A Cake for Old Friends and New Harvests, Gardener Approved

This is the cake my grandmother made. I used to walk 2 miles for a piece of it. 50 metres of that was across a 15 cm. wide set of planks nailed to the top of a barbed wire fence across a flooded swamp. It was worth it. Over the decades, my mother used to make it whenever I came by. Now I found the recipe, and here it is with my own Fintry apple, which helped. p1270284

It is gardener approved.

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It’s easy, too. Grandma would never let you down.

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To keep it a family thing, forget the currants. Thanks for asking, Jim. Thanks for baking, Martha and Dorothy! Love ya!

 

Rejoicing with the Gardener

Ah, Autumn! Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. And one lone Bramley hanging out with her friends. p1270278The front garden beside them is putting on a fall show.p1270175 Vetch is dragging the old ones down to the dark earth. They go willingly.p1270192 Asters are still playing their tricks on the sun. p1270183 Summer’s poppies are still speaking Old Norse like they do.p1270187 But all in all, things are coming to the point at which they all give themselves to the earth.p1270195 Not all at once, though.p1270184 But the earth is calling.p1270189

Even the gardener has heard.

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Yes, that’s her getting a little sun.

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She’s carrying a lot of eggs! A heavy load!

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Her consort was by three weeks ago, but now it is time to find shelter.

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The praying mantis is one of the reasons why the cricket songs of summer go quiet, but the  cricket songs of summer are a reason she comes by.

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Fair trade. Oh, and there are perks.

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And if you go inside, there’s Silesian apple cake, just like my Grandmother and mother used to make it. It’s that time of year. Rejoice.

 

Walking With Bears: a meditation on the place of ecocritical writing today

This is a folded land. Not all lands are made like that, but this one is. We can expect folds from it, and lines of energy, planes tilted up at odd angles, and distance that comes sudden, a way in which the world falls away until it becomes the sky. It’s not a sky world. It’s a folded one. It can hide things. It can reveal them and then take them away. It shows you what is not present, and you live as much in that, in this land, as in what is present. Your sight is limited here, but your body is almost endless.p1270104

If I were an ecocritical scholar, I couldn’t stop with that observation, although it’s obvious that this is a land you climb up in, and one in which you use sagebrush, grasped in the hands, to slow you down on the way back. It’s a land suited for creatures who can do that more easily.

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The “prong!” “prong!” “Prong” “prong” of the feet of this mule deer mother and daughter as they bounded away, the earth drumming beneath them as they struck it, with a sound of leather stretched over a wood frame and tapped with the fingers, carried for hundreds of metres through the grass and sagebrush, and the choke cherries in the gully. If I were an ecocritical scholar, though, I would have to observe that observation, because I would be bound to a specific task, the task of standing at a distance, observing, arguing that people live in cities, cities are part of the bioregions in which they stand, and pretty soon I would be talking about cities, or at least of how different groups of humans, perhaps a poet like me, observes the hillsides, set within a context of colonialism and the rhetoric of indigenous and feminist studies, but here’s the thing, poems might contain intellectual ideas, even argue them, but they are not intellectual ideas, and this is not a city…

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It is within the boundaries of a city, yes, although barely, but I’m not sure what definition of city other than an arbitrary line drawn on the earth, could hold it. A definition of a city might be “organized human social space,” although the organization here is, well, a map that says this is a city, so arguing that contemporary human views of this space (garnered from individual human interviews) are essential to understanding this organized human social space and its life as a denatured indigenous territory (which it is) is only a way of saying: “humans are so powerful that what they think of on their own becomes implemented in the world, through their technology, so it’s best just to ask them, and then to provide a context for their answers, as a way of preventing people from enslaving them to ideas not of their own emotional making as embodiments of Christ on this earth.” That is actually arguable. In fact, it is so American, that it should be argued against, at least for the sake of clarity, because the alternative is to accept American culture as the evolutionary height of human social culture, and for all other humans, indigenous and otherwise, to be bound to the American will, as secondary world citizens. So, it should be debated openly. So, let me throw a word into this debate:

