Agriculture

8. Calling Things By Their Right Names

Blind Creek, “the place of yellow flowers”, might indicate “rabbit brush…”

…the bright, feathered sage that catches the sun in October and draws in jewelled bee flies, with their dense, brightly-coloured fur coats, out of the thick, late season air….

… and apostomen bees, their prey.

It might nod to “sagebrush buttercup…”

…a waxy flower sprouting from long, emerald-green stems as soon as the snow dissolves in March (traditionally used to tip poisoned arrows for bird hunting).

It could also honour semárata, an early spring lily that rises a hand’s breadth above the lichens of the spring soil, then bows down in a lovely little arc of tension. To see its chocolate-brown bowl, you have to lay your cheek on the soil and stare up against the sun. It soon replaces it.

aka “Yellow Bell”

The name might also refer to the lemon-coloured cactus flowers that come only in rare years of early sun after years of summer rain. Each has a neon-green vulva, where neon-green bees with their striped dresses come to dance. 

“Brittle Prickly Pear”

It might celebrate smətsnáleḱw (aka Wild Carrot (Lomatium macrocarpum), a vital early season vitamin source needing young landscapes, and one reason the grasslands of the plateau were burned every 5 to 10 years: to maintain its youth.

These are at Predator Ridge, a housing site and golf course. They will soon be replaced with fragile boxwoods and other flowerless, low-maintenance shrubs.

It might celebrate smúkwaʔxn, the wild sunflower of the West, that covers the shoulders of Kobau Mountain to the south and the glacially-cut hanging valleys of Daly Mountain to the north.

aka “Arrow-leafed Balsam Root”

A great name for a place, by all accounts, although there were no yellow flowers of any kind by the time I got there in what is called 1958. Because of this loss, and the consequences of heavy spring grazing on the mountain, the currently obvious choice for a significant yellow flower is arrow-leafed balsam root, which covers the grassland slopes of the mountain in a sea of yellow every May.

No flowers = no bees = no songbirds.

I urge care around this (obvious) identification, as smúkwaʔxn (balsam root) is one of a small groups of plants that increases in damaged landscapes. Another is big sagebrush.

Big Sagebrush at Blind Creek (Before smúkwaʔxn Season)

Together, they are dominant on the slopes above Blind Creek, likely more signs of the degradation of the land through grazing than an old name for an ungrazed slope used as a gathering place. Still, if the name indicates the entire slope, as well as the lost flats now covered with orchards, or if the term “Place of Yellow Flowers” is an expression of affection and beauty, it could be balsam root: the biggest splash of colour in the valley. You could find it easily any spring. However, if the name indicates a pattern of human gathering, it’s likely not balsam root. That stuff is everywhere. This would likely have been one of the rarer plants.

Here is some smúkwaʔxn (balsam root) is at Head of the Lake

Because of the changes the land has been subjected to, we don’t know. What we do know is that today Blind Creek is a place where balsam roots thrive. Today it is something like The Place of Arrow-leafed Balsam Roots, a name indicating the encroachment of orchards on Blind Creek’s flats, the squeezing of settlement up against the hill and on disappearing water, and the erosion through grazing of a rich grassland landscape down to a few tough species able to harvest water without an interlocking web of life to help them do so. The name, however, also holds memory. It tells us what the land is suited for, how far we have diverged from that suitability, and where we can look to rebuild. It is, in other words, history.

~

Next, let’s look at the orchards that have taken over Blind Creek’s flats. I want to show you them in this context, as well as the social wounds they are woven into. Then we’ll be ready to look at the social wounds that created them, and the dreams and struggles bound up with that. That, too, is history in the grass.

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