There Are Only 2 Human Habitats and 1 is Not Human

The colours of sunsets deepen as winter approaches. Here we’re looking west across the north arm of Okanagan Lake.

Here’s an unusual view. Here’s that same sunset, five minutes earlier. Notice that all the light, everywhere, is the same shade as the ones above.P2130649

A magenta world! The falling of these leaves and the collapsing of summer’s grass is the same as the shifting of that atmospheric light. Look at how this new energy strikes the world of fruit:


And the nootka roses on the hill.


A year is a journey through colour, and the moods of colour, which is a reaction of eyes to the vibrations matter makes in reaction to radioactivity from the sun. Colour is us. When these effects take place outside of colour, the effect is something like the puddle in the image below This is part of the same seasonal shift of light:


What the light does to the ice, in other words, is what the light does to our eyes. The vital thing to look at here is the patterns the light makes while freezing, which is to say when the sun’s energy within it dips beneath a certain threshold, which to humans looks like this:


Those effects can only happen in this season, with this light. To human eyes, they are what is called beautiful.


But they are the earth dancing with the sun. Sure, this is a story of atmospheric pressures and the heating and cooling of gasses, both in and outside of solution, but it’s the dance, too, or what passes for a dance when the sun and earth are doing it. You can see it in these lilac buds, for instance.


Light, like buds, open and close across the span of a year. They are the same thing. So too is the dandelion below, caught in a frozen puddle, and viewed from above.


Explications of randomness and will (or its absence) can be used to describe these plants’ ability to live nakedly in the poisonous atmosphere of the earth, but they don’t speak of the earth, which does this …

P2130889 … just a short 55 million years after it made this geode …P2130878

… as the same place that does this…


… and this…


… and this, which is the same.P2130531

This energy is life. Humans live within life. Like all life in this organism called the biosphere, humans are one with this ebb and flow, this opening and closing of life. Any ideas that they are not are ideas of death. Persephone, the goddess otherwise known as Koré, or maiden, spent six months of every year with her husband in the land of the dead.



Persephone always came back.


Make sure you come back, too.


The Black Cherries of Winter

It is the time of year when colour leaves the valley. The red choke cherries of summer are black. The skies are grey.P2140077 The sun we knew in summer is gone. This is the time to go inside the earth, to be with the small grey birds, to become fog, and to grow still.P2140121 In more tropical regions of the earth, this mystery is absent, but here it is the great clarity that is the ripeness of the year: not light but darkness, which is a different light.P2140124 The Icelandic writer Gunnar Gunnarson wrote that the long winter dark of Iceland is part of every Icelander’s soul, as much as the long sunlit nights of summer.P2140127 That’s the way it is in the Okanagan in November, December and January, when cold brings fog out of the lake to cover the valley from the sun and the stars,just as summer’s heat turns the lake into lightning storms that crash overhead through July and August nights, or June storms, raking over the mountains from the Pacific, turn the sky blue and draw us out of ourselves as water. But not now, now it is the time of darkness that the Celts knew well as the source of life, because they, too, lived in the fog seasons of seasonal earth.P2140131 Now is the time the Earth here has for herself, and the time we, who are her sons and daughters, have with her. This is for us, as family.P2140132

This is not a time to go to Mexico. It is no time to run from her embrace.


At dusk now, we find ourselves.

The Lonely Vigil of the Plastic Owl

2 weeks ago, the plastic owl was at her stand. It was mid-afternoon.P2120500 She was still there yesterday at dusk, poor plastic thing.P2130626

When I was a boy, owls used to hunt around me as I pruned fruit trees in light like this, and darker. The sky was full of stars. Those were little pigmy owls, 15 centimetres high at most. They’d stash grassland shrews in the crotches of the trees and come back for them months later. I’d still be there, learning my craft. Since them I’ve heard and watched many owls, mostly great big, screaming owls making the night come alive as they called for each other in the dark, usually just above me, and usually under a spreading sky of stars. It hurts to live in the land of plastic owls, you know?

Three Ways to Make Soil

One: You will need a poplar tree to drop yellow leaves on the ground. Leave them. Let it rain, freeze, thaw and snow in intervals. Two months later, drop one green leaf on top. Wait.


