The west shore of Okanagan Lake burnt last summer, amidst the burns of years before.
It was a terrible time last summer, but now that the year is in its last hours, it’s time to give thanks that we made it through, and to make plans for the years go come. One thing to plan for is change. We were here when the ice carved this trough, and we were still here when it melted. The image below shows 7 different shore levels, over about 11,000 years, with the current level at the bottom. Yes, I know, I “should” say, “people were here,” or “our First Nations were here” or “the Syilx were here,” but this is the end of a year and a good time not to stand between people. It’s a better time to say “the Syilx” were here, the Syilx are still here, the Syilx remember, and I stand with them within this land.” What better time to stop the colonial game than now? Well, 200 years ago, yeah, but apart from that? Let’s just start by locating ourselves within the lake. As you can see below, we live within its bed(s).
We are also living with the fire. Intriguingly, in the image above, the older fire cleared the faces of the hills but left the forests in behind. In fact, it cleared the land above the oldest, highest lakeshore. Fire, altitude, air pressure (and humidity) and water have a relationship here. We live, huddled within the water, and yet, as the image below shows, we are also huddling within the fire.
The fires, as you can see, worked their way down to the most recent lake levels (other than the present one). This was the most stable lake and lasted for about 1,000 years at the very end of the glacial age. 1,000 years! And it disappeared in a day. There would have been grass and shrubs in the fire line and mud and gravel below. That land was still wet enough, and still enough out of the wind, not to burn. The other area that didn’t burn, of course, is the area that burned before. The fire was sandwiched between these two levels, right in the one of changing water.
So, just think about that for a sec. In 2021, the one of changing water and fire, where water, fire and wind intermingle in zones of intersection, we fought fires that followed the wind through ingrown forests by creating artificial fires to imitate the old burn above, in order to save houses on the shore, which don’t appear to have been particularly at risk in this section (although they sure were a bit further north). It wouldn’t be out of line to reconsider the idea of a permanent forest, that can be harvested, and the notion of permanent houses, that put 150 years of history at risk, in a fire zone as the best way to manage the intersection of fire, wind and water. What it is is an efficient way of claiming land, privatizing it, and allowing the government to foot the bill of protecting that private privilege of living in a permanent state of claiming land, or a permanent myth of untouched wilderness. It’s time to consider that this whole zone belongs to fire, that fire follows wind, which follows the channels water and fire have made, and manage it with fire. To say that there are wildfires in a 12,000-year-old fire zone is a bit like saying “we did this,” while ignoring those among us who did not, while claiming “we settled here and made a country” while ignoring those who were here from the moment there was a “here” and before that. In 2022, we might just aim for a state in which there are neither wild people nor wild fires, but acceptance of fire into our community. We wouldn’t build a house in our neighbour’s vegetable garden, so why do we build forests or houses in fire’s house? Sure, it’s because so many of us have an image of a little house in the forest, looking over water, and it’s a beautiful image. It’s an image though, and it’s that image that the fire is reaching for and, in many cases, burning down. It’s time, starting right now, as the year opens, to allow that the productive capacity of the land includes the capacity of soil, the volume of water, and the volume of fire, all three together, not just the first and the second locked into permanent channels of legal ownership that ignore weather. This is a planet, not a map, and we are, together, her people, right in there with water, soil, sun, wind and fire (not to mention bears, deer, chipmunks, blue jays, rattlesnakes and all the rest of the people, all of us in flowing, not static, relationships. It’s time to give fire its rightful place among us.
It is time to be at home.