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…
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.