This book is a grassland in written form. That is: it is a community of living beings in a geographic space created by grass, just as hemlocks and western red cedars create the great rainforests of the north eastern Pacific coast.
The grasses of these dry, rolling hills and scrub-covered glacial outwash plains grow in bunches, creating small reservoirs of water to carry winter snow through hot summers, on dry glacial riverbeds and lake-bottom flats.
Here they are in Canim. Bay, just after they have drunk all the snow down. None flows away. When it gets hot, they will share it with their sisters, but with no-one else. The more general sharing is the role of cq̓ʷasq̓istn, known in settler culture as Big Sagebrush.
Other ancestors living in the web the grasses make in the cycle of the Earth turning while it circles the sun include lazuli buntings, mariposa lilies, shield volcanoes, downy thistles, desert parsleys, black widow spiders, brittle prickly pears, western bluebirds, downy woodpeckers, gopher snakes, mock orange, Pacific currants, wavy thistles, common loons, Pacific rattlesnakes, cat tails, black hawthorns, western scorpions, arrow-leafed balsam roots, Pacific yellow-bellied racers…
…meadow voles, yellow bells, crab spiders, chocolate lilies, Pacific wild crab-apples, humans, apostemon bees, yellow-bellied marmots, death camas, weaver ants, sage grouse, sagebrush sparrows, mule deer, porcupines, rocky mountain maples, coyotes, black bears, black alders, black cottonwoods, pike minnows, cougars, red-tailed hawks, choke cherries…
…trembling aspens, sockeye salmon, saskatoon berries, Interior Douglas firs, Pacific plums, Pacific juniper, sagebrush buttercups, mantid flies, and hundreds more.
It is the most intricately-woven landscape of the western North American shore. It supports more species than the rainforests.
The grassland has tiny shrews smaller than your thumb and night snakes that spend their whole lives in the darkness of the deep scree slopes above So’yoos. So, now you know. When I speak in this book, it is this grassland that’s talking. Here are some notes I made about this, ten years into my walks through the grass. I hope it can give you a glimpse into this world that a camera can’t catch:
That’s what I mean when I say we are telling this story together. I am planting the grass while the grass is planting me.
Not Just Me. We’re All Doing it Together.
That’s the Point.
This grassland is a dryland ocean, with tidal pools, tides, eddies, currents, reaches, straits, passages, fjords, lakes, channels, sounds, bays, bights, shores, beaches, estuaries and surfs, as its grass filters out into forests.
If you are wandering through the grasslands in this book, I hope its conversations allow you to step over the barbed-wire and split-rail fences that divide the land into property and knowledge, and meet the grass in its conversation.
Talking as they walk. Literally.
After all, this kind of approach is an indigenous method of knowledge. To be where you are. To by led by it. To enrich it in turn.
This marker, and the camp it protects, has been honoured for many thousands of years.
There is a lot of rock in the grass. The paths of ice and water through the crumbly volcanic stuff has made paths for deer to follow, and if we’re going through the grass, we’d better follow those deer. Anything else is going to leave us stranded with a broken ankle. They know the way. So, that’s where we’re going, on the deer trails. I wanted to take the time to introduce you to this kind of storytelling, because in our next chapter, we’re going to meet a different story, in the form of a German-Czech colonist, who is going to steal the water from the bunchgrass and create a debt older than my mother’s, one still outstanding. We need to know where we stand. Until then, safe trails.
s-x̌ʷy=upa (Pituophis catenifer sayi) on a Deer Trail above Canim Bay
Even if you call him a bull snake, he’s found a nice place to catch some sun, right? Right!
Get ready. The Europeans are coming.