True Green and False Economy

What passes for environmentally sound practices today are deep reflections of an economic system, but they’re not green, and they’re not going to ensure either the survival of the earth or of our children. Right now, the City of Vernon, British Columbia is debating whether to keep spraying treated sewage water over indigenous grasslands, golf courses and soccer fields in infilled wetlands or to just pour it into Okanagan Lake. The issue is cost. The reason for that is that “land” and “water” are considered “raw materials”, which are “capital” in an economic system that mines the earth’s creative potential, without ever replenishing it. What I learned in Iceland over the last two months is that “land” and “water” are not raw materials, and creative potential is the only potential there is. An economic system that is complacent about wasting that potential has no future. The one green option in Vernon, to rebuild the grasslands so that the water is moved by the sun and gravity again, at reduced cost and leading eventually to no cost at all, or true wealth, is not part of the debate, although it should be leading it. Here, let me show you. Below is an image of Okanagan Landing, taken this morning, looking Southwest from the Bella Vista Hills.


Now, let me show you the image again in an annotated version, so you can see clearly the story it tells.


A Story of a Lost Environment

The indigenous grassland in the foreground has retained at least some of its capacity to move and store water and to process it into food. The vineyard to the right has mined this environment for three raw materials: “sun”, “land” and “water”, in order to increase the sale prices of the houses on the subdivision above them. The water in the lake is fossil water, left over from the melting of the glaciers 10,000 years ago. It regulates the climate, and ensures that life can live on the hills. It is not for use. The infilled wetlands and the lost grasslands above them are irrigated with water removed from the system that feeds the lake through its forests, grasslands and wetlands. It costs millions of dollars to do, against the millions of dollars of free profit from the land that the earth would otherwise have provided. What’s more, almost all of this earth has been alienated from public use, for now and forever in the future. Now, let me show you a different economic model. This one’s from Iceland.


Just one of the Kazillion Un-named Waterfalls in Iceland, Suðurdalur

Now, take a look at the annotated version below, to see the story this piece of earth tells.


This was once home. Although the over-grazing induced by poverty led to the depletion of the original birch forests here, the Icelandic system of retaining the creative capital of the environment has allowed for reforestation, without impacting future creative uses of the land, including such public uses as tourism or recreation. Future wealth has been created. What wealth was there in the past has been retained. This isn’t always quite what it seems. Here’s what that waterfall above looks like from the current road below …

junkEvery bit of wealth that has been removed from the cycle of this piece of earth, in the form of capitalized equipment of one form or another, has been used until it is out-dated, in the fashion of such products, and then is banked, so that the creative potential within it can continue to benefit the farm. It was never the product that was important, but what went into the product. The shape of a piece of metal is more valuable than the metal itself. Here’s that reservoir of creativity again, this time with my little rented Yaris. Someday, it will retire to a farmyard like this — where it will be no less valuable than it is today, ready for its creative energy to be mined for new purposes.

None of this is junk. In a fully capitalized system, such as the one in Vernon, this material would be melted down and recapitalized as new material, and all of the human ingenuity it contains would be lost, as would the original investment, which came from sheep grazing these hills. As such, the above image is actually an image of environmental sustainability and green thinking. So is this…


Ruined Farm, Reyðarfjörður, Iceland

Notice that the old turf-wall system has been incorporated into the new Post-World-War II system of using discarded American military materials. Ingenuity is something that Icelanders are loathe to waste, and which Canadians discard readily because in Canada’s economic system that ingenuity and the creative potential of the land it draws upon has long ago been mined, capitalized, and replaced. That all costs money. Not only that, it costs earth. I’m not romanticizing here. I mean, there are ruins in Iceland. For example, here’s a ruined turf house in Reyðarfjörður…

turfhouse And here’s the ruin of the post-War concrete house it was replaced with …

window Like the turf house, it was not built to last, because it was not removed from a natural process. It spent no creative energy. It only gave it form for a time. The thinking that went into the construction of this house utilized old scraps, such as the iron bar that used to tie the wall together above this window that looked out from the kitchen, next to the stove.P1440496

Over and over and over, the Icelandic writer Gunnar Gunnarsson pointed out that poverty is the greatest wealth. Those are the words of a man whose mother died of poverty when he was eight and who had so little economic wealth when he was young that it wasn’t a part of life at all. What then did Gunnar mean? Among other things, he meant this:

ropeBeach Wrack, Reyðarfjörður, Iceland

To any man who lived on what he could scrounge from land or sea, this rope would have been great wealth. It is now garbage, because it has no capital potential and thus, in a capitalized system cannot be exchanged for wealth. The seaweed that would have once fed the man’s sheep, is also now waste upon the shore — although it is as fully wealth as it was once in the past, and perhaps will be some day again. Gunnar meant more than that, though. He also meant this:

