Smarter, More Ethical Water for the Okanagan

Here’s a great idea about water…


…which the Vernon newspaper graciously printed for me. You can find it in the February 26 edition of the Vernon Morning Star, here. If you page through, you’ll get to it soon enough. You could also expand the image water

It’s all about beavers, eh.


Let’s take back the fur trade today.



Private Property, Cattle and Environment in the Okanagan Valley

The above image shows what lives here: ponderosa pine, a thick ground cover of lichens and mosses, saskatoon bushes, giant rye grass, bluebunch wheatgrass, hawthorns, chokecherries, and mule deer. That works well. This doesn’t work:

These animals screw things up. These ones too:


It might be pretty, but it’s a nine species ecosystem: (red and purple) cheatgrass, big sage, mustard, and horses. There are likely grasshoppers, a mess of sagebrush sparrows hanging around too, a meadowlark or two, a bunch of voles, and a hawk. Land like this once looked like this (1000 species):


And even that remaining grassland on the Chilcotin River is not precisely pristine, as the deep erosion of the streambed in it is the result of trapping all the beavers to make hairpieces like this:

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (r), with Sir Winston Churchill (l), ca. 1939. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Grassland like that attracted cattlemen from Oregon. Within two decades, it looked like this:


There’s a word for that: inedible. When the cattlemen came through, it was rich and productive land, capable of supporting a large number of animals. In fact, British Columbia was built on the stomachs of those cattle. This is what was lost:


As you can see, it has a lot of cellulose but not a lot of green. It’s also on hillsides, and what do cattle do on hillsides? Why this:



This too:


(Note the 100% lack of bunchgrass, which is capable of surviving the summer heat and modulating the flow of water down the slope) Worse yet, cattle do this:


They are tramplers, that’s what they are. Not only does this water have no more ability to hold water, but it has no ability to support any animals except, um, god, I don’t know. Beetles maybe?P2230947

So it goes. Land which was once valuable and rich …



… becomes valueless by ignorance, and rich grazing land …



… becomes a sand pile lightly cloaked with weeds that shrivel up in summer… P2230831

… and quickly become capable of supporting nothing.P2240186

A cow could get the nourishment of the slope below, with its lost mosses and struggling, thinned-out bunchgrass …


… or of this one …


… or this one …P2240179

… out of a couple handfuls of weeds pulled out of the ditch, where the water flows. That’s why horses are always leaning over the fence, by the way. They’re hoping for mercy. So if anyone tells you, ever, that the Okanagan is a dry, parched land …


Not parched! Those stalks are just there to catch the rain.

… please tell them of the culprits. This:P2110800

That’s how much land one cow needs now!

and this:


Unidentified Chief in the B.C. Interior, c. 1897, possibly mis-dated and Chief Nkwala (This bunchgrass was his).

Note the cylindrical beaver on his head for which his people traded their water in a gamble for survival, only to lose the land.

Here’s some bunchgrass doing well.P2110734

Here’s some cow hell:


And that’s the good part. The land below is even more of a desert.P2240263

Private property rights should not be allowed to negate the power of the land, so that the land can be disconnected from life and then sold as a commodity. That way lies poverty and the entrapment of people into communication chains powered by petroleum and distant political forces against which one is powerless to effectively act.


Private property was meant to give freedom. It has become, in this land, a tool by which to deny it to ourselves while denying life to the earth. This is not an insolvable problem. The solution is simple. First, get the cows off the grass. Second, get the horses off the grass. Third, tie land ownership to land stewardship instead of to non-organic “improvements”, which is a word for “estrangement from life.” It can be done. It has been done. The land below was grazed down to cheatgrass 140 years ago.


Junction Sheep Range, Chilcotin River

This is what its slope looks like now.


This is a planted bunchgrass slope in Vernon, in the Okanagan:


This slope gets about 2 centimetres of water a month, including up to 60 centimetres of snow. None of it flows away. Not a drop. The grassland below is grazed for two weeks a year and walked on for many more:

IMG_1579 copy

Hikers Returning from the Farwell Dune, Chilcotin River Canyon

It can sustain that, forever. Two weeks, by the way, supports a far heavier cattle population than this:


It’s not dreaming. It’s simple dollars and sense. What stands in the way? What it always was: bad land use policy. Remember we began here:

Nothing begins here:


Except hunger.