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If that can’t enter the debate without explanation, then the debate is not a debate but a form of display. Either the world, and art, and all human modes of consciousness are within the debate, or they’re not, and if they’re not then that’s a line that people, being the violent predators that they are, will cross. We’re watching in Europe right now. People are crossing borders. The borders are being armed. What will happen in the end? In one direction or another, people will cross borders, either peaceably or with force, but they won’t be boxed in. Even the ones, like the Hungarians, who are boxing themselves in, won’t stay boxed in, so it’s best to deal openly with boundaries, and, as every ecocritical writer knows, to change the boundaries, and let the world in. My country is also a place, as you can see below, in which the bed of the sea is lifted in the sky, the lake is deeper than the ocean offshore, and volcanic stone has lifted up through cracks in the broken sea, and has been ground away by glaciers, and is dry because of a ridge of volcanoes rising to the west, and choked with sagebrush because men thought that a country like this would be a good place to raise cattle. They thought this would be a good agricultural country, that it could be tamed.  Well, given to weeds, yes, which are then called nature, because like individual human opinion, weeds spring from the earth without interference.

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I adore ecocritical writing, and think it has a tremendous future. I do think, however, it has a problem: it is bound to universities and reflects the needs of the institution that pays for it,  and the society and industry that pays for the institution to mirror its own goals. Accordingly, this art form (yes, I believe it is an art form) is bound with criticism and scholarship and papers and classrooms and hierarchies of social order and accommodation of heavily argued social views and many other social paths that humans make within an institution designed to further those hierarchies, not only by splitting them up into various subjects but even by creating subjects like ecocritical writing, to reunite what has been divided. Let’s be clear. The earth is what has been divided:

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If you doubt it, look at that photograph, and then look at this one:

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We could keep stepping farther and farther back. We could keep accessing a greater and greater unity, within a greater and greater context, but that’s not the game. No one can survive within a university without dividing, or getting in close, concentrating not on the general derived from the particular, but from the particular standing in for the general. If you doubt that, consider this image once more:

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It is beauty, basalt upwelling, home for marmots, the mouth of the earth, a snake’s mouth (note the eyes) coming out of the hill above an ancient rattlesnake den bulldozed to make room for human houses the size of castles, and much more, and it smells like marmot urine, which is not a particularly bad smell. In winter, marmot breath freezes in delicate shapes on the cracks where their breath flows out into the cold, but it can’t be all of those things at once. That can be argued, though. You can explain, or show, how it is all those things at once, but the recognition that it is so is going to have to come from bodily knowledge. You’re going to have to walk up the hill. You’re going to have to do it many times. You’re going to have to get the point at which you see the unity first, and then don’t argue it. You just say this:

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You might hope that someone will wonder, as you have, what that darned snake had for breakfast, and why it doesn’t swallow. But you can’t, because you can’t stand apart from that observation and analyze it, or, if you do, you can’t have the observation. It’s a bind, or is it. It is a revolutionary academic who bridges subjects, such as poetry, ecology, social science and biology, for instance, and for this revolutionary work ecocritical scholars are to be praised, but here’s the thing: in the world, or among humans as a whole, this is not revolutionary. Neither is it revolutionary for poets or photographers or musicians. It is only revolutionary within the publication vehicle in which ecocritical scholars work: the university. The degree to which ecocriticism has been able to bring some degree of wholeness into hierarchal structures is commendable, but it’s still like saying that a scientific experiment is complete when it makes a hypothesis, or that a poem is complete when it unites its various threads into an image, although maybe it starts there. Western poetry wants it to start in you, the reader; to become incorporated in flesh and blood. Do you want that? Or do you want your poetry to be less of Christ’s blood and a wafer on your tongue? It should, perhaps, at least be openly presented and chosen, and if the choice is something other, then there should be avenues for that. I am arguing here that ecocritical writing could provide those avenues, but only if leaves the university. To bring that observation back into the language of the land, look how the land is folded, and how it holds a doe (below), yet how the world of the doe does not stop with this photograph …

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… just as it doesn’t stop with the observation that this land is heavily determined by human civic map making, nor with any attempt by an ecocritical scholar to heal this divide with argument, to clear away the everyday dullness of habit to show the deep structures at work here. This has never just been owned or farmed space, even though farming has choked it with an excess of sagebrush, which has given over to golf courses and castle-sized houses, which, like the university, are expressions of the petro state. That’s harsh, maybe, but it’s true. This lack of certain, of either an ending, a clear line of demarcation, or clear measurable amounts of wildness or domesticity in this place, or clear views of the webs between human and non-human use here, does not prevent photographs, poems or scholarship from becoming paths through this place, in its own language, so let me show you that language. You’ve seen it before.

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What you are looking at is a bear. That’s what a bear looks like here from down in the sagebrush. It is peaking over the hill in a green splash of water. Here’s what it looks like way up there. You’ve seen it before.

