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

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

These river beds are now the home of wild bees.

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

The glaciers live on.

How The Sun Makes Rich Soil

It’s simply beautiful how it is done. First, water sorts out the finest grains of silt, and deposits them on the surface of low points in the earth, filling them in. Then the sun evaporates the water, and  cracks the silt all crazy like.
Wind and gravity (and birds passing through the seasons) deposit feathers and leaves. The angular effect of the sun on the fluid shape of the silt holds them from drifting.
When the rains come again to the lowest ground, it fills the cracks, softens leaf and feather, and then deposits new silt around them.

They are now mixed in.

The cycle repeats with each season, or each thundercloud.

This is the lightning of the earth.

Beautiful, isn’t it!

What exquisite music.

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.

 

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.

The Troll’s Toad

I was writing a week ago how the stone in the Basalt Sea where I live breaks apart along fracture lines that reveal, over and over again, faces. For some reason, stone like this matches the patterning of the human mind, which suggests to me that I, at least, have ancestors who were at home for a long, long time in volcanic landscapes, or that there are energies in the universe that have shaped my mind, and my genes, in the same way they affect rock of this kind. Have a look at my horned toad.

She’s very nice. Earth is alive, and we are all her life.

A Canadian Education

Canada is a big country. Here’s a tiny piece of it in the west.

What you’re looking at is a bit of a collision between a volcano and a seabed off the coast of North America, that became part of the land about 110,000,000 years ago, and then became a local landmark. Perhaps you can see the highway that cuts across the ancient trail it marked? (That’s our bluff again, in the middle of the image, which views it from the south, rather than the east, as we did in the preceding image.)

The first wave of colonization, the Hudson Bay Company’s pack horse trail, followed the old trail. The new trail, which follows the Hudson Bay Company’s route from the south (politely, we call it the United States of America now, for old times sake), is the result of imported technology (German freeways, Swedish dynamite, American earth-moving equipment, and so on) that came in on the trail until it became it. The old landmark still stands, though.

And it’s still doing its old work, of marking the paths of power. It’s just that now it is part of Canada, which has a culture with certain prerequisites. For one, it is a country imposed on an indigenous state, which means that indigenous landmarks must be translated into Canadian terms before they can be read. For Canada, these terms are displays of social power imposed on the landscape, such as the German architecture below.

Only the wealthy can play this game, but there are lots of them. Social power within Canadian society in this region — in other words, Canada in this region — is about extending these intrusions.

It is a complex game, and by making these images I have broken its rules, which are to look out at views of water, rather than looking back at Canada looking out. That is simply not done. It is breaking a social code.

These views, for instance are easily worth $1,000,000 each. As you can see in one below, they show the next in the series of indigenous landmarks, at a romantic distance, and the houses of other wealthy people along the lake, at an appropriate distance that allows them to be romantically embedded in nature, as befits an imperial British settlement.

Canada is a very romantic project. Thousands of people look out, at sufficient distance that a forest being trucked to a plywood plant disappears into landscape (look below.) Again, apologies, I have broken that taboo by making this image.

The next image breaks that taboo, too. Here you can see that one of these houses has constructed a garden, or perhaps a chicken run, from creosote-treated railway ties, covered with netting, to get past the ridiculous steepness of the land and its inappropriateness for chicken runs and gardens. It’s not pretty, but that’s because it is made from outside of Canada. The rule is, don’t take the picture until you’ve moved far enough to the right or left that the Canadian presence on the land disappear. Then make the image.

 

 

One of the reasons for the netting is that Canadians moving into landscapes like this situate cell phone towers and garbage dumps around areas of the greatest indigenous significance. It is a subconscious part of the process of subjugation, and it does have its ironies, because those areas are the best for display houses with the most romantic views, but the garbage does attract eagles, romantic birds for sure, and ravens and crows…

… which do interfere with the illusion that there is no garbage here. You simply can’t use the land as a canvas for the social display of an imported culture, which exists only in the display, when those pesky birds steal your chickens and strawberries. It can’t be done. Now, a Canadian, of course, has it hard, because Canadians are just people, after all, with the same desires as any others: family, shelter, a bit of love, lots of aggression, and strawberries, plus breakfast eggs, if they can get them. It’s not their fault that they have to acquire these essentials through a social grid laid out upon indigenous space that Canada bought for them 146 years ago (not from its owners but from the British, who gave themselves the right to trap furs here, on the strength of a navy no-one had the means to mess with) and they’re doing the best they can…

… continually rebuilding roads to get their social grid in the best shape possible, as far as such social grids go. Yes, the result is ugly, but you’re not supposed to see it. You’re supposed to live within it and look out. And when you do (below), please do yourself a favour, don’t look at the erosion caused by thousands of young people leaving the trail to go out-of-bounds down to the rocks to jump into the lake.

