Qanats for the Okanagan

Late afternoon in the grasslands. November. Light’s almost gone. Cloud everywhere. Nothing much to look at here. Zzzz.

Or, maybe there is. Have a look just down the trail. The guys building a new townhouse kind of, well, absented themselves for a couple months, but they’re back at work, hurrah, and look what the grass thought of that, eh.

So, rather yellow, yes, and shy on proteins, yes, but coming in nicely at the edges before they tilted that heat-absorbing shield back up. With that in mind, let’s look at our hillside again.

See that scree running down from the head of the hill there? It forms an underground river, a kind of qanat, such as the watercourses of ancient Arabia, the Gobi Desert, North Africa and the Roman Rhine, with water, slight as it is, protected from evaporation by a cover. And there’s more! Look how the grasses and sage are moving in from the side, soaking up the heat stored in the rock and harvesting it, just as this grass…

… did with its metal shield. And what have the construction boys been up to? Ah, very important high tech environmentally conserving work, all according to regulations, and, dagnabit, the seeded grass cover washed away, the dust fencing collapsed, and water wreaking its havoc, as it will, and all blamed on, you know it, yes you do, global warming and a shift in weather patterns to try the patience of St. Francis and all foundation forms contractors.

Ah, but is it terribly wrong? Is that not the first step towards building a qanat? Don’t you have to wash the soft soils downhill, to make a seedbed down there for the coming water? And don’t you have to dig a channel to collect rocks — in this case, from side erosion — to form the qanat? Why, yes! And would not plants, over time, fill in the sides of the channel, bulking up on the sand they’ve caught as it drifted across the hill, and slowly building the soil up, as they have in the image below?

Perhaps trying to do it on the fly, all at once …

… is a good effort, but, you know, this one …

… with grass instead of poly cloth and rocks instead of tiny little grass seeds in a pap of recycled newspaper, is going to cost less in the end? I mean, it doesn’t need maintenance, or but thickens over time. Besides, it has room for snakes, and you like snakes, right?

Hmmm… maybe not ants. Well, I’m sure they’ll sort it out. And as you walk up the hill harvesting this side growth, what is there for you, to make it easy? Why, a staircase of stones! Beats slogging up the muck.

You’re just going to find ants on the muck, and they’re not half so fun as snakes, or what washes down from the muck and can feed you.



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:


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.

Practical Ways to Re-Indigenize the Grasslands. Really.

Two days ago, I suggested that the former grassland hillsides of the Okanagan Valley (now large, private expanses of unproductive and water-wasting weeds), an area at least equal to the 100s of 1000s of hectares of lost grasslands on the valley benches and the equally extensive lost wetlands of the valley bottom, can be reclaimed for environmentally productive use by weaving into them again valuable plants that have demonstrated an ability to enter the old ecosystems and fill now-lost niches. The balsam-root niche, a kind of clumping wild sunflower,

First of the Year! March 14, 2015

… could be augmented by forms of domestic sunflower…


My Wildflower Garden, with a Bird-seeded Sunflower

… and extend the season for birds and deer, replacing niches currently empty due to extirpation by cattle ranching, as well as provide seed and flowers for human use. Similarly, as I pointed out two days ago, the niche of early greens such as desert parsley…

Desert Parsley, a Few Days After Snow Melt

Seed is a secondary crop. Other early parsleys provide root flours.

… could either be augmented by seeding wild parsley and other cold climate greens, or extended into the lost lily niche by planting or seeding asparagus extensively, to present not one feral plant (as below) but thousands.

Asparagus Looking at New Opportunities

Should predation be a limiting problem, the plants could be protected by screens of young roses or hawthorns.

Black Hawthorn

Not so young, but it was once. There are several generations here. Note the youngest daughters to the left.

However, the reintroduction of human, nutritional and environmental values into degraded, industrialized, colonized and privatized land and, as I pointed out yesterday, healing its structurally racist agenda, need not solely concentrate on crops such as those above. Crops for bees and birds are also essential, if pollination, seed distribution and fertilization are to take place without human labour. For that, a concentrated reintroduction of grazed-down native thistles, would be a good start.


Cirisium Undulatum, Wavy-leaved Thistle

Thistles want to grow here. Here is a colony of scotch thistle…

… poisoned this spring under government orders to protect the grazing values of hillsides such as this …

In Colonial Society, this land is called a farm.

No, it is a mine. It mined ecological value, and is now a tailing field. So it is in a culture that started with a gold rush.

…which has virtually no grazing value of any kind.The grazing value was actually in the thistles!

Currently, wild bees are in crisis, wandering off the droughted, flowerless grasslands to access flowers in such places as my wildflower garden, which are rapidly disappearing, due to government recommendations to remove vegetation on private land, to conserve water. Soon, they will have nowhere to go, while their European cousins, the honeybees, are dying off because of high tech, nicotine-based insecticides sprayed on industrial farms. These are problems that a rejuvenated grassland could help solve. There would also be winter seed for birds, where this year there is none. We are facing a starvation winter that does not need to be. This is an interwoven grassland, which will provide most of the labour if we set it up and work to maintain its balance.


It would be naive to think that the class of property owners within Canada would relinquish the real social value of their private property rights in order to allow open community foraging on their land, and it is probably equally unlikely to expect that they would hire individuals to walk great distances daily over irregular terrain, in order to harvest a crop, such as asparagus, growing within the interwoven ecology of reclaimed syilx grasslands. However, there are practical ways forward. A burn can get things started.

9 Months After the Fire

It has the advantage of eliminating a great subsidy that communities pay to private land owners: their overgrazed, overgrown sagebrush and weed lands along city margins provide a huge fire risk.

Spot the Bear Trying to Blend In

Should fire come, it will be the communities that pay the price of damage, and pay the cost of fighting the fires. That is a massive subsidy. Levying environmental charges against landowners who cover their land in explosive weeds would be a start.

There are, however, many ways, other than prescriptive fire and penalizing levies, for providing benefit to landowners for a retreat from the industrial land-mining called farming. For one, there is a model from Germany, where land is valued. Take a look at an egg-and-bison (yes!) farm north of Lake Constance:


The upper building is a new chicken barn. To get permission to remove agricultural land from production, the farmer was asked to provide an equal amount of land restoring lost ecological values to the district. He chose to plant the two hectare field inside the corner formed by the approach of the driveway to his larger set of buildings (hen house and packing facility) in wildflowers. He receives no payment for this, other than what he can earn from his eggs. Switzerland does it a little differently, providing subsidies of many different kinds, for such varied ecological values as bird habitat (old apple orchards rather than new ones), wild flowers (fenced off areas of pasture, off limits to grazing and cattle), and so on. We could enact legislation of a similar kind, tailored to meet our needs. What’s more, there’s this:

That’s traditional European farming applied to this land, with its corollary soil degradation. This method of farming allows for efficient machine access, in large unified planes. However, there’s also this…

That’s a shared coyote, snake, porcupine, deer and bear trail up a dry creekbed. Rather than being a plane removed from an interwoven environment, it is a line through it, allowing easy access to varied environments left and right, up and down slope. We could use this model to create access pathways, of use to all who use the hillsides, but making foraging efficient in a new agricultural model. And that’s just for starters. We can do this. If we don’t, we will die. The fence below?

It’s only for people. We can make such violent forms of social interaction unnecessary. And that’s just the start.

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.

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.