Kelowna: The Inhuman City

At a certain point, when physical and social urban space is continually built out of practical considerations, usually the manipulation of people for purposes of efficiency and budgetary accountability, the city becomes an anti-human space. Witness this image from downtown Kelowna…P1150381

Anyone Waiting for a Public Bus Has to Stare at … Garbage. 

(And walk past it to board the vehicle.)

… the city that defines itself as “The Okanagan,” i.e. the city that defines this …


(Okanagan, Not Kelowna)

… as itself. We can’t keep making excuses. The city attempts to humanize the space just around the corner from its insulting bus stop with this pretty image:P1150383

Notice how the landscape is portrayed as clothing on a youthful goddess figure, presumably Mother Earth, with apples (pine cones?) for breasts and a waterfall for a vagina, and a sacred rose spilling out of her fingers. Presumably, this …


… is viewed in this depersonalized view of Earth-Human relations in the Okanagan as clothing on Mother Earth. This city has a problem. Clothing is a human social affair. Dressing the earth in it is as much as manipulating people. I think it’s the city …


… that needs to be manipulated. Not this:


Creating parks is not the answer. It is only an opening proposition in an ethical conversation, and wealth held in reserve until the city can unify with the earth. We need to have that conversation. We can’t keep making excuses.

The Sustainable Okanagan 6: Let’s Go Nuts

As part of the effort to make the Okanagan sustainable, we should plant filberts. This scrubby and beautiful bush provides a rich harvest of nuts in the fall.

Filberts are native here, and would grow well in all the boundary areas where Russian olives now thrive. Russian olives are sour dates, with more pit than fruit. No one wants to eat them.

But filberts, ah, they’re wonderful, and their catkins are gorgeous in the winter.

There’s a wild bush down my road, and the one I planted five years ago, as a four-foot-tall sapling, is now fifteen feet tall and rich with nuts. Here’s the wild one, hanging out with a sumac.

There’s room in every yard, along thousands of kilometres of fence lines, along Okanagan Lake, all the way through the wetland hayfields between Penticton and Brewster, for these nuts. There’s no need to bring nuts in from the Coast, where they have squirrels and fungus. Wouldn’t you like your winter’s supply of nuts to come with no additional water expenditure? Wouldn’t you like our recipe base to expand deep into winter? Filberts, that’s the thing. A filbert and almond orchard was planted at Palmer Lake back around 1980, and was abandoned, and turned into horse pasture. The thing is, after all these years, despite the predations of starving horses …

… the filberts are still alive and well, as is that almond you can see in the back. Almonds are more tender and a more finicky choice. This is a remote location. The people are in the main valley, and mostly in the Canadian Okanagan. It’s time to do this right. But, hey, if we want to do almonds as well, I’m all for that too.

But we should do it.

Ending the Fraser War

This is the fifth in a series of archived posts on building a sustainable Okanagan together. This one is about water. And fish. And property rights. Today we’re at Mud Lake. It’s also called Rosemond Lake. Mud Lake came first, I bet. At any rate, this is the view looking to the North shore of the lake. Mud Lake is closed to power boats. It’s pretty quiet.P1160938

Mara Lake is in behind that shore, just a few feet away.


It is noisy with power boats and is pretty much fished out. Maybe we can do something about that. You see, that gravel berm is not a natural shoreline. It’s the bed for a railway that no longer runs. In fact, before there was a railway there was no Mud Lake. There was just Mara Lake, pooling in a big wetland where the Shuswap River flows in. That wetland is now Mud Lake. It is the amputated lung of Mara Lake.


It’s connected by a narrow passage. You can go through it.

P1160953You can come out where you should have been in the first place, and where the lake’s nutrients should flow but only kind of seep, a bit.


The fish need to live in cold water. Mud Lake doesn’t provide it, but fish need to eat, too, and Mud Lake provides that. It just needs to be flushed into Mara. What’s more, if the Shuswap River flowed there again, its cooler water would aid fish reproduction, while the wetlands would help clean the river. At the moment, it spills its muddy runoff for a couple kilometres out into the lake. That’s bad for fish. So, look again:

Mara Lake was amputated from its lungs to build a railway, but the railway no longer runs. This is easy to fix.  Here are the ripples from my kayak passing over the life-giving organs of Mud Lake.


