The (Post) Colonial Landscape

These plants have gone wild from a garden above them. Not one is native here. They are native to Eastern North America.p1270436

To survive in its illusion of seasons, White culture requires extensive plantings of this colour. It is taught in school, even. It is even called “fall colour.” It is the east in the west, really. This is history, written in a story of loss and longing, of the pain of separation and an attempt to heal it with physical gestures of care. Let’s praise that care.


Let’s follow it.

The Mind of a Thistle

This is russian thistle in her glory.p1270507 Look at her climb a ladder of carbon to the sun, with precisely placed synapses to receive the wind. The colour of her sepals (not petals) are for the sun, not to attract insects.p1270362

The human brain is more complex than hers, but hers is a brain as well.

She too is conscious, but in the context of the world, not of herself.


We shouldn’t be greedy. We can praise intelligence where it finds us, right?

Autumn and the Wind

Thoreau called images like the ones below “autumnal”. He described the ripeness of such leaves at great length. He called them fruits. Keats did much the same. He called them mellow fruitfulness, on the edge of death. Dante presented them as ancient etruscan, or perhaps Celtic, echoes. He placed them in hell. Those are all my ancestors. They are old, wise visions, from far away. I lived in those romantic agricultural worlds, too. I used to make the same observations. I learned that culture well. It was mine.dsc00158

Now that culture is foreign. Now I see spirit rising in a hawthorn spirit. I see it holding. I see spirit singing with a different intensity high up, in a height that is another form of spirit. I just don’t see autumn anymore. I no longer get that bittersweet autumnal buzz. The orchards are behind me now and I am growing older and closer to spirit myself. The earth is growing transparent, and the sky is growing opaque. I have lived on this syilx land for a long time now.


I am in the wind.


Walking With Bears: a meditation on the place of ecocritical writing today

This is a folded land. Not all lands are made like that, but this one is. We can expect folds from it, and lines of energy, planes tilted up at odd angles, and distance that comes sudden, a way in which the world falls away until it becomes the sky. It’s not a sky world. It’s a folded one. It can hide things. It can reveal them and then take them away. It shows you what is not present, and you live as much in that, in this land, as in what is present. Your sight is limited here, but your body is almost endless.p1270104

If I were an ecocritical scholar, I couldn’t stop with that observation, although it’s obvious that this is a land you climb up in, and one in which you use sagebrush, grasped in the hands, to slow you down on the way back. It’s a land suited for creatures who can do that more easily.


The “prong!” “prong!” “Prong” “prong” of the feet of this mule deer mother and daughter as they bounded away, the earth drumming beneath them as they struck it, with a sound of leather stretched over a wood frame and tapped with the fingers, carried for hundreds of metres through the grass and sagebrush, and the choke cherries in the gully. If I were an ecocritical scholar, though, I would have to observe that observation, because I would be bound to a specific task, the task of standing at a distance, observing, arguing that people live in cities, cities are part of the bioregions in which they stand, and pretty soon I would be talking about cities, or at least of how different groups of humans, perhaps a poet like me, observes the hillsides, set within a context of colonialism and the rhetoric of indigenous and feminist studies, but here’s the thing, poems might contain intellectual ideas, even argue them, but they are not intellectual ideas, and this is not a city…


It is within the boundaries of a city, yes, although barely, but I’m not sure what definition of city other than an arbitrary line drawn on the earth, could hold it. A definition of a city might be “organized human social space,” although the organization here is, well, a map that says this is a city, so arguing that contemporary human views of this space (garnered from individual human interviews) are essential to understanding this organized human social space and its life as a denatured indigenous territory (which it is) is only a way of saying: “humans are so powerful that what they think of on their own becomes implemented in the world, through their technology, so it’s best just to ask them, and then to provide a context for their answers, as a way of preventing people from enslaving them to ideas not of their own emotional making as embodiments of Christ on this earth.” That is actually arguable. In fact, it is so American, that it should be argued against, at least for the sake of clarity, because the alternative is to accept American culture as the evolutionary height of human social culture, and for all other humans, indigenous and otherwise, to be bound to the American will, as secondary world citizens. So, it should be debated openly. So, let me throw a word into this debate:


If that can’t enter the debate without explanation, then the debate is not a debate but a form of display. Either the world, and art, and all human modes of consciousness are within the debate, or they’re not, and if they’re not then that’s a line that people, being the violent predators that they are, will cross. We’re watching in Europe right now. People are crossing borders. The borders are being armed. What will happen in the end? In one direction or another, people will cross borders, either peaceably or with force, but they won’t be boxed in. Even the ones, like the Hungarians, who are boxing themselves in, won’t stay boxed in, so it’s best to deal openly with boundaries, and, as every ecocritical writer knows, to change the boundaries, and let the world in. My country is also a place, as you can see below, in which the bed of the sea is lifted in the sky, the lake is deeper than the ocean offshore, and volcanic stone has lifted up through cracks in the broken sea, and has been ground away by glaciers, and is dry because of a ridge of volcanoes rising to the west, and choked with sagebrush because men thought that a country like this would be a good place to raise cattle. They thought this would be a good agricultural country, that it could be tamed.  Well, given to weeds, yes, which are then called nature, because like individual human opinion, weeds spring from the earth without interference.


