How to Beat Global Warming By Turning the Grasslands Upside Down

Water has a surface tension. It divides light into bands of energy. It keeps some and sends more away, but not evenly.

So does mullein.

In mullein’s case, it covers its pulpy, absorbent leaves with tiny hairs, which capture the tension of water, like this…

… to create an insulating skin stronger than the pull of the sun to draw the water into the air, kind of a miniature atmosphere, really, like the water spheres on the cattails below …

…and then, when it snows, mullein holds that snow up in the air, where the cold air can cool it through the night. Slowly, the sun warms the mullein, from its vertical surfaces, drawing the water down onto its leaves and from there to its core.

Note how the hairs on the leaves strengthen the surface tension of the water and keep it from spilling off onto the ground. Useful? Sure is. Consider other ways in which the life up the hill is slowing down and channelling the melting of the snow that fell overnight, and channelling it. Look how the sun and the angle of the earth …

… are transforming time (as measured by water), depending upon exposure. The cottonwoods do this trick in the angles of their branches, from which meltwater spreads slowly outwards over their bark…

… hold it in lateral cracks, from which it is slowly released…

… and even twist it through a 90 degree turn by balancing the pull of gravity and the build up of tension on the bark to move it as a film.

Note as well the seam running across the upper side of the limb. In cottonwoods, those hold so much water for so long that they eventually rot the tree out from within. It drops branches because of this action, and then houses owls.

It inspires water collection devices which gather snow in multiple ways and deliver it through systems of cracks into an inner trunk, where it can be held through drought. Still, even rock is playing this game.

This rock pile, formed by centuries of water and frost action on stone, is little different than the plants above: snow held away from the sun melts slowly, feeding an elaborate plant community through a series of cracks, while the bulk of the snow melts quickly, disappears into the warm darkness between the rocks, and from there into deeper soil. Protected from the sun, it flows downhill.

All you need for this is two rocks, really:

What is beautiful about this pair is that the larger rock, with its minerals and its seam of quartz, is facing the warm southern sun. Its snow disappeared quickly, into the plant community at the stone’s base, but look what the smaller stone, of more porous material, has done…

Either it has absorbed the snow (or the run-off) and is releasing it slowly, in a kind of reverse of a heating effect, or it provided a surface that allowed snow to adhere to the larger stone. Either way, it transforms the sun, just as this water does:

It is, after all, the same snow and the same sun making all these transformations. Here’s a man-made slope doing this work, but vertically instead of horizontally:

In this case, bunchgrass, rooted in the terraces of a stepped wire cage, is stopping the water from flowing, although not stopping the snow from melting or twisting it through time, as the cottonwood does. It simply melts it quickly, then holds onto it, creating a slow waterfall weaker than the roots of the grass. The base of this simple system…

… is unused, and unlike this slope…

… there is no opposing cool slope to hold the snow, to allow the sun to heat it and slowly melt it down the draw between the two slopes, as the mullein does, in the balance of heat and cold illustrated by this globe of moss.

Still, we could build water dams on the hill like this, which would slow time, to release water through seepage through the long hot summer, without losing any land at all. Simply, a south-facing slope like this:

… could be faced with a north-facing one (instead of the open space in which we are standing), which would collect snow and shelter it from the sun. It could even be constructed to channel winter wind and gather deep drifts, to extend melting effects for weeks or months. The melting would come from the south-facing slope we see here. The channel between the two would hold water, which could then be put to use, much like this stone below…

If that’s too much engineering, why not just take that stone as a model and reverse it, like this:

You: Harold! What on earth is that?

Harold: Dearest, it’s a vineyard driveway littered with gravel.

You: That’s what I thought it was! Oh now, look, I have muck on my shoes.

Harold: Those are nice shoes.

You: They were nice shoes. Now they’re mucky. I can’t go to town like this.

Harold: Oh. Sorry. (Pause.) You want to go to town when you have all this cool muck?


You: Yes!

Harold: Oh.

(Harold blushes and continues.)

So, gravel. Look at what it’s doing. Little rocks rise above the cold soil to collect the sun, to melt the snow, which runs off of them and pools at their bases, slowly seeping into the soil instead of running off.

