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 watch storage and water 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 Pueblos of the Okanagan

Here’s a bit of limestone about a metre across that bonked off the escarpment and has been lying around in the grass of the high hill doing what rocks do best…

… sheltering and incubating life.

Not everyone has left home, as you can see.I have wasp (?) nests like this in my storage shed, too, and have been keeping my eye on them for two years now. This brood has settled into a better place all around: nice and warm for the winter, and sheltered from the snow. I hope you’ll think of them when the blizzards come!

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.

 

Defying Gravity

Water can pool on near vertical surfaces. If it has a little help.

Moss transforming a vertical surface into a series of horizontal ones

Bella Vista Hills

A lake doesn’t have to be continuous to fulfill its function of being a læk, a watering held so it can be used. I am fascinated at how moss allows itself to stretch and flow, taking on some of the characteristics of water, in order to hold it in the air, right in the sun. That’s pretty close to the magnificent manipulations of photosynthesis itself. Perhaps the two gestures arose from the same power.

A Tale of Gophers and Quail

Sure, it looks like winter. A bit of shelter for mammals and birds, a few seeds to keep them alive through hard times, and brrrrr.

Na.

These are the vitamin and steroid sources under the canopy of grass that will enable quail and rodents to reproduce in the spring. Spring is too late for such important work to begin. That’s winter work.  Unfortunately…

…nibbling on green shoots of cheatgrass will not lead to reproduction. So, look again:

The gopher that makes the mound creates the quail chicks of springtime. The timing is important, to avoid the mounds being seeded by grasses instead. And so above-ground and below-ground worlds meet.

Hooo!

Imagine the Technological Possibilities!

Imagine if you could regulate heat loss and roof melting simply by switching from a flat roof to a roof covered in river rock, or a lightweight approximation of it. The insulating properties of the rock would keep the cold of the snow away from the roof, while the relative warmth of the snow would insulate the rock. Temperate change be gradual. What’s more, air flowing around the rounded forms of the rock would draw off the heat they give off while cooling under the effects of the snow, which would draw off the snow in channels, while allowing the insulating processes of snow and rock to continue. The rounded rocks are essential to make the process work. 

One Day After the Snow

Such a construction technique applied to even greater open spaces would allow for the gradual melting of snow, preventing sudden run-off events and allowing for a steady pumping of water through an environment. Notice how cheat grass uses thatch (below) to incubate seed in warmth, along a similar principle…

… while using the thatch to keep a warm layer of air next to the soil. By the time freezing happens, the soil will be drenched with melted snow. At that point, melting will add heat to the soil.

Three dimensional roofs with channels, that manipulate freezing and thawing processes to maintain steady states or gain an advantage on climate, that’s the way. Of course, you could farm like this, too. Then again, is that not the general form of Cascade, with an uneven surface generating warm valley floors?

The Big Bar Esker Against the Marble Range

And again?

My Grandfather Bruno Leipe and His Dog Pootzie Above the Similkameen, c. 1963

photo Hugo Redivo

In the case of the Similkameen, the warm valley floor is a sea of infilled river gravel in a deep glacial trench, which takes us back to where we began…

 

Cascadia is a dynamic land, isn’t it! By reducing run-off, and spreading out growing seasons, much of the work of industrial agricultural systems can be done at no cost, after original set-up. And we’re still talking about systems of depreciation and extraction, why?

Predicting the Weather

The unrelieved heat and dryness of the summer has led to the outcome predicted by those of us who have lived in this valley for a couple generations of memory, or more. Here is my filbert, ten years old, learning it.

A hot dry summer is not about heat, but about timing. When spring is 3 weeks early and  the land goes through Autumn in mid-July, 3 weeks early as well, then winter will come hard and fast, bringing the missing water, and also 3 weeks early. It can bring prolonged drought as well, but usually when the cycle is shifted the other way: late frost in the spring, monsoons in July instead of June, and then the summer’s drought through the winter. Right now, though, catkins in the ice.

I was in the south of the valley yesterday, and looked north. The wind was eating off the tops of snow clouds, and rolling them over themselves. That’s not weather that is passing by but weather that is opening out of the pressure of the air. “Weather’s coming,” I said. “CBC reported flurries,” I was told. But I already knew. Am I predicting the arrival of spring? No way. It’s too early for that, but the day will come that I will know what I have already known because I have already experienced it, and it will find voice. This is what it’s like to be home.

