Practical Ways to Re-Indigenize the Grasslands. Really.

Two days ago, I suggested that the former grassland hillsides of the Okanagan Valley (now large, private expanses of unproductive and water-wasting weeds), an area at least equal to the 100s of 1000s of hectares of lost grasslands on the valley benches and the equally extensive lost wetlands of the valley bottom, can be reclaimed for environmentally productive use by weaving into them again valuable plants that have demonstrated an ability to enter the old ecosystems and fill now-lost niches. The balsam-root niche, a kind of clumping wild sunflower,

First of the Year! March 14, 2015

… could be augmented by forms of domestic sunflower…

 

My Wildflower Garden, with a Bird-seeded Sunflower

… and extend the season for birds and deer, replacing niches currently empty due to extirpation by cattle ranching, as well as provide seed and flowers for human use. Similarly, as I pointed out two days ago, the niche of early greens such as desert parsley…

Desert Parsley, a Few Days After Snow Melt

Seed is a secondary crop. Other early parsleys provide root flours.

… could either be augmented by seeding wild parsley and other cold climate greens, or extended into the lost lily niche by planting or seeding asparagus extensively, to present not one feral plant (as below) but thousands.

Asparagus Looking at New Opportunities

Should predation be a limiting problem, the plants could be protected by screens of young roses or hawthorns.

Black Hawthorn

Not so young, but it was once. There are several generations here. Note the youngest daughters to the left.

However, the reintroduction of human, nutritional and environmental values into degraded, industrialized, colonized and privatized land and, as I pointed out yesterday, healing its structurally racist agenda, need not solely concentrate on crops such as those above. Crops for bees and birds are also essential, if pollination, seed distribution and fertilization are to take place without human labour. For that, a concentrated reintroduction of grazed-down native thistles, would be a good start.

 

Cirisium Undulatum, Wavy-leaved Thistle

Thistles want to grow here. Here is a colony of scotch thistle…

… poisoned this spring under government orders to protect the grazing values of hillsides such as this …

In Colonial Society, this land is called a farm.

No, it is a mine. It mined ecological value, and is now a tailing field. So it is in a culture that started with a gold rush.

…which has virtually no grazing value of any kind.The grazing value was actually in the thistles!

Currently, wild bees are in crisis, wandering off the droughted, flowerless grasslands to access flowers in such places as my wildflower garden, which are rapidly disappearing, due to government recommendations to remove vegetation on private land, to conserve water. Soon, they will have nowhere to go, while their European cousins, the honeybees, are dying off because of high tech, nicotine-based insecticides sprayed on industrial farms. These are problems that a rejuvenated grassland could help solve. There would also be winter seed for birds, where this year there is none. We are facing a starvation winter that does not need to be. This is an interwoven grassland, which will provide most of the labour if we set it up and work to maintain its balance.

 

It would be naive to think that the class of property owners within Canada would relinquish the real social value of their private property rights in order to allow open community foraging on their land, and it is probably equally unlikely to expect that they would hire individuals to walk great distances daily over irregular terrain, in order to harvest a crop, such as asparagus, growing within the interwoven ecology of reclaimed syilx grasslands. However, there are practical ways forward. A burn can get things started.

9 Months After the Fire

It has the advantage of eliminating a great subsidy that communities pay to private land owners: their overgrazed, overgrown sagebrush and weed lands along city margins provide a huge fire risk.

Spot the Bear Trying to Blend In

Should fire come, it will be the communities that pay the price of damage, and pay the cost of fighting the fires. That is a massive subsidy. Levying environmental charges against landowners who cover their land in explosive weeds would be a start.