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The bear is large, and brown, and ran from me, just behind the basalt lump in the centre of the image. I ran up here to see if she’d show herself, but she wasn’t as dumb as all that. But let’s turn that around. If the aspens here, splashing above the hill in the wind, are the bear, then this …

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… is the bunchgrass of the hill far below, which is also the bear. The point is that without wildness, there is no bioregion. There’s just a region, that we can argue about till the cows come home, but we’re only talking about our ignorance. That’s not a bush to enter today, but that non-entering is strength. What’s more, take a look at Pyramid Mountain in behind. Everywhere you go in this country in the North Okanagan Valley, she watches, and everything of importance that has happened here for the last 10,000 years has happened along her sight lines. The trails, and the water, and this bear, and the villages, are all within various angles at which she comes clear from the folds of the land. That is the city here, and settler cities pale in comparison, and we could stop talking about them as if they were the story. They are set like jewels in the story, but in the end, this is a bear.

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I have spoken to ecocritical scholars who have argued, with all the skill of debate they are gifted with, that being bound to the university, having their art bound to the rigours of the scientific method and the history of meeting the rules of a classical society and its hierarchies is an essential part of keeping the discipline honest. Why, for sure, but only within the boundaries set by the university, and people always cross boundaries, which this big brown bear does every night when these trees disappear and she moves through the world down where the people live and eats the choke cherries growing along their fences. It is time for ecocritical scholars to accept the brilliance of their art and to move out into the world. They might cease to become scholars, but they will shed their colonial shackles, and they might just walk with bears.

Poets, It is Time for the Real Work Now

Here’s Okanagan Lake, an over-deepened fjord lake full of fossil water just down from my house. It’s the remnant of a much deeper lake, called Glacial Lake Penticton. The top of the green fields at the left were the shore of this lake. My house is in the shallows of this ghost lake, 135 metres above lake level.

Just below I’m going to show you an image from the shallows on the right of this image, about 135 metres above lake level, straight above the mid-point between the two buoys on the right (about halfway along the Head-of-the-Lake Ridge on the right and a little more than halfway up the slope.) If you walked along that ancient lakeshore, you would have met the rock below. It would have lain just below the shore 10,000 years ago. Six months or a year later it would have risen out of the water as the water level sank. Just a rock. Nothing more.

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Or is it? I see bear and fish shapes living in one twinned creature, moving into and out of each other, and at the lower left a trickster, a coyote. There’s even a bear paw print in the centre of the image. When I consider that the fish rise out of the water, as this rock would have done, and the first humans through this way after the ice left 10,000 years ago likely walked along that shore, and that their stories have Coyote bringing salmon to the country, I wonder which came first, the imaginative reading, the story or the rock. It is a question answerable only by story, communal memory and experience (poetry, in other words), but is well worth posing. What I find even more interesting today, though, is this bluebird I met in a Siya? bush up on the edge of this summer’s fire.p1260801

Are they not the same, the bird and the rock, only expressed in different languages? The rock is expressed in a language of body shapes, animals and stories. If you know the stories, or even the animals alone, you can draw conclusions from what you see about ecological and spiritual connectivity: the bear that eats the salmon is the salmon, for instance, and both are brought to you by the land. Western thought draws a line between natural history and this kind of knowledge, and calls the first science and the second poetry, but that is not a universal line. The bird, for example, is expressed in a similar bodily language: beak, eye, head, feather, foot, claw, wing and so on — all with similarities to human body images. (Sometimes human body images imitate birds; sometimes human images of birds imitate human bodies; sometimes human dress in feathers; sometimes they make language out of bird tracks on paper or a screen; sometimes they sing, like birds. It’s all great stuff.) The line can’t be drawn that truly separates them — only for a purpose. What’s more…

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… if one knows the language of science and evolution, one can read a deep history of time, and species connectivity, by looking at the bird. A skilled ornithologist can read the evolutionary lineage of this bluebird back something like 100,000,000 years, with one glance, instantly observing deep time, living on in this bird today. Is my reading of the rock I found on the ancient lakeshore (and possible much earlier readings, perhaps not too dissimilar) very much different?

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Is this story of deep time and connectivity not the same story of human bodies and their knowledge, when they find the world staring back (as bluebirds do) and have to navigate the difference between looking into themselves and being observed by something that is separate from them at the same time? This buzzard checking me out, perhaps?

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This stone?

