Indigenous Land Use and the Agricultural Land Reserve

It’s actually the law of the land: indigenous rights precede all others. No matter that the rule has scarcely been applied since 1858, it’s still the law of the land, and it still makes sense. For instance, right now, negotiations are under way in my country, British Columbia, for ways in which to realign a land-use practice called the Agricultural Land Reserve, which intends to prevent the sale or use of agricultural land for any other purpose. Land like this:

The reserve has been in place for forty-five years, and was prompted by a desire to halt the infill of British Columbia’s scarce farmland with houses. Any land that was farmed, or that had once been farmed, was frozen in place overnight. Or so it seemed. Forty-five years later, vast regions of farmland are currently unharmed under this system, being dedicated instead to golf courses, on the one hand, private horse paddocks on another, and large private lawns on the other, while many others sport houses 10,000 square feet or larger: obviously more urban residences than viable farm houses. Some agricultural land owners (and not a few) have simply dumped rocky fill on their land until it could, reasonably, be declared unfit for agriculture, while others have used arguments that land is not economically viable as agricultural land and landowners deserve to get profit from their private holdings. Human cleverness being what it is, there is no end to the work-arounds. In a province which makes the bulk of its money from selling houses to foreigners or Canadians from east of the Rockies, the system is exacerbating tensions, hence the current call for reform. The Agricultural Land Reserve Commission is now taxed with finding a better balance between urban and farming land uses, presumably not subject to abuse. Land like this:

Land like this:

Fair enough, but all of this fiddling is beside the point. The argument is not whether land removed from agricultural use should create profit for its owner, or how it should be developed into housing or industry, but that the original removal of land from its indigenous owners, between 1858 and 1878, for the most part, has even the slightest shred of ethics behind it if the argument is accepted that it was needed to develop an economy, to support a government, to prevent a takeover by the United States (a publicly-advertised threat back in those days), regardless of how much that usage represented racial policy. What that means is that if urbanized agricultural land, like this …

… or like this, which escaped land reserve censure through an extensive green belt program..

… is ever to be removed from agricultural use for industrial or other development purposes, two processes must ethically precede that. First, the land must be returned to the productive health it was in before 1858, with the kind of natural-process, fire-regime indigenous farming practices local people built up over thousands of years, before any sale could be made (the resulting viability would prevent any argument that the land was not viable farmland, only that it was not viable in a racially-derived land-use system based on degrading natural values rather than improving them, and good riddance to that) and, second, any land alienated from the original claim should be returned to its original indigenous owners, with one exception, noted below. Even a compromise between the two systems is possible, with shared governmental authorities between the three claimants to this land: British Columbia, the peoples of this Pacific Slope, and the other people of this space, who deserve travel corridors through any built space, rather than being shot when they enter it, or denied any access at all.

A claim is often made in this country that the hills are dry and full of weeds, and that the country is hot, dry and unproductive. None are true, and can be countered with a wide dispersal of knowledge. After all, the reason the land appears dry has to do with destruction of its original vegetation, as well as the infilling of tens of thousands of acres of wetlands, for industry and housing. Water is natural here. Here’s a tiny remnant on the Commonage Land Claim, disputed since 1895. This creek is all that remains of a vast wetland filling the entire floor of the valley. It has an airport on one side and a sports field on the other, and low-cost housing developments throughout, all of which are the equivalent of dumping waste rock on agricultural land today to render it unviable.

It has to stop. It is unsustainable. What is not acceptable is to compound the original theft by now removing the land from any productive or natural capacity at all, and turning it into this:

That is, again, unsustainable, unless compensations are made for it to the original debt, and payable to indigenous peoples and indigenous environments, with the full participation of indigenous peoples. The thing about all of this is that it is easy, and less intrusive to society than the original land theft, or the reconfiguration of private land rights through the Agricultural Land Reserve Act. Sure, there would be difficulties, but any government that can invest $11,000,000,000 into an unwanted, unneeded, actively opposed dam project on Indigenous land, against the wishes of its rightful Indigenous owners, surely has the money to invest in supporting its farmland owners to make the transition from degrading environments to improving them. After all, it is already investing in agriculture — in industrial agriculture. There is a valid point to these millions of dollars of investment, in terms of protecting the ethical responsibility that adheres to the original privatization and racialization of land, but when the flip side happens and that ethical responsibility is squandered, then environmental and social ethics take precedence. Moving the land further away from its debt, into increased urban density without changing urbanity into an environmentally sound model on indigenous principles, is ethically, economically and morally bankrupt. Are there issues, between the needs of the federal state, Canada, and all its regional levels of government? Of course there are, but they can be worked out. Setting them aside is only going to compound them.

