The Earth is Dying (And Not Because of Global Warming)

I went up the hill, and I found one sagebrush buttercup.  Take a look, so you’ll be present in this scene. It’s important. It’s about the state of the earth and the state of Canada.

P1200220Sagebrush Buttercup

Two weeks ago, it bloomed in the south of the Okanagan, north of the US-Canadian border. Two weeks before that, it bloomed at the south of the Okanogan, at the confluence of the Okanogan and Columbia rivers. Two weeks before that, it bloomed at Horse Thief Butte, above the drowned centre of the world at Cellilo Falls. Drowned? Yes. There’s a power dam and shipping locks, you see.

What a welcome sight! An indigenous flower, in the spring. In the European story, life springs from the dead land, and a beautiful flower spirit dances in the wind among the blades of fresh new grass. It works in Europe. Here it is the death of the earth. In the Okanagan story, sagebrush buttercup is used to tip arrows, to make them into poison arrows, for hunting small game. That’s still not right, though, because this particular sagebrush buttercup was not alone. Three insects were living off of it: a tiny fly a few millimetres long, something smaller and quicker that I only saw as a flash as it scurried out of my way, and one young crab spider trying to make a living off of them. Here’s the spider…


Crab Spider, Hiding

The green grass here is an invasive weed. Grass at this time of year should not be green.

Do you see her? Upside down below the sagebrush buttercup and with her life hanging by a thread? Here, look again…


So, let’s put that into perspective. Out of a dozens of square kilometres of hillside existing as a bit of waste land between a vineyard and its mechanical yard and a walking path in the bed of an old irrigation canal, above orchards, abandoned orchards and houses planted in orchards abandoned earlier, the indigenous insects of this place are trying to survive on one tiny sagebrush buttercup. Well, so it seems, but no, no. That’s too rash. This community of hangers-on has company. Look at her, just up the slope and only a metre away from the gravel dribbling down from an expansion of the vineyard mechanical yard above …

P1200230A Yellow Bell!


In the European story, yellow bells are pretty fairy spirits that are one of the first signs of spring from Alaska to California and which scent the air with the purest of all spring scents. In the Okanagan story, however, this is a food crop. The bulbs of this little lily mean the difference between dying after a long winter or regaining one’s health and strength in the spring. Food and health, and by extension the health of the land are the same. That’s why the people indigenous to this place call themselves the Syilx. It’s not a term descriptive of a biological or social group of humans. It’s a term descriptive of a group of living beings who care for all living beings in a place, equally, as they are but one of them and as dependent upon the unity of them all as any others. To the Syilx, this yellow bell is also Syilx, and they are it. It’s the same thing for this guy, chewing on one of the yellow bell’s leaves…


Butterfly Larva Lunching 

She is yellow bell and yellow bell is her. Not to mention the flowers she will pollinate a little later in the spring … if they come up.

 So, there you go. Out of dozens of square kilometres of hillside that once fed a people and supported a host of insects, butterflies, birds and mammals, there is one little yellow bell left, and one butterfly trying to make a living out of it. It breaks my heart. In the European story, of course, or, rather, the story of Europeans who have migrated to this place, ignorant of what they are stepping on and picking for posies in the spring, this observation might be worth a shrug, because there’s no economic benefit to be made out of it. Not so fast. Here are two observations about that: 1. If this yellow bell were in Switzerland, a farmer would be paid to ensure that it survived, at a rate far in excess of the profit he would make on surrounding land, and 2. It does matter economically, not in and of itself but in what the lack of Syilx identity costs. Here’s what I mean:


Spring Landscaping

Do you see how that works? A living, productive environment capable of supporting thousands of species has been reduced to dead soil, in which is planted a day lily, which is misplaced so that its bed becomes a footpath and a convenient receptacle for chewing gum and cigarette butts, because, get this, people respect the sidewalk, which is made out of concrete (a mountain ground to dust in the Rocky Mountains east of Banff and then mixed with gravel and water). And this is not just a single instance of the lack of Syilx thinking. The above image is from the landscaping around the Vernon Public Library. Here’s the landscaping in front of Okanagan Spring Brewery. The highlights include expensive composted earth, tulip bulbs from Holland (no butterflies eating those), a sock, a few footsteps, a cigarette butt…

P1190851 … and chewing gum…P1190865

Oh, and some bark chips. And here are some more of those, at the library…


For some reason, the application of ground up trees, a kind of social waste made out of trees, bushes, weeds and grass collected by truck from urban lawns and mixed on a sacred part of the Syilx grassland (still under land claim, as it has been for 120 years) is considered to be caring for the planet, because burning it would contribute to global warming. Hunh? The earth is dying now, and we are worrying about it dying in the future? The future is now. This, too, is part of the same phenomenum of which global warming is a part, and the real name for it is murder. Oh, by the way, the small plants sprouting among those bark chips will be hoed up later in the spring, as part of the contracted responsibility of the landscaping company hired to maintain this aesthetic perimeter of grasses. As for aesthetics, well, here’s the brewery’s take on that:


Okanagan Springs Brewery Staff Lounge

A little break in nature.