As the sun continues to warm the stones, the absorption area spreads…

… and we have stopped time by storing snow, releasing it slowly and storing the resulting water at a rate matched to the capacity of the soil. It will be released as life and slow subsurface flow through the spring, which is great, but what if we just reimagined the process slightly, laid down an absorbent mat covered with tiny hairs, like the mullein, with little heat units, either spikes of grass or blocks of stone, rising at intervals out of the hairs, to catch snow at various depths and melt it slowly down into the mat. If the mat were on a wall surface …

the heat unit could be below, and lined, like this wood, with vertical conduits that could fill with water. A fence made out of gravel in a cage, or simply stacked rock, would do as well. If the mat were on a road surface or a walking surface…

… the pressure of traffic could squeeze it into transport or deeper capture structures. In all cases, the water will follow the pressure exerted on it in such a way that it maintains bonds with itself, like this flock of starlings…

… or these juniper berries, so pungent and yet so sweet.

The transportation of water is only the manipulation of water tension and time, in relation to the sun. For that, the transportation is more across a membrane …

…than from high country dams to low country farms…

In this vineyard, much of this work is already being done, but in a model conducive to machine harvesting and the capitalization of water (huge volumes are required to pay for the huge cash outlays required to support the system.)  It might be, however, that the heating and cooling effects are as simple as turning stones over, so that their white bellies, of solidified soil salts brought to the surface by the sun, send that sun away, to allow the stones to operate as the engines of cold we need them to be at this time.

We could turn them over again when we need heat. In fact, if the stones took the shape of trees…

…they could be both at once. Time to go out and plant some trees.


A Practical Experiment in Applied Grassland Meandering

We had an inspiring discussion in Kelowna the other night.

One of the things that came out of it was a conversation on the work being done to bring back the threatened languages of the grasslands. Much work stands before us, and I drove home in the dark thinking that perhaps one way that those of us neither syilx nor secwepemc can contribute to this vital rebuilding is to advocate for adequate resources and funding for it. Another, however, might be to build public support for it in terms that a technological civilization, and its technological universities, can readily and quickly get behind financially and at heart. What follows is an example of my thinking in this regard: an adaptation of the beautiful ecological balance of blue bunch wheatgrass to technological solutions, on the foundation that understanding the grass requires a knowledge of the relationships within the grassland, which are capturable from very close observation and even more deeply understood through indigenous language. I’m not saying that rebuilding languages should be done for technological reasons. I’m merely pointing out that public support is required for any large expenditure and that building up technological interest might be a way to drive a desire for the salvation and growth of these languages and their ancient repositories of families and their deep wisdom. Plus, the technological solutions should be able to build up a right relationship with indigenous grasslands, that corrects the capital-ownership model inherited from colonial times, and its costs in grassland and social deterioration. Such a strategy wouldn’t be isolated from other strategies. The bottom line is that this work must succeed. In a spirit of inquiry and support, I offer a few thoughts below.

Wheatgrass water collectors.

Wheatgrass offers models for aerial water collectors using thin sprung wires, tubes or fibres tipped with water-collecting combs harvesting rain, snow and fog. The mechanism deposits water through weighted tips to non-evaporative, subsoil fibres or mats, or down the wires or tubes to central cores. In both methods, the combs at the tips of the grass stalks hold water in place due to capillary tension and release it when they knock together in the wind or when disturbed by passing deer.

Blue Bunch Wheatgrass Directing Water to the Tips of its Root System.

The harvest of water stored in the plants’ fibrous root system is powered by solar evaporation, which uses thin tubes to draw water vertically by means of its natural capillary tension. Adaptations and extensions of this technology could be used to create scalable and linkable collection stations to sculpt and harvest water regimes. Volumes would be low for each plant, but ample for many uses, especially when linked millions of times in series. Possibilities exist for drip line systems to move water to required zones for crop growth or collection in ditch networks mimicking deer trails, water transfer through microtubes, solar pumping models, and much more. In all cases, models can be created through organic planting or extensions of principles through mechanical engineering.

Blue Bunch Wheatgrass

Power Sources: Sun, Atmospheric Pressure, Molecular bonds, Atmospheric disturbance, gravity, mechanical disturbance.

Figure 1. Components

Atmospheric collectors (top), fibrous storage (bottom), solar pump system (centre).

Figure 2. Stalk Transfer Mechanisms

In-tube transfer (left), surface transfer (right).


Figure 3. Gravity Transfer Mechanism

Combs at fibre tips collect snow, rain or fog, transform it to water and deposit it on the storage mechanism below. The combs resist atmospheric theft, delay transfer to prevent overcharging of storage fibres, and hold water as ice during freezing cycles to extend water harvest over time for continuous running of the system.

