The Flicker in the … Cold Mine?

The neighbourhood flicker is a handsome bird.

And always watchful. We love our flicker! Especially in the orange light that breaks through the car exhaust that is the latest idea for this old slip fault valley and its molten glacier.

That stuff is explained away as “a temperature inversion.” You know: warm air on top of cold air, trapping all the stuff that usually evaporates away. Well, yeah, good to know. That stuff really makes the colours pop, though…to humans, at least. To other flickers, I dunno. Maybe it’s the wrong colour entirely.

Those chest feathers should be white. Well, they are, but who would know? Does another flicker know? Is another flicker even looking? Or does a big colour shift dampen flicker desire? Could it be that dirty air dampens human desire, too? Dunno. Here, let’s check. Does the following image fill you with hope and longing for the future?

This smoke is largely coming from the cars and wood stoves of retirement communities. Procreative desire matters there not a whit. The kids are across the mountains, in Calgary. Not so, the flicker.

It would be good if our university tackled these issues this year. I hope so. Last year, the explorations seemed a little…

… well, little. I mean, try smelling your partner’s shirt in this:

Maybe Pokémon Go is just a “so what” moment. Let’s ask the flicker:

The Okanagan’s Dirty Secret

Is it the Dirty Laundry Winery?

No. That’s actually a little bit of colonial Canadian culture using the Okanagan to market Canada to itself by romanticizing prostitution. That’s easy. No, no, I mean the freaking air. Or, rather, its replacement with smoke and car exhaust.

Maybe building a city 150 miles long was a bad idea.

But, hey, party on.

 http://www.winetrails.ca/2015/05/its-party-time-at-dirty-laundry-vineyard/

But maybe you could walk?

Getting Down to Some Serious Fun in the Kitchen

There are close to 20,000 acres of wine grapes planted in the ruins of the Okanagan Valley, immensely attractive to tourists and restauranteurs alike. The wine? Well, some is fine and most is a kind of sweet fermented grape juice, comfortable and safe and cozy. What, though, if we got really dangerous and made this stuff instead?

You can see that I’m still alive after cooking with over half of this quart already, or at least alive enough to make this image, so that’s good, right? Here, let me help you with some words to answer that question:

Yes it is!

Harold and Huginn Hard at Work Crafting an Uncombed Okanagan Experience for You

Ah, but what is it? It’s magic stuff, with all the flavours of wildflower honey, if not more, and all the flavours of grapes, and an ability to absorb cinnamon within its taste profile (the taste profile already contains cinnamon, which deepens with the addition of some ground Saigon).

This jar contains about 10 pounds of grapes, reduced slowly over heat to a thin syrup. It is far more useful for cooking than honey, for anywhere where the flavour of honey is required without its thickness. For thickness, simply reduce further. Consider this as well: cold-hardy grapes can be used, cropped far, far more heavily than wine grapes, so heavily in fact that there is enough left over for birds, and an increase in spring bee habitat of several hundred percent. And that’s just a bonus to what it can do for our cooking. If we added to this magic elixir…

…which is green grapes turned into a sour juice, we would have two of the three ingredients for salad dressing right there. Just whisking in some oil and we’d be in green heaven. We could easily turn the world of Okanagan cooking on its head. Just imagine what we could do.

This year we’re going to have fun in the kitchen, right here at Okanagan Okanogan.

Yay!

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.

 

One for the Porcupine

So, you think you’re going to build a trail system across the porcupine’s trail to an orchard’s compost pile, eh, and water some trees along it to protect the people on the trail from spray drift from the orchard. Yeah, sure. You just go try that.

Trickle Irrigation Hose, Gnawed

Good thing the water was turned off to this system a few years back, due to lack of funds to maintain what was started. When a development goes bankrupt, all environmental promises are annulled.

The farmer continues to use the compost pile. The farm has been in the family for generations. I’m sure they know the score. All that was achieved, really, was a bunch of dead trees and a continually irritated porcupine.

Just to be clear: this is not a wild porcupine, but a relationship between a farm and a hill, with prickly bits and hose-cutting teeth.

Gymnasts in the Lavender

Oh, hello.
It’s a thing. With legs like hers (she is, let’s say, about 7 centimetres from tip to tip ), you can jump from twig to twig, in three dimensional space. It’s not like a bee in the flowers, though. This is hunting.

