Okanagan Woman and Magic

Strange, the things that come in the mail all on their own. There I was reading over coffee, looking over a manuscript about this valley, and thinking about the mail. So I got the mail. “Okanagan Woman” came in the mail. I think she was a message. But what?  Are there forces out there which wish to speak to us? Is this the only way they can speak? If so, what is she trying to say?

What about women who aren’t white ancestral figures? What do they make of approaches like this from the long pre-modern history of the Baltic? I don’t know. What about the real power of spirits like that — Hans Anderson’s 1844 “The Snow Queen” is mentioned in the magazine — who froze children’s hearts? She is a combination of ancient gnostic religion, the Lady of the Lake, the well at the root of the Tree of the World, from which the god Oðin received blindness and sight (in the form of two ravens) and a Christian sermon. There is also a troll, who creates suffering, in place of Eden’s more familiar snake. Is she telling me to stop reading Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash, which neatly dissects the class conflicts that created White culture in these grasslands, by showing their long, long roots in elite culture and its relationship to slavery, and worse? I don’t know. I am deeply troubled though. Perhaps, though, this is not what the reference is. It’s about beauty, certainly. Perhaps this is what this creature from deep in the ancestral past has become now, courtesy of the robots in Seattle (see below). Friendly stuff. But is it friendly? And Is it beautiful? What do I know. I’m not a good commentator, because I do take ancestral memory seriously, and I don’t jest about spiritual power and I don’t find class behaviour particularly beautiful. Many, however do. Look below.

Thanks, Robots of Google

So much devotion and labour has gone into all of these images, I don’t think they have anything to do with the Snow Queen at all. Still, it troubles me. Should these ancient powers of darkness — a Wicked Witch of the West who melts to water at the touch of a pure heart — be called forth so casually? Is this what an Okanagan woman is now? Why? Who hurt her that much? What is she afraid of? Yes, fear. Look.

 

But not just fear. It opens into desire. Look. Inside, she opens up. She melts!

 

 

And why does she look so bruised? I’m sure she speaks to a lot of women and a lot of hurt (and there’s more than enough to go around), but what I’m puzzled by is how a group of people could live in an indigenous valley, apply a European concept of winter to a complicated set of interwoven grassland seasons, pull in an image from Northern Europe, of a white woman laboriously turned into an image of pure Whiteness (whatever that is), couple it with aristocratic flourishes circa 1790 and a dangerous dressing in elven motifs (surely trouble) and then ship it all out as a message — and, if the cover means anything, a celebration of holiday. In my experience, you don’t take such liberties with the gods. Do the editors of this magazine feel they are immune? I feel like they are playing with plutonium. But what do I know. I am 59 years old, male, and my hair looks like hers above without the hours of makeup work. Not much of the golden colour anymore, either. Death has me in her sights. Is that who created this magazine and shipped it out?  Is that who is staring out laughing through those eyes? Ah, but the editors were thoughtful. They put a magic carpet on the back of the magazine to whip us away to safety.

Is buying a magic carpet the way to save oneself from peril? Might one want to try some real magic? Might one just walk?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. But now I’m wondering: what kind of spiritual message was the last white thing that came unexpectedly in the mail?

It’s starting to become a thing.

Fall Rain in the Grasslands

So, it rains, right. 35 centimetres of snow have already melted. Now the rain.

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.

And the sun.

Melting stuff, even through the clouds of rain.

So, that’s fun.

But what’s it all going to do? Flow away? Not if we can help it! Let me introduce my friends, the beavers of the dry hills, the water keepers!

Look at them hold onto that rain!

They are not going to let it go, not these girls.

No way.

Or at least not yet. This is the grassland equivalent of a storage dam, a big lake in the mountains holding back the rivers so that the soil (and the roots) aren’t oversaturated, and moving the water out to the root tips, where bacteria can use it to dissolve minerals (for the roots) and roots can draw it in. In this case, when the wind comes and that sun will start drying things out again instead of just warming them up, well, down will come the stored rain, bridging the drying effect, and keeping the soil wet until the frost comes. Run off is prevented in this way. Soil health is protected from the air in this way. Isn’t this a beautiful aerial lake?

And my other sisters, the ponderosa pines, are in on it too. Look at them carefully aligning the water beneath their branches. When it falls, it will water the dryest parts of the soil, the ones protected by the needles.

Not only that, but look at this young one drawing the rain in, shedding it off her waxy needles, and then holding it on their rough undersurfaces. Right now, she is breathing through a cooling veil of water. It’s a kind of hibernation.

Not only that, look how needles, splayed horizontally by the weight of water, hold water droplets between them in stronger bonds, by their naturally-occuring capillary tension, making capillaries in the air. That’s a technology that can be adapted to water storage and transport systems. Yet other sisters in the grasslands use the rain to keep their fruit fresh, and keep a nice healthy bacterial environment, so the frosts of January and the sun of February can set those bacteria to work breaking down the acids of these fruits to sugar …

… right when the birds will need it. Until then, beauty keeps humans in thrall.

But who would mind with a grassland team like this?

