The Museum and Gallery of the Earth

Museums: repositories of historically important cultural material. Natural History Museums: catalogues of animals and bones, plants and seeds. Think of both of them as books, that you walk through. They were born in the same age as public libraries.


Museum of Nature, Gotha, Germany

The goddess leading the lion? The lion leading the goddess? Not to mention the big question: Is nature a museum?

Maybe the idea is. What the entrance to this building (in the East German state, it was refurbished to commemorate the evolution and extinction that lead to the pinnacle of evolutionary process: Homus Sovieticus.) Don’t worry, the German state is redoing it all, so it’s completely modern and all that history is forgotten. In the meantime, a bit of it remains:

P1170198Soviet War Memorial, Gotha

If you back up a few spaces from the 19th Century entrance to the Museum of Nature, the Soviet War Memorial to the Great Patriotic War of 1939-1945 is looking a bit tattered after the revolution of 1989.

And if you back up a bit further and step to the side? Ah, Nature herself.

P1170207_2The Botanical Garden of Gotha, the 21st Century Version…

…after a period of sovieticization and abject poverty (of both economy and imagination.) There is a direct line in places like Gotha from the Garden of Eden to medieval castle gardens full of roses, monastic gardens full of medicinal plants, aristocratic collections, botanical classification and the first modern universities, but all that’s broken now. Nearly dead roses are all that’s left.

We need a new idea. What of a museum of the earth? Now that the needs of the earth are foremost and it is clear that we are telling the earth’s story (badly), don’t we need a museum to tell it clearly? The human story is looking a bit tawdry, after all. Here’s one possible exhibit:


This Old Growth Cedar from the Rain Forest on the British Columbia Coast …

… has been dead since the 1960s. There are hardly any of those ancient trees left. This one is siding on a pre-fab house in Keremeos, in the dry, Interior Grasslands. It won’t be long now before it is taken to the dump.

Should it not be honoured, as one of the old ones, still with us?


Tree That Was Dropped in the Wrong Place, Cape Scott

And while we’re at it, we might as well honour the farmer who has lived among this old tree’s bones, in his haphazard mammalian way for all these years. Isn’t that part of the story?


A Mammal Tries to Fix an Idea that Never Did Work Out That Well

And fails, beautifully.

Here’s more of that farmer’s art.

P1230594Humans Make Beautiful Stuff, Don’t They

Our museum could double as an art gallery.

As for humans, well, let’s stop telling their story and set them loose to celebrate the trees.

humanHistorical Human Happy in the Spruce Forest

Sorry, the cedars are gone.

With any luck, soon we will be telling stories of humans in the language of trees.


Cedar Spirit, Campbell River, Vancouver Island

Returning a Power Pole to Glory

After all, if humans cut off branches, they have a responsibility to the life that still flows through them. Every board is a museum. Every board is art. Let’s honour that.


For Apricots, Spring Starts Early and Lasts All Year

Life on the temperate earth goes around in circles, the same way as the earth goes around the sun. In this dance, spring is the kind of thing that requires Autumn leaves. Without them, it’s a risky proposition. Here is how it begins … in August.


Tilton Apricots, Very Over Ripe, August 29, 2012

What is intriguing here (other than the sweetness of those fruits, mmmmmmm) is that a tree consists of branches (supported by roots), with leaves that cover (loosely) fruits, which keep a kernel moist and protected while it grows.

The story never changes. Here is what it looks like a few days after snow melt under an apricot tree that goes relatively unpicked year after year. Well, without the leaves.

P1230619A Carpet of Apricot Kernels, Bahati U-Pick Farm, Keremeos

One of them is blushing (Hint: under the cedar sprig).

