An Oriole, a New Food Crop, Northern Pineapples, and Drinking the Sun

 I am piecing together a guide to new crops that can build a new, sustainable agriculture and food art culture in this grassland sea. Yesterday, I noticed that a late spring crop was at its peak, and I let myself walk for awhile in its story. I invite you to walk along. Watch where you step!
P1610664 Pineapple Weed Making a Carpet of Our Path into the Hills

This little gem is also called false chamomile, which is just plain weird, because there’s nothing false about it. So what that it doesn’t have big lovely white petals like its sister that grows on the road shoulder in front of the old Japanese orchards down below, spread through the gravel by the annual shoulder mowing machines. It smells so fine when you step on it and it lingers for hours on the fingers. Here’s my first harvest, looking very real and pineapply (Pineapplish?)…P1010638 And here it is, catching the sun in a teapot of boiling water, just a few minutes later…pineapple Glorious, isn’t it! Look at the beauty that it makes out of the water. And ten minutes later? Aha. Here we are, out on the deck, with the apricot and nectarine tree in the back and all that lettuce … hey, you don’t want some lettuce, do you?



Pineapple Weed Tea, Ready for You and Me

The top half of the cup and the little waves of light on the railing show the actual colour of the tea: a pale yellow, like sunlight pooling inside a grass blade. The tea smells like fresh pineapple, tastes light and sweet and fruity, like chamomile without the bitterness and with a touch of pineapple honey. It’s a very calming drink, and, oh, did I mention, it smells sooooo good?

Flavour, purity, light, scent, spirit and beauty, all without chemicals, water, tillage or any labour other than a couple minutes on the way home from watching a blackbird dance. It grows anywhere you let it. Currently farmers spray it with Roundup because they are intent on growing Royal Gala apples which no one wants, in tight rows which can only be factory farmed using incredibly expensive machines. Premium teabags go for about $2.50 down at the local tea shop. Imagine growing it in a restaurant or teashop window and serving it in a glass teapot. Imagine what you could do with it. Not only could you build an agriculture and a food culture, but you could stop the insanity of lazy, careless men who react to the undesirability and industrial blandness of their product by doing this:

P1010669 Royal Gala Industrial Plantation Sprayed With Roundup

People, you aren’t supposed to spray it on the tree. It is a systemic herbicide. It goes into the sap of the plant and kills it from within. Is it any wonder no one wants to eat these apples? Yuck. I mean it. Yuck. Look again.

P1010668One second with a pair of hand clippers would have helped, but, you see, in an industrial plantation you do your pruning from a platform. This farmer never, ever walks his soil. It is, in effect, not a farm. It is a factory. Now, I think food is a spiritual substance, and look: while I was sipping my light yellow-green tea, this beautiful creature came a-calling…yellowpickFemale Bullock’s Oriole Pulling the Stuffing Out of My Old Chair to Build Her Hanging Nest

Go, girl! And, would you look, she’s the same colour as the tea. If she was the colour of Roundup, or smelled like that gunk, I’d be worried for us all.

So, this is exciting. The only thing is, what should we call Pineapple Weed when we grow it and sell it and drink it and it makes us as calm as the gentle grassland wind? The name is a bit weedy. Oriole fern? Oriole Blossom Tea? Pineapple Cone Tea? Pineapple Bird Tissane, Desert Pineapple Tea? Feel free to chip in.






A Bumblebee in the Vetch

Here’s how to make the world bloom next year and the year after that. First, extend the tongue, gently …P1000777Second, flap the flappers and stick up the ear thingies (we use only very scientific terms here)…P1000778 Third, embrace all sides, be attentive, bee thorough  …P1000779Fourth, take your time, stay focussed, float on air …


That’s how the earth does it. And what are robots looking for on Mars? Microbes? It is what one could expect from robots. The dance is here.