That’s deadly, and is to be overlooked. That’s the rule. The landscape is to be read as an archetype, as if you were the first person who was ever there. The irony of a country-as-a-social grid, such as Canada, is that when you turn around, from the land, and look at the grid …

… it looks improvised at best, and even a bit desperate and chintzy. The image above is a private road for wealthy land-owners to use to access their view property below the bluff I showed you above. The gap between its imposed, utilitarian ugliness and the romantic beauty and intense social power it grants, is why literature in this country is a social game, with landscape entering it through social avenues such as scientific tropes, academic understanding, queer readings of landscape, environmental activism, and so forth, but never on its own terms. Those are considered  romantic …

… not because the earth is romantic, but because that reading of romanticism is also deeply embedded within Canada, which is a romantic social product written on the land. It can’t escape itself. If you leave that romantic reading, you are no longer in Canada, but looking at it. That’s the rule. It is such a powerful  mechanism that the country’s literary artists, embedded in the social training system of its universities, are unable to break it: there is no audience out there, and no market, just a few weeds growing in the haphazard infrastructure created by the social application of powerful foreign technology.

Literary people would starve out there, and that’s really not good. I can afford to show you these images because I am what is called in Canadian social terms, a sub-class of Canada’s imperial homeland, the United States, White, Male, and Old, ie an Old White Man: an undesirable thing, anyway, with no social power in literary society. These are not the terms of the culture of the land, of course, but that’s a different thing; Canadians live in cities. They have the second largest country on earth but not to live on. It is to harvest industrially, in ways which minimize access to the scars of such harvest (swaths of uncut trees lining highways, to preserve romantic view lines, and so forth), in order to concentrate the wealth of the land within the social grid, which is reserved for people who are extending the networks of power laid across the land. Those networks are the only country there is. That an old man such as I am (I’m 59, not old perhaps by an objective standard, but old and unwanted in this culture), sees something other than the omnipresent beauty of the grid and the notions of identity it fosters, is, by definition, romantic, because in the definitions of the culture, all land (and hence all that is attached to the land) is romantic; the only exit from romance is through the social networks. I can laugh at that all I like.

I am only trespassing on the land reserved for the social power of wealthy men, which is how I took the image above. That I consider access to that land my human right is another indication of how non-Canadian I am. That image above is evidence of a crime. That I only stepped a few metres onto private land, unoccupied land being advertised for sale, does not erase that. The image is romantic. Neither you nor I were meant to see it, and that buck was being protected in order to be shot as a trophy. That is the rule. Perhaps, if you’ve read between the lines of this post, you might get a sense, or the beginnings of one, of why the indigenous villages, which are called “Indian Reserves” of this country are described in terms such as this:

There are no economic reasons for Attawapiskat to exist and it does so only because it is underwritten by the Canadian taxpayer. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/john-ivison-the-rising-toll-of-canadas-failed-experiment-with-isolated-reserves

The statement is an offense to human dignity, but then, you see, so is the poverty in the image that accompanies it:

Villages such as this are not “isolated” in a passive sense, as the article suggests, in that they are “in the bush”, or “in the wilderness”, or “far from culture” but isolated in a far more active sense, in that culture (Toronto, Vancouver, or even my small city of Vernon, for example) have placed them in isolation, as the name for these spaces, “Indian Reserves”, makes abundantly clear. The space below is exactly the same kind of space.

Canadian culture — the survival of the social grid — demands that we look the other way.

Or at least maintain the respectful distance that preserves privacy (ie social privilege.)

Or the corollary distance that embeds social display within the landscape, to create the illusions of wealth, belonging, power, beauty and ease that are every human’s desire and are fulfilled in the Canadian overlay in precisely prescribed forms.