Autumn leaves delay the drying out that comes with wind — the same wind that blows the Autumn leaves away. I’ll say this much: where apricots came from, there couldn’t have been much wind. Either that, or Keremeos (in the Similkameen Valley) is one of the world’s great wind engines. Both, I’d say. Here’s a closer look at those kernels…

P1230618Apricot Seed Trying to Bury Itself 

It has only a few days to do it. The steps are: 1. months of cold trigger the seed, 2. water from the snow soaks into the kernel, 3. which swells and, 4. cracks the hull, and 5. has just a few days to find the centre of the earth before it dries out. Leaf cover would help, a lot.

This is something I’ve never witnessed before, because most apricots get picked and carted away. Even when they fall, though, thousands of kernels don’t make it. Here’s one that looks like it might make it, especially if it rains or snows a bit in the mornings to keep things moist without those leaves…

P1230629Apricot, Rooting

It must have popped out of its shell with such force that it sent the pieces flying.

What a beautiful thing! For thirty-one years, I pruned this tree at blossom time. Showing up this year six weeks early was well worth it! And what is it trying to do? Why, this:


The Pink Pink Grass of Home

It was such a pleasure spending some quality time in Tamara’s My Botanical Garden on Monday. Thanks, everyone, for welcoming me with such enthusiasm. It’s fine to share stories of the gardens of this earth. It’s a double pleasure to come back with another story of ancient gardens. This one extends my story about lichens that we posted a couple days ago. Let’s set the scene by stepping back to the lichens again, where they live in a garden billions of years old yet just hours new. They have, I’d like to suggest, effectively stopped time. And that’s a good thing!


Marmot, Peshastin Pinnacles, Washington

Because of the lichens on these rocks (and the blue skies they created), the inevitable decline of Earth into a kind of Martian desert was slowed and even reversed, creating time for creatures like this to evolve and to prosper. Those are some of the old, uplifted volcanic plutons of the Cascade Mountains in the background.

Neat trick! Here’s how it’s done…


Lichen Demonstrating How to Keep a Planet from Losing its Atmosphere

The secret? Be like the rock, but … instead of crumbling away, crumble onto something. This turns the crumbling energy inside out.

Billions of years is a long time — time enough for other plants to thrive in the lichen garden called Earth. Of course, if lichens were the only plant blooming in town, the earth might look like this:


Kind of Looks like a Photo Taken by a Mars Rover, Doesn’t it.

Well, except for the highway and the car. (See it?) Actually, it’s the volcanic wasteland of South Iceland, covered with grey lichen about 15 centimetres thick. It extends for hundreds of kilometres, just like this. 

This was all rich farmland before the Lakagígar volcanic eruptions of 1783 that reduced the Icelandic population to 20,000 starving, choking, poisoned souls. Here’s a view of the disaster, looking over it to the upland pastures that are all that are left of the farms of the region …


Iceland’s Grey Lichen

Those are some of Iceland’s green, grassy hills in the back — as well as the catastrophic paraglacial flood gorge of Fjaðrárgljúfur.

Grass, tiny trees and flowers are lodging in the lichen now and setting down roots. It’s not volcanic rock that provides them with a foundation, but the lichens. The way I see it, the newcomers aren’t growing so much in earth as in lichen. Life roots in life. Like this, sort of:


Moss Making A Home in an Old Lichen, Bella Vista Hills

Mosses are algae that figured out how to survive on dry land. It took them almost 3 billion years longer than the lichens, but they made it, too. Sometimes in the spring it’s all too good to be true: a lichen can sometimes look exactly like a miniature, landlocked sea.

In terms of the Okanagan and the other volcanic regions of western North America (where this blog has its home), this story is especially resonant: both grasses and this region came to life between 50 and 65 million years ago. Back then, the area was covered in volcanoes (as the coast still is today.) Grass and the Okanagan are sisters. As a hint towards what they found here, here’s the remnants of one of those volcanoes:


Giant’s Head Mountain, Summerland

The original stratovolcano was likely some 3,000 metres high, before multiple continental glaciers carried all its rubble away, leaving its frozen core. The name, Giant’s Head, comes from the shape of the mountain from the lakeside (behind and below the mountain). It is one of the traditional landforms of Plateau culture.

