Fly-Fishing Guide for Newcomers to the Okanagan

When salmon come back to the rivers from the sea, they cease to feed, but will snap at beautifully-tied flies out of reflex, and are hooked.

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Well, ya. Wouldn’t you bite at that? No? Well, then you are a human salmon, looking for a home at the end of work and strife, a place as wide open and warm as your dreams, and for that you need to travel, and what should be there, at the end of the road, beyond which no cars lead, but a very special kind of fly tied just for you.

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Yes, this is the real estate development sales office. It sits comfortably at the side of the road, for easy access, is often repurposed, has some lovely brick appliqué, so you know we’re talking quality here and not an industrial portable building like you’d see in a mine office. Let me repeat. This is no gold mine attempting to part you from your cash. This is serious fishing. See?

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That is genuine hand-set stained glass, that is. That is the sign of respect. Of course, there is more than one developer fishing in the same pool. There’s another fly cast up on the hill. See it? Oh, which to choose?

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Well, there’s still time. The nesting bed is still incomplete.

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The nesting bed of a salmon is called a red. That won’t do for humans. We have happier colours. Go on, settle in. You know you want to. Not even a little nibble?

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Don’t worry, there’s no power yet. It won’t hurt at all. You’re good.

 

Aerial Mysteries Over Coldstream

For a week now, a hole of air, either empty of cloud or filled with it distinctly from surrounding cloud, has formed over the city of Coldstream, close to the eastern end of Kalamalka Lake. It’s faint, but unmistakeable. The images below were taken over the previous three days, at different times of day. The area in question is in the middle of each image.

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The changes happen rapidly. What is empty can fill in a few minutes, and empty again in one, or the space can remain stable for hours. Is this the city projecting heat? If so, why just there? Is it a confluence of air patterns, meeting over the mouth of the lake? Is it a reflection of energies deep under the earth? How long has this been going on? Is it new? Is it old? Does it matter that the area beneath this hole in the sky was an ancient syilx village? Am I seeing a language that others can read easily? I don’t know. As I was wondering, this faint sun dog appeared, to the north…

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Look at the cloud around it. It’s like the Aurora, made of ice. It lasted for two minutes, then was gone. It did not have a twin. Pretty amazing cloud we’ve been having! Don’t you love the sky?

Reviewing David Pitt-Brooke’s Walk Through the Grasslands

I spent the early winter reading a beautiful and, unfortunately, incomplete book: Crossing Home Ground, by David Pitt-Brooke. It records an epic walk through the grasslands of Southern British Columbia: my own home ground. My detailed review was just published today in The Ormsby Review. You can read my review here (with beautiful photos by Pitt-Brooke): http://bcbooklook.com/2017/01/26/in-praise-of-grass/#more-30105. I’m thrilled that it is out. My goal in writing the review was to honour the book and the conversation of which it is a part. I’d like to show you a few images from that context. They are beyond the scope of the book, but help to anchor its discussions, I think. Here’s the mouth of the Okanagan River, as it enters the inundated Columbia. It is here that the private armies that invaded the Okanagan in 1858 crossed the big river on their way north, and it is here that scouts tagged invaders for later skirmishes in the Okanagan and Similkameen.

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This is The Forks, a major stopping point on the ancient trail to the deep north and the Hudson’s Bay company brigade trail that followed it. It is here that the route forked, to the Similkameen Valley to the distant left (the trail is a county road now, as you can perhaps make out), and to the Okanagan to the right. The image shows the Similkameen River joining the Okanogan.Tforks2

This is some of the Similkameen Grassland, above the Similkameen Gorge and looking towards Hurley Peak in the Pasayten Wilderness. Pitt-Brooke camped high above this country, just over the Canadian Border behind you as you view this grassland, and looked down on it at dusk.hurley

High up on Kruger Mountain to the left in the image below. This is Richter Pass. That green hayfield in the bottom is lost Richter Lake, drained to grow sileage corn. This is British Columbia. The Washington side (above) is in better shape.

He saw farms down there in Washington. Well, mines.mine2 The grass in this country, as Pitt-Brooke accurately points out, is damaged, but not irretrievably. Here is some grass and sagebrush above Nighthawk, Washington.  chopaka3

Areas directly on the Hudson’s Bay Company Trail, such as Garnet Valley below, have suffered the worst — grassland ruins that have not created a lot of prosperity, either.garnet

Here’s one of the culprits at work in Priest Valley, above my house in the North Okanagan. She is being grazed on a landscape of invasive weeds. That’s dalmation toadflax around her. You can see she doesn’t like it. Rush skeleton weed, though, well, she likes that. Almost all the bunchgrass is gone. That looks like a stalk of needle-and-thread grass in her mouth.

That missing grass is the original human habitat, and almost none is left on earth. Our bodies were made for this landscape. This is who we are. Luckily, there is some left. Here’s some bunchgrass that is grazed responsibly in Farwell Canyon, in the Chilcotin.