Your way to them is through the university and its botanical gardens.

But do ignore the banana peel. You will fail at your studies if you concentrate on that.

The Snake and Turtle Trail

There is an ancient trail that comes in from spaxmən (Douglas Lake), crosses kɬúsx̌nítkw (Okanagan Lake) below, on the lower left …

… and enters a tongue of land called “The Commonage”. The trail then climbs this tongue to root gathering grounds on its rolling crown, including precious springtime bitterroot grounds …

…then descends to sacred chilutsus, “twin lake”, the lake that is two lakes in one, now known as Kalamalka and Wood lakes. There are three possible routes of descent, limited by cliff structures along the chilutsus shore. I indicate these trails by arrows below. The lower one leads to a winter village. The upper one accesses a second winter village at the head of chilutsus.

They all skirt significant landmarks, too many to mention in a short post …

… but one series stands out: turtles. This is turtle country. I indicate a few turtles with yellow circles below:

 

The one in the centre left of the image is Turtle Point.

A little closer, with less light?

The one in the centre right of the image is, again, Turtle Point. (The turtle’s head is on the right below, white with snow.)

The one just touching the upper edge of the map above is Turtle Mountain, the anchor of a series of turtling lava extrusions stretching along the so-called Bella Vista Hills.

I have no idea what this trail was called before it became a leg of the Hudson’s Bay Company Brigade Trail 200 years ago, but it’s a logical place to cross the lake of the twins to Turtle Point, the seasonal village east of it, and the trail to the salmon grounds beyond, on the Shuswap River, far off the right side of the map below.

Without an ancient name, I suggest that, for now, we keep the trail’s history alive by describing it after its crossings, and its anchor, the marker at its lakeshore terminus…

The snake! I suggest it’s a big-eyed Western Yellow Bellied Racer.

Such as the one above, which I found along the trail on the eastern shore of chilutsus.

I think it’s fitting that the trail follows a snake-like route across a rise of grass, to a cross from snake to turtle, and that this rise of grass is  a snake-shaped tongue of land that keeps us alive with salmon-coloured flowers in the spring, on our way across water to the salmon that see us through the winter. My deeper hunch is that this land, called the Commonage, was always held in common between chilutsus and kɬúsx̌nítkw, and has always been a place of crossing, just as chilutsus is: one of the points in which Syilx territory meets on its north-south and east-west axes, in a territory that was always the road between the north and the south, the east and the west. Sure, it’s called The Commonage, after a ploy by White Ranchers to gain the last stretch of indigenous land for their cattle, close to 150 years ago, but it could well be that the idea was accepted partly because it had always been a place held in common.

The land tells us all we need.

What is Water?

The human body finds water by its affinity for light. It is a way of finding energy concentrated by gravity’s record left in stone. Once we find it, we approach it, and are nourished.

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Helgafellsveit, Iceland in the Winter Rain

The nourishment is not just physical. It is also a gift of weight and, as these things always go together, weightlessness. Note the elf on the left.

Cascadia: the Braided Land

It’s great to look out to sea.P2250980

It weaves.

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Then it strikes the land.

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The land weaves, too.

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Any way you look at it, it weaves.P2260520

The beach, too. Here the sun gets woven into the basket.

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You get to walk on the sun.P2290519

Or through it.

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Heart mysteries here.

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Even the pebbles of the strand are woven.

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You can pick them up, carry them for awhile, and then lay them down and make a wish. Then you are woven in there, too.

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There is no end to the ways in which you can be woven into deep time.

P2260007Such stories.P2260654All within one story!

P2260658 It is the story of your blood.

redstone It is not the sea. It is also the land carrying the sea back out at the same time the sea carries the land back out at the same time the land stays behind at the same time the sea uses the land as an anchor.

P2260666In this way, the floors of ancient beaches become the ground of new ones.swirlingstoneThey dive deep under the earth and then rise up.

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Look how the deep earth has broken old sands apart and then bound them together with hardened glass created by seawater heated 100 kilometres below you, and now touching your feet.P2260293Look at the pebbles, worked loose from petrified beaches, roll again in the light.

