard, sure, but, you know, on a green horse, so that was good.

Wilhelm 1’s Trusty Steed

The old, sleeping emperor is just below. It was a job of great political delicacy for German nationalists to preserve this monument during the time of the German People’s Republic, but they managed.

At the opening of the monument in 1896, the trains were packed with bureaucrats, army men and their wives, with parasols. They strolled together up the avenue to the old castle at the top of the mountain, and passed, along the way, a dedication plaque which quoted the Emperor’s approval of the project and his wish that it would help instruct the people to die for their new state. And die they did.

A German Mother Prepares Her 16-Year-Old Hero for Battle

1914. Whole high school classes enlisted and were thrown untrained into the Battle of the Marne. They were mowed down by British machine guns — to the last boy.

By the end of the Great War, the idea of heroism, indeed the idea that art could ennoble a civilization, was completely rooted out of the European consciousness. Unfortunately, the split between art and poetry had so long been maintained by the hair-brained idea of nationalism that art went out the window with it, even though Goethe had tried to point out that there was, actually, no split, that the division was artificial, and that romanticization of it ( in other words, aestheticization of spirit) would lead to dehumanization and unforeseen horror. Like this:

German Troops at Verdun, 1916

Poetry and art seemed to be completely bankrupt as ideas. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, Rodin’s secretary, was as devastated as anyone, and finally found solace in the Valais in Switzerland.

The Alpine Vineyards of Switzerland

Here Rilke found a path back to the earth. All the energy of Europe seemed to him to be flowing up the Valais to the peaks and from there to the stars.

Rilke’s rediscovery of the physical world and a spiritual and ethical way to work with it was misunderstood, was taken up by the far more literal-minded and nationalistic mind of Adolf Hitler and soon led to a gruesome garden in a forest in Thuringia.

The SS Zoo in Buchenwald Concentration Camp

SS guards were trained in cruelty here by being forced to watch starved bears fight to the death, in an obvious metaphor for the myth that communists (the Russians, symbolized by the bear) couldn’t organize themselves and broke up into splinter groups that destroyed their societies from within. They were then set loose on the prisoners — mostly Russians, social democrats, and communists.

After the Second World War, Primo Levi, in his very genuine and very appropriate grief at the horrors of the extermination camps, which he had experienced first hand, had this to say:


Once again, the baby had been thrown out with the bath water. In fact, Goethe’s method had started from a point that did not allow for a dissection between creative and experimental activity, between engineering and ethics, and so forth. What was, in fact, being rejected was the very distinction that Goethe had worked to prevent: the creation of art, as a category of activity distinct from technical creation. To Goethe, this …

… was the result of artificially dividing art and physics, without thinking harder and developing human capacity rather than technical capacity. It was the end of the earth. To a society dependent upon the distinction between art and technical prowess, however, the following was how to develop human capacity…

German Boy Soldier, 1914

Off to become a man by facing down mechanized guns. Verrrrry romantic.

… and this is the art that was designed to comfort him and his mother …

May an Angel Always Walk at Your Side in Time of War

German Propaganda Postcard, 1914. Note how the cemetery angel has come to life and how the watering trough is designed to look like an oak log (age-old German nationalist symbol).

If I am right, and it was all a mistake, then the horrors of the Twentieth Century did not negate the spiritual connection between art, practical work, science and technology. All they did was negate the distinction between them, which was artificial in the first place. Accordingly, the way to move forward is to work with unity once again, which means to work with writing, for example, as a force in the world, rather than something created around a creative writing workshop discussion table, in which the mechanics of characters are worked out, along with the skills of how to create the easiest and most effective fictions. If we’re going to get it right, after missing the signposts for so long, then this is going to be the writing centre of the future, where writers will come to hone their craft:

Late Summer on Turtle Mountain

Snow Buckwheat in Full Bloom

… and here …

Rediscovering Heritage Tomatoes

Waiting among the books in my library.

… and here…

Hindenburg at the Kyffhäuser … the Third Emperor

Erected 1939, to commemorate the Nazi’s new Empire (which soon led to a disastrous and murderous campaign in Russia, called, prophetically, Barbarossa), buried by the communists, unearthed in the new reunified Germany, and then left to lie in state in his grave, because it’s just too political to mount it again in what has become a shrine for Neo-Nazis. They charter busses to take in the sights.

No more classrooms, no more workshops, no more art, please. We have to move on, past the distinctions, into writing while walking together on this earth, as biological and spiritual humans. The alternative is this. The poor thing can’t even get up and down a flight of stairs.