I adore ecocritical writing, and think it has a tremendous future. I do think, however, it has a problem: it is bound to universities and reflects the needs of the institution that pays for it,  and the society and industry that pays for the institution to mirror its own goals. Accordingly, this art form (yes, I believe it is an art form) is bound with criticism and scholarship and papers and classrooms and hierarchies of social order and accommodation of heavily argued social views and many other social paths that humans make within an institution designed to further those hierarchies, not only by splitting them up into various subjects but even by creating subjects like ecocritical writing, to reunite what has been divided. Let’s be clear. The earth is what has been divided:



If you doubt it, look at that photograph, and then look at this one:


We could keep stepping farther and farther back. We could keep accessing a greater and greater unity, within a greater and greater context, but that’s not the game. No one can survive within a university without dividing, or getting in close, concentrating not on the general derived from the particular, but from the particular standing in for the general. If you doubt that, consider this image once more:


It is beauty, basalt upwelling, home for marmots, the mouth of the earth, a snake’s mouth (note the eyes) coming out of the hill above an ancient rattlesnake den bulldozed to make room for human houses the size of castles, and much more, and it smells like marmot urine, which is not a particularly bad smell. In winter, marmot breath freezes in delicate shapes on the cracks where their breath flows out into the cold, but it can’t be all of those things at once. That can be argued, though. You can explain, or show, how it is all those things at once, but the recognition that it is so is going to have to come from bodily knowledge. You’re going to have to walk up the hill. You’re going to have to do it many times. You’re going to have to get the point at which you see the unity first, and then don’t argue it. You just say this:


You might hope that someone will wonder, as you have, what that darned snake had for breakfast, and why it doesn’t swallow. But you can’t, because you can’t stand apart from that observation and analyze it, or, if you do, you can’t have the observation. It’s a bind, or is it. It is a revolutionary academic who bridges subjects, such as poetry, ecology, social science and biology, for instance, and for this revolutionary work ecocritical scholars are to be praised, but here’s the thing: in the world, or among humans as a whole, this is not revolutionary. Neither is it revolutionary for poets or photographers or musicians. It is only revolutionary within the publication vehicle in which ecocritical scholars work: the university. The degree to which ecocriticism has been able to bring some degree of wholeness into hierarchal structures is commendable, but it’s still like saying that a scientific experiment is complete when it makes a hypothesis, or that a poem is complete when it unites its various threads into an image, although maybe it starts there. Western poetry wants it to start in you, the reader; to become incorporated in flesh and blood. Do you want that? Or do you want your poetry to be less of Christ’s blood and a wafer on your tongue? It should, perhaps, at least be openly presented and chosen, and if the choice is something other, then there should be avenues for that. I am arguing here that ecocritical writing could provide those avenues, but only if leaves the university. To bring that observation back into the language of the land, look how the land is folded, and how it holds a doe (below), yet how the world of the doe does not stop with this photograph …


… just as it doesn’t stop with the observation that this land is heavily determined by human civic map making, nor with any attempt by an ecocritical scholar to heal this divide with argument, to clear away the everyday dullness of habit to show the deep structures at work here. This has never just been owned or farmed space, even though farming has choked it with an excess of sagebrush, which has given over to golf courses and castle-sized houses, which, like the university, are expressions of the petro state. That’s harsh, maybe, but it’s true. This lack of certain, of either an ending, a clear line of demarcation, or clear measurable amounts of wildness or domesticity in this place, or clear views of the webs between human and non-human use here, does not prevent photographs, poems or scholarship from becoming paths through this place, in its own language, so let me show you that language. You’ve seen it before.


What you are looking at is a bear. That’s what a bear looks like here from down in the sagebrush. It is peaking over the hill in a green splash of water. Here’s what it looks like way up there. You’ve seen it before.