The Story of the Spirit of the Okanagan

I discovered the spirit of the Okanagan a week and a half ago, peering slyly out of the hills …p2230260

… and promised to go and have a closer look. Today was the day. It was one steep hill, I tell ya. Notice how the monument changes when you get up close. The pointy head crest vanishes, for one thing. More on that in a bit. For another thing, it becomes a gentler creature.


And look, it had a child. Granite is just not very stable stuff in this climate, is it!


Now, watch what happens as I close in. First, it’s Chipmunk, with a pine for an upright tail raised in warning. (As you can see from the foreground, pines aren’t very stable in this climate, either. That fallen one, just like the one on the right, are old Syilx trees.)


But then the pine travels behind the hill and it becomes a tadpole (the child of a frog) and, by the looks of that head on its tail, a double-headed rattlesnake at the same time, with its body curled around a saskatoon bush. (The double-headed serpent is a spiritual creature of the Cascadian Coast. The inland version is a two-headed rattler. They were reported to be strong here in the north of the valley.) Yes, it’s possible to be two spirits at once. It’s part of the art of transformation.


That dug up dirt in front of the monument? That is what cattle do when they’re put where they have no business being. Let’s talk about that in a few days, eh. Right now, take a look at what happens next.


See that? The snake/tadpole’s tail has now flicked the other way and it becomes more tadpole than snake! (And tadpoles are masters of the energy of transformation.) It gets even more amazing. I crossed the dead pine in the foreground and went under the pine at the right. Here’s what the monument looks like from under there.P2230780

A skull! Part human, part … cougar? Bear? I’m guessing cougar, because across the lake is Cougar Point. (Look Below.) It looks like this (below) from up here. It’s lurking, that’s what it is doing. Look at it lurk. That point it’s on, by the way, was reported to be infested with two-headed rattlers. One monster cougar, that’s for sure. (In Plateau culture, there are different forms of animals. Some are monsters who were there before the world was tamed. Long story. This is one of those.)


Now, look at the skull again (cougars leave skulls around their dens, right?)


The eye of the skull has fallen out, and is lying there in front of it, talking to it, like a man with a headdress of eagle feathers. By the way, the eagle (below) hangs out just below this rock, and hunts up here (I’m guessing that this is a female, because of her large size, but she’s not saying.)


The thing about spirit rocks is that they transform, just as Sen’klip aka Coyote transformed them once from monsters into stone. The ancestral poles of the Coast are known for these kind of transformations. Here’s one at the old village site in downtown Victoria, with a pair of living ancestors hanging out, in love, aww. You can see the ancestors rising on top of each other in the story line of the pole.


It’s the same with rock, only, well, rockier. For example, on the crest of the Spirit of the Okanagan there is a double-headed snake for a head dress. Notice that the head on the right is clown-faced. That’s a common motif. The rear side of welcome figures on the Coast, ancient figures in the Thompson River and at the head of Precipice Canyon in the Chilcotin, and more, are all clowns. There are other faces in this stone. Reading them is part of the narrative, but just remember as you do: the narrative is not linear.


Sen’klip is a clown, of course. That’s part of the deal with transformations. I don’t have a picture of Sen’klip for you that’s good enough to share, but I have a nice one of the Mrs., out to rustle up some grub for the kids.


Our monument doesn’t have Sen’klip, but it sure has that other old trickster, jack rabbit (below). In Syilx tradition, she is the grandmother of Chipmunk (who we saw as we first approached, appropriately enough under a pine, and, appropriately enough, scampering off as we got closer.) Look at Jack Rabbit here, in a ceremonial dress, with the moon above her. She was in that stone all along, until one day it broke open and there she was in the light. That’s another kind of transformation. (Notice as well how the double-headed headdress has become, at this angle, a human figure clinging to the moon. That’s Frog, who couldn’t bear to be separated from Moon…P2230796

…and leapt up, and is still clinging there


And here on Earth, too, of course. After Jack Rabbit came into the story, I walked around the monument. Look who is perched at the back of the tadpole: Owl, with her wings spread (facing away from us). Owl, is in the old Syilx story of Jack Rabbit, Tadpole and Coyote. She is plain bad news. Or is that Grizzly Bear, facing to the right? He’s in the story, too. Or both? That makes metaphoric sense.