There are, however, many ways, other than prescriptive fire and penalizing levies, for providing benefit to landowners for a retreat from the industrial land-mining called farming. For one, there is a model from Germany, where land is valued. Take a look at an egg-and-bison (yes!) farm north of Lake Constance:

Hönig-Hof

The upper building is a new chicken barn. To get permission to remove agricultural land from production, the farmer was asked to provide an equal amount of land restoring lost ecological values to the district. He chose to plant the two hectare field inside the corner formed by the approach of the driveway to his larger set of buildings (hen house and packing facility) in wildflowers. He receives no payment for this, other than what he can earn from his eggs. Switzerland does it a little differently, providing subsidies of many different kinds, for such varied ecological values as bird habitat (old apple orchards rather than new ones), wild flowers (fenced off areas of pasture, off limits to grazing and cattle), and so on. We could enact legislation of a similar kind, tailored to meet our needs. What’s more, there’s this:

That’s traditional European farming applied to this land, with its corollary soil degradation. This method of farming allows for efficient machine access, in large unified planes. However, there’s also this…

That’s a shared coyote, snake, porcupine, deer and bear trail up a dry creekbed. Rather than being a plane removed from an interwoven environment, it is a line through it, allowing easy access to varied environments left and right, up and down slope. We could use this model to create access pathways, of use to all who use the hillsides, but making foraging efficient in a new agricultural model. And that’s just for starters. We can do this. If we don’t, we will die. The fence below?

It’s only for people. We can make such violent forms of social interaction unnecessary. And that’s just the start.

Replacing Wild Harvest With Mountain Culture

100 Sustainable Paths for the Okanagan: 19

Currently, agriculture in the Okanagan Valley is industrial, in keeping with colonial models from 1858, when water was diverted through Nlaka’pamux villages in the Fraser River Canyon to flush out gold in the gravels beneath them. This Okanagan mother and her twins do not live within that industrial form. 

It is exciting to see Indigenous peoples in the valley and across the entire industrialized landscape known as Canada call for an end to colonialism, and exciting to be among the voices asking for it to end soon. More, however, needs to be done. It is simply not enough to stand within the benefits of industrialized water and complain about colonialism as some distant force, perhaps deep in the past, perhaps expressed through systematic racism (the privileging of people of one race over those of another by inherent biases built into political and social systems lived in by otherwise well-meaning people), perhaps in addressing the inadequate responses of police forces and courts to the murder of far too many indigenous women or the incarceration of far too many indigenous men. Bound with industrialized water is also industrialized land. I know I have pointed this out before, but I think I have found a way to make a clear point about it. I hope you will follow along for a moment. This is important. If you feel you can’t follow along, here’s an image to leave you with.

 Crab Spider in the Asparagus (Camouflaged as the Sky)

If you would like to follow along, here is another image of wild asparagus, a few weeks later. This one has gone yellow, after a long season of ripening.

What I’d like to draw your eye to here, other than the asparagus, and the ability of your mind to instantly pick it out of the background slope — your mind is evolutionarily selected to do that —is the hill in behind. In the industrialized space called Canada, this is what is simultaneously called “wild nature,” “private land” and “a farm.” What it is farming is a few cattle, which eat the “nature” off of the space. That is a pure image of colonial activity. This “nature” actually consists of large swathes of overgrown sage brush (the consequence of overgrazing by those cattle) and cheatgrass, an invasive and destructive weed from the Russian Steppes. In the colonial, industrialized space, these two species, which have replaced hundreds, are called “wild,” although they are almost completely domesticated, in keeping with the industrial nature of this space. Note that the asparagus plant, which is not native to this place, and which is also called “wild” is not part of the industrial project. Here’s another.

And another. This one is reclaiming a seasonal watercourse created by erosion from industrial activity to lay a natural gas pipeline nearby. Notice the lack of water in all of these images.

The erosion here is not just geological. It is cultural as well.

For reference, the images were made just to the middle left of the image below. Notice that here water is flowing down in a dry channel between the pressure gradients of the hills. It doesn’t show on the surface as liquid water, familiar from industrial systems, or cropped water, familiar from orchards, grain, hay and vegetable fields using industrialized water, but as a system that passes water along from plant to plant to plant. The plants are the water system, not its recipients.
In that spirit, have a look again at Asparagus, but this time closer up. She is being fruitful.

She is also wild water. Did you catch the significance of that? I hope so! It’s worth spelling out again, because it’s such a powerful example of the post-colonial future we need to form on this land. Asparagus is a newcomer to this land, but lives on it without support, is fully integrated into it, not only lives without free water but enriches the land for many species, including humans, leads people into their natural habitat, opening other opportunities to them, and can be planted and gathered without capitalization. In short, we don’t need provincial parks, preserving wilderness — another colonial idea — except from ourselves; instead, we need more asparagus.

