Going off the grid.
See you soon. (This is the second lull in Okanagan Okanogan posts since September 2011. You deserve it!)
… and apple shade …
… and chinese elm shade …. … and apricot shade.
I chose trees and shrubs with green shade, but I could have chosen red, purple, or even blue. Even within the world of green shades, though, I think it’s obvious that the shade of one plant is different from that of another one, and that the concept of “something blocking the sun” is a good general descriptor, but doesn’t describe what’s going on, because all of these shades are several things at once: blocked light, unblocked light, light from within the plant material, light reflecting off the plant material, and a mood… and that’s not counting the smells of the shade, or the sound of it. When it comes to plants, shade is a spirit. It is a plant projected around the plant, the way a photograph is cast onto a plate. The only thing is, humans are excellent photographic plates for this type of projection. And whatever you do, don’t go to sleep under an elder.
Bad dreams will come. Really. Not a good idea. You can, however, change your dreams by sleeping under different trees. That’s how sensitive a receiver you are. So, remember, in the heat of summer, there is a place to go to have visions that cross between you, the earth, and the sun, and there are trees in the middle of them, and the space is theirs, not yours.
When water systems are used as reservoirs …
Children’s Playground, Chief Joseph Dam, Washington
The plastic is the way a petroleum culture can talk about natural forces. Here, children get to be the water flowing over the dam (at least in their minds). Then they land on the artificial volcanic cinders (in a land of volcanic cinders) made out of petroleum-based rubber and bounce. That is what they experience. Children learn this lesson well. When they are adults, they are likely going to have to find a way to undo the damage.Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll get in a kayak and pass among the trees and be small…
… and suddenly realize that they are approaching something they have no words for, and for which symbolic representations don’t exist. They might choose to keep moving into that realization. I hope so
In November, the poet Howard Brown and I are giving a show about tractors. He has the long poem. I have gallery walls. Somehow we’ll make this work. We’ve been taking photos. It has been haunting. Two farm boys at the end of the world of farming, suddenly seeing what we just saw before as work. Here’s Howard, deep in thought and memory.So many guys out there, trying to find the shape of their bodies in time. There are no words for it… except for Howard’s maybe. Got any tractor stories? Any tractor photos? Send them along! Look at this old John Deere go, right in traffic!
Amazing. Machines built on a human scale, as if they were tools. They were. Like I said, amazing.
Canada does not deserve this land. It burns it…
Plasticized Soil (Weeds, plastic, clay), Bella Vista
The goal is to increase the heat of the season.
… it xeriscapes it, for maximum water efficiency …
Note the fireplace ashes.
… it allows wild creatures to survive in road ditches alone …
This is where the water collects, hence where the life will be, but the mower comes, like clockwork. Gotta protect that infrastructure.
… it creates drought …
(And the high country water that might have staved off the forest fires. Note the smoke.)
Ponderosa Pine Cones in the Garbage
Here is some sign of a badger cleaning up on the gophers invading abandoned orchards …
In forest fire season, even the grassland hills are suffering in the smoke.Note how the golf course road zig-zagging back and forth here manages to take all the water away. Note as well that there are few species growing here: mostly cheatgrass (which is responsible for summer drought), sagebrush, a few mariposa lilies, the odd death camas, a few remaining desert parsleys, the odd thistle and a fair number of blue-bunched wheat grasses. Most of the flowers that bloomed here a century ago, and most of the medicine of the Syilx, are gone. What is a poor bee to do! Aha! Off to Harold’s place!