Likely, it was lichens that first grew on the new volcanic slopes here, as they do in Iceland today. The first grasses to root in those lichens were likely some of the first grasses anywhere. Maybe they looked a bit like this…


Blue-Bunched Wheatgrass in the Floor of the Flood Basalts, Dry Falls State Park, Washington

Those are the old ones, the yellow lichens, spilling down the cliffs like the sun. Photograph made at 45 degrees Celsius in late July. What a beautiful day that was! 

Not only did the new grasses of the hot, dry new lands of the North American West (and the Asian Steppes, African Savannahs, South American Pampas and the Australian Outback) replace lichen (just as they are doing in South Iceland now), they evolved from lichens in the first place. In other words, the grasses are a stage in the blooming of lichens into full expression of their identity. Things work both ways in this story: to understand grass (and humans), understand lichen; to understand lichen, understand grass. Here’s the grass that got me to thinking of all this:


Pink Grass!

It’s rather like a crocus, isn’t it! In case you were wondering, all that bare glacial till is a road cut that the grass is moving into.

There’s a story in the grass. It’s not quite like the story of the lichens, that are powered by the earth’s annual trip around the sun just as they have been for a fifth of the age of the universe. It’s more that the grasses are powered by cycles of heat and dryness, caused in part by carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and in part by the atmospheric influence of the grasses themselves. Grasses, that like heat, heat things up, which leads to hotter grasses and increasing atmospheric change.


Junction Sheep Range, Cariboo-Chilcotin Grassland

It was on grass like this that humans became human. This is our native habitat. Let’s take a minute to honour our sisters, the grasses, as the wind blows through them and they carry it in waves, like water.

The soft contours of the hills in the above image are created by the winds falling off of the depressurized eastern slopes of the Coast Mountains — winds created on the open Pacific by the rotation of the Earth. They never stop (That’s a good thing!) The contours above are beach dunes — two hundred kilometres from the ocean and across an almost impenetrable barrier of mountains, glaciers, and volcanoes. They’re not new, though. This is the way they were 10,000 years ago, when the continental glaciers melted away and the fine silt of these post-glacial lake bottoms dried in the dessicated, re-pressurized wind — the winds, we might say, blowing off of the sun. The deeper the valleys, the hotter and windier it gets, as if the winds were rushing to the centre of the earth.


Richter Pass and Chopaka

According to the elder and storyteller Mourning Dove, this was the Traditional Centre of the Syilx World. The light-coloured fields in the middle ground of the photograph host a species of miniature, desert shrew — an isolated population surviving here hundreds of miles north of its relatives in the hot country to the south. That’s what deep valleys in the lee of coastal mountains can do. (By the way, I was raised by the valley a few kilometres to the right, and north, of this mountain. It’s the centre of my world, too.)

Bunch grasses survive in this extreme climate that would draw eleven times as much water out of the soil as falls in snowfall and rainfall if it were not for the crust of lichen acting as a skin on the earth. One technique they use is to harvest water from an area far greater than their small, living hearts.

methowbunchgrass Blue-Bunched Wheat Grass, Methow Valley

They are the dominant creatures in the landscape. Each lives on its own, precisely spaced from her sisters. They do not make sods.

Bunchgrass harvests extra water by the trick of maintaining its stalks for multiple seasons. The growth of past years harvest waters for the present and for the year to come. Here’s a picture taken at dusk with a flash, to highlight the stalks, after a year of failing to get a decent picture because the grass just blends in so well…


Blue-Bunched Wheat Grass in Its Winter Plumage

There is a small green clump of grass at the base of these outstretched old stalks. Water from dew and rain collects on the stalks, then runs down to nourish the plant at its base — leaving too little water between plants for much else except for flowers and lilies, which show themselves aboveground for just a few weeks a year and then wait it out in the dark. Like the lichens, the bunchgrass is buying time. It is doing it by buying water.

It’s not the only way to be a grass. Here’s another dryland North American grass that buys time by changing its supply of light.


