In Praise of Scotch Thistles

B.C. Hydro, our provincial power provider, is a responsible citizen, and poisoned these invasive thistles last year.

 

It’s the regulation. One wants to protect cattle range from inedible weeds. The thistles responded by coming back tenfold.

They are doing well.

Very well.

Perhaps we should all just accept that the glory days of ranching are over in these parts, which they are…

Slim Pickings

…and provide a home for the last remaining insects of the rich syilx grasslands (here on one of the few surviving native thistles) …

…that were here before the cattle ate everything else down to nothing. This looks like a good start, don’t you think?

We should do this out of respect.

And love.

Plastic, Gardens and Drought

The replacement of lawn with gravel to save a rain shadow valley from drought is based on the principle of laying plastic down over the living earth and smothering it so that its natural creative energy is killed.Or so it seems. After only two or three years, the earth reasserts herself and begins to bury the stones.
Any decorative appeal, which was gained at great expense, is soon lost.

Things begin to look like hell.

What a lot of work it is to kill the earth. Sometimes it’s just easier to give up and grow a garden.

Dang, but a few years will nix that, too. Whew.
Best to give that up to and relax by the lake. A cool brewsky. Kids playing in the sand. Corn on the cob. Nature, you know? Nice. Here’s the corn, coming along.

Oh, crap. Of course, you don’t have to kill the earth. You can use plastic to bring her to life, too. Water, you know.

A society gardens in its own image. That’s the thing. If you want to know your country, look to its gardens.

Ouch.

Who is the Gardener?

I have learned this week what I already knew but had no words for. I am not the gardener in this land, but the garden that the land makes. Needle-and-thread grass makes me, with its sprays of delicate light in the wind and its way of drilling its seeds into the soil using the heating and cooling of days and nights. It is a beautiful plant that connects me to childhood and mystery. It also thrives in this dry climate.
In comparison, the weed-choked land, the gift of bad cattle management, and the orchard land it was developed into a little over a century ago, create different selves. I follow their paths, often unknowingly, and thus am created by them in their image. It is often an ugly image.

It replaces eternal ones, such as this doe and her year-old fawn, who watch me out of the last snow, in sagebrush that has turned weedy from overgrazing by cattle. There is little for them here now, but her gaze tends me, and make me in her image. I am gardened.

Many of the old orchards are weeds of mustard now. The idea of chopping the land into small spaces did not produce people with the ability to develop a culture other than to develop into the weeds that speak most clearly of the introduction of foreign crops in this ancient space. These weeds, and the people who buy and sell the land they grow on, are gardened not by the land and its water but by sets of laws imposed upon them.

But they are still gardened. To say that we, humans, have a garden is to say that we stand in the place of the earth and try to recreate that relationship to our own benefit. Here’s a glimpse into my garden this morning.

It, of course, also gardens me, if I let it. I do. I’m not the only one. A woman down the road has sown poppies in the cheatgrass and rescued a barren, scarred hill into a delight that can recreate the land for thousands.

We make ourselves by tending the land, so that it can tend to us. If we cover it with black plastic to kill that relationship, our children will grow up in a zone of death. It will take time, but it will come. That is not gardening.

This is gardening:

This is respect.

Global Warming, Indigenous Culture and Industrial Nature

Please, forget carbon dioxide for just a minute, if you can. It’s a symptom, not a cause. There is worse.

Nature in Canada

This mule deer doe is trapped by fences on this hill. The collection of weeds (all introduced by cattle farming, except for the sagebrush, which has choked out the hillside, is also a result of cattle farming. This is an industrial ruin.

Nature in the Swiss Alps.

These alms in Unterwasser, in Alt Sankt Johann, feature a flock a sheep around the ruins of an old croft, a pasture water dam (centre of image) on an old creek (dry), and machine-hayed, state-subsidized farms on the beds of old forests. This is an industrial museum, used as a pharmaceutical to enable people who live in urban areas to survive as biological entities in artificial environments causing physical and emotional stress.

Nature in Zurich

This is an indigenous city. Here the celts became romans, adapted, and became better romans than the romans. After 2000 years of that, they raise their children in cages. This is a school playground.

In this context of adaptation, biological nature is an artform. You can find it at the graveyard across the street.

The Art of Death and Life

It’s an ancient celtic thing, that lives on. It’s called landscaping, because that’s the fashionable way to talk about it, learned from the roman britons of the 18th and 19th centuries: another group of indigenous people who romanticized nature to survive the brutality of states built as cages, and built new cultures out of it.

The wealth created by spreading these new aestheticized cultures around the planet, and living off of the conversion of other indigenous spaces into romanticized nature, or wilderness, has powered the global economy for a long time. We all live in the industrial ruins (corpses) these compromises have left behind.