This is the grass that Pitt-Brooke loves. So do I. Please read David’s book, and then go out yourself to see what you can see. You might see wonders, like the virtually pristine grassland in the bed of Dry Falls, a waterfall that was once 30 miles long, falling 300 feet over these basalt flood lavas, from a river 300 feet above them. The only weed here is one stalk of toadflax in the foreground.

Before this became a Washington State Park, it was a ranch. The grass came back. We can do this.

 

The Pacific Northwest is Not the Southwest

Here’s a place. Squeezed in between the United States and Greenland. Canada.canada-relief-map

Best to stand right-way up.
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Lately, I’ve heard the strangest thing.  I’ve heard that my part of the country…canada-relief-map

… is called the Southwest. The Canadian Southwest. This was in reference to the name the region often goes by: the Pacific Northwest. Here it is in 1844, just before the 49th Parallel Canadian border (pink and grey on the right) was drawn across it, cutting it in two.

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That’s an American view, on an American military map. You can see the remnants of the Canadian Northwest in the following image (note the blue oval). As you can see, it goes right up into the Arctic. In fact, a quarter century ago, it was all of the Canadian Arctic, right up to Greenland.

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If you didn’t know the place, you might think this Southwest Canada stuff made sense. Ah, that’s where politics come in. For Instance, in 1752, the best map looked like this:

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Note the big sea where there is no sea.

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Basically, this part of North America (under that sea that is not a sea but possibly a memory of glacial melt events 12,000 years ago) is un-mapped. Here it is (below) in 1756. As you can see, no map of the region at all, really.

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And 1795. By this time the coast is mapped…but nothing else. As I mentioned above, there is a name for this “empty space.” It is the Pacific Northwest.preview

It comes by this name along two routes. First, as the map below shows well, it is Northwest of what was then the centre of European civilization in North America, the Caribbean, which was colonized by the Spanish in 1492.3213606740_9e642903a4_o

Yup, that’s where I live: in Parts Unknown. Note the totally inaccurate Columbia River at the bottom, but, hey, at least it’s there.

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This was a continent controlled by Spain (Southwest) and France (Northeast, and the centre of the continent, right down to the Gulf of Mexico), with tiny English colonies on the East Coast (later the United States) and an English trading area in the Far North. Much of Southern New France eventually went to Spain, and from there to the United States, in the Louisiana Purchase. Much of New Spain went to the United States in the American-Mexican War. But that great empty area, the goal of exploration, remained the Northwest.

 

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So, that’s the first Northwest. The second has to do with the English and French colonies on the east coast. Here’s a later map (below) of New France. In my part of the country, this is called the East, although there it is called the Centre. The English colonies are on the far right. Everything else is French.

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In other words, everything is the West, except for a narrow strip along the Atlantic. That’s the English view. The French view was that everything was the West that was West of Montreal. Here’s Montreal (below), the trading city of New France. The wealth of a continent, north, west and south, flowed through here:

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No surprise that the trading company out of Montreal was called the Northwest Company, since it traded in those regions of New France that were north of old French territory on the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s a Northwest map.

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There are many others. Here’s one from 1810 that shows the Northwest interests in today’s United States. Note that Oregon Territory (today’s Pacific Northwest) is the territory of Great Britain, the United States and Spain. Below it is Mexico. In the centre of the continent is Lousiana (now Spanish). To the right is the expanded United States, with British Territory to the North. France is out of the picture. The red arrow is St. Louis.

 

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St. Louis was the American fur trade headquarters, for all fur trading into Louisiana and Mexico. Canadian trade was still coming West from Montreal, in what is now known as Lower Canada (in the upper right.)  By this time, the eastern part of the Northwest is now called the West (today’s Mid-West) and Louisiana is still largely French-speaking. Please note that those families did not go anywhere. They are still there, but had a new culture, and a new language, given to them by colonization from the United States. The only area unexplored at this point was that area claimed by three countries in the upper left. It was politically dangerous to explore it. It was only when Spain was knocked out of contention, and it was just a disputed region between Britain and the USA, that it was given a Name: Oregon. Or the Pacific Northwest, to distinguish it from the other Northwest, which was now in the middle of the continent. Here is my Northwest, in a satellite view. Isn’t she beautiful? We call her Cascadia now.

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She has an old history, rooted in the French people who moved across the continent and intermarried with indigenous families, and took on their cultures. The arrow shows where I am living as I talk to you about this.pacnw_satellite_cropped-copy-2

To call this the Southwest of Canada is a complete erasure of a long French history, over three centuries older than the nation state of Canada and of the history of this place. The people of this history are Canadians, with more right to the term than most citizens of the nation state. Our heritage here is primarily with people in Quebec (Lower Canada), Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Northern California and Wyoming, and secondarily with the North and with the French culture on the Prairies. Canada, the 1867 British nation state, comes a long, long, long way down the list. It’s not that we’re not proud to belong to Canada here, but our history does not live within these borders:

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We’re proud of that, too, because it is that old history that makes us who we are, not the new history of a country still trying to reshape it. So, the Pacific Northwest, or Cascadia, please. We are citizens of the continent out this way.