Two: You will need a fir needle. Many fir needles. And some sand. See if you can borrow a road. Let it rain. Lots. On a gentle slope of hill, the soil will gather itself.


Three: Cheat. No soil required. This is the way of rock and grasslands. Lichen and moss extract minerals from rock. Seeds that fall into the spaces between stalks of moss find water, warmth, shelter, dust that blows in from the stars, and those dissolved minerals — everything that soil can do.


Soil is not rock. It is alive. I hope you make some today!

The Ripest of Roses

Nootka roses are pink when they bloom and red when they ripen.P2130444The leaves ripen into orange and yellow.P2130445 The canes ripen to  purple.P2130447 Even the yellow which we, as humans, see at this time of year is not the yellow of spring or summer. We change with the earth. And the roses change with us.
P2130452 For the full ripeness of nootka rose canes in this season, you need late Autumn light, just before dusk, when it comes in orange under the clouds, through the whole thickness of the atmosphere.P2130453 In other words, the colour is not just the colour of the canes, but of the earth, here and now…P2130455

… as it catches the nootka rose ….P2130451

… and the nootka rose catches it…


… triggered by frost. By spring, these canes will be orange, as they take on a new season, and then their blooms will scent the valley, but for now we wait, with the hips, for the winter birds.


Grass and Poetry in Cascadia

The grass is a cultural being. So are cat tails and so is poetry.


Talk about a rhyme scheme, eh!

First, the grass. Not only does it have its own culture, but it is part of the body of human culture in these valleys, canyons and plateaus between the mountains, on the west of North America.


Yellowstone, North Gate.

You are not looking at dead grass here. You are looking at water catchers, upside down umbrellas, which the grass has made to draw water from the air. You are looking at upside down wells.


To keep them from matting on the ground and reducing the land’s productivity, fire burns them away, so they can be renewed. Traditionally, people have set those fires. It was the first stage in the primary, human civilizing impulse: cooking. First you make the land productive with fire (you make it into an art form), then you harvest it.


Bella Vista

Here’s a different way of being grass, one not native to this place, and one not harvested. It is, accordingly, not an art form, but is wild:


This is cheatgrass. It bursts like flame out of the soil in October, grows all winter under the snow (yes, under the snow) and has replaced hundreds of indigenous species in the tapestry that is the body of this place. Look how it collects water. It urges it to flow off into the soil, where old thatch holds it from evaporating, and then it uses it all up, denying its use to all other plants. It loves monocultures. That is not the bunchgrass way. The image below shows what happens when fire is suppressed in this landscape…


Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park

Do you see that bunchgrass there, at the end of 8,000 years of history, encroached by soap berries and escaped farmyard grass? It will soon drown. Below is an image of what happens when trees are not controlled by fire. The ponderosa pine below has showered the land with fire, or needles, if you will. They burn the alkaline soil down to acid. Look at the bunchgrass drown.


Rattlesnake Mountain

This is happening on our watch, in our time, in our parks, in what contemporary culture calls nature and “wilderness,” while attention is directed towards smokestack emissions and pools of plastic in the middle of the sea. We don’t have to go that far. Nature itself is the culprit.


Turtle Mountain

Let’s be clear about this nature. All of the parks of the west were created out of former indigenous cultural space. That’s to say: around 150 years ago, there was no nature here; only social space. Then it became “wild,” when dispossessed of its people and left fallow. It became a different art form: one that created emptiness where there had been fullness, and a mechanical earth where there had been a living one.


Royal Gala Industrial Apple Plantation, Bella Vista

This process started in Washington in 1892, when all federal lands purchased for tiny sums during rushed treaty-making processes and not by then already dedicated to Nez Perce or Spokane or Skoielpi use (among many others), were rededicated as national forests. Land that had formerly been maintained by fire, now was expensively protected from fire, to preserve its “pristine” nature.This “pristine” nature is, in other words, a culturally-created thing.


The culturally-charged process of plant succession.

