I mean, hey, look at Okanagan Lake with its tinkling shore of ice, eh.
It’s a hill.
I mean, hey, look at Okanagan Lake with its tinkling shore of ice, eh.
It’s a hill.
How do you make a country out of a series of industrial art works?
You take the sun and all that it does out in the red medicine willows …
… add some myths about the cold North left over from the expulsion of English patriots to Indian Territory after the American Civil War, and get Kelowna…
… a kind of Martian colony in the grass.
It is a safe place for people who are a long way from home. It is a fortress.
Oh, did you think that space colonization was fiction? Why, meet the life forms of this place, invisible aliens picking the snow out of the air. Well, invisible to some.
It is a form of breathing. We live among wonders and artificial suns.
We have all we need to find the light on our planet among the stars.
What stories we could tell the Canadian-Americans…
… if there were just a language we could share!
Look at the shapes water freezes in when it freezes over pebbles.
The pebbles create an image of themselves on the underside of the ice…
which melting follows, and air, which re-freezes in gaseous shapes.
Gas is not uniform however. When it blows as wind and breaks the weak ice up, it slides it against itself in wind sheers. Water freezes to hold these shapes as well. Water is very accommodating.
These are solidified forms of what it does with light and wind, instead of cold and wind.
Still, of course, beautiful, which is the word we use in my language to indicate a physically-apprehended balance that is right for life.
It’s no surprise that life freezes in those watery patterns as well, or that it gives them back to water.
It’s that kind of place.
Water takes on the shape given it.
It would be wrong to say it has no shape. It even has negative shape, that space where it is not. It is very accommodating. That is the nature of flow. That is a power in itself.
This taking on of a shape, that is water. The substance water is made of was not water until it did. Before that, it was the stuff of old stars.
There was never a Big Bang. There was an opening of potential into itself.
There is its folding back at its boundary, into its depths.
Okanagan Lake Shore, Vernon
Our ancestors had words for this, which means so did we. We should talk. Here’s what they knew.
Look at it closely. You know it too.
The hard part is to forget what we don’t know, but we can do that together.
So, what have your ancestors taught you about water? Hmmmm?
You don’t have to hear it to know that it is music.
Nor does it have to be written in notation.
It can be lived.
This is not story telling. It is bodies.
This is story telling.
It is about turning away from bodies towards artificial ones. Is art an invasive species?
At a certain point, when physical and social urban space is continually built out of practical considerations, usually the manipulation of people for purposes of efficiency and budgetary accountability, the city becomes an anti-human space. Witness this image from downtown Kelowna…
Anyone Waiting for a Public Bus Has to Stare at … Garbage.
(And walk past it to board the vehicle.)
… the city that defines itself as “The Okanagan,” i.e. the city that defines this …
(Okanagan, Not Kelowna)
… as itself. We can’t keep making excuses. The city attempts to humanize the space just around the corner from its insulting bus stop with this pretty image:
Notice how the landscape is portrayed as clothing on a youthful goddess figure, presumably Mother Earth, with apples (pine cones?) for breasts and a waterfall for a vagina, and a sacred rose spilling out of her fingers. Presumably, this …
… is viewed in this depersonalized view of Earth-Human relations in the Okanagan as clothing on Mother Earth. This city has a problem. Clothing is a human social affair. Dressing the earth in it is as much as manipulating people. I think it’s the city …
… that needs to be manipulated. Not this:
Creating parks is not the answer. It is only an opening proposition in an ethical conversation, and wealth held in reserve until the city can unify with the earth. We need to have that conversation. We can’t keep making excuses.
Sympathetic magic is a complex term for a simple phenomena: in pre-Enlightenment culture, the power of objects was believed to derive from similarities between them; knowledge of these similarities, and the ordering of them, allowed people not only to read the world but to control it. The Earth is sacred, because its soil is the colour of blood, for instance.
John Day Painted Hills
That the red is also the colour of fire and pottery, or that it’s also the colour of the seeds of the cheatgrass running up through the flows of spring water, is also part of the phenomena. This is precisely the form that poetry trains people in — specifically in how to read it from texts. Sympathetic magic is an Enlightenment-era phrase to describe how it has been used historically to read the world instead; poetry is the textual form of a far older form of reading. Here’s one way:
See that? You can pick up the stone, and the energy not only of blood but of the earth is in your hand. If you carry it with you, the energy will give you strength and guide you. This is the power of a different kind of “magic”: the power of the amulet. In poetry, it is the power of the word. What else, for example, are “man”, “woman”, “rock”, “sun”, “star”, “water”, “fire”, “head”, and so on, but such amulets, picked out of a beach as wide as the world?I picked up a number of such stones at Rialto Beach and Second Beach this spring, carried them with me for awhile, gave them energy by naming their colours with human rather than earthly terms, then threw them out into the incoming tides to add energy back into the depleted sea. It was a beautiful artwork.
