Indian Reserves and Language

Let’s be humble for a moment. There is a global culture today, and it is not humble. It looks out through human actors, apprehends the image below through their complex biological organs …

… and sees leaves. It is proud of itself. As the humans this culture controls, let’s not set aside that pride, but let’s set humility alongside it. The global culture looks through its humans at the moment broken by apprehension below and sees an ill poplar leaf, suffering  predation by leaf miners in a season of drought.

It may or may not view the three ants at work within the image. This global culture is language-based, in a conception which views language as the expression of individual humans, learned in social environments. Such languages exist, of course: English, Spanish, Swedish, Hallkomen, Urdu, Nysilxcen, Hopi, French, C, and so on. There are thousands of them. They are powerful. All humans use them. Or, rather, all humans are used by them. Consider stag horn sumac (again):

 

To global culture, the sum of individualized, word-based language, those are leaves. The word “leaf” determines what the humans, who use the word, will see. A human can come by, now and then, and say that these are “tongues” or “wings” or “feathers,” but global culture will soon explain that such “use” of language is “metaphor” and “poetry,” and move back to “reality,” that holds that the image shows “leaves.”

 

 

It was not always so. The culture of my ancestors, for example, once held —not very long ago — that the image showed the Word of God, in a conception that a primary force, called God to give it a tag in language, spoke the world in physical form, not in the words now used to point to it, such as “leaf” and “stag horn sumac.” What’s more, these ancestors held that this language was being continually spoken by this God, and continually spoken back, in a form of mutual interwoven consciousness neither human nor divine.

In other words, my ancestors understood themselves as physical bodies in a physical world. Language, or the strings of “words” now known as language came later. What’s more, these word strings embodied the place of mutual, interwoven consciousness represented by bodies interacting with bodies, in a social, human sphere. That was its role: it has now replaced the earth.

Well, only if we let it. I can, for example, give myself over to global culture and treat the mule deer doe above as an animal, foreign to humans and separate from them, determined by the word “deer,” contained within concepts such as “environment,” “flight behaviour,” and so on, or I can honour my ancestors, and the power of my presence in the world, by treating this deer as my self. Or this wasp hunter.

Or this limestone cliff. And here’s the thing: if I am the limestone cliff below…

…I am the seabed it once was, and the clams and other bivalves whose shells once made (and still do) that limestone out of atmospheric carbon…

 

…and the forces of subduction and uplifting that raised them here in the sky in patterns that, like language…

…guide where I walk and where I do not…

… what I will find there, when I will eat choke cherries and when I will pick saskatoons that sing off of their stems with the sound they are known by in the human language of this place, nysyilxcen: siya?.

It is both the sound of the tongue making the glottal stop of the “?” in the written approximation of a vocal word that is the mouth eating a plucked berry, and the sound of the berry leaving its stem while being plucked. It is both at once, and their coming together, and their transfer into a human social language, without the loss of their ground. This limestone is part of the complex of forces which lead to that moment. Here it is three months later.Its story is still opening. When you live in space, you read it, then create objects to extend the power of that reading. That’s what bodies do. Let’s be humble and proud at once: it is not about words. The land created the deer trail imaged below, at the intersection between gravity and the architecture of deer skeletons and musculature. Our bodies follow it. Words are no different.

In this way, humans are an invention of language, and are kept by it. It might prompt them to create the proto-petroglyphs and proto-sculpture of the cliff-face above, or it might simply open through the physical experience of human bodies into narrative. 

If you know how to read these artful transfers of energy, you can translate them into cultural amulets, such as words, baskets, houses, food stores, stories, spirit traditions, and by extension into the worlds of those amulets, into automobiles, avocado peelers, radial tires and so much more, even private castles made out of chipped aspen trees, glued together in sheets, hung on the milled bodies of spruce trees, sheathed in plastic, and decorated with a thin patina of manufactured stone to assert its place in global culture …

… and even the red sun from the smoke of a summer of fires caused by the failure to maintain this story.

 

Folk traditions are serious when they say that the earth is our mother. It is not a metaphor. It is not an abstraction. It is not an idea, or a symbol, or a myth. My ancestors say the same thing as the tradition of the indigenous people of this place, the syilx. We are interwoven. The land speaks us. In Canada, the country which has laid claim to this space of earth-human weaving, bridges between indigenous and non-indigenous people are fraught. They needn’t be. That’s the language, or in the case of Canada a system of Indian reserves and land privatization, that determines these boundaries. Let’s be humble and admit that. Let’s be proud, and admit that we know the way forward.

Every word we speak comes from our ancestors.

Every one.

 

Everything else keeps us on our reservations. Yes, “our” reservations. Indian Reserves are not just there to contain indigenous people. They are there to contain everyone else as well. Let’s take that wall down.

 

Spigold: the apple you want to eat

I picked this single branch of spigolds today. Look at them shining! This is the kind of apple for picking from the tree and then sharing with whoever comes by, with a silver knife and a special plate: big cells from an extra chromosome, honey and cinnamon from Golden Delicious, full of juice, spicy and dense from Northern Spy, and red as only late ripening in October can make her. She’s gorgeous.