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Contemporary Western thought sees a great difference here, but is not that merely a reflection of a line drawn between life and the earth, with living being declared independent and procreative (bluebird and buzzard), and the earth being named dead and an environment for independent life (rock)? That line is arbitrary. It could be drawn in many different places. I could, for instance, use the language of my ancestors, and speak about a bluebird (in its spring plumage below) in their language, the one that lies at the root of this whole discussion, because it was those ancestors who first started to draw these lines between categories of experience. To them, in the indo-european language that came before Sanskrit, German, Romanian, Italian and Greek, to name just a few, this bird was seen as golden…

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… and so was this sky, and this aspen.

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It was a spiritual colour: an intensity of visual experience that caught your eye at a distance and held it, like a flash of light off a wave. It described the flash, not the “gold” colour of the aspen, where we see it today. To these ancestors, a cloud…cloud

… was a clot, like a clod of earth, a clot of cheese or a clot of blood, a thickening in an energy field that swept around the earth.cloud

In this language of energy, the “things” of the earth are thickenings of energy, that are, in part, thickened by being given a name — by having their spirit (their energy) being given human bodily shape, in other words. In that sense, is the image below not an image of a thickening of energy? And is the photograph not a thickening of energy itself?

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Or this stone?

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Or these bluebirds coming in from the grassland to feed among the apple trees?

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Are they not all the same reading of human bodies and thought patterns on the world, concretized into language, a kind of magical amulet laid out in strings of beads on a necklace of time, which is concretized into scientific understanding, by the act of naming? That act of holding, as an anchor in the flow of energy through the world and through time, is the same, whether it is expressed in a language of stone, a language of energy, or a language of things. In the same way that a bluebird, the sky and the sun are so intertwined, in terms of energy, that they are all gold, and in the same way that a bluebird and a stone and a cloud are so intertwined in terms of human cognitive mapping that they are all alive, this stone …

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… and by extension the one below, worn smooth in a river that once flowed along the edge of the hill into the ancient, ghost lake …p1250424

… are this young bear.

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The word “indigenous” gets in the way of this knowledge. It says that there is one group of people at home on this land who know this, and another group (everyone else) who does not. Well, not entirely. At best, it says that there are people, around the world, who live on the land, within this kind of energy connection, bound to a place, and another group of people (almost everyone) which does not have access to this knowledge. It’s true, this business of certain groups of people being the land they’re on, and it’s also partly not true, because we all have access to this knowledge, and all have access to the ability to speak to each other in this earth-based and body-based spiritual language. That we don’t is a failure of language, of poets, and of society. And it is a failure of love and respect. Our ancestors drew lines between things, for real and pressing reasons. We can erase those lines, or draw different ones, for other real and pressing reasons. We can be together. It is not written in stone that we are apart. And it is for this reason that I believe it is time for poets to leave the universities and walk out into the world, and to bring back bears and bluebirds and gold.

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Next, I will argue that it is time for critics at universities to stop playing the game they love to play, of holding critical thought and poetry in their minds at the same time, yet making critical thought primary. They stand on the edge of a new form of art, but prevent its evolution. It’s like saying time stops here now, and our knowledge is the deepest pool. Contemporary politics is demonstrating that this is not so. Let’s explore together what it might mean to take the next step.

The Species That Hates Gravity

Russian olive making an arc against gravity.p1260420 Turkey vulture making an arc against gravity.vulture

Human trail, making an arc around gravity at Palouse Falls.trail Red Osier Dogwood using a ladder of carbon to climb out of the well of gravity.p1260161

Human spiritual symbol, defying gravity, French Prairie, St. Paul, Oregon.frenchprairie

The primary human habitat: over water, from a height; a separation from gravity.palousse2

Human art, defying gravity (gravitas) by lifting matter into the spiritual realm of height seen in the previous image (Caetani House, Vernon, British Columbia.)

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This is how this human attribute is viewed in the “natural” world.

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None of these are the natural world. They are all artifice. The world is not in a photograph, a word or a concept. It can only be inferred, but, of course, what is inferred is us. p1230693The space where gravity is not.

 

What Would Our Sons and Daughters Want for a World?

I mentioned yesterday that it is the genius of science that it separates the components of a scene  in order to be able to say what it does know and what it does not. The construction of a new conception of the earth, based on this certainty, is the goal of the pursuit.