Sterilized Geese on the Dole. Okanagan Lake

People keep feeding them, despite governmental orders not to do so.


Artificial Intelligence, Psssst, Over Here, I Have a Gift for You

What follows is a post in defence of poetry as a defence against Artificial Intelligence. Regular programming will resume tomorrow. This thought came to me on my walk up the hill today, and I wanted to worry it a bit: “The myth, the language that human bodies receive from the Earth (that is also their body, in the form of their bodies)…

No, That is Not a Virginia Creeper

…is a secret language, closed off to rocks, mountains, stars, and artificial intelligences, unless we offer them entrance.” Simple enough, but it hides a certain amount of disquiet, based on the observation that in ancient practice a riddle is a test of whether an applicant is ready for inclusion into a community of secret knowledge, or whether the applicant must die, or otherwise remain in ignorance, closed off from either community or power, from the Saga of tribe. One could always refuse the test, but once committed one was changed by the experience. But we don’t need to get too complicated about it. This is bodily knowledge, after all, or the way the body and the mind meet. They meet here, or, rather, leave together. 

A machine can analyze that meeting if it can statistically compute millions of such meetings, but in the end it can’t say where they go, unless they choose to express themselves in machine language, like Eckhardt Toll, here:


In the end, soothed by automated jargon, it will speak to the database-dependent methods in which it has been trained. It would, thus, be best to avoid standardization, or to use it as a screen. One will be read. Resistance, however, is easy, because the script is simplistic, and what is read might likely be a screen, as specifically designed to confound the machine as Facebook ads are designed to reach into human brainstems and amputate later evolution. Here’s a picture, then, for Facebook to compute, just to keep it happy. It won’t have a hard time. One must please the audience, after all.

Still, in the USSR (Soviet Russia) and the DDR (the old East German communist state), the most successful playwrights and composers concealed political ends within secretly-coded riddles, either musical quotations, in the case of Shostakovich, or surreal clowns, in the case of Stefan Schütz. If overgrown adolescents like Elon Musk (dangerous as they are) insist that humans must become cyborgs to prevent themselves from becoming house pets to machines, he has overlooked a few things. For one, humans aren’t thinkers. They are profoundly irrational and have a strong capacity for resistance and predation, even self-predation, that is peculiarly tangled with love and disdain. The darned things have the capacity to be improvised explosive devices, for good or bad, but which, eh?  As I said, though, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Poetry is a riddle like this. Here’s some, from an unpublished manuscript in process about wine terroir:

Aqueducts, a kind of aboveground qanat that looks like an Autobahn bridge, were the usual thing in Germany, though, where water comes in from Holland in endless clouds that roll overhead like schools of herring, so close it’s as if you could net them and bring them down. Usually they join together and turn the whole sky to water the same colour as the mud flats of the North Sea. Accordingly, the problem in Pölich is not transporting water but gathering it. Hence the qanat — on the observation that drought can be caused by rock, instead of by weather. It rains the dickens in Pölich, but there is simply so much shale on the hill that there’s hardly any dirt. In the whole valley between Trier and Koblenz, most of the earth’s surface is just the rocky channel that the melting glaciers left behind when their meltwaters carried the clay of the Eiffel Mountains out to Rotterdam and Hellevoetsluis.

I had some fun. I expect it’s largely unreadable. Still, thirty years ago millions of people could read a text like this. Now that machine-reading is dominant, though, not so many. So, like, I ran it for a test with the robots. One cloud-based software suite gave it a complexity factor of 93%. I beamed. Another identified 36 topics (in 160 words!), including “oil shale” and “tanker freight” and “Argentina,” which aren’t there at all. It identified the main topic as “ancient technology,” but missed the real, non-linear topic. One could severely mess with this software. One is reminded that in the age of riddles, even in the 18th century, poetry was the means by which the aristocracy was trained to administrate their states, in a governmental system in conflict with a church that insisted on more linear methods of thought and obedience. The old masters rose to prominence by their ability to communicate and resist at the same time. The post-communist catholics of the former DDR know how to do this as well, within a still-extant communist and still-extant Nazi system. They do it with humour, as do the street artists of Dresden and Weimar, who probably don’t even attend their churches (Just a guess.)

Fill in the Blanks (in the lower right.)

Exquisite Anarchist Graffiti from the Dresdener Neustadt. With a pornographic communist tickle feather that is probably a Neo-Nazi taunt.

