history

37. A Land of Gifts

A vital part of the history of the Pacific Northwest is the concept of how your body relates to it culturally as a body among other bodies. This is not the same for everyone. If you are a part of the land, the characteristics of the land are your own.

Antelope Brush and Smooth Sumac, Okanagan Falls

They have to be. That means that the dryness, resilience and sharing of these plants, as they weave a community together, is part of who you are if you live among them. If it isn’t, you don’t live among them. In such a case, to survive, you might wind up doing something like this:

How Not to Blend In

Oliver Ranch Road

It is an extension of living somewhere else. If you were actually dependent on the land for survival, this land….

Antelope Brush Steppe + Fence, Oliver Ranch Road

… then you wouldn’t fence it off as property. You would need the deer (and others) to come to it. On your own, as a human, you are not particularly well-suited for surviving in this hot landscape.

Grassland Slope at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ

As a human, however, you do have some assets: your mind, your body, and your social relationships. Especially the latter. With these, you will learn principles of survival from plants communities , in the ways that your body and mind can understand. Not so much from individuals, though. In spare environments like this, it’s the little that a hundred species can add that builds strength. It adds up to enough for all.

The owl that lives in the pines keeps the voles in check that renew the grass that stores water and feeds birds that scatter berry seeds that feed you, that kind of thing. Little bits add up to a year for many. On their own, there’s not a enough for anyone. It’s good to remember that humans and these landscapes shaped each other and are part of each others’ communities.

Without the knowledge you can gain by observing these communities, by learning what they offer, who comes to them, when, and how you can weave yourself into that relationship without breaking it, you will just be standing there drying out or freezing, and that’s not particularly good for you in the long (or short) run.

Container Gardening in Okanagan Falls

You could, however, play your identity as a Canadian or an American and argue that doing the following…

Wild Goose Vineyard, Okanagan Falls

…is a strong weaving and a strong interface with the land. You’d be right, too. It is. This vineyard, which has replaced a shrub steppe, supports people, a coyote or two in the winter, a few deer cleaning up after harvest, some starlings, harvesting, and all of this in the late year.

Starlings, Wild Goose Winery

At other times of year, nothing, though. Everyone moves into town and feeds in back yards, where the water and plant density are, and then get called pests and are preyed upon for their refusal to stay wild (which they never were.) As a weave, it’s a shallow one. It refuses to pass along the gifts of the land to its other creatures, which means that they cannot give it back. In other words, the strategy impoverishes connections of that thype. The actual strength of this interface …

…comes from being woven with the technology that makes it possible (petroleum, engineered water removed from other living communities, electricity, roads, excess urban wealth) and so on. Without those connections, the new communities on the land (a social construct now) die. Without continuous labour to protect crops from competition with wild plants, or from weather, they die as well. In short, the vineyards here are an expression of a technological culture, in conversation with the Earth.

Technological Culture Meets the Land in Okanagan Falls

What they require of the Earth, however, is precisely not an interwoven community of hundreds of species …

Three Family Members: Ponderosa Pine, Siya?, and Antelope Brush

Just these 3 support dozens more.

… but just a few. Two observations are salient here. First, it’s not the land-based community that settler culture desires here, but an Earth without them, an Earth that is a place of minerals and water, in the sky and the sun, a kind of primary essential at the base of technological science and its methods of observation. It’s like a chemical plant, where new products are synthesized out of simple ingredients. The plants, beautiful and strong as they are …

… are just that: beautiful. They represent those parts of culture which are not active but contemplative. Now, those are pretty important parts. It’s amazing that they are relegated to a passive role in cultural relationships. It’s troubling that during the settlement period, they were relegated to women, as if they were feminine values alone and subordinate to the land-altering ones deemed male. Nonetheless, they are beautiful. That much carries. The vineyard, for example, exists in this beauty, this world-before-the-world.

Or appears to, although it has replaced it.

Every moment of experiencing it is a recreation of the moment in which settlers found the earth, and before they replaced it with a new technological model.

The Heavily-Glaciated Path of McClean Creek Road

This technological Earth works, too — for a time. Unfortunately, the Earth just can’t provide enough wildness to subsidize the system for the long term, whether that is wild water (now scarce), wild air (now dirty), wild birds and plants (now marginalized and separated from community)…

At a certain tipping point, ecosystem conservation becomes only the conservation of individual specimens. In other words, it is a museum: a social display.

One more salient point: it is one of the cultural foundations of Plateau peoples that humans have survived here by the generosity of other creatures, fish, animals, plants, water, rock and so on, that give humans their stronger bodies so that humans can survive. Such an Earth is a place of gifts that match your body. That’s the way of the Earth’s creatures in general, such as this plover, for just one example…

Vernon Creek

That’s how it is if the land and you are one. If you are separate from it you will see individual specimens (such as that plover separate from its creek.) You will harvest and care for planted crops (like yourself.) You will see land as property, as yourself: something individual. It will be a place where your connections to society touch the ground (like your feet) and from which your social power springs. Your bondage of the land will be the point at which the land flows into society.

In exchange, the ground will map your investments in labour. These will create an image of yourself — a blend of distant society and the land. This will now be your social body.

Plastic Oriole Nests in Okanagan Falls

Boundaries between technology and Earth are only illusory.

Boundaries that you place on the land will protect your ownership from other humans. They are extensions of your will.

Garden Fence in Okanagan Falls

You will care for wildness and beauty on the edges of this activity, just as they are on the edges of your body.

The Deer Won’t Obey, Though

You will make maps of the spacial relationships between this body and others like it. Your maps will concentrate on space and discovery: the space you are seeking and the discovery that reveals it to your body.

If you are the land, on the other hand, you won’t be embedded in that map. It will show a history of distance. Instead, you will be embedded in social relationships. Like this:

It’s not a map. It is, however, an image of a land of gifts. If you receive them, you are taken into their web.

Siya?, Shuttleworth Creek

It’s good to note this extended social awareness, so that we don’t get so tangled in history that its maps, priorities and approaches begin to seem inevitable. The history of this land is the history of the land’s gift-giving, what traditional cultures call pity, even more than it is the history of European discovery and development, which is, actually, the history of “European discovery and development.”

Colonial Pride in Okanagan Falls

So, after this interlude, let’s go back to the story of slavery in Old Canadian Oregon and see what it can say to deepen this story.

3 replies »

  1. Thanks for the journey, Harold. 37. Land of Gifts.

    N.B. The sandpiper in your photo may very well be a semipalmated plover ( migrating? ) or another plover. Doubt it’s a killdeer. And juveniles are always a challenge when it comes to identification. Difficult to say more based on one photo, one posture. But I thought I would raise the possibility in case you are looking at broader publication down the line.

    Supportively, as always, Lloyd V. ________________________________

    Like

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