 

 

 

The Sun Doesn’t Fall

This is not a metaphor.p1470521

It is a projection.p1470523

Across 135,000,000 kilometres of travel through emptiness, the sun reforms.p1470527

The earth focusses it.p1470528

Call that fire, that ancient word for coals: red.p1470529

Call that life. It melts the cold.

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That you cannot see the leaf-shaped sun that forms inside the snow and seeks out the earth, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

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Let’s set the idea of dead matter aside and go back to the earth.

 

 

The Okanagan in the Year 11,748

This is pretty cool. It’s the Carte Des Nouvelles Decouvertes Au Nord de la Mer de Sud, Tant a l’Est de la Siberie et du Kamtchatcka, Qu’a l’Ouest de la Nouvelle France, drawn by Joseph Nicholas De L’Isle and Philippe Buache in Paris in 1752.

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There is no record of Europeans having been here to draw a map, but what the heck, here it is. This map is centred on the North Pacific.

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Here’s the North American half of it.

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See that? That inland sea, the Mer (ou Baye) de l’Ouest?

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Whatever information the map-makers were working from, they have the rudiments of Vancouver Island, bits and pieces of the Columbia and Fraser Rivers, broken and not always in the right place, and this mysterious sea. Here’s the country today.

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The Pacific Northwest and the Western North

Red Circle: Chilcotin Basalt; Blue Circle: Columbia Basalt; Green Arrow: Home Sweet Home

The Mer de l’Ouest precisely lies on top of the Chilcotin Basalt, a plateau of flood basalts in the centre of British Columbia, matched by the larger Columbia Basalt in today’s Washington State. Both are related to the arcs of volcanoes along the coast. Here’s the map of the Sea of the West again.

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Now, much of this land was covered in water at the end of the last ice age, 12,000 years ago, in large meltwater seas following and spilling over the valleys. The four islands on the map could very well have been prominent orientation points. Intriguingly, they correspond very closely to secwepemc territory, centred on today’s city of Kamloops.

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Secwepemc Nation

 What’s more, this sea pretty much fits to the ancient span of the grasslands at the north of the Columbia Plateau and the eastern half of the Chilcotin Basalt. This is the traditional home of the plateau peoples.

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Is that not our Sea of the West?

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A sea of ice that became a sea of grass, with four peaks, islands on the map, marking the boundaries of Secwepemc territory? Who talked to these mapmakers? How old do these memories go? 12,000 years?

Beavers and Trails in the North Okanagan

Here’s an observation about water. If I’m right, it’s pretty cool. So, have a look. This is a small part of the former Commonage Reserve, a wedge of land set aside for the Okanagan Indian Band and White cattlemen to use together as pasture land, which was later sold off to the ranchers. I’ve spoken of the political injustice of that before. Let’s just look at the water. At this year, it’s snow. Look how the snow stores cold better on the east-facing walls  of the old water courses and sunlight at best on their west-facing ones.p1460105
Note the abandoned farmland and the houses built around the flood plain and the wetlands in the valley bottom. All that remains of that is a creek (marked by the willows marching through the houses), with a couple of beavers here and there, making sneak attacks on willows at night. Now, look at the gullies again. See how the hawthorn trees in the gully are hiding just below the level of the sun? That’s right where the snow is protected from the sun as well. That’s a wall of cold.p1460108 If you walk up one of these gullies in the summer, that cold will certainly draw you to it in the afternoon. As evidenced by tree growth, note that the water doesn’t follow the bed of the gully but clings to one wall.

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Well, the thing is: before the beavers were trapped out to buy surplus Napoleonic War rifles to try to keep ranchers out of this country, I’d be surprised if there hadn’t been beavers in all these now-dry watercourses, building little dams, holding the water, right down in that trough of shadow. There’s a foreign city on the beaver country now, and no beavers.

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But just think of this: when the beavers were there, the water in the bed of the gully would have modified the temperature of the gully, drawing cold across to the warm side, warmth across to the cold side, and creating one environment, centred on water, with two different kinds of growth, one on one side of the gully and one on the other. Birds and animals could move from one to the other, instead of passing long distances across the grass. The gullies, in other words, concentrated animals, not along trails, as is the case today, but in pools, just like beaver ponds. Not only is that beautiful, but it’s invaluable for creating new sources of water efficiency as we move forward. I love it.

And Yet People Complain About Winter. Huh.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

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Maybe they should leave the north and go home. I feel so sorry for them. They have to endure this:

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And this:

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It must be very hard. I know, for my part, it would be hard, very hard, to endure a winter that was not at 20 Below Celsius, at least one night. And in this January moon we had a week. Oh, glory!

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But, seriously, I have to listen to these complaints on the national broadcasting system of the country that I was born to and must pay allegiance to, to live here? Really? That’s shameful. Well, time to go for a walk and forgive.

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I am, after all, on this earth, to learn humility. Sometimes it’s easy.

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Sometimes it’s hard.

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