Art and Life

Art doesn’t belong to humans, but human art has consequences. Here is an art form made by sun and water…

rainbowRainbow Over Vernon

Object or process? Why must one choose?

It’s like asking: Man or Woman? Oh, please, both. They go together so beautifully. Like bird and house …


Starling at Home in a Real Bird House, Turtle Mountain

This building easily has fifty holes like this, and another hundred covered (hopelessly) with tin. Birds fly in and out endlessly. I bet it’s noisy and smelly inside. Humans are not welcome. This is no longer their place.

Contemporary humans love to dissect things. For example, city health officials are going to want to dissect that house and turn it into land fill some day. To think: another species is starting to live in houses! Can’t  happen!


When Humans Leave the Earth …

… the earth replaces them. Here, starlings have moved into the human ecological niche. Think of this as The Galapagos, Version 2.0. The resulting interaction between humans and starlings, as both claim the ecological niche, is an object of art.

To give starlings a leg up on becoming the masters of interior decorating, a house is required. An object. A piece of art. A building as a piece of art? Well, yes, in the process of a context …


Photography, Vernon

A tool that can sculpt art out of any process and process out of any art. Must one choose? 

It’s a mainstay of contemporary artistic theory that one cannot make objects, only processes. Only processes, it appears, are art. To make these processes, one uses objects, yet the objects are disregarded. That’s a choice, not a logical imperative. So is this:


The Dumpster, Vernon

The primary sculptural form of Contemporary Canadian Culture. Transportable, tipple, movable, and, in a pinch, a house, a shopping mall, and a grocery store. The Dumpster has it all. Because it is an object, however, it is not regarded as art. And a good thing. As evidenced by the paint marks to the left, art is being actively erased in this neighbourhood, on the principle that art destroys the value of property, which, despite being public, is private. Notice that wall, dumpster and grass are immune from this censorship. Sometimes it helps to be an object. Objects appear to have great capacities of resistance. Art, however, at least the intellectually acceptable variety, disregards them. This is how humans leave their planet. This is how that is witnessed.

There is a class of objects, however, which are considered art. This is the group of artifices called industrial memory objects. They are usually made out of such industrial materials as recycled plastic …

IMG_8634Garden Centre Fountain Offered for Sale, Swan Lake

Why oh why did they not add blue dye instead of yellow? Photo: Anassa Rhenisch

… or even recycled waste from dumpsters, shipped to China, reprocessed by people in the process of leaving the earth, and shipped back to North America, to help North Americans in their own self-assigned task of leaving the earth, along the principle that every house needs a bit more off-gassing.


Plastic Grass, Vernon Discount Store

Cheaper than the real thing, and unchanging over the seasons. This is an example of an art form in which object has triumphed over process. This art form is known as prettification. It is intended for indoor, rather than outdoor use.

So is the earth remembered by creatures who have left it. Meanwhile, on the earth …

P1000022 Landscaping, Downtown Vernon

This is the art form known as beautification. It is part of the aesthetic of leaving the earth.

For all its object-centred essence, this industrial garden is showing the signs of wear. As its stones flow away due to the predation of winter snowplows, water and light return. This object, married with the absence of some of its parts, is returning to process.P1000027

Life in a Puddle

It has all the time in the world. Even the maple trees are moving into abandoned human ecological niches, aren’t they.

Process, yes, but without the object, no process. Process, yes, but without humans, the object. Forcing the choice is death or just torture.

P1090591Tree Slave Bearing the Ritual Scars of the War Between Object and Process, Kelowna

In this art form, the tree, an ancient life form, is used as a slave in order to influence the processes of humans. Still an object, though. Life, here, has been object-ified in order to create a process-based art work. In this case, the process is operating to convince humans within cars that they are travelling through a Garden of Eden.