Corn under the Harvest  Moon

Corn is one of many grasses that utilize a specialized form of photosynthesis that reuses air until it is completely harvested of its carbon dioxide, then it breathes it out. This efficiency allows it to mature in areas otherwise too harsh for a full season.

Like all daughters of the lichens, the grasses are used to pretty extreme conditions — the kind you might expect to find on a planet in open space. Planets like that sometimes dry out, especially when the waste breath of the grasses tends to heat things up. Here’s a grass that has embraced the whole scenario, with style …


Needle and Thread Grass, Bella Vista Hills

Needle and thread grass seeds are attached to long threads, which curl when dry, hook on the long, overhanging stalks, and hang just above the lichen crust on the soil. The daily heating of the sun causes the threads to flex and then unflex daily. The seeds have a drill point on their tips. Day by day in this way, they drill themselves down into the lichen, where they sprout. Here’s my earlier post on these beautiful grasses.

Grasses are all about buying time. Here’s one that buys time from everyone around it: the lichen, the grasses, the flowering plants: everybody. It’s called cheatgrass, it’s invasive, it has destroyed most of the grasslands of the West, its sharp seeds stick in your socks and drives you nuts, and it’s a survivor:


Cheatgrass in its Happy Time

It takes all the water, before any native plants are ready to use it, it replaces the macrobiotic crust, it extirpates flowering plants and butterflies, and it dries up into explosive tinder by mid-summer. Give it a match and it goes up to gasoline — just in time for its 900 pounds of seed per acre to choke out anything else trying to reestablish itself in the ash.

Cheatgrass is also ready to photosynthesize the instant it comes out of the snow. It buys time by using everyone’s at once. And now, here’s one more way in which the grasses of our botanical garden here in the old volcanic country in the mountains skirting the North East Pacific Coast buy time:

P1220964 This is Not a Native Grass. But Look at It! It’s Burgundy Coloured!

I just love this stuff. It has yet another way to buy time: store lots of food in its underground rhizomes, spread throughout the late fall and late winter, when the soil is soft and cool, and sprout early, with vigour, to get above anything else that might be there. Forget about photosynthesizing. You can do that later. 

The red pigment indicates that no green chloroplasts, the little cyanobacteria traps within grasses, are present. Whereas many lichens are unions of cyanobacteria and fungus, in grasses, the cyanobacteria are trapped by the grasses’ DNA and replicated over and over again. It’s like this stuff is going through the whole process of evolution all in one season, over and over again, year by year by year. As the air warms up and photosynthesis becomes possible, the first green appears in the leaves (This year, about two weeks after the shoots appeared.) …

P1220962… and then a little more …

P1220959 … and more yet …

P1220960Two Weeks After Emergence

Notice the bright green cheatgrass making its move at the bottom of the image.

It won’t be long before these grass blades are fully green and towering over everything else in sight — even the cheatgrass. On these intricate, self-replicating chemical structures drawn out of the earth by the energy of the sun, and on their mothers, the lichens, and the mothers of them all, the light-eating cyanobacteria, all life depends. Each form of life has its own niche. Lichens reverse the flow of time. Grasses manipulate it and concentrate it, and make it possible for creatures to live within the energy fields that they create …

threehorsesThree Young Male Grass Creatures, Hofstaðir, Iceland

Kind of asking if we would just remove that wire so they could visit the fillies in the pasture across the road… pllllllleeeaasssseeeee?

And what do humans do with this amazing gift of the grass? Ah, landscape (a verb.)

weedeatYoung Agricultural Student Whacks Grass Amongst Once-Proud Horse-Drawn Grass-Cutting Tools, Holar, Iceland

Mountains nicely-eroded by sheep in the background.

The harvesting that was once done with the energy created by grass, harnessed by grass-like human ingenuity to horses, the animal most perfectly the spirit of grass, is now performed with large machines powered by dead plants compressed under heat and pressure deep underground — plants from an age long before there were grasses of any kind. The effect is increased carbon dioxide in the air and a younger, hotter earth — one not suitable for a multitude of other species that came to life in the webs that grasses made of the sun, or like horses and humans who came to life in the grasslands and remain dependent upon it.