Playing With Colour

The poet Goethe wanted to be forgotten for his poems (in the running for the greatest in the German language) and remembered for what he said about colour. He said a lot of things about colour, most of which lead all the physicists astray into frustration, confusion and dismissal, but one thing they missed went something like this…

Filbert Tree in the Early Winter Sun

With all its catkins out for all to admire. The ladies come out at winter’s end, with less show.

With a plea for forgiveness, because I had to make this image with a machine and wasn’t able to lead you here to see it with your own eyes, as Goethe would have preferred (and as I would have preferred, too, because we could have a cup of tea together and share some time on this earth), Goethe suggested that light was one indivisible stuff, which took on colour and differentiation when viewed by humans in a manner consistent with their mood, health, age, character, and so forth. Outwardly, it seems to be pretty poetic stuff. It wasn’t. He was reacting to Newton who showed that white light could be divided into a rainbow, and then put back together again into white light. Goethe’s point was that such an approach saw only division, not unity, and so missed the real story, which was indivisibility.

Lombardy Poplar Catkins in the Spring

Newtonian physics points out that all wavelengths of light are absorbed by these catkins, except for those which radiate in the red and purple spectrum. Goethe tried to point out that it is the same light. The visible differences were, in his view, indicative of more than just wavelengths of light.

Colour photography, however, is a Newtonian technology, not a Goethean one. For most of its history, it has worked much like a phonograph, which turned sound into vibrations, which could be turned back into sound. In terms of photography, if light can be taken apart into primary colours, as Newton did with prisms, it can be recreated by laying sheets of those primary colours on top of each other. The total will produce “colour”. Until computer technology, this was how colour printing was done, sort of like this:

Red and … (hang in there, I’m going somewhere with this…)

Red and green and … (keep hanging on, those are sturdy branches there…)

Red and green and blue and … (by the fingernails, if you have to…)

Red and green and blue and black (for the shadows and the ooomph) make …


Which were really the 1950s until the 1970s. I even had a 1950s bathroom with tiles the colour of that sky once, with wallpaper that also had shells and fish and stuff.  Anyway, by the 1960s colour photography had become pretty sophisticated. If our filbert tree were processed on a Kodak print back then, it might have looked like this.

By the 1970s, colour was even better…


Brought to you by the ultimate in German chemical technology. I tell you, it was exciting at the time. One felt that one was walking in a European calendar, all of the time! Which was a very dreamy thing, for sure.

Then things went nuts. First there were postcards, which tourists could pick up at every gas station or castle, depending on one’s continent….

Postcard Style

Grab ’em, extract the cash, and wait for the next sucker. Humans really went for this stuff. For humans, it was like the chocolate chip cookie of the soul. This was before the invention of supersize fries, of course.

The techno boys were onto something. Humans are biologically wired for difference, and when it’s difference in colour and light it goes straight to the reptilian brain and humans start looking for canoes full of British explorers out in the main current of the river of life, that they can slide over to and ambush, so to speak. Well, after that, of course, came the pixel, that could do all of these colour overlays all on its little own, and the electronic camera, and the kind of image that appears everywhere now as an image of nature, like this:

Just Slide the Saturation Sliders All the Way to the Right and …

… you have the planet as tourists see it, which now looks like a permanent state of affairs. This makes contemporary humans go, like, “Wow!” It’s infinitely seductive.

Here is the technique again in a government approved tourism photo:

Kelowna Vineyard

British Columbia Government Photo. Source. This is not the earth. 

Goethe was trying to prevent that. He was aiming for a way of seeing which remained with the world and with human relationships to it, as part of it. Here’s the photo again, a little less intrusively, although I must say it’s impossible to humanize what a machine has dehumanized, but at least it’s a little closer to the world (but just a little.)

Failed Attempt to Rehumanize the Machine

Oh, well. I succeeded, I think, in making it look like a drugstore photo print from 1981.

To Goethe, the question of whether science and poetry, or science and art needed to be reunited was absurd. To him, there was no difference, because they came from the same infinite living source, that this life force, this energy, was the story of the universe, and led to this kind of thing…

Looking Across Okanagan Lake to Short’s Creek Canyon

A blue world for the blue season, in the emotional and spiritual sense as well as the physical one. The light glowing from the lake is part of this spiritual story, as are all the subtle gradations in it, as apprehended by the human eye that doesn’t separate it into wavelengths before viewing it, but views it from within itself.