There were four in this bush, hunting together. So, here’s the thing: there are regulations for protecting indigenous landscapes, for the planting of bunchgrasses, mostly. These improvements are welcome, especially in disturbed lands in housing developments, but when the mule deer are locked into them and eat all the wild flowers down to their roots, and it gets on the middle of August, the place is close to a desert. Planting lavender and  Russian sage helps, so does the dill in my garden, not to mention a bit of queen anne’s lace and some red orach, while we sort out how to make deer corridors, hack down the sagebrush, and replant the wild flowers, especially thistles and all the species  that used to grow along the borders of valley bottom wetlands that are no more. Our wetlands are our houses now. The survival of wasps, like these beautiful gymnasts, is up to us. “Wildness” does not come into question. That’s just White thinking, and we don’t need that any more. Or maybe just some wild lettuce. We could manage that.

Or just some smokebush. Look at this tiny wasp below. She likes smokebush.

And, hey, smokebush, that’s a pharmaceutical plant. We could do our lungs some good at the same time.

Gardening in the Okanagan in 2017

Some things are sobering. Here’s a cold frame (a glassed-in seedbed, for early growing) from 1978, updated for the new Okanagan in the age of vineyardization. Before 1978, this was an orchard, that supported a family and grew apples, peaches, cherries and plums. After 1978, it became a place where people could raise that food for their families themselves. As people turn away from the land today, hire Mexicans on special temporary permits to do “their” agricultural labour (actually, the produce is for export, a series of capital-intensive cash crops; the produce locally eaten comes from California and Mexico), and pressure the water system with overpopulation (yet blame the water deficit on global warming) while continuing to extol the fruitfulness of the land (heavily-taxed wine, affordable only to tourists and the wealthy), gardens transform into a new image of society. 
A couple things to notice: the black cloth is intended to allow water through but to prevent weeds (or life of any kind). It has been augmented by some rocks, likely formerly a decorative garden wall, to keep it down, and has been growing some cheatgrass (like the green stuff in the foreground) in the fir needles (the tree is an important local hawk perch) that the stones have gathered. The yard is decorated with a pre-fabricated aluminum garden shed. The yard next door, which has replaced its garden with a small, decorative  patch of lawn amidst a vast swath of rocks and gravel (because of that global warming, but also because yards are now large barbecue entertainment areas, not spaces for gardens, i.e. they are now interior spaces), has collected un-needed garden equipment behind its new (large) garden shed, which mustn’t be for garden tools. It’s likely for general storage. Welcome to Canada in 2017. It took us some work to create this, but we managed in the end.

Tragedy in the Spring Snow

Our little herd of nine does had two fawns last year. The coyotes got one last week. This doe is now being very protective.

It’s hard, though. Forage is reduced by overgrazing, the orchards that maintained the deer are now blocked off for miles by fencing, the males are aggressively hunted, and coyotes, which can slip through the net of fences and feast on domestic dogs and cats, grow in numbers every year.

It’s called nature. It’s not. It’s an entirely new planet that follows new rules.

Art and Ethics on the Okanagan’s Ancient Water

The sun rises.p1430784

It draws the night fog off of Okanagan Lake. It’s early and 18 Below Zero. The gulls sleep on.p1430791

The gulls that seem to have erupted from the lake. The lake that is feathered with frost.

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The frost that is like eiderdown. Such mysteries here. p1440285

Such beauty.p1440345

The lake turned into art by geese.

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Geese with cold feet.p1430923 That warm the lake in goose-shaped blotches to get those feet warm.
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Artist geese.p1430934

What a show! p1440028

What a beautiful earth, all linked together like frost.

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Under the open stars.

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And the Milky Way.

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With a view right to the Big Bang.

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Ah, but what’s this?

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Oh, bugger it, that’s not fog. That’s smog spewing north from Kelowna, a collection of wineries, wine bars and chain stores skirting a thirty-kilometre-long strip mall of car dealerships and bars twenty kilometres down the lake.

p1440337

This is our shame. Look hard. This is what a failure of ethics looks like.

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:

berrypicker2

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.

berry3

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.

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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:

berrypicker2

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.