The Beach at Dusk

After the bold statement, the exploration. Canada is a colony and its poetry, science, transportation structures and administration are colonial. OK, that’s the statement. Now for the niggly bits. They concern themselves with the development and extension of European art forms in a new place, without adaptation to the place. The last bit is the important bit. Without adaptation to place. This place:

These are the native willows of my city at dusk. There is a line of them running through the city and in three spots along the Okanagan Lake shore, left as environmental buffers: forms of erosion protection against the loss of private property values. In their place, other trees are planted, poplars for instance, to provide shade for people lying on a beach cleared of willows and beavers. Note they must be pruned, so that branches don’t bonk people on the head. All very reasonable and practical and colonial. Not that people want to be bonked on the head but that the idea that a beach purified of life and then replanted with the wrong trees needs management. That’s colonial.

Broken branches on the ground are the point of such trees.

It can get quite silly. The trees don’t exist as trees: only as shade-producers for humans; not shade (shelter) producers for a rich web of life. That has been set at a distance.

It would be wrong to say that these trees have been humanized, though, because not all cultures would torment them like this.

Not all cultures in this place would think that the image below shows anything acceptable at all. This is not logging. This is called tree care.

But, in the end, the trees are not allowed to go to earth. In their lifetime they produce only cultural shade.

Now, it’s possible to extend European forms without continually ignoring the life that is in front of you, in favour of forms of social and economic power, but this is not it. That people come here as tourists to lie in the sun or, most likely, cool in a pool of shade and step out into the water and pack, is more a sign of poverty than of wealth.

Turning a living environment into a colonial cultural product is commonplace. It might be a tar sand, turning rivers to gick, or a fracking field, removing water from the life cycle and turning wells to explosive gas, all for the purpose of fuelling transportation and heat. The transportation is the movement of colonial products between one colonial site and another across undeveloped space, an exploratory act that never arrives at place, because it passes through it.

The image above shows a colonial railway passing through colonial farms on the Cook’s Ferry First Nation Reserve on their way to the big colonial distribution hubs to the East, from which the goods in this shipping containers will be distributed to people across northern North America. The railway will return with loads of coal, oil, sulphur, ore and lumber, for others to make new products with. This is called trade. It’s scarcely different than trapping beavers 170 years ago in exchange for British blue willow china and yellow uranium ore beads. Note that the Cook’s Ferry Band no longer participate in the agricultural reserve system. The houses here are empty, because this form of living on the land, a foundation pillar of Canada, is colonial.

The heat is like creating a beach and then shade but no life, except the delight of naked (pure, ie colonial) human bodies lying in display and soaking up the heat of the sun, then eating corn-on-the-cob.

That requires industrialized water, private property (to allow the earth’s products to be sold for private profit), and a lot of weedkiller and industrial fertilizer to create an artificial version of the life cycle. The “land” here is not place, but emptiness that can be painted with industrial products and used to support colonial leisure.

We all do it. This is hard stuff, because all “Canadians” are involved in this culture: some actively; others passively, and others for lack of a reasonable practical alternative. It might be a poet in the tmxʷulaxʷ, the syilx homeland, arguing that there is no place. That stuff goes on, actually, in an attempt to break “Canadians” from a sense of comfort that in the end accepts the colonial project while protesting it. It’s a practical solution, yet dependent upon European models without extending them in all possible directions. It chooses colonial ones. It says, to paraphrase, “what’s here is here and has no value beyond cultural markers making standing points in the haze of consciousness and language, and this consciousness of language’s manipulations, and resistance to it, will free us.” A bit like driving a car, actually, because in the end it doesn’t lead to what this image …

… represents but only to a view of it. That’s valuable in itself. It can be quite an aesthetic experience. Nature, this stuff is called. Wild life. But, you see, it’s not. What I mean is, the image  below doesn’t show “wild life.”

It shows the  tmxʷulaxʷ, living on despite the new names given to it.The  tmxʷulaxʷ is defined by the syilx (here) as a cultural space, a living space, just part of the web of all living things, tmixʷ. tmixʷ, and not separate from them.

The nsyilxcen word commonly used to refer to all living things is tmixʷ. tmixʷ includes everything alive – the land, water, animals, people, plants, and so on. The Syilx/Okanagan concept of land encompasses more than the physical geography of place, it includes the spiritual connections of everything living on and within it. The Syilx/Okanagan language, nsyilxcen, and the captikwł transmit knowledge about natural laws and what people need to learn in order to survive on the land.

There’s plenty of room in there for European additions, but to leave the colonial model of administration, art, science, and culture, they have to begin and end, for all beings, here…

… and not here:

Not here:

And not here:

Those images are extensions of Canada into this space, to create images of Canada in the tmxʷulaxʷ, and views not of the tmixʷ. tmixʷ

and its sneaky beavers…

…felling willows …

… over many generations ..

…to create complex shelter for all…

… and renewal …

… in a great thickening, not a thinning out, and not a thickening of European culture and its norms…

… however brilliant …

… and beautiful…

… and delightful…

… and artful…

Vernon Public Library, with its grassland lifted into the sky in celebration of wit.

… and more artful…

… and full of opportunity …

… and celebration of the transience of colonial identity.

Saving a few syilx willows throughout the city is a start.

But a start is not an end. It is a temporary goal. It is just a footstep.

As for the poplars…

… they have a place, too.

But it’s no outside of things, or within colonial space. It erases it, and returns the earth to life. Look at them try.

This force of renewal and continuity is everywhere.

Everywhere is this weaving.

Our Canadian technologies have a lot to offer this world, but replacing it is only the option of emptiness. That is the path of artificial intelligence. That is the path of diminishing capacity. It is not the weaving.

It is not the willow’s work.

2 replies »

    • Thanks. I continued this discussion today, and there’ll be more for Sunday or Monday. It will be great to have set this behind me, but I see the possibility of a replacement for the concept of creativity, and that excites me, so I walk on, hopefully whistling!



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