wallhouseMultiple Generations 

Stock buildings (foreground), fence, turf house, and boat shed by the water … this was Gunnar’s Iceland: a country where wealth that came from human creative energy meeting the creative energy of the land was built up over time. Its products (wool, lambs, children and so forth), were created directly out of this energy. In other words, they were creative products, not the physical ones that capitalization demands. As such, they could be sold without diminishing the land’s capacity to provide more creative energy — something impossible in a capitalized system, in which the wealth follows them, extracted continually from the earth, which is compensated only with money that can only be spent on products that lie outside of the land’s cycles and which must be continually replaced, generation by generation. This is what the Vernon model has done by removing water from the earth’s own economy and placing it in a technical framework, which must nonetheless be paid for by the land. These price includes a social cost, as real as any other economic input. Not only is the transformation of water into a utility economically unviable in the long term, but it costs this:

iceClose up of the Water Fall I Showed You Above, Suðurdalur

Without beauty and mystery, there is only enslavement and poverty. Let me put that another way: once the creative potential of earth has been spent, it loses all beauty and mystery and ceases to be earth. It becomes a product, and the people who live upon it become products as well. In the economic system in Vernon, British Columbia, every piece of earth gets removed at a certain point in history and “developed” — usually into subdivisions, and is no longer a part of the earth’s economy. Building that economy, however, is the goal of environmental sustainability. As the Icelandic model shows, it can be done in a couple ways, at least: one is to maintain an economy built on creative physical energy rather than on capitalization; another, perhaps more practical in our present age, is maintain that creative physical energy within the products already paid for and developed, such as this:

silhouetteHorse-Drawn Manure Spreader, Skriðuklaustur, Iceland

This piece of antiquated machinery represents the lives of hundreds of sheep and many men and women and horses who lived and worked here. It also represents the energy of its designers and creators, and of the men who mined the ore and the others that smelted it into the iron that made it, and the others that shipped it here. Withdrawals can be made from this bank of energy in the form of useful pieces of fabricated steel, which represent the social and creative energy that went into them, and which can be recombined into articles of new cleverness, not new machines, per se. Withdrawals can also be made more directly on the social capital of this machine, by turning it into art, or history, or tourism, or a deep sense of belonging, or respect, or a connection with one’s ancestors. That is what it is to be a human on this earth and of this earth. It is not a world of things. It is not a world of raw materials. It is a world of creative potentials, in which the economy is creation. The earth keeps giving us chances. It’s time to run with some of them. Here’s one…

yellowNot Green but Yellow and Blue

The photo doesn’t show it, but that’s a wild bee with a neon blue abdomen, on a dandelion growing in an overflow beach parking lot near Okanagan Lake. The bee lives on wild land, while domesticated bees are dying out. The dandelion has colonized land that humans have thrown away from their capital plans. It has, in other words, brought creation to it, and holds within it the potential for several new industrial ventures, which will enrich the creative potential of the land in the same way that the flower has by growing here, rather than than making withdrawals from it that it never intends to repay. Well, the earth is telling us that it is time to repay our debts. It doesn’t want our money. It wants us to create within its own economy. Rebuilding the earth would be a use of economic capital that would show a tremendous return on investment. Here, for instance:

sask3 Saskatoons in Full Flower

Another industry in potential. They live on free water.

… and here …


Remains of Indigenous Gardens, Bella Vista

Yet more industry in potential. And what are our politicians talking about? Sewage and money. Incredible.


Rebuilding Vineyard Culture Rock by Rock

The world is opening after the months of lying hidden inside buds and roots. Here in the Okanagan, this is what the grapes are looking like this week…



However, there are some grapes that are a week, easily, ahead. Take a look…

contrastAll it takes is the heat from a stone. A larger stone, a bit more in the open? Two weeks ahead…



Now, isn’t that intriguing. We don’t really need expensive vineyard land in select microclimates, with expensive systems of poles and trellises. We could do this, pretty much anywhere we liked …

crossGod knows, there are enough rocks around. Exciting!



It is So Good to be Home

I now have two homes on this earth. Just look at them both in this spring full of light. First, my home in the middle of the North Atlantic …


Spring in East Iceland (Skriðuklaustur)

And then my home in the volcanic sea inland from the North Eastern Pacific …

biggreenhillSpring in the Okanagan (Bella Vista & the Commonage)

Same sun, such different light. It’s so good to be home on this Earth.


Realism, Folktale or Magic Realism

It’s your choice. They’re all fantasies. So, which will the future of the Okanagan be? I know these aren’t pictures from the West beyond the West, but the distance might make things clear.



reyReykjavik, A Crisp Nordic Novel

Folk Tale?


Elf House and Human Apartments

One group looks a little warmer, perhaps.

Or magic realism?house2

One Man Stares Down the Glut of Icelandic Crime Novels all on His Own

So, there you have it: three variations of houses imitating elf houses, or, in other words, the shape of the imagination, but only one looks happy. Only one looks like a home for the heart.


A British Columbian Gardener in Iceland? Must Be!

Oh-oh, looks like Canadian folk culture garden design has hit Iceland. That can only mean trouble, with a capital Rouble. Take a look here on Noatun in Reykjavik…



See That?

An Okanagan Man’s Work for Sure

Some of the highlights include:

Truly high quality work with the blue tarp there. A Canadian gardening and home repair stand-by.

Beautiful placement of the wine barrel. Gives that country vineyard look.