Given the great gap between the organic processes of the tree (and the trace it leaves of them in form) and the wounds from which the tree suffers under the effects of human process-based art, I can only conclude that to humans living in their post-earth process-based world, the relationship between tree and human body is invisible to these creatures. They have, already, left life (and bodies) behind for something else. That something else is art. Where have process-based humans migrated, in their rush to leave objects behind? Aha, that’s the fascinating thing. They are where you’d least expect them. In objects!


A Row of Post-Object Humans, Vernon

Hiding out as electrical poles, while a memory object of humans decorates the side of a building. Memory objects (rather than the process-based art of taggers) is not censored in this community. Logically. Without the object, the process of re-creating humans as electrical poles ends and they must stay there forever.

Somewhere, the creatures still remember that there is something better. Something with a different kind of process.

bee Bee, Foraging, Bella Vista

Choose life. It is an art form that does not separate process from object or object from process. In fact, it does not tolerate such separation.

Cities: The New Frontier

Let’s say you happen to glance off to the side of your city’s main street, right downtown, and see an amazing sculpture that not only looks dashing, but incorporates at least 500 years of history and the wall of a library, too, but makes beer. Sculpture! That makes beer! P1620979Okanagan Springs Brewery, Vernon, BC

All sculpture should be so useful.

So, suppose you’re a-wandering along, and you stumble into an alley behind the Kalamalka Inn Sports Bar, where that beer is poured into glasses and transformed into pure rocket fuel for the living sculptures that are humans, and what do you see?

P1630070Exquisite Fire Escape Sculpture!

And the plaster work in behind … the work of a master.

This is a sculpture that only gets used if the place burns to the ground. Now, that seems a waste for all that beauty, doesn’t it! It’s kind of like a match itself: use it once, and off to the scrap heap with it. Sheesh. Oh, what is a pure beer-less human to do? Bumble along, I guess and … oh, what’s this?

P1000021Water Pipes for a Humungously Expensive “Greening” Project

The city will have a dozen new park benches, and a couple dozen swanky trees.

Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, thinks the bumbling human. What if the pipes weren’t buried in the ground, but hung from the sculpture? That would look nice, wouldn’t it? You could pour a gallon of water in the top and, oh, I dunno, strawberries would come out the bottom. You could make daiquiris or something…


PVC Strawberry Towers

Daiquiris in the making. Source.

Exquisite sculpture is everywhere. Put it to work, I say.


Do We Need Smiles on the Faces of 1914 Women Picking Apples …

… because their husbands are already dead in France? Why not grow something on the wall instead? Remember the motto of Okanagan Okanogan: Choose Life.

Art: the new frontier. It’s time to plant it up.

With Weeds We Thrive

Our planet is alive. When life is removed from a living earth by fire, it is still there.ruts

Indigenous Consciousness, Bella Vista

In this landscape, the Syilx learned to live as this grassland. The grassland and the Syilx became themselves together. Through attention, the Syilx maintained it. Then they were removed, so that it could be a wilderness, which could provide re-creation for a socially-constricted culture in the North American East. The process takes the above grassland and makes it into this:


Settler Consciousness, Bella Vista

Grass removed by plow. No life left.

The living earth, now a wilderness, is turned into land. As land, it is suitable for development into the image of social and personal health and renewal that was behind the entire resettlement project. That looks like this …

plasticvista Agricultural Development

Ready for tomatoes and peppers. The plastic is to keep down weeds and to heat the soil, so that the crops are ripe earlier in a landscape not really suited for them. Because there are no living bacteria in the soil, the nutrients they provided are replaced by petroleum-based fertilizers.

After ten years of this, the fields look much like the urban image that grew up with them and of which this new plastic technology is a reflection …

reddoorDowntown Vernon, B.C.

Back Alleys looking like agricultural plow lines. Here, the only life is artistic. This is steam punk land, with old images recombined to make elaborate artworks. Look how the shadows of the sun are taking part, laying their own subdivision lines on the land. This is the real wilderness.