Rattlesnake Mountain

This process moved to British Columbia in 1922. The fire still burns. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to combat every year, to no avail. That’s the fire we can see. This, below, is also that fire, though:


It is burning within Syilx space. The grass that has almost been replaced here by “nature” is still a cultural being, but it’s now  viewed with terms appropriate to “nature,” which are not the terms appropriate for viewing culture: beauty, for instance, wildness, for another, health, for yet another, inanimate, for another, plowable, for another, and developable, for another. And that brings me back to poetry. Here is some Cascadian poetry (Please click on the link to view. It will open in a new window.)

Very Serious and Full of Vegetables

That is a cultural product produced in this place, one which heartfully honours a tradition, but it is, as you will have noted if you clicked on it, a poem about people and human attitudes towards all kinds of things, but includes no attitudes of grass or fire or rain to anything. It’s not about that, likely on the anti-romantic presumption (accurate enough) that no-one can speak for these things. In their place, I think the poem is about taking wild human energy (a created art form) and distilling it down to points of social utility, and through a process of manipulating that social machinery enabling people who live within it to ultimately come to a physical experience of grass through the only route the tradition allows: through the mind; not the body. The body plays the role of memory. This has been the American poetic project for over a century now. Here’s an early draft of it, from the American poet Hilda Doolittle, written a century ago:

Hermes, Hermes,

the great sea foamed,

gnashed its teeth about me,

but you have waited,

where sea-grass tangles with

shore grass.

Hilda Doolittle, from Hermes of the Ways

It’s beautiful, and lands solidly on grass and brings it to life in the mind, but it is a thing of the mind trying to escape itself by means of the earth. It can’t shake that. It is, in other words, bookish. Often Hilda tried the trick she uses in the following poem:

O white pear,

your flower-tufts

thick on the branch

bring summer and ripe fruits

in their purple hearts.

Hilda Doolittle, from Pear Tree

In this one, she uses the same memory trick but also speaks to the tree, yet her identification is incomplete; it is an artifice only; she is not the tree, nor is she its flowers. Her poem is a construction of words and energy contained with words — a thing of memory, in other words, a funereal ode. Her identity is untouched by it, and is not transformed by it. It is infused with it, for sure, and, no doubt strengthened, but, still, untouched. And the poem is very beautiful, too. It is not of this place, of course, nor did Hilda mean it to be. I use her words only as an example of how poetry and land can remain separate, even in intimate moments, and how American identity engineering often places the land within fences, called words — farms, cities or streets, if you will — and observes them from there. That is a very anglo saxon thing, of course, but for me, as a man of the grass, this is a step away from the earth not one towards it, because for me the grass is not just a part of a social group, but also of a self. To say “O white pear” just won’t do. It would be like saying, “Oh me.” And then there’s Paul Nelson’s riff on Whalen, with his

“having the curious ability to make one think

that a mind has been slowed down.”

Very Serious and Full of Vegetables

That’s beautiful, too, but it is predicated on the conceit that mind has been sped up in the first place, with a secondary conceit that any subsequent slowing down is only illusory. I dispute that. I think it needs to be strongly challenged. According to settler ideology, the grass is wild, and is the canvas for paintings of human will. In other words, it is this:


A weed-filled bunchgrass slope, a choke cherry tree, and a ponderosa pine, set in front of a monoculture hay field. Coldstream, British Columbia

No-one would want the social identity of that hay, because it is enslaved to individual and social human will. What’s more, to enslave it is to enslave (or fence) human selves, including those of the wielder of will. It’s not about a mind slowing down or not slowing down. It’s about whether that image above shows wilderness or cultural space. It’s about who you belong to: the grass, or other men. Unifying those opposites is not as easy as creating a national forest and building new parks within it for poets to walk through and find beauty.


Fire Pine, Yellowstone

They can. That work has been done. Now it is time for the land to speak. Now it is time for people who are the land to speak — not as a conversation within American or Canadian or Western poetry, and not as an address to or for that fire pine. It means, among many other things, making this tree the centre of the world — not as a symbol of anything. This tree, right here, right now. That kind of thing. Rilke found it a century ago. We are that far behind here. To find that tree probably means finding new words. That is good, honest work. It absolutely means finding new forms. That is powerful work for people engaged in finding poetry in the world and working with it. It means being present, not in memory but in the unfolding that is memory’s form in the present.

