Dryland Wetland: Holding Water in Plain Sight

Every year 383 millimetres of water fall on this stretch of the Thompson River.

Every year 383 millimetres of water fall on this land above it. That’s a third of a metre. That’s a lot of water. Half of it falls in the winter and is slowly released to the soil and its creatures in alternating cycles of melting and freezing.

This is called a dry land, though, because when spring comes the water is all incorporated into life. Even the glacial erratic on the ridgeline is messing with water.

Well, it is dry land, if you consider a wetland to look like this:

Red Pond, Big Bar Lake Provincial Park

But what if a wetland looks like this?

Basque Ranch, Nlaka’pamux Territory

What if it looks like the silt cliff below (underground), just as the post-glacial lakes left it?

Basque Ranch

What if it looks like this, after the fire blows through?

Cache Creek

Or this? A lot of water has done a lot of work here. Some has stayed. Its channels have stayed, still doing work, still gathering even the slightest rainfall.


Note the similarity of pattern, from the vertical river cuts above to the vertical rivers in the uplands just to the north (below).

Aspens at Big Bar Lake

Similarly, notice the forest of rivers here above the Thompson. These are the tiny patterns noted above, made large over thousands of years.

Cache Creek

Now, add water. Not as in: add water and wait to see what can keep it before it flows away in an aggressive struggle between strategies for survival on the dry water but add water that stays. Make it wet. This is wet:

Hat Creek Ranch

Those pines are clouds, that never leave, or, rather, that carry the earth up with them and aren’t entirely lost (and hold some of the sun on the earth in the process.) They ebb and flow with rising and falling water levels, in companionship with fire. That is quite the trick. The aspens below are clouds, too.

The pattern of clouding that is the tree happens at a smaller level with the leaf.

Aspen Clouds

Note the river system that connects the leaves, and which they embody within themselves.

Yes, it is a play of light.

Red Pond

The same with these choke cherries. There is a play of light, bound within clouds, over the earth… and it stays. This is water. It is Earth Water. It is light water. Insisting that these are conservation strategies is one point of view, but it misses the depth of these rivers.

These are all wetland and estuary systems. Like this beaver channel, where light plays over the surface and water takes on a free-flowing form. Algae helps.

Like this wetland of rushes, where the birds and the rushes also express the free-flowing form.

Like this big sage in the Thompson that doesn’t flow. That does what water also does. It holds. It binds. This too is the flow, but in its dry form, on the progression Ice>Water>Steam>Drywater. Call that life.

Like the living soil crust between those bushes, which is, really, a collection of algae. Wetland creatures. They don’t need a wetland. They do have the capacity to hold water instantly, though, and then adapt to it, just as the pines above.

They have the capacity to pass it on, as does the pine below.

Note how the land is bare around this tree, that once lived off the water shed by the erratics above it. Over time, the rock was also likely a perch for birds, which likely lived in the tree, and planted the saskatoon seeds when they scared up and pooped, as birds will. These stories are all also water.

Look at the bare earth around the fallen tree above, and the story of great interest the trees and rocks still provide to wildlife. Because of that interest, any water that falls there now quickly runs off. It doesn’t hold, but the sun does, in a shadow of water. That is a lake of the sun. A shadow sun. In effect, it is the same as the Douglas fir has below at Red Pond:

Where the shadow of the tree once fell, the tree now lies, providing more concrete shadow and protection to small creatures of the water.

Or this rock in the Thompson, split by frost long ago, which is now a channel for deer and coyotes as they flow in their rivers through the grass. Why? Because it catches the eye…

… and then becomes a channel.

Waterfall, Basque Ranch

The flowing, the shading, the gathering of animals, the holding of water, are all forms of water in the dryland-wetland. They are all time effects, in which a physical element (water) extends for many generations, across species and physical realms, in place. This is as powerful a way to describe and plan for water as any blue water theory, as lovely as that stuff is:

Yellow Pond at Big Bar Lake

In terms of blue water (flowing water) theory, it seems to nonsensically combine so many elements that they can’t be differentiated… but that is only if one concentrates on blue water and ascribes randomness and self-agency to the interactions between things. Once one steps away from the point of view of blue water, however, then blue water becomes a very special case of dry water.

It is a place where life is held in potential. Dryness makes the space for it, just as the clay, which prevents this water from seeping away, does at Yellow Pond above. It is a holding. It is a powerful force, but in the grassland, it is only one of many forms of water and does not define the others.

Every vertical fir not taken by fire becomes a horizontal river in time.


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