But even here, the living earth reasserts itself. In the following image, a birch tree planted in the 1970s as a steam punk reminder of wilderness and the indigenous earth it replaced, is setting the scene for the return of the living sun …

Dandelion Bed

Once the domain of the sterile petunia. Now with no landscaping budget (or interest), the weeds are reclaiming the land. In the wild city, the living, indigenous earth is reasserting itself.

Humans are in a conversation with the sun and the earth. They are not always leading the conversation. I see the future here: if humans can reclaim the wild city in the way cities do, as steam punk artists including the living, indigenous earth in their palette, following it rather than leading it, helping it in its work, this will once more be civilized land. Health is to be like the Syilx and to realize that there is only wilderness where humans make it.


The Okanagan Wilderness, Kelowna

This is the real Kelowna: a beautiful steam punk artwork of deep honesty and presence. The tourist brochures about lakes and vineyards are a different kind of steam punk art work, using 100 year old images to make images of health.

Humans love bling, but they also love life. The trick is to bring them together. Weeds and problem deer are a large part of the solution. Weeds can move out into the living earth and compromise its life, but the wild earth can also move into wilderness and bring it back to life. That kind of earth is all around us. If we follow it, we will find life.

A Damselfly in the Wilderness

I live in Oregon Territory. My part is owned by the Government of Canada now, but it  started here, in the musings of an American in his last hours. His name was Henry David Thoreau.

The sun sets on some retired meadow, where no house is visible, with all the glory and splendor that it lavishes on cities, and perchance as it has never set before–where there is but a solitary marsh hawk to have his wings gilded by it, or only a musquash looks out from his cabin, and there is some little black-veined brook in the midst of the marsh, just beginning to meander, winding slowly round a decaying stump. We walked in so pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright, I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it. The west side of every wood and rising ground gleamed like the boundary of Elysium, and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman driving us home at evening.


So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.


Henry David Thoreau, Walking, 1862.


Sounds like this wilderness is a pretty beautiful place! There’s only one snag: it was recently cleared of its Indigenous peoples; the wilderness that Thoreau sees to the west of New England, and which the United States will soon populate, is a created object. Thoreau treats it as a refreshment for inbred intellects and a place for re-creating wild life within humans — which he identifies as “Indian” life. What Thoreau doesn’t mention, and likely didn’t know, is that it had to be achieved by killing those “Indians”, because they were in the way of this life-giving wildness. Ironically, they are to be honoured by creating wildness within American souls. And so we get this …


Vernon Rowing and Paddling Centre, Swan Lake

Settler culture re-creation on the shores of a Syilx food lake.

That is the point of North American history. It comes down to that image. For a time, there were dreams of growing food and healthy children on this earth, but, well, a look around the paddling centre (a former farm) will show you just how temporary that idea was …


… and a closer look will show you something amazing…

damselsnailbDamselfly in the Invasive Weeds

Still making a go of it after all these years; still turning the sun into pure spirit; still moving it around.

The earth just doesn’t give up! In contemporary Okanagan culture, the rowers, the weeds and the damselfly live in the same relationship to agriculture and its attempts to find a language halfway between local and distant cultures. They have all gone wild. The only difference between them is that the damselfly has moved from non-wild Syilx earth into wild Syilx-less earth, while the others have moved the other way. It’s the only one not looking for wildness, because it’s the only one already in it. In other words, the wildness was never in Syilx territory. It was in Thoreau’s head, and in those of his countrymen. all along. When you row on Swan Lake today, you are rowing in Thoreau’s head, laid as a map over the water and the land. Beautiful, eh!

Next: Wildness Moving Back to the City; culture and respect moving back to the land.




