A very good question was asked about my neighbourhood:
Priest Valley from the Bella Vista Hills
My house is hidden by the slope on the right.
Or, if not a question, the suggestion that it looks like a very good mix of natural and developed areas, and that’s just the thing, it does look like it. Let me give you a little tour, and then explain what has happened and why talking about this matters. First, the picture again:
First off, everything on both sides of the horizontal red line is former wetland feeding the ecosystem of Okanagan Lake to the right, just off the image. It has been filled in with gravel. This is a huge problem for the fisheries on the lake. What’s more, everything above the red line, for about 20 kilometres, has been under a land claim since 1895. Those two big issues aside, let’s look more closely:
A. This slope is off limits due to unexploded ordinance from WWII training. No cleanup is underway. Much of it is indigenous land. The Vernon Land Fill lies on sacred Syilx ground behind this slope. The pass to the right of the “A” is the old trail to the far north. Older than the Pharaohs.
B. This forest is unnatural in-growth and a fire trap.
C. This slope and all the slope to the right and left is irrigated with treated water from the Vernon Water Treatment plant, as is the golf course behind hill B, and the golf course behind the camera and up the hill. It is grazed by cattle. There are no natural plants here, except for the trees in the gullies.
D. This forestry tree farm is operating as a private business with government contracts on disputed land.
E. This fore slope is cheatgrass. There are no natural grasses left.
F. These trees represent the only surviving wetland, as it winds along the creek for a couple kilometres along the airport.
G. This forestry tree nursery bleeds water down the hill, which floods the septic tanks of the people living below, causing some major engineering issues.
H.This little slope is rich with sedums.
I. These trees are ornamentals planted during the development of the subdivision between 1975 and 1978. They are the only refuge for birds in much of this region. Hawks hunt cats from them.
J. This field is an abandoned orchard gone to weeds. Coyotes live on its lower reaches.
K. This orchard is farmed by imported labour.
L. This mid-orchard wetland is used as a rock dump.
M. This “pasture” land shows the overgrazing from cattle. There is scarcely any grass or flowers, but lots of sagebrush. It needs to burn.
N. This French poplar lies along Earl Grey’s old water canal.
O. These limestone seabed slabs sport some indigenous grasses, saskatoons, thistles, cacti, sedums, lilies and flowers, as does the slope behind them and in front of them.
P. There are a couple clumps of native choke cherries here.
Be brave, we’re getting to the end. Hang in there!
Q. The thistles here below the City of Vernon’s pumping station, delivering nitrogen-rich water to the golf course that has replaced the sagebrush above, are sprayed annually with vicious herbicides. The thistles always come back.
R. This riparian area, and others higher up the slope and to the left sport a healthy community of native choke cherries, mock orange, Nootka roses, black hawthorns, black bears, porcupines, mule deer, swallowtail butterflies, lazuli buntings, coyotes, and so on.
S. This is an invasive Russian Olive. It is rather neutral in the landscape. It takes up space.
T. More overgrown sage, but interspersed with a few nice colonies of wildflowers.
U. More sage, and a few wild milkweeds.
You made it! So, yes, this image …
… looks great, but that’s only because it fits with the parameters set by the language and the civic and provincial rules that rise from it, all supporting a foundational notion of what a “landscape” and “nature” and a “balanced community” look like. Those are colonial notions. What has happened is that the place has been transformed, largely but not irreparably, into an image of something familiar and imported, which is not sustainable. A first step will be to get the language right. A second step will be to start implementing different land uses. A third step will be to get the regulations right, in keeping with the foundational precepts of the language and the openings created by new land uses. A fourth step will be getting children out here, and schools for them. There are more steps. This work of building a sustainable and ethical future is what drives me to the work on this project. Six years ago, I saw “nature” here, but I have walked the land every day and have learned much from it. At the moment, you have likely noticed, I have been working at the first step: to get the language right. In the past, I have made posts on steps two (especially) and three. Early this year, I started a conversation to show how what you see above is a form of Artificial Intelligence. At the moment, I am working towards a vision to show how a different form of intelligence is also at work, one supportive of livable ends. I am working at it, teaching myself as I go. I am glad you are on this journey with me. Blessings, and thanks for challenging me to do better, all of you.