Figure 4. Mechanical Transfer

Weighted fibres planted on a slope transfer water to a downslope collector.

Figure 5. Multiple Capture Mechanisms

1Subsoil water moving by gravity is slowed by pumps before being deposited in 2holding ponds of subsoil water, which is augmented by 3precipitation and 4gravity fed water. This mechanisms allows a crop rooted in region 2 to have four water sources.

Figure 6. Integrated Pumping and Storage Nets

Fiber collectors and pumps on a slope (left) are interspersed with bulb collectors (See following entry.) and deliver water down slope to bulb (and tuber) collectors. In an organic model, on-slope bulb collectors (see entry below) can seed those on the horizontal plane below, which can be harvested for food or water. In a mechanical model, all bulb and tuber collectors can be used as micro-storage and harvested in series or through mechanical collection.


I have at least a hundred other ideas to sketch out like this, a great need to actually learn how to sketch in a comprehensible way (thanks for your patience), and all of them to work out in detail against the background of western physics, chemistry and biology. Linking these hypotheses to the knowledge within indigenous grassland languages and culture would form part of a complete approach. The ultimate goal is restoration of right relationships with the grass and all of its creatures, and the restoration of the knowledge, language and culture of its people. I think we can do this. I know we have to try, with all that we have.

Qanats for the Okanagan

Late afternoon in the grasslands. November. Light’s almost gone. Cloud everywhere. Nothing much to look at here. Zzzz.

Or, maybe there is. Have a look just down the trail. The guys building a new townhouse kind of, well, absented themselves for a couple months, but they’re back at work, hurrah, and look what the grass thought of that, eh.

So, rather yellow, yes, and shy on proteins, yes, but coming in nicely at the edges before they tilted that heat-absorbing shield back up. With that in mind, let’s look at our hillside again.

See that scree running down from the head of the hill there? It forms an underground river, a kind of qanat, such as the watercourses of ancient Arabia, the Gobi Desert, North Africa and the Roman Rhine, with water, slight as it is, protected from evaporation by a cover. And there’s more! Look how the grasses and sage are moving in from the side, soaking up the heat stored in the rock and harvesting it, just as this grass…

… did with its metal shield. And what have the construction boys been up to? Ah, very important high tech environmentally conserving work, all according to regulations, and, dagnabit, the seeded grass cover washed away, the dust fencing collapsed, and water wreaking its havoc, as it will, and all blamed on, you know it, yes you do, global warming and a shift in weather patterns to try the patience of St. Francis and all foundation forms contractors.

Ah, but is it terribly wrong? Is that not the first step towards building a qanat? Don’t you have to wash the soft soils downhill, to make a seedbed down there for the coming water? And don’t you have to dig a channel to collect rocks — in this case, from side erosion — to form the qanat? Why, yes! And would not plants, over time, fill in the sides of the channel, bulking up on the sand they’ve caught as it drifted across the hill, and slowly building the soil up, as they have in the image below?

Perhaps trying to do it on the fly, all at once …

… is a good effort, but, you know, this one …

… with grass instead of poly cloth and rocks instead of tiny little grass seeds in a pap of recycled newspaper, is going to cost less in the end? I mean, it doesn’t need maintenance, or but thickens over time. Besides, it has room for snakes, and you like snakes, right?

Hmmm… maybe not ants. Well, I’m sure they’ll sort it out. And as you walk up the hill harvesting this side growth, what is there for you, to make it easy? Why, a staircase of stones! Beats slogging up the muck.

You’re just going to find ants on the muck, and they’re not half so fun as snakes, or what washes down from the muck and can feed you.



Vertical Lakes, Subsoil Dams and the Bear’s Cold Storage

There was forty centimetres of snow on this draw a couple weeks ago. Don’t think it’s all gone.

The shade on the south western slope is keeping it damp in the soil, and the bunchgrass on the hot north eastern slope is holding it in its roots. Same thing one cut to the west, below.

Welcome to the vertical lakes of Bella Vista! The saskatoons and choke cherries in the gap between the two regimes thrive on the water gravity draws down from the lee slope and the warmth from the grassy one.

As the winter progresses, the snow will come again, and will be caught in the tangle of bushes, effectively making tiny lakes of cold — artificial glaciers, if you like.