Finding the Earth through Industrial Engineering

Here’s where a couple of ideas come together: creative economy and steam punk. By creative economy, I mean this:


Sculpture Installation, Gibraltar Mine

Cultures vary, but creative use remains constant. In Iceland, old industrial sculptures like this are carefully preserved for the creative potential in all their tempered and angled and fitted iron bits, which can be recombined into almost anything, in something like constructive chess. In Canada, where creativity is not seen as practical, such industrial sculptures are usually melted down into pig iron and remade into barbecues and lawn furniture, for a new life shaping humans to their wills. Occasionally, though, one or two escape to live a wild and happy life as targets for hunters and general social and personal anger.

By steam punk, I mean a couple things. First, pure art (portraits of nature to be contemplated, not manipulated within the world; the world in this art form is to be approached socially, with the hope that all good things will follow from that.). This “art” thing can be beautiful:
galleryinstallationBack Alley Behind the Curry Pot Restaurant

Vernon, Cenotaph Square. A place designed for enjoyment by ghosts, in a society designed to live within the deeds of the dead.

And what do ghosts want? Why, to escape the square into life, of course! It’s a brutal irony, but leads to beauty. Here, a soldier blasts out of the natural gas valve-shaped human at road level, through the heat of the curry, by passing jail, with his feet on the British Flag, into a trench that separates him from the Okanagan hills, ready to take on whatever Germans he finds there, of which there appear to be none, but mud. Lots of mud. Obviously the method is a little wobbly, despite its beauty. Here’s some steampunk updated for installation into the world today …

literacy Highway 97, Vernon

What a glory of lines and poles and wires. This is steam punk sculpture at its finest. Some of the highlights are the dry-cleaning sun and the telephone switching box sunflower, both of which replace their living counterparts, in order to more accurately display the way in which in a steam punk world, social relationships, and especially past relationships to technology and the latent creative energy within objects trumps the natural world.

It might sound like I’m being grim, but I’m not, because there is a different latent energy within those objects, apart from their recycled, reforged steel forms, and the 19th Century German colour engineering that went into the brightness we see here, and which was essential for the deadly pyrotechnical shows of the Great War between civilization and Kultur, which lasted from 1914 to 1945. This latent energy is the sun and the sunflower themselves. At the moment, they have been magically inserted into this steam-punk landscape, like ancient spiritual amulets. It is that magical energy that remains. What I find exciting is that here, at the heart of steam punk, there is a path to the living earth. When released, it will still be a part of steam punk, and will set this vast, intricate sculptural machine into the life it longs for.

redwhiteblueyelloVernon Alley, across from a design studio

Every day is sends out its message for life. Life is not found in opposition to the steampunk world, but through its door. Now, that’s pretty cool.

The Social Life of Steam Punk

Last week, I proposed that the Okanagan city of Vernon was the steampunk capital of the world. I suggested that it is a giant art installation, in fact. When walked through as openly as it displays itself, I suggested, it can provide a series of tools for creating productive urban and earth-based spaces. This week, I’d like to show you a little bit about how this works. First, a couple examples, to demonstrate just how innovative the steam punks in Vernon are. For instance, in the pre-steampunk world, the following image would have represented a gas fitting under some air conditioning ductwork in the back of a parking garage…

post In the social world of Vernon, however, it is art — and not just art but an image of the human mind and body, decorated and tattooed and re-imagined in response to the space in which it finds itself. To clear up the tattoo thing, here’s a nice tattoo installation waiting for final setting in the jewel of a human body (in old language: garden) …


Swan Lake Garden Centre Beauty

Photo: Anassa Rhenisch

So, tattoo in one language; garden ornament in another. The reason for the big discrepancy between reality (tattoo) and the official version of reality (garden schmuck) is that contemporary mythology states that humans are individuals acting in self interest and coming together as units of economic production to produce large units of economic production, which are called cities, which have “social spinoffs”, such as economically-generated recreation sites, schools, “safe communities”, hospitals, and …

missing man

Happy Two-Dimensional Tattoo Ghosts

Vernon Post Office

In this model of individual-based social organization, “government” is a form of economic administration, that sees individual-based economic transactions as the primary relationship between all humans, and social life being a kind of automatically-generated result, much like this …


Portrait of Vernon Social Life: Living Sculpture

Materials: asphalt, automobiles, buildings, and some truly beautiful work with electrical transformers and their hanging abacusses. The National Gallery of Canada could do worse than buy all this up and install it for posterity.