The bear is large, and brown, and ran from me, just behind the basalt lump in the centre of the image. I ran up here to see if she’d show herself, but she wasn’t as dumb as all that. But let’s turn that around. If the aspens here, splashing above the hill in the wind, are the bear, then this …


… is the bunchgrass of the hill far below, which is also the bear. The point is that without wildness, there is no bioregion. There’s just a region, that we can argue about till the cows come home, but we’re only talking about our ignorance. That’s not a bush to enter today, but that non-entering is strength. What’s more, take a look at Pyramid Mountain in behind. Everywhere you go in this country in the North Okanagan Valley, she watches, and everything of importance that has happened here for the last 10,000 years has happened along her sight lines. The trails, and the water, and this bear, and the villages, are all within various angles at which she comes clear from the folds of the land. That is the city here, and settler cities pale in comparison, and we could stop talking about them as if they were the story. They are set like jewels in the story, but in the end, this is a bear.


I have spoken to ecocritical scholars who have argued, with all the skill of debate they are gifted with, that being bound to the university, having their art bound to the rigours of the scientific method and the history of meeting the rules of a classical society and its hierarchies is an essential part of keeping the discipline honest. Why, for sure, but only within the boundaries set by the university, and people always cross boundaries, which this big brown bear does every night when these trees disappear and she moves through the world down where the people live and eats the choke cherries growing along their fences. It is time for ecocritical scholars to accept the brilliance of their art and to move out into the world. They might cease to become scholars, but they will shed their colonial shackles, and they might just walk with bears.

What’s Smarter than Humans

Because it is the genius of science to separate moments of the world into their components, the view below is commonly seen as a pair of robins (and a finch) perching in a saskatoon bush, which they are using as habitat.robinsm

There’s more, though. The bush has branches that bend in the wind, just enough to accept the birds’ weight, with just enough leaves to offer them shelter and a view out at the same time. The birds first know this bush as fledglings, and it is in these bushes that they first feed, and in them that they hide from the world when they are first on their own. This is their their safe place. If you put all of that together, bushes like this call birds to them by providing just the amount of food, at just the right times, coupled with just the right kind of perching environment, to bring in the birds that feed on their berries, and no others. You won’t find a hawk, owl, vulture, heron, or sagebrush wren here. On the other side, these bushes are here because robins eat their berries and leave their seeds behind as they defecate over open spaces as they flit from bush to bush, and magpies drop their seeds in the cracks in rocks where they perch as they move over the grass, because they can never fly too far without a rest, and, besides, they’re curious and have a sense of fun. The entire environment conspires to deposit saskatoons here, which deposit robins here, and nowhere else. You won’t find them out in the sagebrush. Yes, that’s habitat, but it is also the organic way in which the earth works: not as separate processes and individuals coming together but as environments finding balance together. Now, with that thought in mind, have a look at this:


What you are looking at is four species of weeds, which have replaced a grassland of a few hundred species of plants and even more insects. Because the term nature is used for  organic environments, this is commonly viewed as an image of fecundity: the earth spontaneously giving forth life. But with the lesson of the robins in mind, it might be wiser not to separate this scene from its inhabitants, humans. If the principle of balance holds, and I think it does, then what we are looking at here is an image not only of ourselves (a field of weeds calls to us to transform it into something else) but of what the weeds are calling for, and that is for us to spread them, in exactly the same way that the saskatoon calls to the robins to come and spread its seeds. What weeds need to spread is broken soil, and we oblige. When we are called to these weeds we want to till them under and remake the land, and as soon as we do that they win. In the end, weeds cause us to build homes and our homes create weeds, which cause us to build more homes, which create more weeds. Our intentions are good, but we’ve been outsmarted.

Love a Bear Today: A Cariboo Saga

A year ago, I showed these berries.
kinnikinnikThis year, I tasted them. They taste like this:

You can be the wasp, if you like, but it’s really standing in for a bear. This bear:


This was her a year ago, as young thing, getting ready for winter, eating that delicate, dry taste of perfumed rose. Well, she made it through the winter, and her mother had two new cubs, and kicked her out.


But did she go? No. She stayed, in tiny Big Bar Provincial Park, roaming the eskers, turning over the same logs her mother taught her to turn over last year.