To Goethe, there was one world, and the subtleties of human reactions to it could uncover its deepest secrets in a process of growth that would not end. There are a number of deductions that could be drawn from this. One of them is that claims by some contemporary physicists that they are on the verge of cracking the mysteries of the universe are about to prove Goethe right. The next is that claims by many contemporary humanists that Indigenous peoples have an intimate relationship with nature, and are part of it, whereas Europeans are not, is just plain ignorant hokum. If I may speak so plainly.

Tomorrow: What happened to it, and how to fix that.

Planet of Wonder

This is what comets look like when long elliptical orbits bring them close to the sun and they are captured by the gravity of large hunks of rock that are floating around there…


Still following gravity after all these years.

For the latest news on the development of the Big Bang, come for a walk with me at dusk in the wet season. There are complex mathematical equations …

Saskatoon, or …

… mathematics without the cerebral unghHHrgh.

There are complicated graphs of space-time …


Super String Theory

There is even something more …

Life, or…

…the art of holding time still.

These are all what the Big Bang looks like after 13,750,000,000 years. The telescopes that look into deep space see what it looked like when it was a wee mite, which is a beautiful thing, as all babies are, but now it’s a young adult and looks like this:

Choke Cherries

Hanging in for the count. Winter? Pshaw.

The universe is alive. It can be viewed through life, as well as through telescopes. The end goal is the same: life, beauty, and wonder.





Farms For All

Welcome to purslane, a nutritious vegetable used extensively in Middle Eastern cooking, so native to the region that it sprouts up in the cracks of sidewalks  and is harvested from there …

Purslane Source

This drought resistance succulent is high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids. It grows throughout the Okanagan.

Here’s some purslane growing in the front yard of the house of worship of a religion that began in Palestine…

Purslane, Okanagan Landing Road

And here is one of its sisters, after the church landscape specialist directed his attention to it …

Food for the Poor, Poisoned

Going, going, gone.

 The gravel of this style of landscaping is perfect for purslane: protection for seed, conservation of water, lots of heat and sun, and no competition, as few other plants can survive in such drought conditions. It’s not just gravel…

New Farmland: The Sidewalk Crack

Perfect for purslane, spinach, millet, coriander, lettuce, and a host of other crops.

One thing about this farmland is that it is right in front of your house. Another is that it makes use of large amounts of water that are collected by the sidewalk infrastructure. Another is that it gathers sand and dust and turns it into soil. It makes new earth.

The Ultimate in Zero Tillage

Cultivation: 0. Soil loss: 0. Water usage: 0. Transportation costs: 0. Every couple years, the soil could be mechanically harvested and redistributed on areas in need of it.

There are tens if thousands of row kilometres of this agriculture in the Okanagan. If automobile pollutants are an issue, then let’s grow crops here that will mine them, to keep them out of our water, and then harvest the soil that they make. Oh, and the argument that plants will destroy the concrete infrastructure? Really? I think snow removal equipment does a better job of that…

Sidewalk Snow Plow Damage

Look at those holes. A guy could grow a nice cabbage in there.

In case I appear flippant, do remember that there are still institutional landscaping projects, such as that purslane-free church above, and that all the processes of which I’m speaking here are natural processes. Here, for instance, is a glacial meltwater river stone recently unearthed and dumped down the hill from a real estate development…

A New World

Rock, water, air and sun. Nothing else is needed.

Here’s a similar rock, a few years later…

Mariposa Lily Seed Stalk and Natural Heat Sink

Notice the moss thriving in the cool months and making new soil and nutrients, which support the plants around the rock, as does the rock’s heat in the cool desert nights.

Every rock on the hill could be given a purslane, which it would care for it like a child with a kitten. A silly idea? Really?  And this isn’t?

Productive Hillside Turned into a Dump

This is infrastructure material for the vineyard up above. 25 acres of vineyard. 50 acres of wrecked land to support it.

We could plant kochia on this stuff, and support a herd of cattle, without water, without land cost, with nothing, just the cost of some seed, without interfering in any way with an elementary private property rights. Kochia? You know, Burning Bush? Another Biblical weed. Here…

Kochia Branching Out Source

The British Columbia Government wants us to get rid of this baby. Why, when it grows on waste gravel, is incredibly productive, enriches the soil, and feeds cattle? Could it be because the government wants to save natural grasslands? Admirable. I’m all for it, but here’s two things about that. 1. Below 650 metres, there aren’t many left; what you see is a brand new ecology of weeds; 2. This is what really destroys natural grasslands…

Vineyard Road Tangle and Weed Hell

aka Kochia Heaven

Meanwhile, this is how cattle get fed [well, in theory]…

The Year’s Single Crop of Hay Turning Into a Perch for Magpies and Hunting Ground for Hawks

What a difference four months of mouldering makes.