A cottonwood tree, with two ages of bark, is a good example of a riddle of this kind, or, rather, the impulse behind a riddle, that reveals its secret language when asked. To a machine, it is likely as inscrutable as the language of blue whales is to humans. Given that this is the age of information…

… we could say that thistle (the poor machine, and its machine-thinking programmers, understood ‘thistree’ as ‘thistle’, but now that I have corrected it, it’s going to weigh that into future decisions, I’m sure) is a particularly dangerous riddle for Artificial Intelligence, as the content of the image is susceptible to being read as an on-off binary numerical sequence, which AI really loves, although there are hundreds of other factors at play and the point of focus may not be the actual point of focus, or it might be open, and “reading’ may not be at play at all. To answer that, you will have to look into your body. You might have to go for a walk. 

Nonetheless, a machine reading this, or even a human trained to read like a machine through schooling and novels is going to fail at this reading, just as WordPress’s self-taught virtual robots are convinced that “thistree” is “thistle” yet that “thist” (the beginning of the same clumsy typing over-run) is “this.” At best, we can expect machines to analyze colour-based responses, or responses based on shape and form, and to analyze patterns in terms of a falling series of statistical probabilities of significance (but never, perhaps, the lack of meaning.) At worst, we can expect a machine to use these images as proof that humans are incapable of thought (as coded into the machines.), in contrast to the meaning-driven thought parameters taught to them by their programming masters, to whom things do have meaning (Except the Russians. They seem to be angry at the Russians for being “mean”, without the “ing.” Or something.)

The kicker is that people have trained these machines, people whose bodily and cognitive thinking meshes at a machine level, due to a variety of influences, including environment, socialization, industrialization, book-learning, bad schooling, drug culture, art, and so much more. Before there were artificial intelligences within machines, there are artificial intelligences within people, built by factors that are largely environmental (environment, socialization, industrialization, book-learning, bad schooling, drug culture, art, and so much more). They cannot be un-taught, but they can be repurposed, and that is what we are doing here: providing entrance into a deeply coded, publicly accessible language capable of extending thought and the power of human bodies, and from time to time, riddles, such as this:

The knowledge of how to decode them exists. Your body knows. So does mine. I won’t betray the secret. The machine can see what it likes. Oh, right, here you go, Google:

Elon Musk, this is chess.

Economic Viability, Environmental Sustainability and Elon Musk

I have been challenged to explain how my beautiful observations can be economically viable. This one in particular, this beautiful rock melting the snow away.

Well, there are many dimensions to economic viability. For starters, my small urban area of 80,000 people currently draws water from an upland area that could support a vigorous cool-climate agricultural industry, a forest industry and a wild-crafting industry. Here is some Labrador tea doing just fine.

What’s more, it has a value. Google says so:

$400 per kilogram is not a bad price. But, aside from that it’s not really that hard to imagine hundreds of crops growing here at 3800 feet, because, for one, there are many areas of Canada with thriving agricultural regimes at that altitude, and for another the climate is better than the Black Forest, Iceland, Switzerland, and many other places in which the land is intensively farmed. Here, however, the limiting factor is water, and water is very expensive to transport into the valley bottom. In fact, in my small urban area of 80,000 people, the current projected bill for upgrading water delivery is $100,000,000. When you consider that half of the water (half is not an exaggeration) evaporates away in these rain shadow deeps, that is, effectively, $50,000,000 of lost value. Pretty much anything we do is going to be better than that.  These rocks below are melting it in place.

That is value, because this image is taken on agricultural land, or at least land that was agricultural before it was alienated to form an inefficient irrigation canal and then alienated further to create a subdivision to house people retiring from Greater Canada, each of whom increases the water load on the land. The thing is, there is water on the land, but by midsummer it has all gone. In fact, by mid-spring the land surface is dry. This dryness is used as an argument for the economic non-viability of the land, which increases housing development, which increases the concentration of water in the hands of wealthy people, which decreases the availability of water for food growing. The thing is, though, that there are 28 inches of water falling on this land each year, most of which flows away, much of it into Okanagan Lake.

The flood events that come from sudden spring run off, create a public safety bill of $12,000,000, just in Greater Kelowna. Read about it on Castanet here.


That’s economic unsustainability. So, it is certainly economically and environmentally sustainable to stop transporting water into wasteful environments, and it is certainly an expensive waste to let the water all run away at once. It is also ethically questionable to do both, given how the processes create a class system around water. That is actually more than normally problematic in this environment, because this is all stolen land and stolen water, and its original owners have the right under the laws of the Government of Canada to assert their rights to mutual governance of that land and primary rights to the water. I am in full support. I am also in full support of acting proactively, to prevent critical problems before they explode and get very expensive and perhaps poisonous. Hence, a simple idea: a rock.

