The Centre of the Earth

The cinder cone is gone, but the bones of the land remain.

This is my city, Vernon, viewed from its northeast rim. In the center left of the image is the old cinder cone that anchored the ridge coming into the center of the image from the right. The high points on that ridge are broken chunks of old seabed, lifted in tilted slabs into the sky by a thrust of hot, or even molten, rock coming in from the direction of Terrace Mountain in the distance. The deep Okanagan Fault, and today’s Okanagan Lake, runs through the centre of the image, in front of the blue ridges. Crazy geology! Folds upon folds of the land are here, and in their centre, the volcano around which they pivoted. There, all this pressure of collision was released into energy, expressed as clinker and ash, which the glaciers took away. Want to stand in the middle of the earth? It’s an easy climb.

It’s right there. Up you go. Oh, but first, remember, this earth has many centres. The one below is only five kilometres away, and part of the Turtle Mountain story.

As you move from centre to centre, you are still there. That is one of the lessons the earth teaches.

 

California Quail in the Rainforest

The ancient salmon forests of the Pacific Coast were felled long ago. Well, most of them.
Hoh

Some of the lost ones went to houses in Vancouver and Seattle. People still live in their bones. Others, though, still stand.

Ozette

Others, with long grains of clear cedar, which might have been used for fine cabinets and ceremonial screens, were turned into fenceposts, to herd humans and cattle and to hold grapes up to the sun to create jug wines, but that’s all in the past now. Now, the quail come.

  Hooo- HooOOOOoooo! Don’t our forests have new life now!

 

The Beautiful Angles of the Grassland, or Baby, We Love You for More than Your Curves

Those of us who talk about grasslands, talk about their rounded curves a lot.

Hey, Glaciers, thanks for that.

This is a land held in tension against wind and light, using opposition to it to create tension, which is then harvested in spring growth …

…or the dispersal of seeds.

But this is summer now. It’s the time for  of the most beautiful angles. In this landscape of wind off the distant Pacific, mountain ranges away …

… ranges of glacially-cut, angular, uplifted-peaks of ancient, fractured continental collisions…

… arrow-leafed balsam root, swaying in the wind in spring…

…shifts in angles to the other plants nearby to catch the sun, and dries in place, like rain spread flat. This is rain lifted to a whole other plane of experience.

Move over, Picasso. You ain’t got nothing on this.

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.

 

 

 

 

No More Wild Fires Please

It is a catastrophic summer in the Interior of British Columbia. Close to 15,000 people have been evacuated from their communities. Indigenous communities who refuse to leave are isolated. Read about the grim situation at Anaham here: http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/first-nations-community-holds-on-as-fire-threatens The question of why these people have chosen to stay in the face of catastrophic fire, isolation and great danger can be answered only in troubling ways. They are, however, simple enough. The tsilqhot’in are this place of fire. There is no evacuation. A lot of this has to do with a century and a half of great cultural hurt, but there’s a positive story here as well. Perhaps this image from the height of this land, at the crest of the Yellowstone Plume, in the great caldera that is the heart of winter …

…and fire on this continent and which anchors our country, Cascadia, like the eye of a pool in one of her rivers displays something of the answer:

A pine rooting on the face of the cooled molten plume, from this post about my journey to the height of the land: https://okanaganokanogan.com/2015/09/28/cascadia-land-of-fire/

If we call these uncontrollable and violent fires “wild fires”, we are participating in the environmental destruction that has created them rather than in the solutions that will control them. Until then, they will remain gothic and destructive, like the nineteenth century creations that they are. At the moment, of course, we must protect our homes and our loved ones, with all the vigour we can bring to this terrifying and important work, but let’s do it in a way that leads directly to the future that must follow this catastrophe of environmental mismanagement. Let’s call these fires by their correct names. They are not wild. Fire lives in this plateau. Smoke, such as obscured Okanagan Lake below, is the natural form of summer here.

Through neglect to honour fire’s primary place, it has been called into violent incarnation by excess fuel. The explosive sage below, above my house, is a bomb waiting to explode, and it’s the creation of bad resource policy. It can be fixed. We will have to be doing this in the next few years.