Great insertion of the potted plants from last year, that never got planted, and look at that, some of them are still growing, so it goes to show you, eh.

And the reusable plastic trays… why, straight from behind a fruit stand after apricot season.

Oh, there’s just too much. I’m overwhelmed: the dead tree, the hacked-off and regrown limbs, the greenhouse become a plastic tent, the wheelbarrow that’s now a planter, I think, and the bright orange buoy in the background. It’s an entire artistic tradition, in embryo, that can, in a pinch, serve as a war against the earth and a deeply-rooted love for it at the same time, and how profound is that? Very!

Icelanders, when you see the orange tarps, you’ll know the invasion is almost complete.

The Sun Rises in Reykjavik

This is Reykjavik. I’ve left the farm, but Tra la la, down through the heart I go. P1530262


The Heart’s Way

Apartment staircase in Reykjavik

… and peek out through the heart’s window …


What Your Blood Sees

(when it flows from your head down through your neck. Neat, huh!)

… and down the street to get some groceries, la de da, not seeking wisdom, not in a hurry for getting those tomatoes, but just, looking, you know…



Another Window in the Heart?

A little unsteadily, I dare a look …

P1530265No, Just an Artery Drained of Oxygen

Move on.

So, going along and breathing deeply and all that, in rhythm with the footsteps (walking is an excellent lung pumping system… the body is a bicycle …) Focus, Harold!



Some streets aren’t meant for loitering and dreaming!



They are meant for crossing. So I cross, and who do I find, as if he were waiting for me …


Old King Gylfi of Sweden

Dressed as Odin (aka Gandalf, aka Gunnar Gunnarsson) he went East seeking wisdom, in an old grey coat, and disguised as a peasant. He’s now the champion of the Icelandic Theosophical Society, who have nicknamed their magazine, Gangleri, after him.

Talk about meeting old friends in an unexpected spot! My youth was spent with Madame Blavatsky and Gurdjieff and the whole bunch, and a fine time full of light it was, sitting under a sumac tree with a dear Buddhist and watching the stars blow over the earth like seeds cast by the hand of the wind. So, well, yes, I can see it’s time to look back and see from where one has come, eh, and what was, so to speak, blocking the path to wisdom …



Ah, just an ancient building , updated to new design standards. Well, well, well… Let’s follow Gylfi, then, and see where he’s leading us …



Gadzooks! More of the Old in the Process of Being Made New

Well, steel yourselves, and let’s look into the belly of the beast…


Wow. Complicated. 

Great colour balance, though. Hats off to the art teachers of the Icelandic school system.

But, we’re Ganglers not pit diggers, so on we go, out into the street and around, before the king gets out of sight …


Demons Hiding Behind Fences!

Sheesh. Hurry along.

Ah, now this is more like it!


Spiritual work should be joyous, right? It’s like a big piano, and if you play leapfrog on the keys in the right order you can stay a child forever. But, no, something else is blocking the path (I do believe that sidewalks were an afterthought in these parts!)…

P1530256But, what’s that?


But, what’s that?


That is the sun and then the sun rising in the mind.


Respect and Honour

Glacial water, treeless mountains, hardy birches on the shore … 10,000 years ago the Okanagan looked like this.P1450323

Hallormstaður, Iceland

Notice the lack of waterfront houses. That was done out of respect. This forest is a symbol of Iceland’s hard-won independence. I wonder what ours will be, when we finally work towards it. Why not this?


What a Living Earth Does

It breathes.


Hengifoss Waterfall Shaking off Its Ice …

… and taking a deep breath.

The old words are best.


In fact, today the Highlands were being scoured clean of old snow. Down here, it was being caught and turned into light…


Skriðuklaustur Grass

Before poetry was turned into an intellectual pastime, it was an accurate way of describing the earth. It could differentiate in fine ways between this …


… and this …


… by the only means it had, attention. Look at that line of tension running through the centre of the image, and the other one running beside that. More importantly, perhaps, it could differentiate between those and this …


It’s still the only way of doing that. What our ancestors knew is that it was possible to observe the cosmos without intervention that the human body couldn’t express. Precise language for energy and the transfer of matter into energy and back again was developed, using the things that extremely poor people had at hand. The things of the earth. There is still no other language for it.


Without that language, humans live the greatest poverty, one in which there is only one word left for such things: Beautiful! And once men and women and the smallest children spoke the language of the universe. Some still do. When the poverty becomes so great that even life is gone from the world …


A Petro State Near You

… we will need those old tools again, to rebuild a world capable of supporting human life, one word at a time, one breath at a time.


A Living Earth Does Not Breathe Chemical Elements

It breathes spirit. There are words for this.

Slow Photography, Light Lithography, and Silence

Take a look at the photograph of the sun the lichen on this Icelandic rock took over many years.lichenThe sun doesn’t have to be bright to shine. Today the sky was an unbroken sheet of absolute pure white, all day, but just look at what can be made out of that quiet. Like the slow food movement, photography might be best in images that develop over decades. Light might have a sound, or a volume and brightness, but there is a point at which that is transformed by the earth into a different energy. That’s the one where find ourselves most alive, because that’s the one that is life.