Saying the Names Shanty & the CBC Poetry Prize

As some of you know, when I’m not exploring the poetry of the earth, I am working for the words as they arrange themselves in similar patterns, also called poetry. Today, I am proud that my poem “Saying the Names Shanty” has been nominated to stand among 33 others in the long-list for the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize. You can read the full list of poems and their poets here: http://www.cbc.ca/books/literaryprizes/33-writers-make-the-cbc-poetry-prize-longlist-1.4389859. I am proud that my poem and I get to rub shoulders with such a fine group of visions, words and people. What’s more, I am glad that the poem, which began in 2009 with a trip up the Columbia River from Astoria, Oregon, rose out of the series that started this blog at the same time. Here’s the Columbia, as it sweeps through the ancient Sinkiuse homeland at White Bluffs, directly across the river from the Manhattan Project’s plutonium reactors.

That was my journey home from the Coast, that allowed my new poem’s journey across the mountains and back to Canada. The final impetus was written after visiting Yellowstone …

… and Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump …

… and the Blackfoot wind …

… and then sitting on the shore of the Conconully Reservoir in the early morning.

The poem came, in almost its final form. I think that’s the editing crew above. The reception apparatus is below.

The Poem Saying Harold’s Name

The poem begins like this:

It was Al who said it, to stick out the thumb’s knuckle and nail, crook’d,
to say with a gesture where you want to get along to

and see who is going there too, with her hands on the wheel’s leather
and the rubber taking the curves of the Crowsnest,

crossing the line from black tar’s unwinding ribbon
into the riddle of headlights weaving between Similkameen deer and Arcturus.

The Al mentioned is Canadian Poet and elder, Al Purdy, who has left us but whose poems and spirit still live. Here he is, just a month older than I am now.

Poetry Saying Al’s Name

One of Al’s poems, “Say the Names”, that inspired my poem is here: https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/arts/say-the-names-by-al-purdy/article4161335/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

It begins wondrously, like this:

say the names say the names

and listen to yourself

an echo in the mountains

Tulameen Tulameen

say them like your soul

was listening and overhearing

and you dreamed you dreamed

you were a river

and you were a river

It is a beautiful challenge. I accepted it. After all, many of the rivers and names that Al says with such love are my home country in the mountains, including the nmɘlqaytkw (the Similkameen), here:

The nmɘlqaytkw at Nighthawk, looking to c̓up̓áq̓.

You can read another of my love poems for this river here, a prose poem with photos: https://okanaganokanogan.com/2012/04/23/earth-writing/

My poem “Saying the Names Shanty” is part of a book-length manuscript of songs for being at home in the west beyond the West, and especially in the grasslands between the mountains, and of following the road across the mountains and prairies to the east.

The Grass Beyond the Mountains

The View from Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump

To which, with respect and thanks for the syilx people, whose land, whose Nxʷɘlxʷɘltantɘt, I live upon, I add the Okanagan Nation declaration:

“We are the unconquered aboriginal people of this land, our mother; The creator has given us our mother, to enjoy, to manage and to protect; we, the first inhabitants, have lived with our mother from time immemorial; our Okanagan governments have allowed us to share equally in the resources of our mother; we have never given up our rights to our mother, our mother’s resources, our governments and our religion; we will survive and continue to govern our mother and her resources for the good of all for all time.” https://www.syilx.org/about-us/syilx-nation/okanagan-nation-declaration/

To all syilx people, yours are the names. Thank you for keeping them alive and for sharing them. Your act of sharing has given me life, and a chance to sing of love. The woman whose hands are on the wheel in the poem, is the poet Linda Rogers,


…source

who introduced me to Al’s poem “Say the Names” by reading it to me late at night in her kitchen in Victoria, with, if I remember correctly, a whoop of joy. I sure felt one, at any rate. Thanks, Linda. All of us, and the poet Pat Lane…

…whose poem “Similkameen Deer”, which begins with a road sign like this …

…Driving through the Similkameen valley

I watch for deer on the Road.

Miles roll out beneath me….

… probably below the screes and Mount Mazuma Ash at As’nola Mouth, where the waters of the Pasayten Wilderness and the Cascade Range meet between Hedley and Keremeos, began me on this journey four decades ago, have, among others, made this poem together, although the words came to it through me. Friends, poets, brothers, sisters, words and spirits, thank you. This moment is yours, a gift for you for the gifts you’ve given. Thank you, CBC, for the chance to share it.

You can find the CBC’s page on my poem here: http://www.cbc.ca/books/literaryprizes/saying-the-names-shanty-by-harold-rhenisch-1.4371756

Oh, yeah, and this:

Poetry Saying Its Name as Arcturus

Source