This is old orchard land, being cropped with hay to keep its farm status and the low taxation rates that go with that. Just like the hillsides, however, that hay is largely weeds and has no agricultural or nutritional value. Kochia would be a better bet than this.  So, welcome to your new farm…

Your New Farm As the Winter Global Warming Rains Begin

Water, the Inuit and Everyone

The road is long. It is worth travelling. The road is hard. It must be taken. These aren’t proverbs. They are signposts on the road to environmental reconstruction of human social relationships and social reconstruction through rebuilding environmental relationships.The road is in plain sight, but the road is hidden. The journey is to carry light in the dark.  The journey is to carry dark in the light.First, though, there has to be the awareness that there is a road. This is the road…

Early Winter Sun Turns a Young Sage Brush Into Shadow

By the addition of a sidewalk, this native plant has been turned into a weed. The shadow, however, tells the time. It’s late.

I’ll get back to that image, but first some context. On Wednesday, I sat with several hundred people and heard Sheila Watt-Cloutier speak on the relationship between climate change and human rights. Over an hour, she presented the insight that climate change affects the ability of societies to maintain themselves socially and physically. More specifically, she argued that industrialization poisons mothers’ milk (in the Arctic) while at the same time asks that the path presented out of the social loss caused by industrialization’s removal of peoples from their land is through employment in resource extraction industries, namely mining and petroleum. In other words, industrialization often urges people to suppress their cultures and their identities and to represent this suppression in the destruction of landscapes that once sustained them physically, socially and spiritually. Here’s a shorter version of her speech, in which she argued, passionately, for her people’s right to be cold:

Sheila Watt-Cloutier Speaks on the Environment and Human RightsSource.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier asked for our support as fellow Canadians to rectify a slide into global environmental catastrophe by providing social leadership, within our country, to preserve cultural ties to the land. As I understood that, her deep meaning was that if indigenous ties to the land were preserved, the natural world would also remain in balance, and, what’s more, that through such leadership Canada could play a strong role in maintaining a natural balance in the community of world cultures and through that in the state of the planet as a whole. She was, I believe, offering an opportunity for Canada in the world.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier

Speaks on the human right to be cold, and so much more. Source.

I would like to extend Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s comments into a broader discussion of landscapes. If it is the right of indigenous people to have a culture, and if the destruction of that culture is a form of denial of a universal human right, and I accept her argument fully, then it’s not just about her Arctic but about all human cultures. In the grasslands of the North American west, for instance, from which I am writing this note, this means that the area’s indigenous people, the Syilx of the Columbia Plateau, have several inalienable rights: the right to grasslands, the right to salmon, the right to travel freely over the entire Plateau, among many others.

Okanagan Indian Band Horses on Band Range

Traditional culture need not be frozen in time. The arrival of the horse among the Plateau peoples around the time of American expansion into the Ohio Valley to the East, and the consequent unsettling of Plains culture and the resulting demographic pressures pushing inexorably towards the west profoundly altered Plateau culture, for better and for worse, but it did not in any way destroy a primary relationship with place and identity. It just pushed it towards greater individualization and competition, within the broader sense of the landscape. It is telling that the settlement of Plateau people into reservations, to break their land sense, came along at the same time at which their horses were shot, tinned as dog food and shipped to the American East. That was not an act of adaptation. We can do better.

It’s not just the Syilx, either, who have a human right to the land, but all people whose identity is intimately linked to it, and here’s the core of that: that’s everyone.

Staghorn Sumac in the Spring

When these fruiting spurs are ripe in the fall, they can be used to make an indigenous lemonade that is tart and sweet, fruity and astringent, and sooooooo good.

If the Syilx could adopt the horse to traditional culture without losing traditional culture, then my farming culture can just as easily adopt sumac, and transform itself into a more cooperative relationship with both the land and the Syilx, and indeed with North American indigenous cultures in general. A couple comments I overheard as the largely academic crowd was dispersing should serve to highlight some of the parameters and difficulties of this approach. The first comment was:

“She talks about living off the land, but that’s impossible. There are too many of us to do that anymore.”