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Look how the tides, created by the moon …

P2270934… use a tiny piece of solidified gas, heated by water and earth, to remake the moon in the ancient shore that is new again.P2260332 It does it a billion times at once, in a billion different ways.P2260373 It is a language.P2260377 Your body knows how to read it.P2260379You know how to flow with it.

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You know how to braid …

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… to cord …

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… to rope …

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… to knot …

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… to twine …

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and to twist.

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You know how to enter the weaving and walk within the moon and cast for the spirit of the river.

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You moon creature, you.P2260388 You stone person.P2260535 You are walking through the weave.P2260570You are stone being made in the shape of the water being made by the earth in the shape of the moon.

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You are very close to your voice.P2260157 You are speaking now.P2260167

You aren’t going anywhere.

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Where would you go that wasn’t a place you had already arrived.P2280519

You who are woven with the sun.P2280630 You who are the water the sun and the earth braid into channels.P2280566

You who are facing the moon.

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Then swimming out into it.

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You who are already flying back in.

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Come, we have made a place for you among us.

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In the flow.P2280230

In all its pools.P2260550

All of us together.P2280578

All of us.

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Together.

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Reading the Land for Real

 

You know how I showed you Sen’klip (aka Coyote) the other day? Yes? No? Yip yip? Yap yap? No matter, he’s such a handsome guy he’s worth having another look-see.P2250145

What a dude! Well, here’s his brother, from 95 kilometres up the Thompson Gorge and in morning light:

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How cool is that! Now, as you can scope out, this second fellow isn’t a coyote. It’s Sen’klip’s bro, Fox, hanging out with his buddy turtle (in the foreground.) Yeah, I know, they are all chunks of basalt that broke off the cliffs behind them, either from catastrophic post-glacial floods or from 10,000 years of weathering, but they are more than that, too. It is easy to read the earth from them, that’s the thing, and without the exquisite tools and beautiful weapons of university departments of soil and water science. That’s important. Why? Well, because of this:

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Isn’t it beautiful? That dune, among the remnants of a post-glacial Thompson Gorge lake bottom, is doing great work. Look at the tufts of dust rising off of its crest. Look at how it is feathering off into incredibly fine dust at its northern (left) rim. Look at how this small action of wind combines with the sun’s heat to keep the sagebrush away and how the sagebrush, creeping up from behind, stops the wind in its tracks, or almost does. Such conversations of light, water, soil and wind are 10,000 years old here. All the life you see in this image is laid down in the patterns of this energy, and there it is, still working, like a fire still smoking and not yet put out.  That dune has not finished the job of making this life, just as the wind has not finished collecting the dust from this landscape to make the dune.  Down by the river, there is a different story.

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There, the river has sorted gravel (those are the river’s flood bars) in the deep channel it once cut through the old lake bottom you can see at the left (and out of which dunes are still forming.) This land is being sorted by water and air into their patterns, and life follows. Accordingly, water, air and life can be read from the patterns in the land, as well as …

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…the motorized track some dweeb hopped up on technology and gasoline fumes made by driving up the face of that dune as if such erosion wasn’t an ethical affront.

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Pitiful. One last look. The dust blowing over the crest of the dune is coming from the tracks of this idiot, as the dune and the wind come to a new balance, in a society that doesn’t understand the first one, because it has a word for this kind of thing: dune; a historical artefact.

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A society that didn’t purchase its food with oil dollars from poor people in Mexico would have a science that would explore the processes of life creation and sustainment within this image. Ours does, too: it is called nature, which means it is off limits, except, of course, to toodle around in with a dune buggy, or a motorcycle, or a quad. That is culturally allowed, because, well, it’s nature, and no-one lives there. As I was saying, only a society that purchased its food with oil dollars would lack the words to describe what is really going on here. The raven in the image below does. Have fun finding it!

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I was listening to a year’s worth of one of my favourite radio shows Quirks and Quarks (a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation science show) these past two weeks, and observed that despite the variety of astonishing discoveries made by brilliant, dedicated scientists the world over, there is an amazing sameness to it all. Take a look at the current schedule:

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Culturally, these discoveries come from a very narrow band of experience, are all mediated by technology, and all have certain ends in mind. They are much like a classic form of misunderstood Indigenous story-telling, the kind of story that includes Sen’klip and the monsters he tamed to make this land safe for humans …

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One of Sen’klip’s monsters, with him splayed out on top, in his doggy way, to keep it from wriggling. Note how it has been broken into three parts. The monster’s mouth and eye are to the right, at the base of the cliff. (Don’t worry if you can’t see it; it really doesn’t matter.) What matters is paying attention.