Rocks are low tech, and they are durable. They melt snow and soil, and slowly combine them in repeated cycles that reduce runoff, and they gather rain in the summer and bird faeces all year long to nourish bushes. Producing berry bushes like this:

Last time, I checked, dried berries are going for $25 a pound. Raisins are $5 a pound. We don’t grow them here. Our land and our water are too expensive, and our sun is too fragile. We can, however, grow saskatoons, on unused land, supporting an indigenous food crop and indigenous forms of land use and understanding. Are we farming like this now? No. There are solid economic reasons why not, but they have a lot to do with rules surrounding land ownership, property access, non-wildlife zones near human housing, and, the big one, the desire to keep all the water. The beautiful thing about wringing water from rocks…

… or for a land management strategy making use of the abilities of rocks is that it is there to sustain us when those issues of land ownership, property access and notions of wild or farmed land change under economic, social, political, industrial or military pressure. Is it economically sustainable to throw a bunch of rocks around and live off of them? No. Can we use them, and a hundred other natural process like them, to unite our society across its very real divides and to provide resiliency for the future? Yes. Now, there was one more factor to this question of economic viability. It was Elon Musk. This American man…

… says this on the Guardian:

If humans want to continue to add value to the economy, they must augment their capabilities through a “merger of biological intelligence and machine intelligence”. If we fail to do this, we’ll risk becoming “house cats” to artificial intelligence.


And so we enter the realm of brain-computer (or brain-machine) interfaces, which cut out sluggish communication middlemen such as typing and talking in favour of direct, lag-free interactions between our brains and external devices.

To which I can only add tonight: if humans want to continue to add value to the earth, they must augment their capabilities through a “merger of biological intelligence and environmental intelligence”. If we fail to do this, we’ll risk becoming “house cats” to Elon Musk. It is a very real risk, but it is not an economic risk, so much as an existential risk which has the danger of becoming a military one. Part of the answer is not to “enter the realm of brain-computer interfaces,” but to go where the machines can’t. The time to develop existential resiliency is now, not ten years from now. And so, unabashedly, a rock.

With full apologies that every post hasn’t garnered this level of detail these last six months. And that leads to a personal explanation of my recent concentration on beauty rather than the practical goals at the heart of this project: I have been finishing off a manuscript that lays down, through explorations of balance, which is an ancient definition of beauty, sixty years of journeying towards an understanding of the earth that can underly this practical work. I have used the blog, as I always have, to conduct the explorations to support my arguments. On that framework I am ready to start assembling the practical posts from this blog into useful collections. Will it change the world? No, Elon Musk will do that, under the paternalistic guise of protecting us from a mechanized world. He is absolutely right that it is our job to change our selves. We’d better get started.


Artificial Intelligence and Creation

The people of the world of the creation are creatures. They are creations, created by looking to the world in wonder (or anguish, confusion, need, joy or contentment, puzzlement or any other wave of energy)  and having the world answer with the form that creates a balance in the shape of that space.

That time is now, or it is 200 years ago or 2,000,000 years ago, or just now. The distance a person places it at does not change ability to respond to creation, but at a certain distance it means people will say that “they” will use “their bodies”, or the bodies of others, as tools. That is the original artificial intelligence, the one that calls yarrow and mustard (above) weeds, because they are not forage foods for cattle, without calling to them and accepting their response.  All other forms of artificial intelligence follow.

Low Tech Greenhouses for Deep Winter Gardening

It is time to plant a rock! There’s nothing like a rock to create a world. Look at this beauty, rounded by a glacial river long ago, high above today’s valley. It catches the sun under the snow, creates a hollow down there where it’s nice and warm, waters the soil, and then melts the snow cover to let in more light and air.

Note how the up-slope portion of the rock continues to melt snow, to keep water flowing through the garden below. If the slopes are steep enough, with enough sun, the slope of snow will slowly slide downhill over the rock, which will cut it like a knife, allowing for an ever-extending downslope garden. Summer is that garden at its fullest extension. What’s more, there are a lot of gopher hills in the summer. Perfect for a bit of rock-sowing. Your garden might even be out of the reach of quail, who like to nibble sprouting seeds from February on. But they can stand up above and fertilize it, that’s ok.

Oh, those poor people who live where there are no stones!

Darwin Missed Out, Poor Guy

Flowers are lovely. Creatures come to settle in. The flower calls, and the world answers.

It’s the same with the stalk. Those seeds aren’t going to be spread on their own!

It’s all a recreation of the sun, not as a star but as a source of life. “Colour!” say the flowers, meaning “Light!”, meaning “Life!”, and not meaning “I’m keeping, because this is a war.”

This is not a war.

Defying Gravity

Black Moss ( Bryoria fremontii) with water: an ancient syilx survival food.

At a point there are attractions greater than attraction to the core of the earth. Here the molecular bonds of water molecules maintain the plasma of the sun, on earth. In other words, this is the conversation between earth and sun:  this, and you and me.