Land and water alienated for a public purpose should not become private property when that purposes passes. This is a principle that occurs again and again throughout the Okanagan, as railroads, roads and irrigation systems are decommissioned. Mud Lake, just off the Okanagan’s northern tip, is a clear example of how much we could achieve. The privatization of water has led to one kind of investment … a kind we no longer need nor use anymore. The system of privatizing water and land solely on a first-industrial-user basis was a compromise laid onto common law by the Fraser War of 1858, when a couple dozen Englishmen stared down 40,000 armed American miners who had just slaughtered a few thousand British Columbians and were eager to kill more without an excuse not to. One of the consequences was Mud Lake. Fortunately, we no longer need corridors for transportation. The system was successful — so successful that no we have too many. What we need now are planes, for staying. We need Mara Lake to be reborn. We need the war to be over.

The Best Thing We Can Do for the Okanagan and Ourselves, Ever

I’m working on a series of 100 practical things we can do in the Okanagan to create a sustainable culture. They are archived in the menu bar above. Let me give you a hint: this is not it:


This is:

Let that be our parliament. It is the pow-wow grounds at the Okanagan Indian Band at Head of the Lake. This is the biggest change of all, and the most important. We’re not going to get there all at once, but it’s not impossible to get there, and getting there is worth it. Please follow along through this argument, although it might be hard reading. I repeat: it’s worth it. Here’s how it works:

  1. All of this land between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean belongs to its First Peoples.
  2. All of this land between Brewster and Kettle Falls Washington and Enderby and Merritt British Columbia, belongs to the Creator, who gave it into the care of the Syilx People.
  3. They never gave it away.
  4. The Creator was, arguably, given to the peoples of North America as a concept by fur traders who preceded recorded European exploration of the West by 250 years. There is evidence, although not conclusive — although how could it be.
  5. The Country of Canada takes its justification from the Queen of England (and Canada), who takes hers from God (and the Crown Jewels.)
  6. The Okanagan takes off from God, too.
  7. No argument there.
  8. Sure, I own the small piece of land my house sits on, and the Queen owns 94% of the rest of the place and leases it out to American logging companies, and I own my house itself, and my apricot tree, well, actually no, the robin owns that …

… waiting for dinner! Bless her. That nest has been rebuilt in the same spot for five years now, and who knows how many before that. I can lay no claim to it, except in a claim to care for it for her. If her kids would only leave my strawberries alone, but … oh well.

9. There are multiple levels of government in this place, which there should be, as this is a successful and dynamic democracy and a prosperous, liberal industrial state. It is a complicated place requiring a great amount of democratic discussion.

10. Let’s expand that discussion.

Currently, Syilx participation in those levels of government is minimal, although it is mandated by the Government of Canada, which set fair accommodation of the Syilx, and all native peoples, as sovereign peoples, as a condition of British Columbia (this place on the North Eastern Pacific) entering the dominion of Canada. Fair enough. Thing is, I have sat on local committees and only once has there been native participation (there has, however, been resistance to it, despite my protests), and that only in the body of one single man in a sea of 60 immigrants … not just Canadians but Canadians new to the valley, some only a week or two into the experience. All this in a situation in which in the last 145 years only two land issues between the sovereign governments of the 198 independent aboriginal nations of British Columbia have been settled. My revulsion aside, you might ask what right do I, a man with obviously European ancestors (Rhenisch, Silesian from Kattowice, Gleiwitz and Wroclaw) have to be commenting on First Nation issues? Good question. None, except… I was born in 1958, which makes my personal memory and experience of this experiment over a third of its total. Pshaw, that’s nothing. True. How about this: my grandparents came in 1929, which makes my family experience two-thirds of its total. Pshaw, that’s nothing either, not when considered against the, what, 500 generations of the Syilx or the, I dunno, 1000 generations of the Haida. That’s kind of my point. Still, I do think, though, it gives me the right to speak a little bit about European culture in this place. What I’d like to offer is this:

Every political decision made in this place should be made with the full and equal participation of the Syilx. It should have been so in 1858, but it’s not yet too late to start.

Period. No limitations or exclusions or excuses. None. No saying, “but this is Canada, and we’re all Canadians.” The terms of that takeover have not yet been met. This land is in Syilx care. There is no negotiation on that. We can join them, but that’s it. And they’d be welcome of any help. This is who they are, and it’s who I am, too.

This does not mean, though, that I’m advocating a single Syilx representative on every council and board in the region. That means 1 vote out of dozens, as big of a change as that might be. It would mean a bit of important ceremonial recognition, but little else.  No, I’m advocating a change. I’m advocating a Syilx vote for every Syilx community in the region. In my city, Vernon and Coldstream (there’s kind of a disagreement over class, which gives 2 administrations, which is so White, isn’t it), there are at least eight traditional villages. Here’s one. It’s currently a trailer park, a dredged creek, an airport and a soccer field. Everything to the right of the creek has been in the courts since 1895. It is currently for sale.