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So, from the unity above we get water, wasp, snow buckwheat, air, sun, and so forth, and a long chain of evolutionary moments that led to what you see above. The technique is built out of the ancient practice of monks who, wishing to describe God under a prohibition against representing God by either name or image (which would surely deny God’s infinite majesty), chose  to describe what God was not; what was left over, and which needed no description, would have to be God. What made the technique so powerful was that God was conceived of as thought itself; as this technique never left the realm of thought, its conclusions (thoughts) could be considered to be right on target. Scientific thought works on the same principle: since you cannot describe infinite unity …

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… you set infinity and unity aside and consider its components, then reconstruct them in a non-sensory pattern. Along the way, sensory information is shown to be limited and based in the “illusion” of biological senses (on the premise that real information is derived from thought, or mathematics). It’s not that sensory information is limited in that way, mind you; just that the method selects for that observation. All in all, it’s really little different than the sacred techniques it evolved from. I don’t mean to dismiss science. That would be as silly as dismissing sacred traditions, but I’d like to leave room for an observation.

p1250424 The traditions of defining God by what God is not are not the only ones that we have inherited from our ancestors. There’s another tradition which works in a completely opposite way: the tradition of unity. Its goal is not to give a name to God or to prove God, but to be present in moments of infinite connection. Every gardener knows this connection when digging with the fingers under a potato plant in July and finding the first potatoes of a new crop by feel. That’s just one example. There are an infinite number. A science based on excluding what God is not, would look for principles outside of the individual that create measurable patterns, but that’s kind of missing the point of unity, which is where the exploration began.

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The poet T.S. Eliot noted that such moments come only seldomly, yet change your life utterly. That might not be a universal human atttribute. It sure appears to be a Western idea, at any rate. Christian traditions might name these moments as Grace, the granting of mercy and release (to put it roughly) by infinite authority. Even in non-Christian tradition, this principle holds: an ultimate ruler, such as the Governor of Texas (for example), can grant a stay of execution, despite any earlier judgement of the courts. For Grace to occur, however, there must be an infinitely powerful ruler, or someone acting in that ruler’s place.

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Now, this ruler doesn’t have to be embodied in human form. It could be something as simple as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, gravity, evolution, Justice or whatever you choose, and … well, did you see what happened there? You had to choose one particular component of infinity and make the argument that that component was the infinitely powerful ruler in this case. That presumes a great deal of individual power — power set aside from the unity it passes judgement on. That’s a high degree of specialness. It’s built on the idea that to receive Grace from the judgement of this ruler you might be best advised to sidestep its power and trust in yourself as a pure image of it…on the principle that as you are in the world you are the world. Well, yes, perhaps… if you and your conceptions remain in the world.

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Any conception that approaches unity by first removing itself from unity is missing the point, and is going to find it terrifically hard to get back to it. For that, Western culture has traditionally relied on poetry, especially romantic poetry, which has the ability to weigh moments of doubt, to present a series of possible solutions, to try them out with experience, and to come to a sonorous, unified image, which is both the process of exploration and the sought for unity with world and body at once. The end of John Keats’ Ode to Autumn is only one such example. Here it is:

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And we rise up with the swallows. That’s very fine. The thing is, however, that swallow-rich unity was where we started, although at that point it was veiled from us. This is the old monkish game all over again. I’m curious. What would a poem look like that started with that unity, rather than ended with it, as if the elaborate game finding what was already there was the only way to do this stuff? Well, it wouldn’t be a “Western” poem, at any rate, because they all do it, even though it’s unlikely that brokenness is the structure of the universe, punctuated by moments of revelation. I’s a very Christian conception, though, and is likely even a good way of describing unity as humans experience it. Still, the whole conception of a universe is, well, meant to be universal, Right? And humans might just be the wrong creatures to describe that universality as what they experience? It might also not be the best of all possible foundations for creating a science which has the twin goals of understanding and practical application. If you’re going to be applying brokenness here, there and everywhere, you’re going to be inserting devices built with it into unified environments. You’re likely to have missed some steps and to have created a form of unpredictability. You might not even notice, because it’s the principle of unity to absorb whatever gets thrown at it and to present it again as unity.

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We’re better at living on earth than that, but isn’t that the problem of a top predator? We have the smarts to read the world very finely and to follow fine gradations of probability. We draw pleasure from tracking things, and then, in the end, these things we have bonded with and which are the deepest expressions of who we are, we kill, and mourn, at the same time we’re devouring them. Christian tradition would likely present an image of original sin at this point, and of the brokenness and limitation of human understanding. That’s fair enough, under the circumstances, but is it really broken when we can actually be present in that unity? In the scrape of a boat keel on a pebbled shore that we know as shingle from the sound the keel makes as we draw it up together? In the sound of feet walking on finely ground stone washed up along the shore or blown there by wind, which we call by that sound, sand? All things have context. Language, and brains, that skip across the surface, cutting through categories to derive use from them, are powerful, but let’s not forget that they have context, whether it’s water on an Atlantic or Baltic shore, as my ancestors knew it, or snow buckwheat, which I live in now.