The Power of Names and Stories

Take this (no name, please)…

See that rock in back there? That’s this (below, centre of image, again no name, please.):

Now, look at the name it is unofficially known by (Sorry. Wikipedia’s robots don’t know any better):

McIntyre Bluff is a large ridge of rock, made of gneiss,[2] located south of Vaseux Lake between Okanagan Falls and Oliver in British Columbia, Canada. The bluff is located beside Highway 97 and is one of the most well known landmarks in the Okanagan Valley. This landmark is named after Peter McIntyre, one of the Overlanders of 1862 who had also been a guard on the Pony Express in the American West.[1]

First Nations in the area tell a story of a battle centuries ago on top of McIntyre Bluff. An enemy war party from the south (now Washington State) was lured to the top and driven over the cliffs.[citation needed]

Sounds good, right? Not, really. Going to the B.C. Geographical Names database, we get this:

Name changed to Nʕaylintn per request from Osoyoos Indian Band as part of agreement with Ministry of Environment, 7 August 2015.

So, what if Wikipedia was built up not on colonial history…

Credit Union Billboard to Attract White City Folks to Translate Their Sexual Attraction into an Imported European Wine Industry

…but from the land and her people? Might it look  something like this?

Nʕaylintn or “The Chief” is a body and story written on the territory of the land later called “The Land of the Big Heads” of the love, courage and devotion that led to the peaceful resolution of bloodshed caused by conflicting stories and homelands between the syilx and the secwepemc between two ancient villages along the post-glacial obsidian trail linking the northern and southern basalt seas, most recently in approximately the year 11780. For a century and a half after mid-19th century American and British invasion, the story was retold in denaturalized European terms as part of a nationalization process, as the story of a land-form, a bluff above the land grant of one Peter McIntyre, a gold-seeker and Pony Express guard who had come overland from Canada by raft in a disastrous, ill-fated and foolish journey into secwepemc territory north of t’kemlips in 1862. As part of the return of the earth to her care-taking, rather than invading, peoples, Nʕaylintn’s original story was adopted by the regional colonial government in 2015, on request of her story-tellers and story-keepers.

I mean, sure, I bet there are many errors there, and the whole glacial story is missing, but when this is one of the village sites …

The View from Vaseaux Lake, or: Yes, a Lake Can Be a Village Site

… we might as well try. Actually, it’s important that we do, because the Earth needs us. Consider this article in British Columbia’s post-colonial “alternative” news blog, The Tyee:

Source: https://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2017/11/16/humans-blind-imminent-environmental-collapse/?utm_source=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=161117

It’s sad, you know. A regional news source posts an article by a professor emeritus of a supra-regional university with a generic (and romantic) photograph of distant pollution on a nature-industry model, misquoting a German scientific study that was as much about German politics as German industrial agricultural practices, while an important part of the solution, right here, right now, was left out of the story in favour of a species-wide response. Nature is the problem here, and the host of colonial attitudes that came along with it and replaced, for a time, the stories that bind people to the land and compel them to care for it for their survival on the understanding that humans and land are the same. We can, and should, do better. It’s not as if the replacement of a dehumanized nature with a reinvigorated one is difficult, or that this is the only “Big Head” in the valley. Here’s one near the colonially-named “McLaughlin Canyon” south of the colonially-named Tonasket, Washington.

Here’s one at the foot of Sqexe7 Lake:

Is the story known? Yes, you can bet it is. Is it publicized? Hardly. Has anyone asked? Maybe not. Would anyone answer? Perhaps, but stories like this are also the kind of thing one can find out for oneself, and thereafter earn a chance at joining a story-telling circle. They are rich and combine human, environmental and geological history into sustainable foundations, providing respectful barriers to exploitive activity, for which there is no longer any room. Global problems are local problems. Global solutions also have local solutions. Culture can be asked to stop glorifying invasion and settlement and actually settle down to stay. Humans are as well-situated to do this work as natural processes are.

Saying the Names Shanty Makes the CBC Poetry Prize Shortlist

The journey you have been walking with me on this blog is making its way further out into the world. What great news! CBC Books has announced its shortlist for the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize. Look at us proudly standing in for our poems.

The Poets and the Poems

l to r: Cornelia Hoogland (Tourists Stroll a Victoria Waterway), Laboni Islam (Lunar Landing, 1966), Sarah Kabamba (Carry), Alessandra Naccarato (Postcards for My Sister), and Saying the Names Shanty (Harold Rhenisch).

I am proud that my poem Saying the Names Shanty is making its way across the country today as one of the five short-listed poems, and I am humbled that only five poets are representing the 33 poems of the long list, announced last week. That is a great responsibility.

The Full List

http://www.cbc.ca/books/literaryprizes/33-writers-make-the-cbc-poetry-prize-longlist-1.4389859.

Wouldn’t it be great if all 33 of us read our poems together and then opened the floor to a big open mic for the other 2400 entrants. It would take a full weekend, at least. Or a year-long tour. I’m all for it.

Closer to home, you can see that my writing workshop group here in Vernon is thrilled. And surprised!