Industrial Ruin on Vancouver Island

The ancient salmon forests and rain forests of the North East Pacific Coast are largely gone now. A few trees remain, but that’s it. Some of the oldest trees, however, ancient Nuxalk, Kwakwala, Haida, Nu-chah-nulth and Tlingit trees, for example, that grew huge in a shared ecosystem of humans, human shell middens, salmon and bears, litter the shores of British Columbia now, where they are called driftwood. They are not. They are ancient forests, chopped into logs, and torn by storm out of log booms. They were intended as houses, for immigrants in the United States and Canada, as well as structural timbers for Allied Aircraft, and so on. The indigenous people of this land were sacrificed, in other words, to create homes for people displaced elsewhere.

In an industrial culture, such views of industrial ruin are romantic and beautiful. In this case, they are called nature.This large stone on the shore of Discovery Passage, for example, is called, in the language of nature, a glacial erratic, and in romantic, colonial language, a grizzly bear that froze just as it touched the shore of Vancouver Island, and mythological evidence of why there are no grizzly bears on Vancouver Island. The tale was made up by a 19th Century missionary, along the lines of the Just So Stories of Rudyard Kipling. It is a part of a far older series of ancestral myths. Its attraction for artists of the industrial age is a testament to its ongoing power of attraction. For humans, this is a kind of industrial mirror.

Nature itself, a European concept, is a series of ancient indigenous forests (celtic), sublimated as principles of regrowth and renewal. It is what grows within industrial settings, returning them to the state of the Garden of Eden. In that regard, this colonized and industrialized foreshore is a Christian landscape, which is why it is so attractive to European cultures:

Ancient Kwakwala Clam Garden, Willow Point

This is also a Christian Landscape, this time above the Rhine at Sankt Goarshausen, in the celtic and roman heart of Europe. This is a catholic landscape, from a time in which the Catholic church was a political and industrial institution, when it was, in fact, an adaptation of an indigenous culture (rome) to an invasion and takeover by its own slaves. The resulting new rome was catholic. It produced images of itself, just as contemporary Canada produces images of its colonial processes along its own shores.

Wilderness in Sankt Goarshausen

These vineyards, and tens of thousands of steep hectares just like them, were farmed by hand two centuries ago, and even one, to create wine, which was marketted to dirty, industrial cities as a healthful, peasant alternative to industrial illnesses, containing simultaneously the power of the land, the power of simple people who rose from the land, and the hierarchal and imposed power of the church and God, who brought the power of the sun, and diefied power, into the grapes through the action of human hands subjugated to industry and piety. In its time, it was a beautiful compromise, creating a beautiful culture. It is all gone. Modern industrialization of wine land has created a price structure that cannot support hand labour.  This spiritual industrialization is now a ruin and, unsurprisingly, the churches are empty.

Wilderness in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley

Another name for this form of industrial ruin, or nature, is White Privilege. This is a landscape that became racialized in 1858 and which continues along the process of racialization. In the centre of the image above is Siya?, one of the four food chiefs of syilx culture. Everything else is a series of feral European weeds. In other words, Siya?, and the valley’s earth-based culture, live marginally within the unintentional consequences of racial abuse, dehumanization, and the separation of culture and landscape. But perhaps I am being unfair. Here, have another look:

Wild Rose in a White Landscape

In a Canadian context, she is called a weed, while the real weeds are called “grassland” and “nature.” That’s how far we’ve come.

What is the Canadian vision today in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley?

 

White Privilege: The View Over Indigenous Space

This is the outdoor, garden space of a home for Canadians retired from the petroleum industry to the East. It looks out over The Commonage, an indigenous pasture land that has been under land claim since 1895. This “house”, or viewing platform over a regime of power, will cost about a million bucks once the dust has settled.

You are looking at echoes of European architecture, filtered through the indigenous slavery cultures of the colonial American Southwest, and built out of machine-chipped wood, which is called “added value.” Bricks and European or Arizona-style adobe and plaster will be laid over these faux pillars and arches, to give the illusion of old world comfort and aristocracy. It is, however, only illusion. Not only will it not last, but it comes at a price that only people of White, industrial privilege can afford. Well, not quite.

You can, if you like, buy a town home and live on the edge of the privilege of your oil-wealthy neighbours up above, with a view over an industrial orchard. This too is called nature. This home is built on 5 metres of infilled gravel, into which 50 cm-thick (approximate) concrete footings were poured at -20C in the middle of the winter. Notice how the spring rains are wearing away the foundation. Expect the walls to settle.

Meanwhile, in Europe, nature becomes a gesture.

Rüdesheim am Rhein

Palm trees in the old Catholic wine-making town at the entrance to the Rhine Gorge.

The tourists are growing old now. They walked five years ago. Now they are hauled around in diesel “trains”, which clear all pedestrians out of the streets. This is wine culture today: not wine culture at all. These people are not buying wine. They are buying a tour of a museum town. What is on show is indigenous culture, through the filter of the compromises it has had to make over time to survive. This way people have of surviving in cages can be quite beautiful to people who live in cages.

Here’s the Okanagan Valley equivalent.

Indigenous Food and Medicine Crop in the Ruins

aka Arrow-Leafed Balsam Root in the cheat grass.