I was reminded of the power of this aesthetic mindfulness yesterday, high above Kalamalka Lake. Here’s Terrace Mountain, peering up above the Commonage, covered in snow and lines of black volcanic rock from ancient floods of stone. The lake is a remnant of a 10,000 year old inland glacial melt sea. The bush in the foreground is a saskatoon, blooming and scenting the landscape with its creamy pear-blossom-like perfume: a warm scent, yet as cool as the water that gives it forth. The aesthetic correspondences are strong here, and include the mountain holding winter’s cold, the lake holding the sky, and the bush holding the cold water of the mountain, and winter’s snow, within its blossoms. Through the upcoming season of drought it turns this energy into spherical red and black fruits, each like an earth, each crowned with a star.
When the camera pulls back, the context of the saskatoon as a burning mountain, a fire made of water and winter, starts to pull in the balsam roots, now blooming throughout the bunchgrass on the slopes.
When it is pulled back further, the balsam roots, the pines, and the glacial and volcanic forms of the land start to reveal their complex combinations, complete with the forms called shoulders, heights and tongues, the land forms adopted by bodies, called lays, lees and beams, and the forms that language, given through poetry, has used to hold the mind, called pools, skies, thrusts, flares and so on.
It is all aesthetically-created. Here, this image should illustrate that well:
See that? Climb a few metres higher and a bit to the north and the correspondence is no longer between the white, watery fire of the saskatoon and the eagle crown of Terrace Mountain, but between a knob of ancient seabed, covered in hawthorns, and the mountain; it is now a correspondence of forms, rather than of energy that can be communicated by light. Everything changes from this …
… and different forms and narratives can immediately be seen with every shift. The shift below shows both correspondences, within their own relationship. Stories of winter water and sun are easy to read here. The lichen on those rocks colonized them as soon as the glaciers left. That’s the glacier there, molten in its bed, holding a reservoir of the sky. That sky, read by human bodies, is the mind. It is possible to swim in it. It is not something you think about. It is an experience of the world, all at once.
It is possible to read the world like that, all the time; to be in it and of it. To do so, however, does mean that the term “sympathetic magic” needs to be cast away. This is a form of reading, not a form of spirituality. It’s not in competition with Christian or Enlightenment traditions. The original statement that it was so was an error, based on a division between God and the Earth that simply has no grounds in scripture or human experience. This is our planet. Of course we can read it. Here’s Terrace Mountain from the next arm west, looking over Okanagan Lake this time. I stood about seven kilometres off to the left of this image, to make the shots above. Notice here, how the land reveals different forms against the same peak.
And in winter … And from lake level…
The changes are complex. Because they cannot be read by the tools of mathematics or science, they are called random. That’s not to say that they are, just that they are of such complexity that no tools have been invented that can read them accurately, predict them, or put them to practical use. Well, except for this:
The first is a human body living as the earth. The second is an eagle perch; without it, the birds with the heads of mountain snow, would not come to fish. The third is a ponderosa pine, as in the previous two images, but close up, showing how it weaves the light over the years, drawing it in through hollow green tubes, like reverse lightbulbs: an image of the human mind. The fourth is a path, which is all of the above images put to a particular social use; one way to move through them aesthetically. Yesterday, many young women were jogging along that path, and many middle-aged people, middle-aged dogs, and elderly people were walking along it. There were no young men. There were no children. It is time, I think, to rescue the earth, and poetry, for them, for the sake of those young women, if nothing else. One other point: once you have experienced these forms and languages in the world, which are called, variously, poetry, art or magic, and which follow the forms of ancient grammars, you can read them without the anchoring mountain. Typically, in Canadian culture, they are read\ as “nature” or “beauty” or, at times, recreated as “poetry”, to make them accessible to people trained only in how to read from books.
