I walked up the hill across the valley today, to get into the fog.
No, this isn’t today. This is the spring of 2012. But that’s part of the hill in the back.
The sun got there at the same time.
Bella Vista Hills, with the Commonage in Behind
This is a diminished grassland, but it’s still a grassland, full of Syilx crops, although a far diminished number of them.
The Commonage, that land set aside in 1891 for common usage between Indigenous and Settler peoples and then taken by the cattlemen in 1895 was almost exclusively a land of weeds. Only the giant rye grass remains, out of the richest biological diversity outside of the tropics.
And fences, to hold cattle up on the hill, while the graze on the weeds irrigated every time we, the honourable the people of the city below, flush our toilets. They also serve to keep people down below. The “commonage” is not for the “common” people of any ilk.
I went because a friend told me that with so much fog it was only a day for seeing what you imagined to be there because you’d seen it before. Well, I’d never seen a sun like this before! I tell you, I’m glad I was walking the hill with it, while the hawks hunted on the shifting edge of fog and light.
A Very Hungry Hawk
I realized something about our grassland cities while I was up there in the weeds. It’s this: the city doesn’t live there. This is actually more meaningful than it sounds. Look:
South Vernon, from the Commonage
The City lives down below, along the water of BX Creek, among the beavers and willows and the high country firs that people planted here forty years ago, because, I think, they were in love with the idea of skiing, and a tree in front of your cabin/house was the perfect thing to put yourself in the picture. Now high country water piped down past the grasslands irrigates high country trees and only the beavers remain because they are tenacious and live in the water. Up here on the hill there are houses, but they are here for only one purpose: to look down over the hill. They don’t even have any yards. Just weeds. This makes them beautiful to look out of but ugly to look at, from the grasslands.
IInterestingly enough, they are covered with as many weeds as the cattle fields above them. Well… not fields, exactly.
If you were a cow, would you eat this? A goat, sure, but a cow?
Across the valley, the grassland is full of sagebrush, lilies, bunchgrass, voles, sparrows, desert parsley, balsam root, and many other species, including weeds.
The essential spring crop of the Syilx, here long past harvest time. Bella Vista.
Not here in the commonage. Here it’s all weeds, plus hawks, voles, magpies and giant rye grass. Four species out of a few hundred. The reason the houses are up here is so that they can have a view, and a beautiful one at that, but it’s not a view of the (former) Syilx grasslands, where the life is, but over the water and the people crowding to it in the valley bottom. It is, in short, a view over people, and the city they have built along recognizable water and memories of life somewhere else, far away. In the image below, you see wetland, that once fed the lake five kilometres downstream and once supported the big grazing animals (They eat twigs, not grass, and are now shot when they come down among the houses looking for a bite to eat. Excuse my bluntness. The official, sanitized word is “destroyed”.) All that life now supports humans, recreation (an American-style park), and a school. From the point of view of the grassland, that is trying to get on with the business of creating life, those are all weeds, too, because they are not contributing to earth-based energy flows. Rather, they are subtracting from them.
Human appropriation of productive swamp land.
It’s as if the absolute ignorance of the first settlers in terms of the land they stole has not changed since that first crime. Oh, there I go again, being blunt. How’s this, in more polite terms?
What was wealth was seen as drought and weeds, and so it remains.
Sure, let’s go with that. After 140 years, that’s what’s been created here: an image of absolute poverty. The sad thing is that back in the days when Europeans stumbled on this country, were surrounded by food and yet, in their ignorance found a way to start starving to death, the Syilx here and the Secwepemc to the north shook their heads, took pity and brought food. Now they have no food to bring. They live in the same weeds as the rest of us. I have heard it said that the Syilx are statistically unimportant now, in terms of sheer demographics. What are statistics to the grasslands, that still contain the memory of Syilx knowledge? The earth is as tenacious as a beaver, even when covered with houses and other weeds. Killing that tenacity, whether by men with bulldozers, who work in an industry called “construction” which consists largely of obliterating the Syilx grassland, or other men with guns, who “destroy” deer and cougars in order to “protect” the “people” from “wildness” and are called “conservation officers”), is certainly not advisable in the long term. Deer and cougars should be protected from us. Reconstructing our cities to allow life to flow through them once more, and reconstructing the grassland to generate it, to retrieve Syilx knowledge and heal old wrongs certainly is. Here’s the question that came to me on the hill:
What if we are all Syilx now? What then?
We start with what we have.
And we build from there. Right now we teach the children in the school below this hill how to enter the world of global, placeless, technological culture, and even teach them of the wrongs of colonialism against indigenous people, while ignoring the grassland just two minutes away. That’s where the real classroom is. Right now there is no money in it. That’s the argument, but that’s because there are no people in it, and that’s because those first European men looked up at the hills and saw …
Nothing at all.
Let’s not teach our children to be like those men.