The Fire is Us

There are fires in all directions, for the fourth year in a row.

Frind Vineyard Tipping Machine, Vernon

Note the smoke above, in the Okanagan, and below, in the Cariboo. Cough cough.

There’s a lot of talk about climate change and global warming arriving this summer, and, yeah, the forests are burning, towns are burnt or threatened, and it is horrible. Here’s the Flat Lake Provincial Park fire burning to the north of Big Bar Lake.

Even the romantic young loon couple (sans kids) is a bit anxious. Here they are, practicing for the exodus.

So, we can go two ways here. The first is that Nature is threatened by human activity. Well, yeah.

Pretty hard to imagine this new vineyard thriving in the new climate. Cough, hack, hack.

Or is it that human activity is threatened by human activity? It might not be a good idea to reshape soil into a clay bed, cut trenches with a bulldozer, plant grapes in them, water them heavily with trickle irrigation, and then overload a tractor and drive into the soup.

Note the milk crates. They are there so that the farm can be weeded by chemicals. If you had to weed by hand, no one could afford to grow wine here. Same for orchards.

33% Grass. 66% poisoned. Note the apples thinned off to keep the price up.

Not an industry in its golden age.

Now, consider this. This land was given over to farming because Euroamerican culture was a farming culture 170 years ago, and it’s all that it could think of doing with the stuff. This separation of land, water and people created Indian reservations, nature and private land. Isolation of Indigenous social values of land-and-water, sale of land and then taxation of it created the economy of British Columbia. Water…

Big Bar Lake in the Afternoon on a Smokey Day

…was also strictly controlled. Ownership was assigned to the government, as the property of all of the people and was released to land-holders so that they could generate products for sale and provide employment, which is how an economy was understood in that culture (and still largely is today.) In some cases, the product for sale is even Nature, ie. something that belongs to everyone, just as Indigenous land did not that long ago. The people of the water were not accorded personhood in this culture and weren’t asked.

Spotted Sandpiper Being Two People in One, but, in Nature, none.

This is what the government specializes in. It has assigned itself ownership of all the Nature stuff (94% of the province, much of which is burning right now), and sells the private stuff.

This is land originally assigned to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, but then removed, essentially as a subsidy to the ranching industry.

It’s still the old days. Consider this: fires are battled when they threaten buildings (“improvements” to property), but not when they burn trees, grass and shrubs alone. There they are considered truly “wild” and part of “nature” doing its thing to itself. When fire threatens buildings, though, its wildness has crossed an impermissible line.

The Big Bar Eskers: One of the Wonders of the North East Pacific Shore and the Oldest Gravesite in the Interior (6500 years). This is the heart of Stswecem’c Xgat’tem territory.


Houses need to be protected. And human life. And the land. And human social relationships to the land, not the least because when the land and water were separated from people to turn them into Nature and Property instead of Earth, Water, People and Spirit as four forms of relationships, it was social relationships that were silenced. They weren’t silenced for Indigenous people alone, but for all British Columbians. The result is that Nature sometimes looks like land …

… and sometimes looks like wildness interfacing with property …

… when they really are spiritual relationships. What settler culture allows is emotional connection and a mysterious force called “renewal”, also known as “recreation,” and wow moments. Sometimes it entails seeing something beautiful and ancient, like a loon …

Beaver Lodge Bay, Big Bar Lake

… without acknowledging that the yellow light from the sun burning through clouds of smoke is not an invasion or destruction of Nature but part of a spiritual story. That the fires are burning is our spiritual story. The government that fights them is the government that created them, the government that in 163 years of self-assigned stewardship hasn’t figured out yet that there is no nature, only communities, which are more than human. If there is fire in those communities, it is because they are built on old, shaky foundations. The fire is us. And we can put it out. For starters, in this age of fire and smoke, it’s really a waste of much-needed resources to plant a vineyard.

That age is over.

5 replies »

  1. I regret that I can only ‘like’ your post one time. Very well said. Smoke from the western fires has reached us here on the East Coast and we have air quality alert warnings. I can only imagine how difficult it is for you to breathe these. Along with all the wildlife. Thanks for your insightful post. Best, Babsje


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