Expressed With Great Frustration and Irritation by a Man in His Late Fifties, Who then Left in a Huff

In answer, I would like to suggest that, in fact, it hasn’t been tried. Indigenous methods of agriculture have never been adopted in the West. Cattle ranching is the closest we’ve come, and interestingly enough, it is a culture that remains solid in both settler and indigenous culture and which allows both of them to remain in contact with individual relationships with the land. It has problems, but they are not fundamentally insolvable. In fact, the grasslands of the Cariboo-Chilcotin, the last remaining complete, pristine grasslands on temperate earth, remain today because of large-scale cattle ranching, which lives very lightly upon the land and relies on its natural productivity. 

Cariboo Chilcotin Grassland

North of Dog Creek, looking West from the Cariboo, over the mid-Fraser River Canyon, to the Chilcotin, the Gang Ranch, and the mountains of the Chilcotin Arc to the South and West. This form of agriculture is capable of supporting settler and indigenous cultures and the land itself. It has problems, including deep problems with land ownership issues, but it is one model. It is not the only one.

A hundred and twenty years ago, the Okanagan looked like the above image. Now much of it looks like this:

Serving the Poor in Vernon

A point of national pride. Note the flag. Wait, why should this be a matter of pride? Wouldn’t pride mean that we work together to build wealth? For everyone? Wouldn’t it mean that the imposition of Canadian government on this place had brought wealth and prosperity? For this place? For that man there in his camo pants at dusk, looking at the door as if he were out deer hunting?

The thing is, sadly, that in the main the landscape has been industrially altered in order to support, in certain select areas, European agriculture. Water is removed from the land, the life it might have been supported is allowed to vanish or to go to weeds, the animals that could support populations are considered vermin …


 From a social perspective, shooting Syilx deer for a) eating apple shoots and b) not running away when people go out walking (yes, this is a current controversy in town) is violence done to Syilx culture, and, ultimately, to the Syilx, in a way that respectfully shooting them for needed food would not be.

… and if the economic model should collapse, as indeed it likely will due to the nature of the misfit of capital reinvestment with human generational change (accelerated by systems of innovation which lure the young away to distant urban centres), then the land is ripe for redevelopment as a strip mall:

Orchard in Oliver, British Columbia

By leaving formerly productive land as stumps, a landowner can make the argument that it is not agricultural land but only suitable for redevelopment, whereas in fact the agricultural failing was only a failure of a distribution model, or perhaps of crop choice. Still, the orchard right next door just became a strip mall. The writing is on the wall, despite legislative protection for land such as this.

The problem with this form of cultural succession is simple: we all live off the land. There is nothing else. If food does not come from the land, there is no food, unless, of course, we take it from other people, which is, again, an issue of human rights. One of the positive messages given by Sheila Watt-Cloutier is that legislation lasts if it has cultural roots. In other words, it is cultural work which will save the land —which will, in turn, save us from ourselves. In this respect, the second comment I overheard in the exodus from Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s presentation was equally telling. Here it is, as I remember it:

“The images [in her slide show] went by too slowly. She promised to present both images of people and the land, but we had to wait to the end to see any people at all. Instead of presenting her ideas in depth, she presented one idea over and over again, without increasing sophistication. It was as if she was talking to a high school class, or a group of people who did not know anything of the subject.”

Expressed With Great Frustration and Irritation by a Woman in Her Early Thirties, Who then Left in a Huff

There are some solid criticisms here, as well as some misconceptions. In the tradition of Western academic scholarship (the speech was sponsored by the University of British Columbia), the speech lacked the solid academic touchstones which this young, obviously academic woman was looking for. The points are well taken. I am not so certain, however, that she picked up on the other messages, which included these:

1.) Sheila Watt-Cloutier argued for the right of the Inuit to continue their hunting cultures, which taught, among other things, patience. The pacing of the images was, indeed slow, but had its own elegance and made its own demands for patience. That the images did not go away at the speed at which contemporary visual imaginations expect was demanding, and, in an important way, independent of the human and social argument  Sheila Watt-Cloutier was making.

2.) Conversely, the images were human faces. A people who live in intimate relationship with the land are the land and the land is them. That is, in fact, their human right as indigenous people. What’s more, the faces of the people who closed the presentation were faces of the land. There is no separation.

3.) Sheila Watt-Cloutier was speaking as an Inuk, not as an academic. Respect, as practiced among aboriginal peoples, would ask that her comments be read within her context, I believe this was precisely the point she was making about global industrial pollutants concentrating in the Arctic and finding their most toxic purification in the breast milk of inuit mothers, right at the point at which there should be the greatest amount of life.