The Grasses of the Okanagan Indian Band Walk Home on an April Afternoon

If you want to see what a master photographer can do with grass, why not have a look at the book I wrote with the photographer Chris Harris: Spirit in the Grass. It has 300 photographs and was a labour of love.


Thanks for walking in the grass with me today.

The Beauty of Water

Water is life. Life is also water. The relationship goes both ways. Here’s some water…web… and here’s some more, on the same mountain on the same day…

bubble3The first one is water drops suspended in air. The second is air, suspended in water. When the sun strikes them, the effect is pretty much the same.

twowatersThey appear the same, because in each case the light is reflecting off of a boundary — one between water, air and gravity. If you look carefully at the image below, you might see not only how water can be held in the air without falling, and what happens when the water and the air join together with the light and the ground that they all touch…

rainbowRain on a Spider Web on Fall Mustard

Glowing in the red, late afternoon sun. The spider, too.

Plants are a dynamic tension between water, air, light, and soil. The spider in the above image lives in their tensions. In comparison, the lichen below lives their tensions directly.



Snow Melt Caught on Lichen…

…in the cool, morning sun of mid-February.

These patterns made by the reactions between water’s energy and gravity continue in the plants that have grown out of their forms…

P1230174Water Droplet Patterns in Blooming Lichen

Life is a tension. Everything on Earth is held in that tension: the molten core, the gravity, the rotation, the magnetic field, the tension of orbit around the sun, the bending of space that enables and defines that journey, birds waiting out a late winter snow …

P1230093 … ocean plants that colonized dry land by joining together into a self-supporting communal form …

P1000554 Lichens on Red Mountain, Thompson Canyon

… volcanoes wearing down with weather and gravity …

P1000505 Red Mountain, Falling Apart, Thompson Canyon

… aerial life anchoring itself to their ruins while it grazes on the light …

P1000503 … and many more. They are all tensions between light, air, soil, water and gravity. They all hold this tension, taught as a spring, and follow the lines of energy that come from its bondage. This is the energy of the stars. It is earth’s story, because Earth is a place in which these energies focus in specific ways.

rising2 Spring Puddle with a Skim of Ice

There are those bubbles again! 

Entropy is the principle of winding down. According to the principle of entropy, everything in the universe is losing energy and seeking stillness — everything except life.

rising4Bubbles Rising Through the Moment of Freezing Water and Stopped Right There

Beauty is the concept of stopping entropy.

It is also the agency by which humans detect dynamic balance — or, if you like, life.

moss2Tomorrow, back to the Botanical Garden.





A Revolving Botanical Garden

Today, I am proud to be a guest on the website, My Botanical Garden. I hope that my explorations in knowing the land by walking it daily, camera in hand, will bring the garden’s readers at least some of the delight it has brought me for the past 18 months. Today, I’d like to share a way of looking at gardens: not in space, or in the balance of species with each other, but in time. After all, as creatures of the earth, I think we all live there.


Abandoned Nlaka’pamux Church, Thompson River Grasslands, British Columbia

I think it’s time we all moved back to the Earth.

Gardens live in time. Let’s start with that. It snowed last night. Don’t worry. Here in the dry grasslands in the troughs of a volcanic plateau east of the uplifted volcanoes of the Northeast Pacific Coast, it is not winter. It is late spring — not late spring 2013, but the late spring of the earth.


Lichen Coming Clear of the Snow

Lichens survive well in extreme climates, such as the Arctic (and the arctic conditions of a valley winter). These complex symbiotic organisms are ancient combinations of algae and fungus that were among the first creatures to move from the ocean to dry land. The date is controversial, but conservative estimates put it at 675 million years ago. The snow here is not acting as a cooling agent but as a greenhouse, providing essential moisture, letting through light, and concentrating heat. This photograph was taken 8 days ago.