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We are the context. The self, that sets itself apart at the centre, is the self that sets itself apart at the centre. No more, no less. We who live in unity are not bound to stand at that centre (if that’s what it is). Here’s another way to put this idea:

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This is dawn, at Big Bar Lake. Note the light. That’s the sun, reflecting off the water, among the Douglas firs at the lake’s northwest corner. The self would say, ah, look, the rays of the sun strike the water, reflect off of it, and strike my eye. That’s possessive, isn’t it: “my” eye. The eye, however, has already sorted this information based on past experience, as does the mind, long before it passes it on to the self, as does the self too, once it receives this information. This sorting behaviour is not an aberration, and not a distortion of the world. It’s human. Even so, we were present in that world to start with, and we never left it. It is our selves, and our language, that we wrestle with, because up to this point we’ve understood that if there are an infinite number of paths all are equal, and maybe they are, but there might be something to eat down one and something that will eat you down another and it might be a good idea to know the difference. For a long time, poetry has played the role of smoothing over the gap between unity and choice, but what now, now that poetry has become a series of conversations between selves and language? I mean, not dealing with the issue at all, because it exists within constructed contexts: literatures, cities, societies, and so on. Well, for a possible answer look again at the light.

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Again, it’s dawn, ten minutes before the previous image. A self-based language would say the light thrusts here, that it is an active force, moving into empty space, but is that space empty? Is it not complete? Is the light not only light moving into completeness, and not changing the completeness in any way except by adding a form of energy to it? Is it not, in other words, filling the potential for light, in the way the robins I showed you yesterday …

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… are expressions of “robin” spoken by the saskatoon, which is an expression of “robin” spoken by robins? Unity is not a threat. Individuality is not separate from it. So, why is our science still there? Because the president of Hungary has just suggested locking up a million refugees in concentration camps, so they can be evicted from Europe one by one, under rule of law? If we looked for unity instead, what would we find? How would it change us? How would it change our daughters? How would it change our sons?  What would they look for? What would they find? Maybe what we’ve all been looking for and which has been as close to us as the world.

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What’s Smarter than Humans

Because it is the genius of science to separate moments of the world into their components, the view below is commonly seen as a pair of robins (and a finch) perching in a saskatoon bush, which they are using as habitat.robinsm

There’s more, though. The bush has branches that bend in the wind, just enough to accept the birds’ weight, with just enough leaves to offer them shelter and a view out at the same time. The birds first know this bush as fledglings, and it is in these bushes that they first feed, and in them that they hide from the world when they are first on their own. This is their their safe place. If you put all of that together, bushes like this call birds to them by providing just the amount of food, at just the right times, coupled with just the right kind of perching environment, to bring in the birds that feed on their berries, and no others. You won’t find a hawk, owl, vulture, heron, or sagebrush wren here. On the other side, these bushes are here because robins eat their berries and leave their seeds behind as they defecate over open spaces as they flit from bush to bush, and magpies drop their seeds in the cracks in rocks where they perch as they move over the grass, because they can never fly too far without a rest, and, besides, they’re curious and have a sense of fun. The entire environment conspires to deposit saskatoons here, which deposit robins here, and nowhere else. You won’t find them out in the sagebrush. Yes, that’s habitat, but it is also the organic way in which the earth works: not as separate processes and individuals coming together but as environments finding balance together. Now, with that thought in mind, have a look at this:

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What you are looking at is four species of weeds, which have replaced a grassland of a few hundred species of plants and even more insects. Because the term nature is used for  organic environments, this is commonly viewed as an image of fecundity: the earth spontaneously giving forth life. But with the lesson of the robins in mind, it might be wiser not to separate this scene from its inhabitants, humans. If the principle of balance holds, and I think it does, then what we are looking at here is an image not only of ourselves (a field of weeds calls to us to transform it into something else) but of what the weeds are calling for, and that is for us to spread them, in exactly the same way that the saskatoon calls to the robins to come and spread its seeds. What weeds need to spread is broken soil, and we oblige. When we are called to these weeds we want to till them under and remake the land, and as soon as we do that they win. In the end, weeds cause us to build homes and our homes create weeds, which cause us to build more homes, which create more weeds. Our intentions are good, but we’ve been outsmarted.