 

 

To say these horrific fieres are wild, is to say that an abstract notion of fire is fire’s base state, and that fire that escapes the boundaries of the controls of intellectual understanding is “wild”. That’s insulting. In Cascadia, wild fire control began a bit more than a century ago, to protect the nationalized forests made out of depopulated native space for the benefit of industrial and recreational use. This management regime was a replacement for indigenous fire management, in land forcibly removed from indigenous control. The indigenous understanding was based on living within space. The replacement, modern civilization, declared the land wild and foreign to human consciousness. That was a lie. Fire remains far bigger than any human or any collection of humans. Perhaps the image below of when the grassland hill above my house burnt a few years back and the fire turned to life within a few weeks can illustrate the edges of the tsilqhot’in resistance to evacuation. Within a few weeks, this:

Nootka Rose Sprouting from Cooked Rock

Let’s bring the irresistible force of living and destructive and creative fire within our social group and develop strategies to tame it. It’s coming to us anyway, horrifically. Yes, let’s save our homes, our farms, our communities, our forests, and our lives with all the effort we can bring to it, but let’s then move on to build a society that recognizes that fire is the natural state of this place.The failure to create civilized, or artful, fire within organic environments such as grasslands and forests, except at moments of catastrophe when fire sweeps in waves across the land due to being ignored for too long and its potential disrespected, is also a created state, but not one of which we should in any way be proud. And I want to be proud of how we live with fire. This work can wait until the crisis is over, but we can start now in a small way, by throwing away that awful racist term: wild fire. The time for that was 160 years ago, two weeks ago, today, and tomorrow. Fire is here to stay. Let’s hope we are too.

 

 

 

In Praise of Scotch Thistles

B.C. Hydro, our provincial power provider, is a responsible citizen, and poisoned these invasive thistles last year.

 

It’s the regulation. One wants to protect cattle range from inedible weeds. The thistles responded by coming back tenfold.

They are doing well.

Very well.

Perhaps we should all just accept that the glory days of ranching are over in these parts, which they are…

Slim Pickings

…and provide a home for the last remaining insects of the rich syilx grasslands (here on one of the few surviving native thistles) …

…that were here before the cattle ate everything else down to nothing. This looks like a good start, don’t you think?

We should do this out of respect.

And love.

Crazy CBC Thinking

The award-winning journalist Alex Migdal, this guy…

… knows, apparently his Google, and works for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, for whom he recently wrote this:

‘Huge amount’ of carbon in soil

Irrigation — the watering of land to prep it for agriculture — might not seem synonymous with climate change. But researchers at UBCO want to know how it affects the storage of carbon and nitrogen in soil.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/could-soil-be-the-next-carbon-sink-ubc-okanagan-to-lead-study-1.4152301

This is a pure example of White privilege in the Canadian Indigenous context. Think of what he wrote there:

Irrigation [is] the watering of land to prep it for agriculture.

By Alex’s definition, a few things are important:

  1. Irrigation, water, land and agriculture are separate things.
  2. Agriculture takes place on prepared land.
  3. Water is the instrument of preparation.
  4. No watering takes place during the process of agriculture, ie
  5. Agriculture is not farming or the production of food, a lengthy process, but the final harvesting of that food right at the point of its distribution in packaging, shipping, retail and manufacturing networks. (I might be wrong in this, but I can’t see what on earth else that sentence means.)

Not to mention this:

Irrigation might not seem synonymous with climate change …

but the way in which it is will be defined by researchers at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, who

want to know how it affects the storage of carbon and nitrogen in soil

… which is a cute game, because it suggests that…

6. Irrigation affects climate change due to its ability to change the rates of carbon sequestration by plants…

…with no mention of food, or that irrigation is synonymous with climate change in a far more profound way than aerial carbon dioxide is, especially in local systems, which includes the farms Alex has his sights on. It used to be that journalism asked hard questions. Here it is repeating an elite (university) position, in a kind of dance of courtiers reminiscent of the Court of Louis XVI. None of the assumptions above are true outside of the boundaries set by privileged class positions in society. But, Alex, who presumably, judging by the respect shown in his interview of a Tsawassen elder below, knows better…

… has nonetheless the privileged authority to define water, agriculture and the social relationships between them and land, as granted to him by his position within an elite cultural institution, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (perhaps as a series of powerful colonial forces within a medical or oil industry metaphor or perhaps just out of ignorance of water, plants, the earth or how any of it fits together, both inside or outside of Canadian colonial contexts). In the end of this display, only the privileged authority remains, and the earth, and her people, loses. More than that, a much-needed discussion about water, culture, ethics and power is off the table, because of the weight of the CBC, and nothing changes that must change. The people who are not of the earth also lose at this point, and the authority of the CBC is diminished.

That is simply not good enough.

 

 

Crazy Okanagan Water

Today, I’d like to show you some water in its living environment and some crazy water. First, living water:

That’s mock orange, doing its thing. Home to deer, porcupines, bears, lazuli buntings, people, American goldfinches, chickadees, finches, quail, crows, pheasants, fritillary butterflies, swallowtails, yellow-bellied marmots, meadow voles, coyotes, wolves, magpies, northern flickers and everyone else who still manages to survive on this ruined grassland. Now for some crazy water:

I showed you this image of the bear I spooked out of the mock orange the other day, but it bears (ha ha) repeating in this context, because that’s not a natural landscape it is walking through. It is, actually, something much like this:

Syrian government officials walk on a road, back dropped, by damaged buildings from fighting with Free Syrian Army fighters in the old city of Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government in the north prepared to regain control of the central city of Homs following last week’s cease-fire agreement after a fierce, two-year battle with the rebels trying to oust him. (AP Photo)

Source.