Thing is, mother stayed as well, with two new cubs. That makes four bears in tiny Big Bar Lake Provincial Park. Last year, two cubs and their mother were relocated. Three other bears were shot. That’s a lot of bears. So, yesterday I asked, what is the earth doing? She is sending us bears. We emptied the entire plateau, an area the size of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the Czech Republik, and probably Slovenia, Slovakia and Wales as well, of any place where bears could feed or hang out, and all that’s left is tiny Big Bar Lake Provincial Park, and the cabins along the lake, with their rhubarbs, rented out on Air Bnb. So what is the earth doing? She is responding to fear. The bears don’t want to go. They want to stay, with us. There’s nothing out there. You did this, the earth is saying? Here, look after the kids. Thirty thousand years ago, we let wolves into the firelight, because they asked, and because we wanted them. Well, the bears are asking, and I want them. All summer, I lived with them at Big Bar Lake. All four of them. They kept to their place. I heard them turning over logs when I went out to watch the hawks. “Hey, Bear!” I called. “I’m coming, give me five minutes, and I’ll be through,” and they did, you know. When I lived in 150 Mile House, a bit to the north, among the savannahs, and a bear came through, we didn’t call the conservation officer to shoot it, we just called each other. “The bear’s here,” we said. “Thanks,” we said. And we kept an eye on the kids. That’s the thing. Keep an eye on the kids. That doesn’t mean you need to shoot a bear, for the love of all things decent. They are evolving. We should evolve at the same rate. If we don’t, we should leave, now. Twenty years ago, I stood on a road in the East Cariboo, early in the morning. Two hundred metres ahead of me, a sow had lined up her two cubs on the logging road, to get a good a look at me, at what a bastard looks like. I turned. I was like a model on a runway in Milan. “Have a good look,” I said. “This is what you have to deal with!” I turn again. “See?” Then I stood still. Let them focus. After ten minutes, she led them away. I gave her ten minutes to find her path, then I went back to camp. Was that that hard? No, that was that easy. This summer, as camp host at Big Bar Lake, I had the chance to talk to some Secwepemc girls, who were five and six years old, out there for a birthday party and a picnic, all the way from Canoe Creek or Dog Lake, on the back road. I showed them how to use to my walking stick, and what it was for. They tried it out. They told me about the bear they’d seen on the way in, and I knew at once  it was this one:


I thanked them, and went back to camp, and told a couple campers about the bear, about how she knew about us, the campers, but there was ice cream, I said, for the kids, so she might be curious tonight, and all that food of theirs, that should come inside. She was a good bear, I told them. She knew stuff. But tonight’s different. There’s ice cream, I said. We understand, they said. That wasn’t hard. So many families on this shoulder of the world can trace their ancestry to bears. Canadian society calls this myth, but that’s just ignorance. It’s based on experience. The bears need us. We need them. They make us better, physical, and real. They make the woods dangerous, and not ours. We have to walk with awareness and respect, which we become, by practicing it. Sometimes we have to wait. Sometimes we have to go the other way. I wait gladly, and go the other way gladly,  don’t you? It’s not hard. If you’re worried about your kids, stay with them. Don’t send them two kilometres away to the beach at dusk with the family dog, to draw the bears to them, while you sit around the picnic table with a beer. Without kids and bears, our first first peoples, there’s nothing, only beer, and it won’t drown your sorrow when they’re gone.

Bringing the Salmon Home to sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ

It is the time of the year when the sun ripens.

Whether it is smooth sumac…

… sedums storing sunlight during the day to eat it at night …p1230343

… wild gooseberry ripening its leaves with the same energy that only weeks ago ripened its berries…p1230646

… or the Nk’mp salmon coming home to sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ …salmon2sm… and asking and asking to get past the dam there, it is the time of ripening. I give thanks today to the people of the Okanagan Nation Alliance and their families among the Colville Federated Tribes for bringing our ancestors home at the same time we go down to the river to greet them. Today was the annual salmon festival at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ. I was proud to be among these people. Some day all this land will ripen into the salmon again. Some day all people will ripen to welcome them.

I live for that day.

What Aspens Can Teach Us

Aspens are powerful, because they are many and one: many trunks from one underground life. These are not individuals. They aren’t even trees.

They are individual expressions of wholeness. We do well to wander through them and get lost. Because these lakes of life in the grassland have edges, we soon surface, but we surface changed, just as we do anytime we descend into ourselves.




Mind and Body are One

Things are just what they seem. Like dreams, the act of looking into water has no words. And it can’t be given any, except the simplest ones: blue, log, deep, water, light, wet, leaf, dragonfly, pond, toad, fish and so on. You can read it, but its language is itself.

The language is complex.



And multi-dimensional.p1230634

It profoundly resists usefulness. You can bathe in it. You can drink it. You can be centred by it, but that is not use. That is bathing, drinking and centring, which is a way of saying: in different ways our bodies do the same acts, whether with the eye (seeing), the skin (bathing), the mouth (drinking), or the gut (centring). Beyond that, we can’t go. Our language, English, has this profound layer, that can’t be budged. It can be approached in infinite variety.


But it can’t be budged. That is honest. It is completely unified, on levels of body, heart and mind, dream and waking, self and world. We can trust it. It can lead us to water, stone, rain, wood, snow, fish, toads, grass and light. Words aren’t there to explain it. How could the complexity shown in the image below be explained? Explaining has nothing to do with the body, and this is about the body.


And since you can trust this, you can know that if anyone explains what you see here, what they are really doing is dismissing your body, and theirs. They have no right.