In the process of deindustrialization, it is important that ancient relationships with the land be maintained, such as the relationship between the syilx and their horses. This is a relationship that goes back a long way in time, possibly far longer than the 1790 proposed by non-indigenous scholars. At any rate, whether 220, 500, 1000 or 20,000 years in the past, the gift of horses from the land to the people was accepted.

The Horses of the Okanagan Indian Band on the Communal Reserve Pasture in April

Asparagus is making the same gesture today. There are complaints that horses gouge up and erode the grasslands (true), and suggestions that they be killed off to free up the range for more cattle or just more grass, but that’s offensive. The problem is not the horses but the number of horses maintained on constrained space created by industrial water and industrial land use. Private land, whether it is land set aside communally on an Indian Reserve or land privatized for the benefit of a single individual, is a sister of industrialized water. Land usage rights were also set in 1858 in British Columbia, and rose out of Gold Rush era water law and its structural racism. If there were enough land for the horses, there would not be an issue, and, besides, if horses are unacceptable as “non-native”, then so are cattle, and the industrialization of the land that makes space for them out of what were richly producing fields of plant crops 170 years ago.

What’s more, Asparagus has a cousin, with wings, the ring-necked pheasant, which has adapted to this land as well, and often springs up underfoot in an explosion of wings, leading to photographs of departures, such as the one below…

… or the one below…

Like Asparagus, they pay very little attention to private property rights, which is to say they pay very little attention to colonial issues or issues of cultural appropriation, because they have appropriated nothing. They have gone wild. Asparagus has as well. Here is some in the spring. She uses a fence line, a boundary space where she can express the tendency of water to find the sun. She becomes the vertical green river that expresses that force.

She can even compete against cheatgrass:

Food for deer (and humans), Asparagus nonetheless puts out enough shoots over a long enough period, that she outwits the seasonal patterns of deer and humans.

There’s a lot of pressure on Asparagus, yet she manages, and she has a lot of seed. Birds get some in the winter (and they sorely need it, as neither cheatgrass nor sagebrush are adequate replacements for the seeds of thistles, wild sunflowers, waterleaf and lilies, to name a few.), but there is still more.

Beautiful, too. In all this work, Asparagus has fit in nicely to the work of Saskatoon …

… thistle, chokecherry, hawthorn, wild plum and dogwood on the “dry” hills and spearmint along the water and provides the foundation for cultural renewal, not cultural removal. Look at her again, healing the wound of a human mistake.

Look at the slopes.

Such slopes stretch for ten kilometres high above the city. Much of it would support gardens of asparagus, sunflowers and Saskatoon berries. All of them would draw people out on the land for recreation, while picking them.

Future Asparagus Farm

The sunflowers would support birds and the starving deer. The saskatoons would support yet more birds, and the starving deer. And the asparagus…

Note the Lack of Pests. Thanks, Birds.

… ah the asparagus…

Dinner for Four

…sells for $6 a pound in the supermarket right now, grown on nitrogen fertilizer and flown in from South America while we delude ourselves that we are a post-colonial society that needs to make living conditions better on Indian Reserves. We need to get rid of reserves, not to assimilate native peoples into dominant colonial culture, but the other way around. The land will have the last say on this.

Future Orchard, Coyote Highway, Asparagus Field and Recreational Area 

Over an acre of land, at a density of one asparagus plant per 100 square feet, sheltered initially in young hawthorns or old sage until being cut free, we could foresee 420 asparagus plants per acre, or perhaps 200 pounds of asparagus. Over 10,000 acres, that would be 2,000,000 pounds of asparagus, or 1,000 tons. The land is not making that much off of cattle, which means that its industrialization, its privatization into the hands of industrial men for the creation of an economy and the support of communities and their infrastructure, has been a total failure. Moving forward into a post-colonial model would make us all wealthy in this valley. Failure to do so will ensure the continued acceleration of industrialization and industrial development, and the steady furthering poverty of the people and creatures of this place. That’s how structural racism works. Water is part of that story. We need land and water reform.