As for the lack of specificity or extension, perhaps that’s up to the rest of us. Indeed, Mrs. Watt-Cloutier asked for just this. A third response I overheard was one that was actually directed publicly, as a question from the audience. It went something like this:

“Why do you think there is a disproportionate number of indigenous people from around the world who care for the land, in comparison to the rest of us, Europeans? Is it a genetic thing? What’s your opinion?”

Question Asked of Sheila Watt-Cloutier by a Man in His Late Fifties

Mrs. Watt-Cloutier answered the question with respect for the concern at its heart, by pointing out (and I paraphrase here from memory) that it’s not a question of indigenous people being different from anyone else but that most people today live in cities and have lost close contact with their land. She pointed out that some two  hundred and fifty years ago almost everyone was intimately connected with land. In other words, and these are my thoughts here, indigenous life is not inaccessible for most people and is a part of their not-so-distant family and cultural pasts. I’d just like to add that it can also be very close to our present. Which brings me back to my road. Here it is again:


After the Snow

But not after the water shadow and light shadow that still operate on this old grassland. The sun and the earth are still doing their old magic.

Four inches of snow, or about 8 mm of water, drained away the other day from this former productive hillside, entered the storm sewer system, and wound up down at the valley bottom, months ahead of schedule and without doing any work along the way. Over the course of the winter, we can expect a total of one metre of snow to fall, although most of the time no more than a few centimetres, if any, will remain on the ground. Over the course of the year, twenty-five centimetres of water will fall on this land. Breaking that down, it means that for every kilometre of road in this single subdivision, about 98 cubic metres of water fall from the sky and are whisked away. The same applies for every other of the thousands of kilometres of roads in town. This water is used to keep the lake level high in the valley below, where it needs to be …

Lower BX Creek Estuary, Okanagan Lake

… so that high country water, that would naturally maintain the lake level, can be siphoned off into industrial and residential uses. It doesn’t, however, need to be this way, not exactly. The plants, for example, are showing us something that is not yet integrated with this model of industrial efficiency:


Shade Matters

Water stays when it’s out of the light, and snow stays when it is shovelled in piles. 

Instead of tens of thousands of kilometres of water lines siphoning all this precious water away, why aren’t we shoveling it into storage tanks, built under sidewalks, from which it can be pumped in the summer? Or, where aren’t we otherwise using it before giving it to the lake? That’s the way the land works here. 93 cubic metres of water per kilometre of street (200 houses if both sides of the street are built up with 10 metre frontage per house) means that every kilometre of street could collect enough water to fill a tank 1.57 metres in diameter and 5 metres long. That’s enough water to do something with. It could be used in place and then delivered to the lake, with likely no more loss to the atmosphere than is currently lost to evaporation. What if that water were used to grow watercress (in water 2.5 centimetres deep?) The gravity of the hillsides could move the water through the beds, and city streets could become productive agricultural farms for a price far less than the current price for agricultural land, which must compete for space with real estate development. A model that united both land uses would be respectful (at least to a greater degree than the present) of both Syilx and settler culture and of the grasslands. Better yet, and with deeper respect for the land and its people, the water could be used to grow many other crops, including indigenous ones, along the way. Anything is possible: the water, the hills, the gravity, the plants, the sun, they are all there, as they always have been. Water-conserving food plants have not genetically vanished from this landscape. All the pieces are here. All the stands between them and life is an idea. Sheila Watt-Cloutier has made the challenge that we accept the human consequences of our ideas and reshape them to allow for cultural and environmental survival. She makes no distinction between the two. The consequences in her culture, she says, of not doing so, are youth suicide, substance abuse, poisonous environments, spiritual poverty, and other serious social issues, which are expensive to fix. The profits for industry, in other words, come, ultimately from the same source as our food: from our land, and from our people. There is nothing else. There is no other place for it to come from.

Combined Hydroponics Shop, Church, and Bowling Alley Parking Lot


Better than Nature? That’s a cultural and spiritual question. Without Nature? That’s not possible. It means without us. And by us I mean the community of living things on this planet.


Some of our brothers and sisters near Daisy, Washington, on the shore of the impounded Columbia River, upstream from the Grand Coulee Dam. The peach orchards of Daisy are all underwater now. The salmon are extirpated. 

What might have been is gone. The disrespect that was embedded in it, remains, visible for all. The potential for healing through life remains. Let’s use our intellectual resources to get there, even if it means transforming the nature of intellectual culture to get there by adopting the inclusiveness of Sheila Watt-Cloutier.