The Power of Opening

We are clematis. The rushing waters where the Pacific Ocean lifts to the sky and splashes down on rock sometimes look dry, scoured by the sky more than by water…

… and falling to bits.

No, that is blasting to put in a railroad. The drought of the understanding of 19th century settler culture aside, the mountains here that rise up here out of the descending seabed, in waves, only to create rainforests on the Coast and air stripped of water by the low pressure atmosphere at their peaks,  do give the illusion of drought.


A term to describe this effect of the mountains is “rain shadow”, as if there were no water here to the east of the mountains. I urge you to set that old settler idea aside. This is a shadow zone caused by rain, not the lack of water. It is a zone in which air, pressurized as it falls down off the depressurized peaks, pulls water back up into the sky to replace the water, the Pacific, really, that fell out on the Coast. The result, sometimes, is a spring that is a crust of salt.

That’s not, however, exactly an uninhabitable drought only habitable by the application of “water rights” to a scarce resource or water storage and transportation technology. I urge you to set those old settler ideas aside. They indicate only a desire to grow the wrong crops here, in the wrong places. They are, in effect, the symptoms of ignorance, one of the profound forces of settlement. Lichen and Douglas firs are doing fine here mining water before the sky can suck it back.

And people have lived here for some 10,000 years, and much more in the mountains.

An ancient camp in the Nlaka’pamux Illahie

What has been missing here since Euroamerican Settlement and a genocidal war in 1858 has been an understanding that civil life does not have to be urban and habitation does not have to be civic, on the old Roman and Greek models. Humans can, instead, seek to walk as lightly on the land as the urban area above and the pines below.

… and leave no trace. These are no more signs of poverty than they are of drought, except for the poverty of the settler imagination. In this land, you really can draw water from stone…

… or, better said, the rising up and also the falling away (of the Coast Mountains or of local rock faces), both of them, make water out of the air and give it back to the air. Human life here happens when you can live in that water on its way, just like the old ones, the lichens and those young fire people, the grass.

 Look at that curl of grass around that tongue of stone. That is water’s story.

Trees are as new here as people, and as ancient. Look:

See that? The rivers of the pines rises into the sky, leaving rock on columns of water, at the same time (and the same place) as the water enters the lack of rock and pours down as a root. Poetically seen, yes, but that is what the mind and body together can come to in the end: an inhabitation. To put all this in the European terms more familiar to Canadian and American “civilization” (an active force of control), consider that one word in euroamerican speech that matches ‘inhabitation’ is ‘dwell.’ We say “that’s a nice dwelling,” or some such, but in doing so are drawing on the ancient North European meaning of the word: a derogatory term, a hole scarcely fit for human inhabitation, a den, so to speak, for animals, who can only be rescued by being “civilized”, ie brought into a city state. Well, one can try that here, but in the end will only find drought, where there is water aplenty, and people living within its passage from sea to sky and back.

Wild Clematis


3 replies »

  1. And much of this applies to where I live too, at the edge of the San Juan Islands, where water is all around but the soil is this and often dry…and so many beautiful beings are perfectly at home here – Madrone, Douglas fir, Redcedar, little Platanthera orchids, Salal, and so many more. They do fine and we can, too.


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