Nature Photography

The Kingfisher and the Menhir

I went down to the estuary today, to see how the world was doing there, deep in the valley fog. The ripples in the water below are from a kingfisher trying to lift a fish heavier than he was from the water at the edge of the Okanagan Indian Band’s reserve at Okanagan Landing. He almost made it, too, but the fish flipped out of his grasp with a flash of its white belly and an arch of its back and he flitted up into this willow. You can see him there on the branch. You can see the fish’s ripples in the still, morning water.

P1340896Vernon Creek Estuary

All summer the kingfishers have eluded me. They were quick blue flashes in the hot sun, too fast for fumbling hands to get out a camera and power it on and find him in the glare. Twenty two years ago, I met another kingfisher, though, week after week. That was before I left this valley. It was in Penticton, a city 100 miles south, at the south end of the lake I stood at this morning, here at its northern tongue. That too was along an estuary, and also on the edge of an Indian Reserve, and also while I was wondering how much of this earth could survive. I thought back then, it was very little, and I turned my back on it. I wrote a poem about that. A month later I moved up onto the Plateau, where I thought there was a chance to get some things right before they went terribly wrong there, too.


I don’t write poems in this style anymore, but it stands as a record of a time and place, back in that other civilization that the current one still thinks it inhabits. The poem continues below.

The thing is, back then I was remembering a different kingfisher. One that pulled a trout out of the water of the ruined Victorian gardens of the Richter Ranch, that we owned for a few years, back when we were all pretty sure the Cold War was going to kill us all. In all that, there was this bird, like a word from the creation of the world. I trespass on that memory, as I did back then. Both of those selves are trespassing on that boy who saw the world in a bird and saw energy burning before him, no different than his own breath, and felt himself inside it.

respassWell, here he is today, my kingfisher:

kingsideAnd here’s what I thought about that, back in 1991:

cannotWhat did I mean? It cannot be spoken? What cannot be spoken? Well, the world is alive and we are of it, and all these words and images are nothing but ripples on that water. You can’t tell any man or woman that. What would you tell ? That all the attributes of civilization, all  its roads and schools and traditions of writing, all  its traditions of criticism and philosophy and engineering, are nothing compared to what that boy knew when he was boy, fish and bird at once? And would you say that a man’s life is the telling of this story? Who would you tell that to? Well, I held silent, out of respect, because there was a language once, in which all these things were told — about this land, about the flight of birds through the air, which was the flight of birds through the mind, and its gone. It was brutally repressed in order, oh, I dunno, that we could have this:

P1340917 What on earth is that, eh, out there in the fog? Look again:

P1340921It’s the Eurasian Water Milfoil combine, using  environmental protection dollars to whack back an invasive weed brought by tourist boats and (oops) accidentally crush a kazillion snails so that tourists can continue to lie on the beach and bring their money and roast GMO corn on the cob and live their idea of paradise. As for GMO, well, the city won’t touch that one, and the regional government won’t touch that one, because they have to be fair, and the non-organic farmers do like it so, and yesterday’s paper editorialized that we should all go off to the provincial government and the national government and argue the case there. Whoa, folks. That’s getting out of hand. The issue is here, right now. They’re not having an issue there. We are. GMO corn is like this:


Milfoil Crap on Industrial Sand

This is called a lakeshore.

Oh, and last night was a festival for setting the dead to rest. God knows, but I think it only woke them up:

P1340777Burnt Out Fireworks in the Sand

The Milfoil Combine in behind in the fog, grinding away. Behind that, the three million dollar summer houses of hockey players and movie stars, with their private docks and their barbecues.

So, please, forgive me if I search for words some days. Thirty four years ago I stepped into paradise. There’s no coming back from a thing like that. Whenever I’ve tried to tell someone about it, the answer I’ve received back is some variation of commentary on my naivety, on my creativity, on my fantasy, on my imagination, or something, all framed against the greater knowledge of the speaker’s abstract and abstracting mind. Well, have a look at who was at the estuary today:

P1340832Snail eaters.

Gulls? The mind of God, moving over the water? I’m not deciding for you, but look here:

P1340783The Body Knows Stuff 

The mind can know that stuff, too, but not if it looks on the world as a metaphor, and not if it looks on knowledge as acts of imagination.

Imagination is what one makes up out of scraps. What one remembers, what one puts back together, that is a different thing. Originally, in European tradition, it meant putting back the Garden of Eden, but, hey, that was just a gloss on top of putting together what had been broken long before Christianity ever came to the woods. This, perhaps:

menhhirMenhir, Laténium, Lac Neuchâtel, Suisse

This, too, however, is a remembering. The original human form is of undetermined age — perhaps 4,000 or 5,000 years. The rib-markings on its chest are newer, of Celtic origin. And now it is in a museum on the site of an old Lake Village perhaps as old as modern humans. And what was that original menhir remembering? Ah, let’s just go to the head of the lake and thrash through the trees in the rain while beautiful young woman are jogging by with a cheerful “Bonjour!” Off to Yverdon-les-Bains!

P1250542 These are the menhirs that lie the furthest east of any in Europe.

P1250660 Before they were erected here in these very human groupings …

P1250638 They were glacial erratics, lying on the barren post-glacial wastes. They were chosen for reasons that are now called artistic, yet have not been re-membered yet.

P1250631 There were no trees. When they were erected here, there were no trees.

P1250677 It was cold, and stark, and the land spoke to people in its own language …

P1250607 … in the language of their bodies.

P1250520 And of their souls.

P1250535 And what is a soul? Ah, don’t ask a modern man about that. You have to stand with it to know.P1250538And you can’t tell anyone about that. But you can show people things, like this:

P1250032Do you see the second face, just below the first? Do you see the snake between the ribs? Do you see the other faces, down around the groin, if it is a groin? They won’t talk to you about this in Neuchâtel, but you can see it, if you have eyes to see and an open heart. This, too, you can see:


Are not those ribs actually hands, opening the chest to reveal the heart?

Or are they wings?

Poetry? Of course, but what is poetry? It is not what you learn in school. If you learned it in school, it is not poetry. If you learned it from a bird, then you have a chance to find yourself…

P1340874… amidst all the reflections.

P1340845 Ah, what are we doing here today, then, on this day of all souls?

P1340805 Re-membering, perhaps. Bringing human life back into community with the earth, before it’s too late. After all, it took me twenty-two years, yet here I am again.

P1340897Just being here, in all the time that has as yet been and will yet be.

The most human story of them all is not a human story. Given half a chance, humans can re-member it.

2 replies »

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your soul. It is comforting and inspiring to hear someone else articulate a struggle with pain and longing for reconnection and re-membering… Megwich! Metakoye Oyasin!


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