In greenhouses of this kind, it’s always helpful to have a rock, to hold that heat just a little bit longer. Eventually, the rock melts through the snow and opens the lichen to the sun — just as the earth does, might I point out, in space. Now it is deep summer. The world is abloom.


Lichen Blooming on Basalt, Turtle Mountain

The rock is about 50 million years old. The lichens? 675 million. The cyanobacteria that joined with the fungus to create them? Perhaps 3500 million. The photograph? 4 days.

And that’s just the thing. This botanical garden blooms not only in the North Okanagan Grasslands, which is one current name for this chain of volcanic islands that floated across the Pacific sea floor from Japan long ago, but blooms in time as well. Each year, the entire history of life on earth is repeated here. Long before conventional wisdom imported from Europe 150 years ago declares winter to be over and spring to be coming into sight, it will be Autumn here, and soon after that, Winter. First, though, let’s just enjoy the sweet days of Summer. After all, the lichens are beautifully diverse. Everywhere you look, the volcanic breccia is covered in a profusion of blooms, much like an alpine meadow, or a tide pool.


The Differing Strategies of Lichens for Coexistence Suggest Parallel Evolutionary Streams

Lichens have been shown to be capable of surviving unprotected in space. They won’t exactly thrive there, though. They draw their nutrients from the atmosphere and are sheltered by it from ultraviolet rays. Still, they aren’t so much land plants as atmospheric ones. They live and feed in the sky.

Mind you, they do tether themselves to rocks, for the heat and stability they provide. Even that is tricky, though, on a planet that just won’t stay in one form for as long as they do.

agateLichens and Agates Worked Loose by Weathering, Turtle Mountain

These rocks, melted and lifted into the air by the superheating of the embedded water in ancient seabeds driven under the continent, are now breaking apart like waves crashing on a beach. This surf moves the lichens around. The 50 million years involved are nothing to the lichens. You want age on this beach landscape? Don’t look to the rocks for it.

Creatures like humans live by using the oxygen in the air to break down food — oxygen created by early cyanobacteria (and lichens). Lichens, on the other hand, just draw their nutrients from the gasses of the atmosphere itself. In the deeps of space (where lichens live…on earth), it is no accident that they are anchored to a rock (the earth) large enough to hold gasses to its surface. They form an interface between that rock and its atmosphere. They are the rocks, breathing —  the porous tissues performing gas exchanges at the depths of the earth’s lungs.


Weatherworn Rock, Breaking in the Surf to Reveal More Agates, Turtle Mountain

In the case of this rock, the surf is driven by the orbit of the earth around its star: water melts, pours down cracks in the basalt, freezes, expands, and breaks it apart, year by year by year. Here, the newest rocks are like the earth was when the first lichen attached itself to it 675 million years ago. With a healthy lichen crust, the rock to left and right is more mature.

When the rocks break, the lichens attached to them are spread across the land by the combined forces of the sun’s gravity, the earth’s gravity, and water. Out there, they form tiny, independent colonies of ancient earth in the far newer, more sophisticated grasses.


Old Growth Bunchgrass, Turtle Mountain

The lichen on the piece of breccia at the bases of these grasses is surrounded by other lichens, that have anchored themselves to tiny bits of rubble, and yet others, that form a crust on the soil, in which grassland seeds lodge and then sprout. Many grassland seeds will not sprout without this matrix.

For all these lichens, it is early Autumn now. Winter, the hot dry season that Europeans call summer, is not far away. Then, all these lichens will soon be as crisp as burnt paper. If you would be so foolish as to walk on them, the sound of their bones breaking would crunch under your feet.


Lenore Lake Caves, Washington

Note the dry yellow lichens spilling down the rock at this ancient human habitation at the heart of the grasslands. Once a rich habitat with its own species of rhinoceros, this shrub steppe rarely gets rain now, yet what rain it gets is often caught by the lichens before it strikes the ground. The old ones first, I guess. Well, it is their planet. They made all of us.