This is not too much to ask. The European people of the Okanagan might be honest, and might have purchased their land in good faith, and they have, of course, but, ultimately, it’s not ours. It’s Syilx land. Ultimately, if I want to prune my apricot tree I should be conferring with Syilx elders about that. Now, I know that’s impossible, and no one, especially Syilx elders, who have grandchildren to care about, for the love of God, wants to get involved with that, but regulations can, and regulations are created by committees, and committees work on majorities, discussion and either consensus or majority vote. Eight Syilx members on every committee? That would make the discussions relevant, and would likely lead to something like a 50-50 sharing of power.


This hill above Kalamalka Lake stands just above the point of a triangle of three village sites. You are looking at three votes.

Here’s my thinking: the earth is dying; we did this; no excuses.Now, we can’t give the earth a vote; but we can give a vote to its fruitful places, the ones suitable for human settlement, through the people who answered that call and whose survival is dependent upon honouring it. That there are no people in the view below is kind of the point.


They’re there in spirit, and they need to be invited back there, not in some romantic fashion, but in the hard, nuts-and-bolts practical work of working together. They keep asking. Let’s answer “yes” this time. Let’s ask them. Anything else — anything else — is racism. That the “land” and the “water” below is a Provincial Park is racism (unless we use the time it has bought us to move forward) …


I told you this one was hard. Now, let’s work towards it, slow step by step. Let’s be brave. We can do this. If we can’t, we should pack up and leave. Me? I’m staying. What about you?

Don’t Be a Settler!

Shrimp skeletons on Okanagan Lake, eh.
P1150694The little buggers were introduced to the lake over 40 years ago. Pretty sci-fi.


Don’t worry. That sand is imported too. Oh, and the water? Aha.


Forty years ago it was as clear as crystal. The silt you see in it was imported, too. So does a colony of settlers express itself, within images of pristine nature.


The shrimp are down below.



Eliminate Black Plastic Now

This is today’s post on creating a sustainable Okanagan. Like the others, it is archived above.
Black plastic sheeting serves 4 purposes, but all look like this:

  1. It warms the soil for earlier crops.
  2. It keeps trickle irrigation from evaporating.
  3. It replaces human employment for weed control with profits for the petroleum industry, and rural economies with urban ones.
  4. It makes the investment in an expensive tractor worthwhile (tractors lay this stuff.)

The thing is, at the end of the season the plastic is taken to the landfill, the soil is depleted, people have no income, huge public investment is made in separating water systems so that there is no back suction of fertilizer-enriched water into freshwater systems (yes, every house owner subsidizes farmers on this one), weed seeds in the uncovered strips are laid down astronomically, and the difference between the actual labour cost of growing food and this enhanced cost becomes the farmer’s profit, minus the inputs of supplies and machinery, rather than the profit being the farmer’s labour. In other words, the whole system pays for the supplies and machinery, in order to replace farm-based economies with bank-based ones. That’s simply unsustainable.

Are there real reasons for farmers needing to sell their souls like this? Of course there are. But let’s just look at it: we need to efficiently distribute and conserve water, we need labour costs in balance with prices, we need heat, and we need healthy food and healthy growing conditions. What we don’t need is plastic. It’s amazing that society can subsidize, to the tunes of trillions of dollars a year, infrastructure to move more-or-less unnecessary automobiles …


…. when the same infrastructure could heat tomato plants, and feed us. Now, I’m not proposing that we ban automobiles or plant tomatoes and peppers in the middle of the asphalt, but imagine if we built permanent fields, using rock to gather heat, and planted tomatoes there. I did it with wood. My tomatoes will be ready in 3 weeks.

Sure, some efficiencies of scale would be lost by a rock wall method. Farmers wouldn’t get to drive around on tractors, so much, either, but, hey, the darn things cost major coin, and, besides, what I didn’t tell you was that the farm I showed you above was a self-pick operation. Farmers aren’t doing the labour of harvest in the first place! In short, no tractor is  actually necessary. Walking tractors would do …

Or maybe just a wheelbarrow. What would you need a tractor for? Moving manure once a year? Moving tomatoes four or five times? Tractors are useful machines, but I reckon that if we’re going to sell tomatoes as healthful products, as better than industrial tomatoes sold in supermarkets, we shouldn’t be compacting the soil with heavy machinery and killing it, reducing our yield rather rapidly over time, or growing tomatoes on plastic, destroying the soil, using unnecessary hydrocarbons, creating tremendous waste (it’s cheaper to lose 50% of a crop than to pick it yourself) …

