Roderick Haig Brown and the Power of the Common People

I learned to speak of the earth without words. Good thing. Look at it.


Beautiful Fall Lichens. Knox Mountain.

Not a word in sight.

Still, I might know the world intimately, I might even be a part of it, yet what I have to speak with are words. This is an odd kind of spirit wrestling, for sure.



Harold Spirit Wrestling With an Aspen Tree
The tree wins. It is, after all, not even an aspen tree. That’s just a word.

Here is some of the territory the words and I recently worked out together. This is the opening of my essay, Land for the People, A New Environmental Language for British Columbia, which is the fourth Haig-Brown Memorial Lecture.

British Columbia shelters some of the last of the earth’s natural bounty, the wild salmon of the Pacific, that spawn in most streams between the Rockies and the sea. British Columbia also holds the Chilcotin Ark, the arc of volcanic mountains curling northwest from Lillooett, where dry and wet climates merge on steep vertical slopes. In a world of changing climates, this may well soon become the last refuge for the great animals of the North, including deer, mountain sheep, mountain goats, elk, moose and mountain caribou. Here they can adapt to changing climatic zones by moving short vertical distances. Here they can gain breathing space. Should the earth warm rapidly and the glaciers of the planet flow away to trickles of dust, it’s here, in the Coast Mountains, in the Waddington Massif, that the world’s last glacier will be found. Only here do the winds from the turning Earth carry water off the open sea to a high cold coast. British Columbia also shelters the Cariboo-Chilcotin Grasslands, a humanly-maintained prairie inland from the volcanoes of the Coast Mountain. It has not changed for 4,000 years and is the last intact temperate grassland on Earth. To put that into perspective, 200 years ago some 12% of the Temperate Zone was grass. It’s all chopped up now, ploughed or choked with weeds — except for here. As British Columbians, salmon, glaciers, grass and the great mammals of the north are our heritage. We carry them for the planet as a whole. And may I say, it doesn’t look like we’re doing very well. The fish are not coming back, the forests are felled by beetles, and the grass is being planted with pinot noir. I’m not here to talk about gloom, though. I’m here to talk about hope, because we have a chance to get this thing right, and this chance has a lot to do with Campbell River, because Campbell River has a lot to do with a man named Roderick Haig-Brown.

Here’s what the last glaciers did to things around these parts:

P1300490Glacial Gouges, Knox Mountain

Half a century back, Rod said this, about the relationship between governments, the people, and the earth:

The End PRODUCT of resource use is or should be human happiness

He also said:

Perhaps there is some measure of how British Columbia is using its resources in the fact that the province has the highest drug-addition rate in Canada and the highest rate of alcohol consumption.

And that, when happiness is this close:

lichen3There is something wrong, when a people is separated from the natural bounty of life in which they are embedded. In my next post, I’m going to present the argument from my essay that language is largely at fault here, and language can be used to begin the process of healing.lichen3


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