As I showed you yesterday, a few square feet of xeriscaping using wild flowers does a few powerful things. You don’t have to irrigate more than two or three times in a season. You don’t have to move the thing. You can have fun scything in the fall (scything is very fun). And birds, toads and insects thrive here. I posted a pair of goldfinches feasting on my catnip yesterday, and then I realized, whoa, just think (and I did): if the normal density of flowers on the grassland hill is about one plant per square metre, my density of about 200 plants per square metre (I collect the seeds each fall and sow them back in, so there’s no expense) means that in my 25 square metres of wildflower garden I am providing the insect and bird habitat of about 5000 square metres of land up on the hill. That’s pretty close to one acre. Here’s the thing. In my little subdivision there are, oh, I dunno, about 100 houses. If we all took care of an acre like that, 100 acres of grassland could be saved. There are another 100 houses in the subdivision a mile back down the road, and 50 more in the other direction. Just above that one, there are 1000 building lots gouged into the grassland and doing magnificent service in destroying it. I’m thinking today, it doesn’t have to be a story of destruction. If each of these houses had one small wildflower garden, together we’d be helping to maintain some 1250 acres of grassland. If we went further and planted some appropriate plants along our roadsides and walking trails, we could easily double that. It might be that the grasslands are so compromised that they will not return, but that does not mean that we cannot live in them in new ways. It would take almost no water, and, I mean, really, when the alternative is this?
More life for less water, and the use of our dwellings to help the grasslands and to bring them close. There’s no downside. This is the kind of things a progressive city council could fix almost instantly. We would become rich.
Here’s my front yard. Note the flowers I have planted instead of a lawn. It has been a very exciting place lately. Dozens of species of bees and many species of beetles have been working it for weeks. They’ve all come down from the grassland up on the hill. A big neon-green toad has made her home here, and seems to be getting rich on it. Today, though, was special. Check out the pair of American Gold Finches feeding. They were there for an hour.
Now, here’s the thing: they were eating catnip seeds. Perhaps they were getting a nice buzz from it, I don’t know, but, um, the neighbour’s cats hang around this stuff. I’m not sure how wise all this is. Still, no harm done, and an hour of beauty. No mowing. How many acres of denuded grasslands have I replaced for these birds and insects in 300 square feet? Lots! Here’s the environmentally approved way of reclaiming grassland after invasive road construction. Note the species diversity.
People aren’t meant to live alone on the planet. We’d all die of grief.
Photography got its beginnings as a way of casting onto a chemically treated glass plate an image of the shadows between rays of light. That was magic for the Age of Art, in which representations of objects were usually made by laying down colours of paint on blank canvas. Suddenly, they were made by the pattern of darkness and light, and mostly by darkness. Light was inferred. Well, it’s not the Age of Art anymore. We can begin again. Just look at how light and darkness make images in the world.
See how the plants have developed over time, out of the action of rays of light on the matter (chemical and biologically-active molecules) on the surface of the earth? Isn’t that photography? If it is, then so is the way that the light cast onto the human retina creates the colours you see below:
The world develops in the human mind into what we see. It might be that what we see in the image below…
Photographs aren’t light images any more. We could call them biographs instead: the amount of developmental energy in a scene transferred to us by the shadows, just as it was with early photographs. This time, though, the shadows are colour
and light. As they develop on earth, they provide clear images for us.
The above image is not a photograph. The sagebrush in it is. This is organic photography. An old word for it is ‘life’, but that term separates life from the sun and earth of which they are a part. Better, perhaps, to talk of being and becoming, or in the terms of a biograph, presence and development.
in the process of becoming spirit, or, if you will, social energy.
Yesterday I spoke about the social nature of the scientific systems of both Darwin and Goethe and how their examples gave us the freedom to choose new paths of science to match our contemporary needs for healing a rather broken earth. These two great scientists both lived a long time ago. The nature of structured inquiry into the relationship between humans and the earth didn’t stop with them, no matter how profound their contributions were. So, I think it only fair to dip into newer worlds as well. Today, Einstein (the theory of relativity) and Heisenberg (the uncertainty principle).
Einstein, Who Said “God Doesn’t Play Dice”
The strain of trying to make opposites cohere shows, doesn’t it.