… and hauling all that plastic to the dump at the end of the season, just to provide income for farmers on the difference between the potential cost of their labour and the actual cost of their supplies and equipment, on a pricing structure that incorporates all this waste and charges more than twice the cost for self-picked fruit than for fruit picked by the farmer. That is a way of moving wealth from the land to manufacturing centres, on the backs of the land. It might provide an economy on paper, but it doesn’t provide my black krims…

… or my late season Christmas tomatoes, protected against frost by a reusable (and recycled) tarp, months after the plastic-grown tomatoes are all finished and the only thing available is industrial, from the supermarket, shipped in from thousands of miles and grown there by people using walking tractors.

By the way, my insect control system is that marigold. That’s it. I don’t need more than that. One other point, if I may: I have these late October tomatoes because I don’t prune off the extra branches from my plants, to ensure even ripening in a concentrated season on a single stalk, which is the recommended method. I’d rather have fresh tomatoes for 5 months, a bucket every three days, than all of them at once and then nothing. What I’m proposing is a ban on black plastic. We don’t need it. I’d love to go further, with public infrastructure for growing food. Supermarkets, with their huge parking lots, are already displacing huge amounts of growing space. Community gardens and farmers markets already exist, on a small scale. It’s time to be done with the myth that farmer’s knowledge and cleverness can solve these problems, when the problems have to do with forcing agriculture into a non-agricultural business model. If we want food, the movement has to be the other way: the society provides the infrastructure; the framers fill it. That’s what’s happening right now, but the infrastructure is incapable of providing healthy food or of using the common resource of water wisely. It will take a lot to change this, but it’s not really that complicated, and the first step is simple: outlaw the use of black plastic for agricultural production, period. Let’s get smart again. Let’s stop doing this:

Call this removal of unpicked self-picked (and overpriced) fruit what you like, but if you call it farming you’re romanticizing the growing of money. We can’t afford this. There are too many of us in a small space.


Landscaping for Water Capture

Welcome to the second of a series of posts on creating a sustainable Okanagan. They are archived on the menu bar above. Today: smart water. Read on…

Wherever there is a crack, stuff grows in the Okanagan. P1050147 That crack above has yellow clover and feral grasses, but there are cracks, right on the sidewalk beside the main highway through town, which are growing wireweed, purslane, amaranth, wild lettuce and plantain, which is to say four food crops and one medicinal plant great against mosquito bites. As for downtown Kelowna, the Okanagan’s urban knot, have a look at this wild lettuce, growing behind a downtown restaurant.


Now, it’s not going to fly to grow our food in these cracks beside the highway, or in alleys, due to pollutants from traffic, but let’s consider a few principles here:

  1. The roads and sidewalks are collecting water and …
  2. the cracks are delivering it and …
  3. in what appears a total desert, life is flourishing.

In other words, the Okanagan is neither a desert nor dry. Look at how a simple roadway can be a seasonal river. That water could have been easily diverted at that joint, and used to grow the thistles I mentioned yesterday, or sunflowers, for a bird seed industry, or anything you like.

The land is simply not dry. Only the air is, and not always. Here’s that alley again. Note the tree on the right, and the water pouring out of a roof drain, uselessly onto asphalt.


Water is limited in the Okanagan, and so is agricultural land, but consider: every sidewalk and every road has cracks, and every road has ditches, and they all work on the same principle, collecting water, moving it and generating life with it. It’s not necessary for water to flow freely to create crops in this climate. With that in mind, here’s a crack:

Rocks like that are everywhere in this region, split by winter frost and spring thaw. They collect water. Not only that, they collect bird droppings, which contain saskatoon seeds, which bloom and give fruit. The image below shows a very common local sight.

The rock shelters the young plant from deer, better and more elegantly than snow fencing around inappropriate, irrigation hungry Japanese maples …

…and collects water and manure (from birds and marmots) and nutrients (from crumbling rock) to nurture the plant, despite the ongoing lack of free-flowing water. The trick in this climate is not to get water to flow but to get it to stop as soon as possible. This principle can be applied throughout the valley, for landscaping projects and even for creating farming land where no water is otherwise available. And we’re close. Look at the decorative rocks in the landscaping above. They are visually appealing (perhaps) and collect heat. They could have been arranged to collect water as well. We’re close on this one. Let’s take that one extra step.