Mother Earth

Mother Earth has often been equated with womanly power. That’s not really it. Here she is above the Clearwater River in Nez Perce Country, lying on her back, with her arms outstretched and her head staring up at the sky. Her arms are wings, in part, and what she offers to the earth. That’s not a human image, but not a non-human one, either. That the Idaho Government has built a road aimed directly at the gap between Earth’s thighs is, I hope, a source of humour for the Nez Perce.


Lapwai, Nez Perce Territory

It’s not just about humans. There were forms of human knowledge that predate the Anthropocene. That also was an age of men. It is still here.

Matisse and the Nez Perce

Reading the sky, I’ve just realized, is not a matter of translating the dramatic movements of clouds and light into words or ideas, but reacting to them in the manner of responding to art. This moment, in other words…

P1960203 … is like this one …


Henri Matisse (1869–1954), Open Window, Collioure, 1905. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The differences are ones of culture, not differences in kind. Translating this kind of knowledge into words is not going to lead to understanding, but it does lead to windows, which can be opened. However, they’re not the only ones. In the Matisse, the contrast between the two-dimensionality of the canvas, the scene that is rendered on it, the three-dimensional techniques of the painter and the three-dimensional brush work opens up entire universes of body-mind-spirit experience. You don’t have to translate it. You just have to enter the edge of those brush strokes. There’s life there. The same with the image below, from the Snake River in Idaho.


Note the depth of the palette of the dune forms in this ancient medicine plant field, from the sand dunes on the hill (brought to view by light-coloured weeds brought on by over-grazing) to the bunch forms of the wheat grass in the foreground, to the domed form of this sacred rock (like a sweat lodge with a mouth). The patterning opens many doors which can be apprehended and read without language. It was this presence in the earth that was one of the things that made it so hard for the Nimíipuu to accept agriculture when Henry Spalding, the missionary who tried to lead them to a gentle image of Christianity by whipping them, tried to bring them to in 1836. Putting a plow to this would have been like slashing this …


André Derain (1880 – 1954), Mountains at Collioure,1905. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

… with this…


It is an incredible degree of violence, that Henry David Thoreau equated with slavery. It was industrial agriculture which he saw as the threat to the success of democracy in the United States. In the image below, we are on the Fort Bethold Agency in North Dakota in 1941, just months before the United States entered the Second World War after pushing the Japanese into a corner with sanctions.



The image below, also from the Snake, which shows the moon trapped by a road cut (inhabited by swallows), an abandoned fence and a community of weeds, is the view from one of those windows I mentioned. This one is the window of history.


Walking back is not possible. Walking forward is. Art is a path with great potential. Hey, it might lead us here…


… to Buffalo Eddy, where Matisse would feel at home.


I do.

When Quail Leave the Grass, It’s Time to Party

P1950598Ah, the sweet berries of June!

P1950621This is the best year in a decade for saskatoons. They are so sweet.P1950619 And so juicy. Even the ground birds have left the cover of the grass for these ones.



Ain’t that the truth.

Lazuli Bunting: the Jazz Singer and His Band

Ladies and Gentlemen, the concert hall. Note that the violin is strung, and that the player has taken an unusual position.P1950785

Stéphane Grapelli wouldn’t have done it like this, but then he wasn’t a vocalist.


And Lazuli Bunting is! Each of these males becomes mature when it creates its own song.


It’s worth repeating, even if the wind ruffles the breast feathers!


The songs are learned by listening to uncles and fathers, memorizing their licks, and then combining them into a unique sequence. Applause is earned.


Darned wind. We’re still waiting for the violinist, though.


No, not him!


He’s just another vocalist. Besides, lazuli buntings are rare. We don’t want the red-tailed hawks to be getting any ideas. Oh oh!



Not to worry, he passed on. Ah, here’s our violinist!



It’s all in the balance.

History and (Dis)Respect on the Clearwater River

Here’s Curtis’s 1910 photo of a Nez Perce dugout canoe. This was the low point in Nez Perce life. Over the previous century, they had lost over 90% of the territory, much of their culture, and their population had dropped from 10,000 to 1500, and was going down.nez_perce_canoe_2

Note the rough pole. A century before, men would have used a paddle that was a pole on one end and a paddle at the other, to navigate the very special circumstances of the Clearwater River. Fine enough. But, look, here’s the example of a Nez Perce canoe that Lewis and Clarke and the Nez Perce built at the forks of the Clearwater River in 1805, at what is now known as Canoe Camp. It holds water, at any rate.

P1860943 Here’s another one.

P1860946 Really? Traditional canoes had gunwales 1″ thick, but were heavy on the bottom and the front, for running rapids. They had a flat prow, angled back at the right angle for beaching on the Clearwater shore. Great, but I doubt there’s any experienced boating culture in the world that would have thrown a thing like this into the water and attempted to steer it. For example, here’s Curtis’s photo of a Syilx canoe at Fort Okanogan in 1914, at the confluence of the Columbia and Okanagan rivers.canoeclip

That’s the kind of elegance one would expect, and even it is a craft built two generations after the culture had taken heavy blows from American settlement at least it still looks like a boat built by a boatman. The one below looks like a toy built by people playing at being woodsmen, or woodsman soldier, which was pretty much the case.

canoecamp Five canoes in 10 days, with mostly Nez Perce labour, as the Americans were sick and starving and near death? No wonder one of the boats cracked on a rock in a rapid in the first few minutes of the trip downriver. Respect takes a bit more effort than this. At the very least, the captions could describe this as a military log-hacking site, or the spot at which the Nez Perce decided to keep these fools alive, so they could use them to build a treaty, for help with their traditional enemies, the Shoshone, who were being armed with American arms from the Missouri and, under spatial pressures of their own were settling old ceremonial wars with increasing violence. At the very least, a proper Nez Perce canoe could be put on display in a town on the Nez Perce Reservation which was sold out to White settlers in 1893, on the grounds that small homesteads not allotted to individual Nez Perce families were “surplus.” At least, the site could lose the Canoe Camp name and be given its 12,000 years of history back. Or, the boats could be put the right darned way in the current in this plaque, instead of the right way to balance the image as a still life:


At least. It’s a valuable colonial image, but, really, it would just be better to rewrite history from scratch and write some respect into it from the start.

It’s Getting Crowded Out There!

Welcome to the wavy leafed thistle, the bunchgrass thistle.P1950194Beloved of insects.

P1950055Often because it’s the only native flower left.

P1950051But also because it provides a solid landing pad. Very kind.


And it’s a great place to hang out and look for beetle love.


Most of the thistles are gone, mistaken for invasive scott thistles, which are more like artichokes gone mad, but when you find one, ah …


… drama is soon to follow.


There’s really nowhere else to go.

redbugsThistle: the earth on a stem, raised up to the sun.

Beetles: sky travellers and star dwellers.


Photos in McLaughlin Canyon, Washington and (the last 2) John Day Fossil Beds, Oregon. Note the colour variation!