The civic administration of Vernon has even stated this principle clearly for its citizens, as the principle that economic competition is the greatest good, all interhuman relationships should be monetized, and those that cannot be run for a profit by “business” are the only things with which civic administration should concern itself, and only because they are cost-inefficient, and so worthy only of taxation, rather than the other form of taxation called profit. The result is this:


Door Museum Piece Sculpture, Vernon

A portrait of time and poverty and the ingenuity humans bring to it with the help of an old shoe. Steam punk all the way!

The error in this method of privileging private taxation over public taxation is basic. The error is the belief that each human is an individual. It is a beautiful dream, but, as ever-practical humans show in their daily interactions …



One Way Sign Glowing Like the Holy Grail

… the resulting aesthetic of competing physical artworks engineered from economic opportunities creates a world which humans react to by recreating as images of themselves. In short: the world you stick humans into is the one they recreate as images of themselves. Rather than being individuals, humans are social mirrors. It is a beautiful thing, which leads to the cities humans live in. Individualism doesn’t do that. It’s just a particular way of interpreting what humans do, which is starting to lag behind human innovation, and this…


Sculpture of Human Memory

Barred Door, recycling materials, gas valve, poor dead soldier boy with his gun trained on … Vernon? Sure ain’t anywhere that Vernon soldier boys fought in the Second World War. Someone has a sense of humour!

Back in his essay Walking in 1862, Henry David Thoreau suggested that “wilderness” was where civilized “man” (sorry, his term) went to re-create himself [sorry!] through contact with the wild forces of physicality. Some time has passed and now the term is understood as recreation, an art form which includes soccer fields, beaches, parks, and hockey rinks, like this beauty, which is the public face of a tire company …


Kal Tire Centre, Vernon

Back porch or escape hatch.

See that? The wildness is now contained in a building, and is represented not by the earth but by ritualized violence within a game played by physically robust humans attempting to shoot a small black rubber puck into a small net. This is a form of art, and another part of the steampunk mystique. Where do individual humans live in all of this beautiful and rather blinding artwork? Why, out with the other creatures…

rutsTracks Left by a Mechanized Human (truck)  in Last Summer’s Burn

And while humans like me gush at the beautiful colour of all that, there’s another beauty moving into the space we all don’t really have our eye on, the one where we live as bodies, one on one, with the other star creatures …

P1620828Hawk Skeleton Weed

Moving in, to obliterate everything else.

And that’s the thought for today: when humans mistake the role of individual life for social life and spend all their time making beautiful steampunk art works within the galleries of their streets, they allow the social space they actually share with other creatures of the planet to be over run by destructive aliens, and wind up squeezed out of them. To put that another way, if we treat the living earth as a steampunk artifact, it will be, but we will not be making that art; it will be making us, and, I promise you, we won’t like it. The beautiful thing is, we have a choice. It’s not about giving up the wonders of steampunk life, but it is about accepting it, celebrating it, and learning our boundaries. Here’s a hint about that: whenever the world seems random to a human, that dear creature might do well to accept that it is looking at it with the wrong art glasses. Do you really think it’s random that a city that puts its farmer’s market in the parking lot of a hockey rink sponsored by a tire company winds up with a farmer’s market that looks like this?

tiredtiresRandom? No way. It’s art.


A Pair of Butterflies at Dusk

This is a beautiful couple. Can anyone help me with a name for them?2butterfliesI think they’re hairstreaks of some kind … but which one? And that flower! What is that? It’s pretty beautiful itself. Anyone? I love being stumped like this. I can say this much: go for a walk at dusk! You just never know what you’ll find. In my case, literally!