Einstein added the concept of relativity to a system of absolute science, or science that claimed to have found laws that did not change with circumstance. He presented the mathematics that encapsulated the idea that notions of time and space are not absolute but are related to the particular circumstances of an observer (or an observing mode of enquiry). That’s a very jewish observation. It comes from a jewish sense of relational ethics, such as both Abraham and Job, not to mention Abraham’s nearly sacrificed son Isaac, learned to their consternation in the Old Testament.
The Erfurt Synagogue
One of the few ancient houses of jewish worship surviving in Germany — a place in which a man could be both a German and not a German at the same time, and it wouldn’t be clear which was at play at any given time until circumstances unfolded themselves. Would one be a jew? Or would one be a German? Only the observer (or the circumstances) could determine it.
This observation puts Einstein’s science closer to Goethe’s than to Darwin’s, in that both Goethe and Einstein were concerned about the observer’s impressions, while Darwin was concerned with a system that an observer could deduce and then apply to make sense of the world. The two concepts are mirror images of each other. And that was Einstein’s problem. He tried to merge his conception of relative time and space and Heisenberg’s conception that matter is not in a determined state until it is observed, even if there is no observer but only a collision with concepts of solidity, with a humanly observable physical world. From the distance of 2014, the two concepts appear pretty much the same, but the attempt to bring them together proved really frustrating for Einstein. It’s kind of a problem that Goethe foresaw, though, although rather poetically. (But why not. He was a poet, too.) Here is the natural formation that enchanted Goethe most of all, a gingko leaf:
The plant that has both male and female genders in different individuals, and which puts out single leaves that are made out of two conjoined parts… Goethe drew inspiration from this model. It spoke to him of an elementary nature in the earth: bisexual relationships.
Well, that’s Goethe speaking as a poet, but perhaps, all the romantic glory of finding a mathematical formula to join the two concepts aside, that’s all one needs: a poet’s practicality. For an understanding of the nature of matter on earth, it matters not a whit whether it is reduced to a mathematical formula or apprehended instantly through poetry. What matters is the deepening of the human-earth relationship through intellectual activity, and that can take place in poetry as much as it can in science. Perhaps that’s the next step in the ladder from Goethe to Einstein to Heisenberg to Today: human systems of consciousness that can merge the human with the earth.
Gnomes in Berlin.
Sometimes these ideas work out in very physical ways. It could be that the evidence of the path that lies open to us is right before us, and to find it all we need to do is read the earth and human social space with the same relativistic tools that Einstein and Heidegger applied to mathematical conceptions. Here, for instance, is the 1960s version of an attempt to reconcile Heisenberg’s science with a practical, industrial worldview from the 1890s, and it is ascendant again:
The former synagogue of this ancient pilgrimage city was levelled in the Third Reich, and planted thereafter with flowers, as a space for all people and a kind of permanent grave memorial. It is currently in use by drug dealers, cutting deals on burner cell phones.
Not the way to heal human relationships with the earth! Just around the corner, there is more physical manifestation of these scientific principles, again very much from a previous generation:
Former Jewish Businessman’s Town House, Fulda
Offices now, whereas once it spoke of a marriage between the sacred and the profane.
Still not good enough! One way to move forward is to honour the earth by speaking for her. I can easily do the Goethean thing, and bring the next step in this science forward in imagery. This, for example, is the earth speaking.
You will notice that she speaks in neither language nor mathematics, yet mathematics and language are the tools that we have, given to us by our ancestors. It has long been considered the role of artists to find new tools. It is the role of scientists as well. I think it would happen very quickly as soon as the skill sets of poetry were brought back into science and a new Enlightenment, a new mode of knowing were created now, rather than out of the material of the 18th century. That would take courage. We have nothing to lose but our selves, and everything to gain, including new selves. If you want a map of current cities (current maps of the human body, in other words), look no further than this:
Mariposa Lily, Okanagan Valley (Vernon)
This is urban space. If you don’t see urban space here, look again. And again, until you do.