To the north of the monument, the view changes again, in multiple ways. For one thing, the crown of the figure, as seen from below, shows itself to be a flat disk, about half a metre thick, extended behind the narrative.


Moon again, extending the narrative? Rattlesnake again? Sun? Only long study and immersion in story could say, but (below) here’s a different transformation yet (this view shows the glare off the lake, the highway to Kelowna, and the disk head on, and it’s a turtle’s head now, with the monument dragging along behind it.) How cool is that. Notice the right side of the figure…


Here’s a closer view of it. Isn’t that a giant, victorious chipmunk with his cheeks filled with pine seeds?


Or one of the marmots that lives under rocks like this (and under this one, yes)? First the profile…

easter3 Then the head shot (this image was made near the stone monster cougar across the lake):

I dunno. With floppy ears like that, it might be Jack Rabbit concluding the tale.


Well, that’s the story. You can read more of it here. Just search for “Jack Rabbit”. You’ll find it soon enough. A couple more things. First, the image below shows what the monument is looking out over, and what looks up to it.


That’s Kalamalka Lake, and Wood Lake in behind. On the foreshore is an ancient village site. Accident? Hardly. Secondly, there’s this just up the hill:


Is that Sen’klip’s twin brother Fox, slinking along and carrying a whole bunch of people on his back? It might be. That’s for you to say as you read the rock, but I will show you this, just to the north, facing the Cougar:


Isn’t that Marmot, with another saskatoon. You can bet that saskatoons feed on the manure left by the marmots who live under rocks like this. Perhaps you can see how story and landform and land become one? Oh, and just down from the village site?

P2220929 P2220946

The entire landscape is a story, or a series of them, constantly transforming, constantly being retold in the same forms, all of them leading to knowledge of the environment they rise from, all of them helping you find your way, which is not the way of roads or maps.


Those things don’t exactly go where we need to go. One more thing. This is Syilx land. It was stolen. It needs to be given back.

Two Okanagan Ways to Make Spring Spring

First, sing! That’s gotta work.

House Sparrow 

If you’re more of a leafy type, you might try this neat trick: as your photosynthesis slows in the fall, you make red pigments instead of green ones, like this:


Oregon Grape

Mid-summer, these leaves are a deep green, almost blue at times. This image was made a week ago.

Don’t worry: you can’t help it. It’s a natural consequence of slow photosynthesis! No effort required. But the red colour does absorb sunlight and dissipates it as heat, which protects your damaged photosynthesis process and keeps it functioning, although at a reduced rate, for as long as possible. During the winter, and this is the great part of it all, the red colour continues to transform sunlight into heat, which means that it warms you up in the spring and you get a big head start, especially if you have rock behind you (as the plants above do) to capture that heat and shine it back on you. Ah, that hits the spot! But, still, you can always sing.


That’s bound to do it.

Hawk Above Coyote Bluff: Becoming the Land Walking

In my country, human consciousness is created when human animals engage in the weaving of the earth together with its spiritual stories. They are often recorded in the land, waiting to be sung again. This is one of those story bundles, high above Kalamalka Lake. This is Coyote Bluff. Think: the Library of Alexandria.

That’s hawk on the left, looking south, but keeping an eye on us, as hawk’s do.


Yeah, that’s gopher in front. Gopher looks worried. By measuring our selves against this story, and measuring the living land against it, we become the land walking.

Walking and the Sixth Sense

As you walk through the Commonage in the North Okanagan Valley, the spirits of the land rise and fall and shift around you in waves, sometimes high in the sky …P2230231

sometimes slipping into a fold of the land.


To see them animated, you have to go on foot. The body sees best at its own scale. That is the sixth sense.


Spirit Cliff Above Kalamalka Lake

The time before the time of human life is stone and memory. Lynx and Frog are having a chat that goes on forever.P2220946

The ponderosa women listen in. Their spirit collects at the bottom of the bluff, year by year.


You can pick it up and take it home, or a piece of it, if you have need to bring that power into your house.