We could, of course, encourage this snow collection, by cutting the land so that the wind deposits the snow in these draws, which can be planted and harvested. Even hot, dry cuts, with inopportune sun exposure, can still delay the drought of August by enough weeks to support a few shrubs. If this were a flat hillside, they would not be here.Even without enough water to host some shrubs, the shade effects create two separate harvesting climates. That’s useful, too.

We could, of course, help out, as the rain erosion in this abandoned housing excavation suggests. Currently, snow is pushed to roadsides, so it can flow through storm sewers into the lake system. We could store it, instead.We don’t have to think small, either.

Look how a natural stone dam in the middle of a draw forces the subsoil water up the slopes and creates a lake of trees, effectively moving the boundaries upslope and using gravity to pump water to the bushes.

The harvesting period of a crop can be extended in this way. Think of it as cold storage, at no cost. Mind you, there are bears. Here’s his tunnel through the hawthorns.

I usually think like the fruit grower I am, but, hey, if it’s more productive to set up these orchards and harvest the game that shelters in them, that would work, too. It beats saying that the land is so weedy and overgrazed that it has no agricultural value any more and should be turned into housing, for which there is no water. It is called “doing something in particular.” I like that.

How to Catch Seeds and Plant Them

It’s good to use a net of grass and stalk. No further action required!

If you have no net and the ground is dry and as smooth as water and any old seed will just skitter over it in the wind like a figure skater, no problem. Dry it out. It’ll crack like an old pot.

Once the seeds have caught in the cracks, nicely spaced by the intersections between the wind and the angles of breakage, water will get them going.

The trick is not to wait until May. This technique works for a spring in November.

Imagine the Technological Possibilities!

Imagine if you could regulate heat loss and roof melting simply by switching from a flat roof to a roof covered in river rock, or a lightweight approximation of it. The insulating properties of the rock would keep the cold of the snow away from the roof, while the relative warmth of the snow would insulate the rock. Temperate change be gradual. What’s more, air flowing around the rounded forms of the rock would draw off the heat they give off while cooling under the effects of the snow, which would draw off the snow in channels, while allowing the insulating processes of snow and rock to continue. The rounded rocks are essential to make the process work. 

One Day After the Snow

Such a construction technique applied to even greater open spaces would allow for the gradual melting of snow, preventing sudden run-off events and allowing for a steady pumping of water through an environment. Notice how cheat grass uses thatch (below) to incubate seed in warmth, along a similar principle…

… while using the thatch to keep a warm layer of air next to the soil. By the time freezing happens, the soil will be drenched with melted snow. At that point, melting will add heat to the soil.

Three dimensional roofs with channels, that manipulate freezing and thawing processes to maintain steady states or gain an advantage on climate, that’s the way. Of course, you could farm like this, too. Then again, is that not the general form of Cascade, with an uneven surface generating warm valley floors?

The Big Bar Esker Against the Marble Range

And again?

My Grandfather Bruno Leipe and His Dog Pootzie Above the Similkameen, c. 1963

photo Hugo Redivo

In the case of the Similkameen, the warm valley floor is a sea of infilled river gravel in a deep glacial trench, which takes us back to where we began…


Cascadia is a dynamic land, isn’t it! By reducing run-off, and spreading out growing seasons, much of the work of industrial agricultural systems can be done at no cost, after original set-up. And we’re still talking about systems of depreciation and extraction, why?

Spigold: the apple you want to eat

I picked this single branch of spigolds today. Look at them shining! This is the kind of apple for picking from the tree and then sharing with whoever comes by, with a silver knife and a special plate: big cells from an extra chromosome, honey and cinnamon from Golden Delicious, full of juice, spicy and dense from Northern Spy, and red as only late ripening in October can make her. She’s gorgeous.

When grown on a more vigorous tree (this one is grafted onto a tender little honeycrisp), each apple can be more than a pound. I tell ya, we should rip out the royal galas from the north half of the valley and grow spigolds. There is hardly a better apple on earth. There are a few that are just as good, but, seriously, spigolds. Honey and cinnamon. There it is. Time for you to get one, don’t you think?

Who Loves Green Peppers Now?


The new landscaping staff stealing a bite at work on the front yard while I was up on the hill and teaching me again that an interface works both ways.

Doe and her still-suckling twins.

Note to self: plant more peppers next year. Expect company to stop by.

Should I put out milk?