Currently, human explorations are going towards creating machine selves for humans, rather than addressing human-earth relationships. That is romantic laziness and nothing but Frankensteins will come of it. Let me be clear:
What’s the difference? This urban space in Emmendingen, Germany is a post-biological human. Machine humans are going to be no different.
Granted, something needs to be done.
The humans seem so frail in this monstrous human body (city) they have built. Android phone identities for humans are no better. All human creations are projections of social circumstances.
Humans have the ability to humanize nearly anything, but it takes real vision and courage to set that aside and earth-ize humans, to put the earth in our social group, yet that’s exactly what we have to do, and you know what? We’ll make it human, and we will be transformed. What I’m advocating here is hard science and clear, intellectual vision, not romantic nonsense like this:
“Castle Kitchen”, Castle Frankenstein, Darmstadt, Germany
Annual home of an American Hallowe’en party. It was reconstructed BADLY in the 19th century. No castle ever looked like this.
We can be human or Frankensteins. If we choose Frankensteins, we won’t be human. And that’s the problem with Einstein. He chose to be human, but by wrestling with non-relative science without the benefit of poetry, he had to continually fight for it by an act of his will alone. It should be easier and more physically gracious than that.
Gingko Leaves, Vernon
Notice how the divisions Goethe loved have almost healed.
Darwin is English. Goethe is German. There have been wars over this. Pity. Let me explain. First, an image of multiplicity from the former East Germany:
Goethe’s Botanical Garden in Jena, Germany
Darwin travelled the globe. Goethe, like most Germans, brought the world to himself. That is a profound difference, which led to profoundly different conceptions of science.
Darwin advocated a theory of evolution which has no guiding principle other than expediency and almost accidental incremental change. That’s the world which we all pretty much live in today. It is great science, that has had a powerful effect on the way in which humans in so-called scientific societies see the world. Here’s Darwin as a young man.
Charles Darwin, Looking Dapper
He hadn’t figured out evolution yet.
Goethe advocated a theory of evolution in which the characteristics of a species could be seen in the totality of its variations; it wasn’t a series of evolutionary changes that were being observed but a series of unfoldings out of an original, unified potential. Goethe was after that moment of potential. Here’s Goethe as a young man:
The Young Goethe, Looking Dapper
He hadn’t written Faust yet.
I’m not interested in knocking such a great scientist as Darwin off of his pedestal or in placing such a neglected one as Goethe on one. The point I’d like to make today is that Darwin’s theory of evolution is as English as Goethe’s is German. For theories that purport to represent independent, neutral science and dispassionate observations of the world, that should be a warning bell. Now, when I say that Darwin is English, I don’t mean that he’s like bubble and squeak or bangers and mash. I mean that he carries on the English philosophical tradition, which is born from English history and language. Century after century of invasion has its effect on a language and a culture: first the Britons, then the Romans, then no Romans, then the Anglo Saxons, then the Norse, then the Anglo Saxons, then the Newer Norse, then the Anglo-Normans, and at the end of it all the British had learned a couple things:
1. Change and adapt, because you’re going to be raped or murdered anyway.
2. Fight by any means possible, usually by manipulating the gap between two sets of conceptions. For example, here are the ruins of Castell-y-Bere in Wales. The English knocked it to bits in 1283.Here’s the main Welsh defense machinery for the castle.
The Castell-y-Bere Dragon
This defensive position was chosen at the confluence of two valleys, because of this magical talisman, the Welsh dragon itself. No English invaders could touch the place, with powerful magic like this at its heart, right?
Wrong. The English crept up a natural cleft in the rock outside the lower wall of the castle, and when they were unstoppably close just jumped over the low wall there and the show was over. That’s very English. One takes advantage of weaknesses and supposed strengths by being somewhere else. Usually, this means ignoring magic or accepted decorum. To such an imagination, nothing is sacred; flow is everything. It’s the principle by which one puts spin, or “English”, on a ball, or by which a language can be used to mean anything, depending on circumstances, and depending on whether one draws from its Anglo Saxon, Old Norse, Norwegian, or Anglo-Norman vocabularies. They have little in common. It’s the totality, a parliament of languages, that is English. More specifically, it is the form of argument that switches from one to the other when necessary or expedient, and remains aloof from them all, that is truly English. And truly Darwinian.