Look at it again, if you please:

This is a ruin from a war over the land fought unevenly over the last 160 years between the valley’s syilx people and various industrial farmers. By 1871, the land was trashed by overgrazing born of ignorance. What you see here, a chokehold of big sage interspersed with invasive cheatgrass, both of them useless in these numbers for supporting complex nets of  life, are replacements for a rich grassland that flowed with life through the year. The rich grassland was a creation of a partnership between the earth and the syilx. Its trashing was an act of aggression: ignorant, for the most part, but aggression nonetheless. Still, a small amount of life survives in the ruins: voles, and the coyotes, bears and hawks who hunt them, all dependent on the lighter-coloured plants you see above, the arrow-leafed balsam root, a kind of wild sunflower that has adapted to the ruins and is recolonizing them. That is a vision of hope: a ruin, sure, but hope nonetheless. Note how much water these flowers represent, and how much of it flows through a renewable web.

Below is some more water from the war. This is Chief Emmitt Liquatum of Yale in1881.


Photo: BC Archives.

Note the top hat, a symbol of power from the fur trade days (or at least of a ritual belief in power). It is a beaver turned to felt.

Beaver Keeping the Water in the Sinlahekin Valley

Beavers ensure a balanced distribution of water in dry country but were trapped and traded, often before the first European colonists showed up, for war surplus Napoleonic rifles, in an attempt to stave off genocide. It worked, but barely, and more because of the top hats and pre-Canadian relationships than the rifles. The image of Liquatam was taken shortly after the salmon fishing on the Fraser River, the main food source of his people for 6,000 years, was rendered illegal by the new Canadian government (of 1871 in these parts), to support White salmon fishermen on the coast. I have another image (a bit farther down), which shows the crazy water that comes from this nonsense. It is an image of the north end of 350-square-kilometre-135-kilometre-long Okanagan Lake in this year’s high water. It has been poisoned. This has come about in part because of those dead beavers and the industrial agriculture made possible by their absence, and the private, industrial property aesthetic that presumes prominence for industrial uses of water and land over health of water and land for people and all creatures, and a lack of run-off. All these workings-out of old errors and privatization is now showing itself in this form:

Source

You are looking here at a toxic algal bloom on the Okanagan Indian Reserve at Head of the Lake — more specifically at the water off a recreational property leased by a band member to a White family. No-one wants to swim in industrial sludge, but that’s what this is. Here’s the story: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/algae-bloom-okanagan-lake-1.4178423. Here is, incredibly, what the story says:

The Okanagan Indian Band released a warning on Sunday to residents and visitors to stay out of the north arm of B.C.’s Okanagan Lake until further notice due to a toxic algae bloom.

 

The band says the bloom in waters off its land was first thought to be a sewage leak, but testing showed it was caused by a high level of organic material in the lake.

 

High temperatures over the weekend helped the algae flourish in a soupy mixture that the band says includes everything from burlap and sand debris to sewage, grass, leaves and dead animals.

They are being kind. Here’s some crazy water — in the old lake bed to the north of the lake by the looks of it but perhaps in the old lake bed to the east of the lake:

Source.

This is about privilege, even though it seems to be about work and economy and making a country. The thing is, before that country set the industrial terms for water use, water was a common good, shared by all. After 160 years of an uneasy balance between sharing and industrial water rights, filtering water through industrial crops before it flows into the lake, and the old syilx water system it represents, continues the original violence. There’s no way of covering that up, because ignorance is no longer an excuse. Sure, there appears to be a belief that if contaminated water is passed through soil, which is viewed as part of the de-indigenized cultural space called land, which has the other names of earth and nature, it will be again as pristine as the original White impression of indigenous/earth cultural creation in 1858, when all this began. That is crazy. First, because this so-called “nature” was a humanly-maintained cultural space, which gave the earth cultural autonomy, and secondly because the following image isn’t pristine:

It’s the lake bottom in the west arm of the lake, that’s what it is, just south of the algal bloom on Okanagan Indian Band shores which I showed you above, and right beside one of the Okanagan’s major swimming beaches, to which thousands of people come with their children every summer to enjoy what is, hopefully, “the good life,” and why not, family is really important. Here are some images of this arm of the lake…

 

So is the image of pristine water poisoned by industrialization below. It connects to beach culture, and the recreation use of Okanagan Indian Band lands, through a direct colonial desire to physically enjoy nature. In this case, it is through industrially-management of land, draining water down off the hills, to produce pumpkins for a European harvest festival. This work is done with a mixture of herbicides, fertilizers, cultivated weeds (the things are attempting to heal the soil, yet they are tilled under as they don’t fit the imposed industrial model) and water and sun managed by plastic, thrown away at the end of the season. This is an image from last year This year, this land is empty, except for a trial plot of genetically-modified canola under scientific trial. That the land was removed from life to produce this hyper-industrial product is, I’m sorry, in it context there’s no other word for it, an act of pure aggression and violence. That syilx water flows through it.