P2050845Yellowstone North Gate

That is why I have stepped aside from traditions of Cascadian poetry, although few people in this land know it so intimately or have been the channel for poetry within it for so long. I just can’t do metaphor anymore, that’s the thing. I can’t do nature, and if I’m to be bound by a line of will, I want it to come from that pine, not traditions of politics and the poetry of identity politics from a foreign country and foreign traditions. That is or the citizens of those fields. For me, in this grass, joy will do just fine. This is partly what I meant in my new book The Art of Haying: it’s possible to live well as the earth; the ego is just the book talking as it keeps us in line. It’s possible to walk out into the grass. Here’s an article on The Art of Haying in BC Book Look. P2010552

Big Bar Wet Land

Blessed be.

The Beauty of Spring in November

In November, in Cascadia, it is springtime, whether you are in the wetlands on an island  in the ocean …


Oyster Bay, Vancouver Island

… or far inland, in the grasslands, where we are expecting snow.


Abandoned Orchard at Turtle Mountain, Looking Down Priest Valley towards Okanagan Lake

No soil is needed to grow a garden here.
P2130759Soil would reduce fertility. Stone helps, though.P2130760 Where water flows and life flows with it, life pools.P2130761 It might freeze at night, but these domed shapes are warm.P2130769 Rocks, too.P2130779 Cozy!

P2130786 The pools within the pools are great places for seeds to catch and flow and sprout. It’s much like the folds of hydrocarbons in protein strings.P2130807 To flow, water doesn’t have to be liquid. That’s because it’s energy. It can be held in a matrix, which can become it.P2130810We call this matrix life. We call it green water. Green water can even drip and splash.P2130815 Life reaches out its tongues to stop gravity and opens its wings to the sun.
P2130821 It’s down to as much as 5 Below these nights, but only in the air.P2130822 Not here.P2130845 On volcanic earth.P2130878 Here, spring ice breaks the basalt apart, and life becomes the frost in fall.P2130889 Is it rain? Is it frost? Is it sun? Is it air? Is it stone?P2130906 It is all of them together. It is earth. This is earth… not soil.P2130936 This.P2130947 Life.

P2130948 Now. 55.000.000 years in the making, along the seam of two ancient island chains.P2130963 Once the stone crashed in a volcanic tide. Now that energy is a surging wave. Still.P2130986 It is still a splash of surf.P2130988

On Turtle Mountain, it is happening now. And not just here. On Rattlesnake Mountain, too.

moss Life is not built on the bodies of the dead. Not here. To come here in summer to see green lawns is to be poor beyond belief.P2120777

Here life is made within the bodies of the living. All are welcome.


None are turned away.


Is it the sun? Is it the earth?


It is both at once, where we are.

Worshiping the Dead

In an earth that looks like this…


… humans build large cellular structures, which they then inhabitat, to turn them into wombs, that they can leave every day to teach their children the arts of cell-making and war and to go to a “grocery store” …


… to purchase foods grown in other cellular structures …


… which are representations of human will, sculpted to allow machine access. In this case, it’s an apple orchard. This world of body-imagining is represented most clearly today as communication. A better word for that within this world of inhabited matrices is transportation.


These are all images of humanism. What a strange culture it is that sets human ethical concerns apart from the earth in such a way that when there is a balance it is often one that is neither ethical nor of the earth.


Cultures that worship the dead live like this — cultures that use their bodies to animate the dead and keep them alive. Often, this process is called a financial return on capital investment. It doesn’t matter what it is called. In this world, nature is displayed, as something to be observed in cellular structures called parks. The people who tend nature there are called gardeners.


What they are are practical ethical philosophers, the front line fighters working to keep the boundaries between human ethical and social concerns and the living world separate. It takes a lot of work. It’s work that would be better spent bringing people and plants together outside of representations of human bodies and will. It would mean greening cities and recognizing mountain ecosystems as exquisite urban spaces.


Until then, the game of fighting to contain the earth within the image of a human body will remain — a fight that will never be won.