Will Mow Lawn 4 Beer
A British Columbian demonstrates his English heritage. Note that this mower has not moved in 3 years.
Unlike the English, however, the Germans were never a people, at least not before the figure of Goethe was seized upon to try to make them into one. They were scattered around a couple thousand principalities, all with allegiance to not Germany but the Holy Roman Empire. To say one was “German” was nearly meaningless. Germany was the Church. Its rulers were a mix of all the royal houses of Europe, and it mattered not a whit what language one spoke at home. Whereas the English maintained stability by adapting to invasion and learning the language of the invader so well that they became the invader, without dropping their previous languages, the Germans remained an ethnic curiosity within a stable, non-ethnic system that lasted for a thousand years. But then, they converted to Christianity en masse. They saw no break between it and their pre-Christian beliefs.
Goethe as an Early Middle-Aged Traveller in Italy
To learn the world, the English conquered it and then took on its forms, for the sake of expedience. The Germans remade themselves as the world, because it just wasn’t that important. They trusted in their ability to absorb whatever came their way. To them, eternity, however, was important, especially as it manifested itself in the present and in human body and presence. As the experience of the Welsh at Castell-y-Bere showed, the English, the true intellectuals in this tale, slaughtered that dragon long before.
And so, out of these two great scientific figures we got two conceptions of science, one based on filling ecological niches by a random sense of progress and opportunity, and one filling them by an ordered sense of growth out of the infinite potential of a first principle or a presence. The former, Darwin’s, is the bulk of contemporary science. The latter gave us the science of phenomena and the philosophies of Nietzsche and Heidegger. Darwin’s version has given us English democracy, with its trust in the wisdom of random process. Goethe’s version gave us German democracy, with its trust in the wisdom of common foundations and carefully guided responses. I’m not saying one is better than the other. I’m only pointing out how different they are, and how they are rooted in the experiences of two different peoples. I do have a secondary point, though, which is that this English system has given us Canadian land use policy that accords wilderness status to the Earth (even though the earth which English settlers “discovered” was very much a controlled, social space, in a fashion closer to that of the Germans than anything), and the trust that no matter what random process works its way through a society built around furthering individual desire and randomness the energy of wildness within the earth will continue to thrive and provide energy for society and individuals. The contemporary result looks like this:
Invasive Cheat Grass Hell
There should be 100 species in this grassland, not one that is destructive of water flows and is turning bountiful landscapes into near deserts.
It also looks like this:
Canadian Vineyard Farmyard, Vernon, British Columbia
Note the Hell of Cheatgrass in the Foreground. This is the way you colonize Mars or the Moon. It is not the way you live on the earth and from it. It is the expression of a very specific form of individuality.
According to the principles of random evolution, the kind of desertification and squandering of the socially-given right to own land demonstrated in the image above is a natural consequence of growth and progress, as well as part of the natural change of the world. Two hundred years ago, Goethe showed us that it does not have to be this way. The point is not whether Goethe or Darwin were right. The point is that they were both right and that neither are neutral sciences. They are social constructs, which have a history and a projected path into the future, which we have the ability to change for the better (as with all social constructs), and, boy, do we ever need to, fast. In Darwinian science, the images below show three species filling the same ecological niche…
Beautiful, isn’t it! In Goethean science, on the other hand, they show one energy manifesting itself in multiplicity. Also beautiful. Personally, because of an imbalance of random human pressure on the earth despite the impoverishment resulting from it I think that right now we need a bit less English individualism and a bit more of Goethean multiplicity. For the love of the Earth.