 

Cultural Blindness and Agricultural Practice

Culture is a powerful thing. Here is some earth, laid bare by a plow, in preparation for seeding in the spring. In the past, it has been used to grow tomatoes. This last year, it lay fallow, to recover.

In Canadian culture, this is an image of fruitfulness, taken at the most fruitful time of year. Enjoy it.

The only thing is, it’s not fruitful, it’s dead. Look at how this soil is nothing but congealed clay and sand. Living soil, that things grow in, is a complex environment of fungi, microbes, insects and dead and living plant material. This is just clay and sand.

And it started like this.

 

That’s how powerful culture is.

The Salt-Loving Bees of the Okanagan’s Glacial Rivers

When glaciers lay in the valley, rivers ran along the side of the ice, high up, 170 metres above today’s shore. They tell a tale still of eddies, currents, and washed-out and red-deposited lake beds and sand bars, laid down in an exquisite pattern, how exposed and wicking salt to the air.

These river beds are now the home of wild bees.

Sometimes, it is a river stone that falls from an old sandbar that provides the beginning of the bee’s burrow.

The glaciers live on.

The Seasons of Fire and Water

Where water is, there is the absence of water. There is always water, hidden in life. There is never water hidden from life. Even in the absence of water, there is water. Celtic consciousness dragged to this land from Europe holds that there are four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, which function in a cycle. This is a cycle of eternal return, a concept that European anthropologists wrote upon indigenous cultures throughout the twentieth century, often quite brilliantly, but do take a look at four images of one hill in one valley in one grassland above one lake in one small fault in the plateau east of the volcanic arc of the Northeast Pacific shore. These are the seasons of fire.

Where water is, there is fire. There is always water, hidden in fire. There is never water hidden from fire. Even in the absence of fire, there is fire. Fire is always present. It takes on bodies. It comes to life. Life is always present. It takes on fire. It burns. These seasons are one.

A Starvation Winter is Coming

Ah, the ripening grass of Autumn.

Yes, but this winter will be a hunger winter. Most awns and glumes are empty of seed. They look find, but the vast majority are empty. The others have very tiny kernels.

After the last bare-handed tomato picking, the stained man goes forth…

The young doe below is walking through the tinkling bells of the grass, but the tinkling is empty. She is eating weed, and the birds are all gone. Still, there are dogs up there. It’s worthwhile to keep eyes, ears and nose on dogs.

A hard winter is coming. That is the face of summer’s drought. Or, look, this is winter, here, now:

Or, put it another way: “Nuclear Winter” is a term used to describe the lack of a growing season through a summer, caused by clouds of dust in the stratosphere caused by nuclear war. We could as well say that right now we have passed halfway through a smoke summer, with the hardest months yet to come. 

May the birds find shelter and food where they can. May the deer people find weeds and scrub where humans have lacked the energy to remove them.

May the human people be patient and help them through.

May we get through this together.

How to Travel in Time, Seriously: an Indigenous Journey

Well, to travel in time, you could just wait, like this stink bug on this mustard.

Here it is, three generations ago:

It’s blending in better now!

European thinking holds that we are now at the end of a year (a circuit of the earth around the sun), with life coming to fruition in death. That’s Celtic, really, and ancient. It is a powerful story that controls the way human minds and bodies interact with Earth.

Earth Creature, you know where to go here, because this is your body, and your mind. It looks like it’s “out there,” but that’s trick of consciousness. Don’t be fooled too much.

If you postulate time, you see it as self-evident that the seasons progress one from the other, in circuit. If you don’t build time into the system, then you move through the earth differently. Take a look at the snow buckwheat below. Note the variation in ripening.

The orange snow buckwheat bloomed in a dimension called “three months ago.”

The white individuals, especially those at the immediate bottom of the slope…

… are blooming now. That’s how it is in narrative time. Outside of time, in time-space, shall we say, they are blooming all at once, just in different dimensions. Western thought might call those micro-environments, or variations in a species. Earth thought would call them environments of time: rain capture, soil structure, snow melt, genetic variation, the gamut. In that sense, this wasp from 15 months ago is clambering through the snow buckwheat now.

By stepping between one and the other, by moving from the dimension of one plant to that of another, you move through that time. Western thought would call it space and memory. Note the high altitude lake, run through the houses of the city below, then filtered, now pumped high up here to irrigate a vineyard.