Look how the saskatoon bushes are mining the water that flows out of the bottom of the central part of the scree, in a shadowed line like beads on the hem of a dress. Beautiful, isn’t it! A study of those effects alone would be worthy of a grassland science. It’s not a “just-so” story, however, such as Rudyard Kipling wrote when the English thought they owned the world:

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Here’s the beginning of one of these explanatory tales (if you open it in a new window you can get a better look at it):htlghspotsContemporary scientists still seem to be taking unified stories about spirit and matter and re-telling them as explanations in support of a cultural idea called science. It’s wonderfully circular. It does not, however, replace the imperative of living in a living landscape, and viewing it with an eye for life. Look below, for example, at how the dress beads above have moved up the slope on an older scree facing the morning sun downriver. Forget the distance. That’s not the point. In fact, it does not matter at all. It only matters to people who do not live here but are only travelling through.

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The pattern of these changes can be read from the land, and from these patterns and changes a map of life can be built up, which includes where people can live, not to hunt and gather animals and plants, but to be present where they are and to harvest them without waste, when they come to the people. These are observations, not that dissimilar from those that the form of culture called science is based on. So, let’s look again, more carefully this time:

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There are a couple levels of story here, which can be read as shorthand for each other. In one, that lump of basalt above is one of the earth’s bones, from a  cliff that breaks up into characters and faces out of legend. This particular bone is the skull of Fox, Sen’klip’s brother, who always brings him back to life when he gets himself killed and is nothing more than a pile of bones lying at the side of the trail. There are deep mysteries here, because the differences between the bunch grasses and sagebrushes and the particular sheer angles and colour of the volcanic rock above do differ from those in the images below:

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And the sage, of course, just uphill to the south:

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People who live in these stretches differ just as much, even though they are related. In other words, by reading the stories of the land, much can be learned. In terms of Western culture, there is much to be learned as well. Let’s look again:

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From the presence of volcanic breccia, we know the type of rock and its minerality; its water retention and shedding capabilities; and its coarse sands.

From the volcanic breccia, we know that the scree slopes are intricate patterns of water, as is the rock, and the life that rises from it like steam.

From the presence of the cliff above this artefact …

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… we know that water has sculpted this landscape, which means that we know that its patterns are in sorted, fluidly-angled, water patterns, with varying usability depending upon deflection angles, eddies, lake bottoms, erosion channels, and much more, including that sorting I was showing you, such as these ancient layers of river bottom…

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Ancient Eddy Pushing Up a Bar to Our Left and a Pool to Our Right

Of course, it likely took five minutes each time.

By reading the vegetation, we can read much of this sub-soil story, just as we can read the vegetation by reading the Indigenous story…

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Because we know this is a story of water, we know that the wind will follow the water, so we know where to seek shelter and life-giving snow, and the plants that follow its drifts. In fact, we know how to read these effects down to tiny drifts a few centimetres in size.

Because there are lichens, we know there is drought, water, cold and heat, and that it is not always dry here.

From all of these readings, it is possible to know where to plant what, when to harvest it, where to live, where to find water, where to shelter (and in which season), and so on. The big questions.

That’s just a little of what can be read from the land, but the point is not to make an exhaustive list. Rather, I just wanted to show how Western science is indistinguishable from Indigenous myth and observational, land-based knowledge, except on one point: it is inferior; it is stuck doing this:

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That is called anthropomorphizing (class), and cultural appropriation (theft). It is a colonial attitude, and one thing about colonists is that they do not live where they are. They do not live here:

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Saskatoon does

Colonists don’t live here, either:P2250309

The wind does. The survival of Indigenous people was built on reading this land. The survival of all people here necessitates becoming Indigenous. If we don’t, then the land will reform itself not on the model of water but on the model of technologies used to break it …

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Blasting Rubble and the Heavy Erosion of the Transcontinental Train Line

That’s an easy story to read, too, but there’s no life in it, only technique. Technique leads to technique. Life leads to life. This is a real choice. This matters.