Most often, though, it just looks like this:

Or this: In White language, this landscape is called a desert, a term which increases its attractiveness and value (hence those American Southern indigenous-slave-culture architectural forms promising aristocratic ease), but it isn’t. The wheat grasses below (also an introduced weed but intended to replace the original grassland for grazing purposes), show just how much the land isn’t a desert. This grass is growing immediately beside the dead cheatgrass above.

Not a Desert!

“Desert” is a White term here.

So, please, forget carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming for just a moment and hang out with your mule deer sister. Look how afraid she is, racing through the weeds and a few indigenous plants that, like her, are surviving in this cage, and on which she grazes.

Carbon Dioxide is not a cause. It is a symptom. The cause is “Nature”. “Nature” is a racial term. The abuse it causes is the cause of Global Warming. It is a ruin. It has many forms. Similarly, the salsify (French) below along the old (Earl) Gray Canal Trail (British) in the old Syilx Illahie, is not a cause of ecosystem degradation but a symptom, and the source of new beauty.

This post-apocalyptic view, too. The regrowth here takes on special poignancy against the background of failed industrialization and rust.

This failed industrialization and adoration of death, shows up in the backyard image below: plastic chairs model after handcrafts from the American East, in the ruins of a Japanese orchard converted to gardening space int he 1970s, converted now to a lamp of bones over a new-age bowl of magical crystals, with partially-emptied jugs of home-made wine, with ground cloth and gravel to keep the old syilx land from growing through and creating the need for hand labour.

Death has been internalized. It is all powerful and we attempt to survive biologically within its grip. Global Warming is a logical consequence. Industrialization is not the cause. De-indigenization is.

A Short History of Whiteness in Cascadia

It’s not a physical thing.

Apricot in Her White Gown

White is a tricky, racial word. Here’s a small piece of a meditation on it from my book in progress, Commonage: The War for the Okanagan.

In English in these parts between Northern Oregon and Alaska and Western Montana to Haida Gwaii, “White” applies to people of Caucasian background, as long as both of their parents are Caucasian; people whose parents might include a Scots Hudson’s Bay Company trapper and a Cree woman from Manitoba are deemed to have negated all “White” rights, or at least it started out that way. People such as Hudson Bay Company Factor Peter Skene Ogden’s wife Julia, whose parents were Sanpoil and Nez Perce yet who was raised by a French Canadian-Cree trapper after her mother’s second marriage, was accorded civilized rights by the British but not by the Americans. People such as the Oblate missionary Charles Pandosy, who came to love the Yakama and despise the Americans yet betrayed the Yakama to the US Army in 1855 to protect it from a war it could not win, was occasionally accorded “White” status, despite being Catholic, but Father Nobili, who built a mission at the Head of the Lake Village at a) Nk’mp, or Osoyoos Lake, b) Garnet Valley, or Summerland, or c) Head of the Lake on Okanagan Lake, in 1840, wasn’t, probably because he was Italian, and Italians weren’t “White” in those days, although they are now. It was all very complicated. From an indigenous perspective, “White” actually applies to the dried white salmon of Mnassatas Creek, where this story took the form of a fish and saved Pandosy from starvation brought on by his own ignorant notion that he was living in a wilderness. This salmon was white because sockeye salmon harvested far up in their watersheds, when they’ve gone into their red spawning colours and have devoured all the fat in their bodies after a long journey, develop a white crust over their red flesh when split the traditional Yakama way and dried in the wind. So, yeah, if the Yakama were calling a man a “White,” they probably meant the red sunburn he got out in the shrub steppe and the white, peeling scab that followed a few days later.
No doubt, the Yakama knew the Christian symbol, Ichthos the fish, and stories of Christ as the Fisher of Men in the “wilderness” of the desert of Galilee. I’d be surprised if they didn’t. Swapping fish stories would be a good connection for any missionary trying to convert fishermen in the “wilderness” of the Columbia Plateau — a country in which salmon were people, in an age in which the children of salmon fishers were dressed in white to be baptised by priests. Some jokes are too good to pass up.

 

We Are Not At War

When you live on the earth, in the earth and with the earth, culture is shared between creatures, their spirits and their energies, in a relationship built of balancing energy flows, always to bring forces and creatures together into a mutually interactive patterns. In short, the cat tails below create a human culture …

… and humans who live with them and through them cultivate cat tails, in spirit, in ponds, lakes, marshes, rivers and ditches, and in words and concepts. When they don’t, you know they are not living in the earth, on the earth or with the earth but in one of the other layers of spirit built out of the complex environment of energies radiating from this planet.

 

Raven Thief

These relationships are universal. We are all on the path of the earth, as she seeks to find her way out of oppression and to flow, and to do so through us.

Earth is neither disprespected nor abandoned by those of her children who give themselves to her.

It is time to welcome all her children home. Only the cult of property stands in the way. Its dissolution is her claim on us. It is the claim we will learn to return.

She gives energy away, always. We must give it away, too.

We are not alone in this work.