Love a Bear Today: A Cariboo Saga

A year ago, I showed these berries.
kinnikinnikThis year, I tasted them. They taste like this:

You can be the wasp, if you like, but it’s really standing in for a bear. This bear:

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This was her a year ago, as young thing, getting ready for winter, eating that delicate, dry taste of perfumed rose. Well, she made it through the winter, and her mother had two new cubs, and kicked her out.

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But did she go? No. She stayed, in tiny Big Bar Provincial Park, roaming the eskers, turning over the same logs her mother taught her to turn over last year.

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Thing is, mother stayed as well, with two new cubs. That makes four bears in tiny Big Bar Lake Provincial Park. Last year, two cubs and their mother were relocated. Three other bears were shot. That’s a lot of bears. So, yesterday I asked, what is the earth doing? She is sending us bears. We emptied the entire plateau, an area the size of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the Czech Republik, and probably Slovenia, Slovakia and Wales as well, of any place where bears could feed or hang out, and all that’s left is tiny Big Bar Lake Provincial Park, and the cabins along the lake, with their rhubarbs, rented out on Air Bnb. So what is the earth doing? She is responding to fear. The bears don’t want to go. They want to stay, with us. There’s nothing out there. You did this, the earth is saying? Here, look after the kids. Thirty thousand years ago, we let wolves into the firelight, because they asked, and because we wanted them. Well, the bears are asking, and I want them. All summer, I lived with them at Big Bar Lake. All four of them. They kept to their place. I heard them turning over logs when I went out to watch the hawks. “Hey, Bear!” I called. “I’m coming, give me five minutes, and I’ll be through,” and they did, you know. When I lived in 150 Mile House, a bit to the north, among the savannahs, and a bear came through, we didn’t call the conservation officer to shoot it, we just called each other. “The bear’s here,” we said. “Thanks,” we said. And we kept an eye on the kids. That’s the thing. Keep an eye on the kids. That doesn’t mean you need to shoot a bear, for the love of all things decent. They are evolving. We should evolve at the same rate. If we don’t, we should leave, now. Twenty years ago, I stood on a road in the East Cariboo, early in the morning. Two hundred metres ahead of me, a sow had lined up her two cubs on the logging road, to get a good a look at me, at what a bastard looks like. I turned. I was like a model on a runway in Milan. “Have a good look,” I said. “This is what you have to deal with!” I turn again. “See?” Then I stood still. Let them focus. After ten minutes, she led them away. I gave her ten minutes to find her path, then I went back to camp. Was that that hard? No, that was that easy. This summer, as camp host at Big Bar Lake, I had the chance to talk to some Secwepemc girls, who were five and six years old, out there for a birthday party and a picnic, all the way from Canoe Creek or Dog Lake, on the back road. I showed them how to use to my walking stick, and what it was for. They tried it out. They told me about the bear they’d seen on the way in, and I knew at once  it was this one:

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I thanked them, and went back to camp, and told a couple campers about the bear, about how she knew about us, the campers, but there was ice cream, I said, for the kids, so she might be curious tonight, and all that food of theirs, that should come inside. She was a good bear, I told them. She knew stuff. But tonight’s different. There’s ice cream, I said. We understand, they said. That wasn’t hard. So many families on this shoulder of the world can trace their ancestry to bears. Canadian society calls this myth, but that’s just ignorance. It’s based on experience. The bears need us. We need them. They make us better, physical, and real. They make the woods dangerous, and not ours. We have to walk with awareness and respect, which we become, by practicing it. Sometimes we have to wait. Sometimes we have to go the other way. I wait gladly, and go the other way gladly,  don’t you? It’s not hard. If you’re worried about your kids, stay with them. Don’t send them two kilometres away to the beach at dusk with the family dog, to draw the bears to them, while you sit around the picnic table with a beer. Without kids and bears, our first first peoples, there’s nothing, only beer, and it won’t drown your sorrow when they’re gone.

What Changes are Happening in the Earth?

That’s what a Secwepemc man asked me on an evening like this, with this view in front of us. What is the earth doing?
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He didn’t mean, what are people doing to her, but how is she responding? What changes do I see? What will she do? “You’re not a white man,” he said to me, “so I’m asking you.” Look at me, I said. My hair is white, my beard is white, my skin is white…I’m about as white as anyone could get! We laughed. “Yeah,” he said, “but look at me.” He looked Secwepemc. “I’m a white man, he said, I have white ancestors, I’m a Mormon, so I’m asking you.”