They are also, of course, readable as images, as photographs, as that particular art work. I find that a particularly exciting path, because while I have been making this blog over the last 42 months or so, I have presented something like 15,000 images. Many have been understood to be images of “nature” or “the earth” or “the Okanagan Valley” or “the grasslands” or whatever they might be, but what I’ve actually been showing you and finding the words to describe is this:
… and this …. … and this, which is what the world looks like without poetry:
That’s Terrace Mountain from a failed residential subdivision that destroyed the valley’s most pristine grassland for feeble images of Provence and Arizona and an American golf course. It wound up as barren gravel and dead rattlesnakes. In this context, reading poetry as a thing of words, as an intellectual and academic tradition bound with Enlightenment culture, with the kinds of meanings found in Enlightenment textuality, such as the narrative time lines of novels, is a misreading of our bodies, our selves, and the earth that we are. If our cities are such …
New Westminster Quay
Predator Ridge Golf Course, between Kalamalka and Okanagan Lakes
Kin Beach, Okanagan Lake, with Sterilized Geese and Invasive-Weed Mower
Kelowna Tourist District, behind the facade
Downtown Kelowna, a Global Playground
… that they cannot hold these conversations with the earth, it’s time to teach people how to read. As long as universities remain the bastions of Enlightenment thinking, within a global technological context, the answers don’t lie with them. The cities are, in fact, their products, not their solutions. So is this:
Pond, Turtle Mountain
That’s not Nature, by the way. That’s a rich grassland pond full of algae, its reeds trampled by cattle, its hawthorn nearly strangled by them, its grass turned to weeds and sagebrush, and its frogs absent. This is cattle country, the foundation of land ownership in these parts. It represents an idea of what the land can be, an idea that can’t even touch this one:
Biscuit Root, Turtle Mountain
This ancient food crop lives within the earth, in aesthetic balance with it. Any form of aesthetics that doesn’t acknowledge such balance, or that images of nature, and the balance required to make them work, are part of the language of biscuit root and paths into the deepest self and the strongest human identity, is not a house to live in. This is:
It’s not magic. It’s life. Until we see the 6,000 school children of Vernon leave their classrooms and sit amongst those flowers and learn to read them, we haven’t even begun to live here.
Rock gardening is the purest form of gardening in the Okanagan.
It’s native to this place, and very Zen. That makes sense for rock that started off in Japan and wandered here across the Pacific.
It used to be practiced by gardeners everywhere. This is the art form I grew up with in this place, back before university culture taught us that art was something else. Rock gardens were the thing, before our cultures were broken by the diasporas that began in the 1980s. You had to work with the earth to make them grow. You had to think like a painter and a monk.
That was the Okanagan. Up on the mountain it still is.
It’s no surprise, though, is it, that when volcanic rock grows, it flowers red, and its blooms are surrounded by the ash of the other spring that began in October and is now in its mid-summer drought, in April!
Don’t you think it’s time to put down your roots into native stone?
Windy day up on the hill. No bees, but many flowers making themselves all pretty for them.
That’s a beautiful flower. When you’re from this place, it’s the only one for you, the one that pulls at your heart.
She is arrow-leafed balsam root, which is a series of wrong names for a wild sunflower native to these hills. Yeah, no bees, but look who is braving the cold:
A butterfly growing up! Now, here’s the thing: these leaves taste like menthol. Reallllly strong menthol when they get this big. I guess menthol helps with the cold. Speaking of braving the cold of an extra-early spring:
Yellow’s the season. This Western Meadowlark is a cheeky guy. Here he was three days ago, thirty metres above the neighbour’s house up the hill.
A long time ago, there was an attempt to speak the language of the world. Ultimately, it came to look like this:
Gutenberg Bible of 1455
The idea was that that book had been dictated by a god of no name, because his name, not bound by words, couldn’t be contained by them.
Diagram of the Names of God in Athanasius Kircher’s Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652–54).
What Kircher was really trying to say was this:
Eventually, by a sleight of hand, this god came to be represented as a man making man in his image which was not an image of a man. (It just looked like it to men.) As I said, a neat trick and good for getting past the censors who were trying to stamp out such sneakiness.
Michaelangelo, Sistine Chapel c1511.1512 Source
This man was born in a space called the world. He was the point at which this divine power touched the world. Eventually that notion was set aside in favour of an idea of a divine world, feminine, which didn’t need a spark of the (male) divine to set it into motion. We still call this space “Nature”.
Christian Morgenstern, Norwegian Landscape with Mountain Path and Seashore, 1829.