And here’s the library’s challenge in this regard:

P1200064 Many of the grasses are dead. They aren’t, you see, native here. Even the live ones are quite simply in the wrong place. They are planted in an ashtray. You and I and the wonderful people at the library (and they are: smart, educated, beautiful, caring, hard-working and kind — no doubt exactly the same as the dedicated people at the brewery) might not want it to be an ashtray, it might make for an incredible fire hazard as an ashtray, but there’s no getting around it: in terms of the culture of this place, this is an ashtray.P1200066What’s more, it is built infrastructure and dominates, in a way of thinking that sees nature as a thing that can be planted in the gaps between the really important infrastructure (concrete) to satisfy the ancient, heritage physical needs of the bodies that carry around the identifies of the people who are the citizens penned (civilized) in this concrete world. All this takes place in a country (Canada), which considers art and culture as being ‘heritage’ activities, which make its citizens happy and more productive at furthering the role of Canada as a global economic power among its peers, other global economic powers. In this world of the Europeans who have taken over Syilx space, the Syilx concept still applies. It’s just that rather than being applied to life, it is applied to tenuous things like identity (to be defended at all costs, but rising only from autonomous individuals, not individuals in relationship to other species) and economic infrastructure. They are all considered a unit, and fearlessly defended. The only thing is, it all leads to this:

P1190885 Vernon Veterinary Office Landscaping

That landscape cloth under those rocks cost lots of bucks. It is designed to keep things from growing. You can’t stop dandelions that easily, though.

And this…

P1190932 Self Medication Waste in Justice Park

Mouthwash for the Alcohol Addicted and Coffee for the Caffeine Crowd. The stones are meant to be a stream, but, as you can see, after a few years no one can afford to maintain that kind of thing anymore and it is given instead to the homeless crowd.

And this…

P1190900More Smoking Waste Thrown Onto More Ground Up Trees, Justice Park.

All of this landscaping, these attempts to turn living space into a concrete one that mirrors rigid lines of economic power costs a lot of money, much of it in the name of beautification and green, environmental values. A people who lived in this place would just plant yellow bells and live among the butterflies, bluebirds and meadowlarks. It would be surrounded by an environment full of beauty and food and no one would be hungry or homeless. This place is not like that now. This place is a machine, the same machine that grinds up trees into infertile tree bones and calls it topsoil, installs plants into it that have no hope of surviving, and calls the whole thing environmental care. This is a society that doesn’t live in this place, but devours it as a resource and replaces it with an image of itself. This is a place in which any person who actually lives in this place is rendered homeless. This is a colony. Wake up. The spring is supposed to look like a bit more like this here:


Sagebrush Buttercups, Two Weeks Ago at Vaseaux Lake

Meanwhile, off in Kelowna tonight, 45 minutes to the south of my sagebrush buttercup and an hour and a half north of the one at Vaseaux Lake, an art exhibit is being launched to display what the “citizens” of the “Okanagan” are thinking about in the contemporary culture of this place, as displayed through the images they post on FaceBook. Let me make this really, really clear: the sagebrush buttercups are citizens of this place; the humans are citizens of a global non-place. And that is why the earth is becoming a non-place. The colonization of this place didn’t happen a century and a half ago. It is happening right now. Tinkering with the niceties of social culture in this place and the free expression of individuals is a great thing … for the colonial image. It helps to perfect it and helps to perfect the individual ‘identities’ of the biological bodies of humans in the virtual space called “The Okanagan”. But that’s it. Here, let me show you how that works. In the image below, the bright colours painted in the window are there to address your body, which then sends out chemical signals, which influence the behaviour of your ‘identity’.

P1190826The bushes in their gravel hell are you. The chopped up gravel is the earth. And there is nothing to eat.



6 replies »

    • Thanks. I’m still troubled by this vision, mind you. On Monday, I might go further into Justice Park. An intriguing set of images. Best, Harold


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