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And that’s what it’s like to sit down on an evening with Coyote the Trickster. I’ll say this much: as long as people turn away from the earth, the earth will replace them; as long as they turn towards her, she will turn towards them. That’s not the same as care. She might want to make us lean. “The animals and plants are early this year, months early,” my trickster said.”Is Earth changing the seasons?” It was the middle of August. The frogs are out, I said.

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They’re over a month early, I said.

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“The caribou are coming back,” a young Secwepemc man with him said. Well, that’s good, I said, realizing as I said it that no, it wasn’t. It was neither good nor bad. It was what was happening on the earth, and what the earth was doing. It was what we were watching. It was the story we were in: the time the caribou came back to the southern plateau. It is not the story of the why of it. That was the story I was being asked, not, I think, because anyone on that esker thought I had an answer, but because maybe I had seen something, some part of the story.

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Well, if you cross the road, I said, it’s a jungle of bear trails over that way. Spooky! Pacing back and forth through the trees, this way and that. They perked up. So I had seen something. He gave me permission to take pictures, but not of him. “My face would break your camera,” he said. I laughed. I told him I didn’t want his picture. “Good,” he said, “because it would break your camera. Blow it up.” He made an exploding gesture with his hands. I laughed, then I walked up the esker to see what I could see.

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It’s not dark yet. That’s what it’s like to meet Sen’klip the Trickster, father of all the people in this country. It’s not about pictures. It’s about finding the story that is there. There are no clues. There are no maps. There are no directions. Or they are everywhere.

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This knowledge is in complete contrast to contemporary Canadian poetry, which is a moral art, seeking to change identity politics within an unchanging world facilitated by technology and paid for by it, in order to tame technology and harness it to the soul. It is a creative act, meaning one that recombines manufactured objects and ideas into new forms according to the will. I was in Okanagan Falls yesterday. At sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ, the syilx were welcoming the red fish home. Across the river, white folks were listening to an aging man dressed as a black Elvis and his wife singing electrified country tunes at a deafening volume, even though the invitation to cross the river was open to everyone. White folks weren’t going. It’s like going to Palouse Falls, the heart (and this not a metaphor) of the entire Plateau …

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… among Americans on holiday, with the capacity to appreciate natural beauty but lacking  anywhere else to go or do except to wander wordlessly and in genuine awe.

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Nature can be like that. Is that the earth’s doing? Is she rewarding attention? Is she turning from the lack of it? Yes, of course. Both at once. It’s not that she’s a trickster planet, because tricksters are tricksters and earth is earth, but tricksters do come from her, as do people to whom she does not reveal the ancient stories in this rock down by the falls, and those to whom she does.

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And the thing is, I’m not telling those stories. The only terms North American culture has for them today is fiction or fantasy, and they are not that. Silence can be respect. That’s why meeting Sen’klip from time to time does one’s heart good. Eight years ago, on the pilgrim’s path to the East, I left my self at Point Alpha, on the old Iron Curtain, and a cherry tree came back. This summer, Sen’klip taught that tree to talk using silence. He led it to the earth, and then he let it go on there, and when it turned around all other paths were closed. Here, let that be said again in North American lingo: This summer, Sen’klip taught me to talk using silence. He led me to the earth, and then he let me go on there, and when I turned around all other paths were closed. The thing is, that second statement is wrong. It has no poetry in it and there’s no way forward from it, except back to town and a community of I’s talking through the reflections off the edges of words, in shadow effects and nuances. I’m going here.

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At some point, the question “What is the earth doing?” is the question “What am I doing?” I’m going out for a walk. What about you?

 

Bringing the Salmon Home to sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ

It is the time of the year when the sun ripens.

Whether it is smooth sumac…

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… wild gooseberry ripening its leaves with the same energy that only weeks ago ripened its berries…p1230646

… or the Nk’mp salmon coming home to sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ …salmon2sm… and asking and asking to get past the dam there, it is the time of ripening. I give thanks today to the people of the Okanagan Nation Alliance and their families among the Colville Federated Tribes for bringing our ancestors home at the same time we go down to the river to greet them. Today was the annual salmon festival at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ. I was proud to be among these people. Some day all this land will ripen into the salmon again. Some day all people will ripen to welcome them.

I live for that day.