Okanagan Basin Water Board, are not absolved of blame just by saying good things.

“Our vision is to have a fully-integrated water system, meeting the needs of residents and agriculture while supporting wildlife and natural areas.”

Here’s their image of that:

 

It’s weird to have one’s valley turned into a cartoon, but note some important things: first, the 10,000-year-old lake of fossil water from the Ice Age is labelled “waste water”, and the river systems are labelled “municipal water” and “water supply” completes a cycle with “waste water.” That’s disrespectful of the bear I met the other day, the syilx, and anything else that comes from this land. In this conception, there is only urban infrastructure, based on colonial water use models. You can see the contrast between desert and lushness in the image of my city, Vernon, below:

This elite blindness is omnipresent and is a sign of ecological poverty. It comes from an intellectual culture that views, without question, this spring’s problems with water in the valley  as problems of extreme high water. Seemingly, if the land had just soaked it up a bit better, like we were used to last year, it would not get nuts like this. Well, it’s not the first flood. Blaming water run-off on weather, when the land’s ability to use water or hold it has been removed, is intellectual nonsense. Worse, when a cause is given, it is global warming. Global warming is serious stuff, but this is the result of the abuse of human-earth water systems, based on an ignorant or dismissive rejection of syilx cultural values, people and knowledge, over anything else. To say otherwise is crazy. The history is very clear.  I wish the craziness stopped there, but here’s some more crazy water, and once again it is crazy with the best of intentions and the worst of blissful ignorance and disrespect:

Source.

This is an image of vineyards, formerly the orchards of my youth, in Naramata, looking towards the southern shores of Okanagan Lake, where any muck from the north will eventually flow, before co out through the Okanagan River, in the middle distance of the image, and joining in that dredged, diked channel…

Source.

…with the outflow from the Penticton Waste Water treatment plant, before continuing south. It is the poster image of an article on a new water study being conducted at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna, at the approximate mid-point of the lake. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/could-soil-be-the-next-carbon-sink-ubc-okanagan-to-lead-study-1.4152301

The study, worth $1,400,000, is to determine some pretty useful stuff around the role irrigation water plays, including the rates at which dirt, in a hot climate, builds up carbon — not to protect the atmosphere from industrial pollution but to become soil, which is carbon=based life and dead life on which it feeds and which holds its water — under the effects of irrigation. The difference between the agricultural capacity of the soil before and after irrigation would be useful to know, especially since the early irrigated desert cultures of Mesopotamia poisoned their soils with the salt that comes from evaporation during irrigation and turned their gardens into deserts, which are now battlefields in hopeless and helpless wars, not to mention contemporary experience with the same issue in the American Southwest, in order to modify irrigation, but that’s not how the story is told. The media tells it like this:

“When we talk about climate change, we often discuss the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But actually a huge amount of carbon is stored in the soil,” Kirsten Hannam, a research associate on the project, told CBC’s Chris Walker on Daybreak South.

 

The buildup happens when carbon dioxide in the air is fixed by plants during photosynthesis and converted into leaves and roots. The carbon is deposited into the soil and accumulates over time.

That, unbelievably, is a description of life on earth: carbon, deposited and accumulating over time. How disrespectful. How obscene. But it’s not just the media. Here’s how the government sees it:

“These new investments are part of the government’s commitment to addressing climate change and ensuring our farmers are world leaders in the use and development of clean and sustainable technology and processes,” said

Lawrence MacAulay, minister of agriculture and agri-food in a statement.

Got that? The government is going to address global climate change by using scarce and incredibly precious water, already over-committed by overpopulation of humans, in the Okanagan Valley, and is selling this as a way for farmers to develop clean and sustainable processes. I think this means is that farmers will be using our water to sequester industry’s carbon, and will be paid to do that, instead of producing food, or learning to work with beavers, or respecting the syilx. Really, this has to stop. The spring has been rife with young Indigenous writers demanding that the violence stop, and calling out the White community on their sense of entitlement. Well, it’s not about statements of social inclusiveness. It’s about changing the story so that the story is a syilx, or a secweopemc, or a cree story, and that’s going to mean that the earth and her creatures, and non-industrialized, non-privatized water are going to have to be at the centre of law and ethics. Anything else is absolutely stark raving mad.

We either stand with the earth and her people or we shoot it in the temple. The problem is: we are her people. The solution, which is easy, is that we are of her water, and we need to go home.