That’s part of Western thought’s attitude to time and space as well, sculpted for maximum use of machinery, although not maximum use of land, and is part of the picture, obviously. You can’t pick and choose. You get the whole thing.

 

I suspect that might all sound strange, so look here, if you will at an image of a little meadow of wheat grass, arrow-leafed balsam root, big sage and lots of weedy cheatgrass, in bloom.

Here, look again. Western reckoning places this dimension in parameters called June 7. Look how the cheatgrass, an invasive weed, is already red with Autumn, while the plants of 5,000 years ago are standing up to their waves.

Ah, you spotted the doe. She never left. Here she is. That’s her trail leading downhill to the corner of the vineyard fence…

… and uphill in the image I first showed you, from the same spot. 

That spot is a point of human presence in time. A dog would smell its way through this. When I start walking, time shifts, to reveal and hide its parameters and its dimensions. A hill moves as I move through the bodily shapes that form my sense of it, that push my body to where I have to go, from this …

… to this …

 

Note how the shifting of the hills has nothing to do with legal boundaries.

… to this …

 

… to this …

 

… and then to this…

… as I move through time. Note the deer trail. Today, I let it lead me, let the hills push me between their forms, accepted that the forms were my thoughts, and was swept uphill and to the west…

… and higher…

… following the deer trail the whole way …

… — the trail of the deer who were being swept in this direction by the land as well, as it matched their own bodies and their own minds. This deer is right here, right now, I realized…

…because it always present. It can be in no other place. And sure enough …

… we are in the same place.

I turned away, because driving them from their grazing was not in my interests. Keeping on the uphill path was. Again, I let the land guide me.

Because I have the ability, as an Earth creature, to see through space, that is to see form behind a screen of spring, or saskatoons and choke cherries, if you like, through my peripheral vision, that is, where I’m not even looking, I was seen in turn, and stepped just to the right for a better look…

Note that there’s something on the hill above me that his attention more than I do. A hawk perhaps. They follow wanderers, screaming, to see what flushes up in front of them, or me. I dunno, but…

… when he passed behind the Saskatoon and I passed higher up the hill so it would turn the earth to face me, he passed across time so that the earth would put the does in his site again — too early to approach, but early enough to keep them in mind. It’s not hard to find your way when you are the land.

Such a simple thing. Look at the wetland hiding behind the hill, home of bears and porcupine, woodpeckers, grouse and deer. It is a herd up there. One can expect herds from it, because it moves time across what Western thought calls the seasons. Look how green those trees are, watered by a fold in an old seabed 100,000,000 years old, while the land the earth turns to the sun is dry with invasive cheatgrass and the big sage that crowds in after cattle have over-grazed the earth.

As you would expect, it forces the deer off it. All that’s left is land humans have claimed for themselves. It’s a pretty spare life on the edge of time and space. Do you see that clump of Great Basin Giant Ryegrass at the edge of the gravel?

 

It’s more than at first meets the eye.

And at night, which is not a time but a dimension, a space, the coyotes go partying in the vineyard and then burst out.

Look. They are here right now.

Note the deer tracks entering from the left. The paths join here.

At all times they know where the deer are. They walk the same path. So do we, if we let the land walk us.

What It’s Like to Belong to an Ecosystem

So, remember the early moons of the year, when Siya? (Saskatoon) was opening out of winter’s buds that she held in offering on her stems?

Well, look at the offering now: light. Siya? is all offering. That’s a way of saying that this is our plant. It is for us. That’s why I can see it and can say “she is all offering.”

And what is this collecting of light and its extension into my mind for? Ah, for this:

They are meant to be taken. They are incomplete if we do not, but not just us.

This is what it is to be a part of an ecosystem. Western culture calls our reaction to Siya? “thought”, “hunger” and “desire.” It is none of those things. It is more.

The White Bees of Autumn and the Blue Weeds

Roadside Chicory

Be ethical, please. Plant weeds. They’re the only thing keeping the earth going right now, this group of plants that reclaim broken land — and save the sacred people of the earth for their future work. Every weed you plant is an earth ship, carrying precious cargo across a deadly sea.