When lichens form a complex crust on the surface of the soil between the widely spread plants of the grasslands, they anchor the soil and form a living, breathing interface between the oxygen rich atmosphere underground and the carbon dioxide rich one above — at least as plants experience it.


In the Grasslands, Most Species are in the Complex Gardens of the Soil Crust

Because it is in this crust that the plants of the grassland root, it is no exaggeration to say that all of the intense diversity and evolutionary splendour of this habitat, from the first grasses to flowering plants, butterflies and green sweat bees, are still dependent upon the lichens in which the first grasses and flowers rooted.

The crust is broken into tiny grooves and channels and tiny microcosms, with their own weather (it is often ten degrees warmer there than it is just inches above.) It is the perfect place to nurse seeds into life, in a story that replicates the history of the grasses as well as that of the lichens. The folds of the land are similar to the folds of leaf proteins, that capture hydrogen atoms, then hold them at exactly the right angles to ensure that the correct chemical reactions occur for photosynthesis. I suspect that the cupped shape of the lichens is repeating the same pattern.


Lichen Holding the Molten Snow of Mid-Morning

Typically, these lichens pass on water from one individual to another, down an incline, just as the water is passed on to them by the great pumping system of the earth’s orbit around the sun. They are like photographs of gravity.

Still to come are the grass, shrubs, and the flowers, rooted less in the soil than in communities of lichen and bacteria. On the foundation of atmosphere and soil crusts provided by lichen, they evolved to withstand the consequences of the lichens’ success: a new, poisonous atmosphere and the new, deep droughts of the lichen’s winter.


Rooted in Lichens, Living in the Sky

Curls of last season’s Blue-Bunched Wheatgrass in The Junction Sheep Range, at the confluence of the Chilcotin and Fraser Rivers. This is the last pristine temperate grassland on earth.

By the time the flowers come, those even later developers on ancient earth, the story of the lichen will be long over for the year, but right now its beauty is at its peak.

P1220813Month by month now the earth is going to move through all the stages of its evolution as a living planet, until it comes again to cold and stillness, as it will again when the sun is old and puts out little light. It repeats the journey every year. Its gardens don’t exist in space. They exist in time. I can’t tear my eyes away.


Cedar Waxwings Stuffing Themselves

Literally! They flew out of the neighbour’s locust tree in a whirr of wings, perched in the flowering crabapple tree across the road, and started stuffing themselves with apples. No sooner than they got one down, than they jumped a bit to settle it and downed another and another and another. Here are three of them, caught in the act.

appleguysThat’s How to Do it, Folks!

Let the apples soften with winter frost, ferment in the spring sun, and when they’re just right, down the hatch!

Of course, since they’re waxwings, they took turns, flying back up the tree so that others could take their place, until the whole flock was, well, happy. Here’s one being a bit more demure about it …

waxwing2I think the first guys got all the ones that were easy to reach.

Flowers for humans and bees, and apples for the birds in the spring…. I like that kind of gardening.

Next: a story about the botanical gardens of the grassland hills, that stretches back to the beginning of time.



The Search for Life on the Inner Planets

Note: I have been convinced for some time now that the best descriptions of contemporary life are in Speculative Fiction. Here’s a first attempt at bringing them out of fiction into the nonfiction world they do a better job of describing than the nonfiction traditions given that task. If I’m right, then this is what life on an exotic planet looks like …



Exotic Planetary Energy Structure

(aka mud puddle in the late winter)


Mars is a great place to look for life, but, you know, it’s not the only exotic planet orbiting close to the sun. Here is some molten (and refrozen) comet that has acclimatized to a little planet I know.

swoopiceComet Masquerading as a Mud Puddle…

…transfixed by the energy transfer created by turning to ice.

And here it is a few days later, as the planet tips just a little closer to the sun …

P1220558Single Cellular and Multi-Cellular Bubbles of Algal Breath …

…suspended in molten comet. The angles of the ice above are absorbed into surface tension now.