When grown on a more vigorous tree (this one is grafted onto a tender little honeycrisp), each apple can be more than a pound. I tell ya, we should rip out the royal galas from the north half of the valley and grow spigolds. There is hardly a better apple on earth. There are a few that are just as good, but, seriously, spigolds. Honey and cinnamon. There it is. Time for you to get one, don’t you think?

The Waves of Cascadia

Here we are on the surface of the Yellowstone Plume, the newest part of my country, Cascadia.

These are the Mammoth Hot Springs.

It’s hot there, and exquisite.

And stunning. It’s all on the surface for you to see.

Up to the north and west, in a land of volcanic collisions rather than a vast eye of heat, the same process of water-borne minerals being deposited as salts takes place when the old sea beds are bared by dynamite.

When I contemplate how many times these salts have cycled through the sea, I am struck by how the Yellowstone Plume and the Pacific Ocean off the Cascadian shore are the same.

Salt Hanging Out With the Salmon in the Salish Sea

We could call them the Pacific Plume and the Yellowstone Sea.

Vernon, British Columbia, A Cascadian City

Not just that. Look how the atmosphere and the landforms, and the lakes play along. That’s fog from Kalamalka Lake lying over Coldstream Ranch in the middle distance. Consider for a moment how clouds, mountains, fog and the breakage points of uplifted seabeds, and the volcanoes erupting through them, are all the same sea and the same plume. It is useful to give them separate names, such as hill and cloud, sky and water, volcanics and so on, but those are words that come from far away. Here, they are the same energy folding into and outside of itself. The knowledge contained in a great European thinker like Descartes, or a great European dramatist, like Shakespeare, has its equal here, in exactly what you are looking at in this image. If you do not see it, it’s time to go walking! In this country, there is no such thing as a mountain.

These are not mountains.

Coyote Den in Priest Valley, looking west over Fjord Lake Okanagan

Ripeness

Ripeness is not “ready for eating,” no matter what the dictionaries say. Neither is it “mature.” Have a look.

One definition is “sensuous and full”, as in “ripe lips,” and another “emitting a foul odour,” and another “vulgar.” None of these are ripeness, as they all have to do with eating. A better definition would be “full” of “completeness,” or “embodying its full opening before retraction in preparation for another opening.” This wavy-leaved thistle, for instance, will close up, and grow a flower stalk next year, in a two year cycle, before giving this fullness over to seed to open again.

Ripeness is a fullness of rhythm. It is the point where everything is potential.

It doesn’t come in spring. That is only the first hint of potential’s power to open.

 

All the Bees Looking for a Home Now

Here is a grassland missing its flowers. Cows ate them. While thousands of people have been going to work in the valley below, and back, and forth, only the deer and a curious man have been walking this trail. Well, and the coyotes.

My front lawn to the rescue. I planted it in flowers 6 years ago. Here’s a leaf hopper.

No insects in the “grassland.”

Two Years of Introduced Crested Wheat Grass, Pretty Lonely

But here’s a beetle (I think.)

And a little shadow bee, camouflaged for sagebrush.

And this beauty.

And this little fly. Everyone comes.

Every year, I find a different collection of species. I’m over fifty now. I don’t know their names. I call this golden bee.

Isn’t this one beautiful? All this was within five minutes, in one garden.

There should be flowers in the grass. The bees evolved for them. And now? Well, a deer trail. Somebody ate all the flowers.

At least there’s my garden.

Aphids, even. Everyone needs a home.

Even aphids!

Up on the hill? Ravens cleaning up.

But down here? Ah.

Everyone else. Now I have to help them find their way back. Here.

That is a poet’s work. In this country, the country of the people driving back and forth to work and never coming up on the hill, there is this, pretending to stand in its place:

Toronto’s Ken Babstock as a poetry judge. Sad, really.

Source: http://prismmagazine.ca/2015/01/15/three-questions-with-poetry-judge-ken-babstock/

Love a planet, today.

Stuff like this doesn’t happen on Mars.

 

This Land Must Burn

In the panorama of the hill, there are flashes of colour, very specific, which signify human food and the season in which they will be found. Indigenous humans spread seeds from those asparagus, hawthorn, rose, and Saskatoon bushes, so they can come again.

There are also cows, choosing to live only in a world of weeds that have sprung up in areas they have lain in before and shat out weed seeds from off-mountain hayfields and pastures. They make their own environment. Most of the grass you see in the distance is cheatgrass, which came with the cows but then went feral and made an environment hostile to everyone. It limits movement but doesn’t make it impossible.

Pretty sick and sad-looking animal, that. On the hill, there are also other people, who won’t be found in the cow muck.

They blend in.

They make the trail I used to climb easily up a steep hill, which is where I found him. Of course, he found me first. He made possible the relationship we stood within for five minutes.

His environment is still here, but highly-constrained, just as narrowed as the human one, yet the old relationships are still here, and can still be rebuilt. For that, today, I rejoice.