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.

What Aspens Can Teach Us

Aspens are powerful, because they are many and one: many trunks from one underground life. These are not individuals. They aren’t even trees.
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They are individual expressions of wholeness. We do well to wander through them and get lost. Because these lakes of life in the grassland have edges, we soon surface, but we surface changed, just as we do anytime we descend into ourselves.

 

 

 

Mind and Body are One

Things are just what they seem. Like dreams, the act of looking into water has no words. And it can’t be given any, except the simplest ones: blue, log, deep, water, light, wet, leaf, dragonfly, pond, toad, fish and so on. You can read it, but its language is itself.
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The language is complex.

 

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And multi-dimensional.p1230634

It profoundly resists usefulness. You can bathe in it. You can drink it. You can be centred by it, but that is not use. That is bathing, drinking and centring, which is a way of saying: in different ways our bodies do the same acts, whether with the eye (seeing), the skin (bathing), the mouth (drinking), or the gut (centring). Beyond that, we can’t go. Our language, English, has this profound layer, that can’t be budged. It can be approached in infinite variety.

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But it can’t be budged. That is honest. It is completely unified, on levels of body, heart and mind, dream and waking, self and world. We can trust it. It can lead us to water, stone, rain, wood, snow, fish, toads, grass and light. Words aren’t there to explain it. How could the complexity shown in the image below be explained? Explaining has nothing to do with the body, and this is about the body.

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And since you can trust this, you can know that if anyone explains what you see here, what they are really doing is dismissing your body, and theirs. They have no right.

Selfless Living

Imagine, you put your heart here for a time.p1210913

Then you walk here across the grass and leave your mind. Perhaps it will meet a bear later.
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Then you walk further into the grass, where a glacier left some good soil a while back, and leave your tongue to taste the wind.
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It’s a game that takes a slight suspension of disbelief. I hope you’ll bear with me for a bit. I can’t reveal where we’re going, because if I do we won’t get there, but we’re on our way. Here we go, under the firs, where it hasn’t rained for 500 years and the ant lions have set up shop. Here you can leave your hunger.

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And you walk on without it, across the blue green algae that made the sky blue, and covers the soil like a skin.

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Yes, here you leave your skin, and walk on without it, open now to the wind.It’s like that that you come to the water. Look, your skin is following you. Hello, skin.

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But we have a place to go to and move on. Ah, look, your heart has gone underground and has appeared out of deep time, through our subconscious. Hello, heart.

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Skinless (please remember, these are subjective states not concrete ones, but they’re no less able to impact the world) and knowing your heart has grown and is full of trout, you move on. Ah, there’s a thought.

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Look at it folded in the ancient folds of that brain, soaking up the sun the rock has absorbed and the lichens have been feeding on. Leave your bones here and move on as the wind.

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Here you are fire. Fly to the sun. This is not the stuff of fairytales. This is what you do every day. This is the point of you. This is why you are here. Now, walk on with nothing at all, and to no destination, perhaps to what the soil was like before it was grazed or tilled…

p1220481 … and what you were called before language bound you. Do not judge. If you judge, you will lose the world. Stay in it. See?p1220140

Look at the fire rising from your heart! Look at your body standing up from it and holding it at the same time. Now, find your way back. Start here.p1220425

This is how I live now. This is just one hour in one day.

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Tomorrow we go further yet.