It’s not hard to get the suspicion that life on this planet takes on the characteristics of water, and came from it. And what of the planet that lies beneath all these molten comets? Ah, here she is …


Chunk of Seabed at 550 Metres Above Current Sea Level, Covered with Comet Children (aka Sage Brush) …

…and gouged out by the roots of comet children, too.

And how did that seabed get there? Ah, it settled down through a big sea of molten comets, and then got pushed up into the sky by, basically, the heat of the earth. Here is a life form (a complex, self-sustaining chemical reaction) that left the sea a long time ago to “live” in this alien atmosphere by carrying the sea within it…

P1220813Lichen: Fungus and Algae Colonizing the Poisonous Air Together

If you want to travel into space, the earth’s way is to be the comet you are.

One of the advantages of this kind of space travel is that you can be spread by the flow of water drawn by gravity and can thrive in the very localized heat on surfaces, and, what’s more, once you have internalized that sun (as well as the ocean on land lifted by the heat of the earth), the big starships can come …

waspMid-Winter Wasp, Foraging Bella Vista

This close to the rock, of course, it’s not winter at all. Many of these lichens have already finished their growth for the year and are returning to dormancy now. This wasp was very focussed.

Let’s be very clear what we’re looking at here. We are looking at chemical reactions taking place on condensed star dust seeded with comet water and heated, or cooked by gravity and the sun. Sometimes, like today, this kind of pan-solar-system process looks like this …


Outer Solar System Water Still Carrying its Energy Forward After All These Years

(A chigger, or mite, looking for a mammal to bite — that is, waiting to feast on a creature that moves around by the trick of pumping warm comet water through its veins, which contains, in turn, a dissolved atmosphere.)

Once a comet has reached that stage of sophistication, there’s no telling where things will go …


Comet on the Move Above the Sleeping Mites

With a big eye for seeing in the dark.

Trillions of dollars get spent to send into space creatures that have evolved for getting around on the earth, which is all backwards. The creatures I’ve shown you here, which exist in the space of the universe (which are, in other words, successful space creatures), have internalized the collision between comets and rock. They carry it around with them or hitch a ride on others who have. They all achieve immortality through sexual reproduction, not through individual survival. They utilize tiny heat differences on the surface of uplifted seabeds and sometimes kick around old ocean floors with their feet, whooha …


Old Ocean Floor Broken Off by the Freezing Action of Comets…

… and kicked off by deer on their major trail off of the mountain to the cedar hedges down below. Hence the hurry. Mmmmmm!

If humans wish to explore the solar system without developing more and more aggressive technologies expensive to the planet’s survival as an organic, living creature, I advise beginning to think like comets, like water, and like the creatures who have learned to spread organically. Thinking like gadgets will bring only gadgets. At the moment, space travel is thinking like this:


Canada Geese That Have Gotten Out of the Habit of Migrating …

… and so circle around and around and around, honking, and filling the beaches with muck.

Maybe space explorers should be thinking of starting with the first steps out of the seas and moving through space like water, or like spores caught on water. Instead of sending out expensive probes, perhaps NASA should be sending out tiny objects that can be picked up by comets and carried rapidly to the edge of the stars, where they will come together in complex communities. If life can drift on the wind of the sun, so can technology.  If no one knows how to do that, it’s not for a lack of examples.

P1220284Lichen and Agate, Turtle Mountain

 If life can grow in complexity from the bonds between (and within) water molecules, and then spread without any propulsion of its own but in the gravity caught by water and moving in its forms, so can technology.

P1220452Moss Colonies on Cooled ʻAʻā Lava, Turtle Mountain …

… brought comet water by gravity, and spread by it too.

It’s time to start thinking like the space creatures we are and not like fictional Sci-fi characters putting all their energy into selling off the planet of which they are a part as if they had the right.

P1220514Current Space Ship Technology, Turtle Mountain

The Earth is for sale by creatures determined to leave it.

We are this planet. It is a creature of the stars. The answer is here.