And here is my poem swimming towards the Manhattan Project’s moth-balled plutonium reactors on its journey into the world…


…across the nx̌ʷɘntkʷitkʷ and on…

The nx̌ʷɘntkʷitkʷ (The Columbia River), or Who Needs the English Language Anyway!

By Columbiarivermap.png: Kmusser derivative work: Ivan25 (Columbiarivermap.png) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d1/Columbia_River_Basin_map-sr.svg

Some of that water is the snow that falls on the valley that speaks, in part, through me as Saying the Names Shanty. The nx̌ʷɘntkʷitkʷ is one of the big rivers of the continent, with a massive pull, but it looks like the poem has good legs, so that’s good. As I mentioned last week, here, the poem is about saying the names for the social fields, rivers, grasslands and rivers in which I live, including the qawsitkw, below, that leads salmon through the reactor fields to Siberia and back home to the rattlesnakes and prickly pear cactus.

The Syilx Fishery at nʕaylintn.

The last unbroken salmon run on the Columbia and the source of renewal for the whole plateau.

The poem is one of many eyes of this story I have landed on. Here are some of its sisters, at Ktlil’x:

The sacred water at the heart of my country, with a rogue Russian Olive trying to blend in as only a date can.

There are more images here: https://okanaganokanogan.com/2012/04/16/sacred-waters-part-one/

You can find out more about syilx names for this country on the naming project, sqʷəlqʷltulaʔxʷ, or, roughly, Voices on the Land.

In the spirit of coming together, let’s sing a poem today and be brought to life by its voice, wherever it finds us, however we make ourselves open to it, in a shared giving of thanks that poems can still find us. I’m so proud that my poem is out there, giving thanks in a brighter voice than I can without it, and in your company, too. What a bonus! Thank you, from a Transparent apple tree and its dandelion-headed caretaker.

 

People of the Wind

One after another,the grassland opens further. Something is ripening here.

It’s easy to share space if you are thin, and working on rhythms of opening and closing that intersect at the point at which one species needs water and another needs to release it.

It is the way a trout holds still in a flowing pool.

It helps to signal your presence.

Even petals can rise and fall in the rhythms of this pattern. Look how they are falling out in the bloom below in the opposite sequence from which they came in.

Going to seed in sequence helps. There are no clear seasons here.

It’s all one-after-the-other here. For humans, it’s all-at-once. That’s how a migratory, predatory species thinks through individuals that come together into groups by releasing its defenses and including the other within the self. That’s profound, but so is the grassland that thinks together. Every space that is closed opens.

This is water’s journey. It falls from the wind, opens into life, and then, when the wind is a closed space, opens again into the wind: opening after opening after opening opening openings.

Only a grassland thinks like this. Only water thinks this way here.

This is the spirit of a grassland. Here, and this is the big secret, humans can let down their boundaries and live in the sky as well, by extending the social group to these ends.

We are not just a predatory species. These grasslands are our ancient homes. Much has been forgotten, but much has been remembered, too. We are remembering it now as we put a close to the closings below.

 

 

 

 

The Heart of the Okanagan: The Summer Book

It’s only two days until the Okanagan launch of The Summer Book on July 13, at the Vernon Public Library. We’ll gather with you at 7 pm. Sarah de Leeuw, Trevor Carolan and I will be there to read for you, as well as the acclaimed Okanagan poet Kerry Gilbert, and more.

Here is one of the  posts from Okanagan Okanogan, which led to my essay in the book, The Neon Bees of the Sun.” If you come to the reading, you’ll here how this image was made and how it is the heart of the grasslands.

Sacred Palouse Falls

https://okanaganokanogan.com/2015/05/22/where-the-heart-is-home-a-celebration/

THE SUMMER BOOK
A new collection of creative non-fiction
by twenty-four BC writers

Due: June 2017
6.5 x 8.5 * 232 pages * paperback
Includes linocuts, drawings, watercolours and etchings by Gary Sim,
Peter Haase and Briony Penn
978-1-896949-61-1 * paperback * $24.95
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“I have only to break into the tightness of a strawberry, and I see summer – its dust and lowering skies.” –Toni Morrison

“In summer, the song sings itself.”— William Carlos Williams

Focusing on the joys of summer, The Summer Book features new and previously unpublished creative non-fiction by twenty-four acclaimed British Columbia writers: warm and wonderful tales, meditations on nature, summer memories, humour and seasonal anticipations. The Summer Book – a refreshing collection readers can relax and dip into, anytime of year. A small positive treasure in this complex crazy century.

Authors: Luanne Armstrong, Kate Braid, Brian Brett, Anne Cameron, Trevor Carolan, Claudia Cornwall,  Daniela Elza, Carla Funk, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Eve Joseph, Des Kennedy, Theresa Kishkan, Chelene Knight, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Grant Lawrence, J.J. Lee, Sarah de Leeuw, Peter Levitt, Christine Lowther, Pearl Luke, Susan McCaslin, Briony Penn, D.C. Reid and Harold Rhenisch.