What was left for male power was to “develop” this nature, into this kind of thing:
Berlin City Palace, 1900
Notice how it is codified into rooms (chapters) in its body, and a domed head, with a cross (or lightning rod) reaching up to Heaven. It’s a lot like this, really:
Morgenstern’s representation of a human-god relationship as “nature” and “emotion” (i.e. human nature) was a revolutionary change — the world was within humans, not without them. Here’s the previous image of what Morgenstern’s landscape looked like. You will note that the physical narrative is subordinated to a human one, which is subordinated to a sermon. Everything here has a symbolic dimension, controlled rigorously by a pre-determined idea. It is, I repeat, the same landscape as the one above. It is also called “Nature.”
Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, c. 1530
Morgenstern’s image (here it is again for your viewing pleasure)…
… placed all the intellectual material in Cranach’s Garden of Eden (again…)
…into the emotional imagination: it was the garden; there Adam lived with his god. About that, there are a couple important points. First, that emotional response is readable within the original image. It looks like this:
There is an apple picked from a tree, and beauty, and desire, and confusion, and the humour of a stag holding up Adam’s sagging, leaf-covered penis. Perhaps he needs some help in that regard, which Eve is, really, trying to help him with. A quarter century earlier, without such humour, Cranach portrayed that tree, and that apple, like this:
Lucas Cranach the Elder: Jesus on the Cross, c. 1500 – 1503.
The blood red of the apple, Eve’s menstrual blood no doubt, has drenched the women here and the priests, but not Jesus, born this time of woman and not God’s …
…erect finger. Sound confusing and ancient? It shouldn’t be. A few billion people still live within this story — chances are, even you who are reading this. It contains the namelessness of this god, written as mathematics and represented as geometry (or the bonds holding atoms to other atoms), as here in the ceiling of the church in the Monastery of Maulbronn, one of the sites where monks invented Gothic architecture…
… and here, in the more feminine image of a window, with its roses turned to stone, rising above monkish shapes, all very gothic and again in Maulbronn…
… and finding perfection, as an idea, here in the cloister library at the monastery of Saint Galen, in Switzerland, where western handwriting was invented and the elaborate, geometrical roof was turned into a series of symbolic paintings (without losing their geometry) and all the world was transformed into book form, catalogued and categorized, with the hope that when the task was done Eden would be recreated and the perfection of God’s creation would be viewable by humans, whether they knew his name or not.
Until that point, humans would remain characters in a ruined book …
Farm Women Returning Home in an Evening Landscape, Eugen Kampf, before 1933
It was actually a revolutionary idea: instead of human identity being controlled by the will of a man trained in the tradition of God’s geometry, people could live out their own emotional lives, within that geometry, while remaining unaware of it. The geometry would not longer be portrayed mathematically, but as arrangements of colour and form on canvas, or what is called ‘art’. The faculty of reading human identity, or vision, out of such arrangements was at the same time being transferred to the feminine image of “Nature”, with results like this:
Thomas Moran, View of the Rocky Mountains
Despite its appearance as “physical” reality, it contains all the information of Cranach’s image…
…just subsumed into the emotional world (when present in humans, who hold the position of Adam/Eve/Christ/Mary in this story), or in the “natural” world, when concentrating on the garden, in which the story is told. An exemplary example of this reading of the book of the world and all of time …
… in the physical world, is Yellowstone Park, which sometimes looks like this :
Brooks Lake, Yellowstone National Park
I’m telling you this story, because I think it’s important to keep in mind that for all the modernity in modernity, and all the progress in progress, there has been no replacement of the old story. The identities given to contemporary humans remain as much symbolic constructions within a story as this…
They don’t look like this anymore….
…but in a time in which Nature has been constrained within a full book-like persona …
… instead of the purer, geometrical one, rising organically into human social life through art and artifice …
Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Michael Angelo
… so have humans adopted the romantic notion of an (emotional, “natural”) self, even though it is a supreme artifice…
… in place of a self as a body…
Lucas Cranach the Elder, again
Playing around, as usual.
… in place of who they are, which is as unknowable as the God who has no name.
Kin Beach, Okanagan Lake
Just try to name that as your self, even though it is.
Whatever else can be said, we are not our selves, and whatever ideas we have for selves come from traditions of books, of reading the world as a book and reading books as the world, all with the goal of revealing the hidden energies of the universe.
The fact that that sounds strange, and that the image of the pond above is not seen as an image of contemporary humans (because it is not an image of a self) is an indication of how much humans have been trained to think like books, using book-selves to animate bodies, just like Cranach pointed out …
… so long ago and the poets and philosophers of the Enlightenment put into place. What the world, or ourselves, look like remains a mystery because that un-knowing is built into human identity and from there into the nature of the original quest to name the god that has no name. What if it’s not a god?
That changes everything.