Getting Our Land Back 10: The Deep Poetic Ecology of Cascadia

The mountain is not passive. Only finished products are passive. Only “naming” to make an action into a noun creates objects. That is the point of naming. The mountain, however, is an action. Look at it sort rock at Pukhaist.

Here, let’s look a little more closely. Perhaps you can see how the trees actively participate in this process, and meltwater, too. Even on this “dry” talus slope, there are cycles of wetness and dryness, which help to move and sort rock.

Look how there are pools in the rock, just as there are eddies in a river, and that trees are living in these pools, just as fish do in rivers.

Perhaps it’s time to notice as well that some rivers in this rock are salmon-coloured. The big fish that flow north, against the current, through the river below are this colour, too. And not just fish. Across the river from Pukhaist, the siya? bushes populate the mirroring slope, with its different exposure to the sun. They are mirroring the rock on the talus slope (shown above) across from them. Anyone living in the village looks out across the river, to see the mountain above them, that active sorting process, in these bushes, and reads the mountain bushes there. Each of these berry bushes is a pool in a stream. Each is a fish. Each is a mirror of the colour of stone on the mountain above the village site across the river.

These bush fish are the same colour as the eggs that salmon lay in the gravel of the river. The human eye is drawn to this colour in the land, just as the human body as a whole is drawn to the fish and these berries. Once you get to know them, the health of the coming crop can be determined by the shade of pink in the bushes, as that is an indicator of frost, drought, vigour and the relative age of wood. In other words, for anyone who lives here, and I mean lives here, the state of life indicated in the image below is a non-directional map of time, past and future, physical and social. But, that’s not all. Notice the trail passing obliquely across the slope. Whether from deer or bighorn sheep, I’m not sure. It looks like the wrong angle for deer to me, but perhaps in the shelter of the bushes they are willing to take their time, in relative security. The mountain guides the animals, in other words, who flatten the steep slope through their passage, which makes place for humans, who need steadier ground, as they’re kind of tippy. In other words, the animals are lifting humans up the mountain. They carry them, on their journeys to the river for water and back to the security of stone.

In many ways, to be human here is to be the ones lifted by mountains. There are books that record this story. In the “named” world, that world of objects removed from “life”, these books are called ponderosa pines. Here’s one, open for reading. Now, this is a different kind of book, and a different kind of reading, than a book of words and “meanings.” It can’t be read that way.

A more familiar approximation of this reading in the world for those trained in reading a named world, in which words are objects not living actions and responses to those actions, is this map of gravel, berry, egg, and source (either sun, earth or pool, as they are effectively the same whirl leading to centring), comes below:

Notice that I’ve laid it out in the quadrants of a compass, which are also mathematical and musical. The compass is following the deer? sheep? trail, and provides a trail to stand on, which sorts this motion into four without breaking their existence as one. In other words, sun-earth-pool, pebble, egg, berry, are all one. There are stars there, too, of course, and directional action, and naming-that-does-not-name, that places this singular power into many usable forms, without breaking it. We could place a photograph in each of these quadrants, but that’s not really the point. We need to make these marks physically. They are maps for bodies, not for eyes and minds. Take this as the base state of living in Cascadia, and let’s throw a wrench into the works:

Well, not a wrench, but a different story, a story of containers being dragged right through this united landscape, separating people from it. We are not going to dispel this aggressive power that places a different country (Canada, in this case) in this space, only so that it can pass through it, but we have the tools to map its intrusions into our bodies (which are intimately connected to rock), based on the model of the quick four-field sketch I showed you above. It’s going to be dramatic, and musical, in an integrated act based on the book of the pine.

More on that next time.

4 replies »

  1. Here in Souwesto, colour co-ordinates: cardinals, orioles and scarlet tanagers are feasting on ripe mulberries. Well, blue jays too, but then the dark red mulberry has a blue hue. No purple birds, though:)


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