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.

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.


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.

American Dipper Among the Salmon

This is the bird that weaves the worlds of water, air and stone.

It walks into the water and out of it again.

To Dipper, these worlds are one.

Deep under the water, the earth is formed, and the sun, and the stars.

Dipper eats them all and sings. The salmon have come to lay some more.

They weave through Dipper’s tracks. You know the ones. The one Dipper lays down to lead us, if we will follow.

Our Ancestors Are Not All Human. Neither Are We.

The salmon come home, but they do not come home alone.

Sure, they have each other …

… but that’s not what I mean. They come home to the ancestors. Have a look:

There are ancestors here at Vancouver Island’s  Stamp Falls for many animals, and many combinations of animals and people. The human, fish, and animal morphs above, or the big cat and human morph below. For instance.

A snake-human. Even that.

A whole crowd, really. Are they in the stone? Are they in the observing mind? Yes. It doesn’t really matter. This is the Stamp River Canyon.

See who your mind can reveal from deep within you below. It is to this energy of revealed form that salmon return. “Words” and “thought” are songs, but our minds come from the earth. They are bodily organs. Like touch. Or breath.

Raven is waiting, too. He is a whole collection of people, really. Not all people are human. Some are stone.

And dog. He is the first to welcome the salmon home. Ignore the German photographer. Dog is.

Lizard waits, too.

It is not fantastical that a people who lived on this land for 10,000 years or more would develop their spiritual technologies out of the forms of the land, or would read the land out of the forms of their stories. It is not fantastical that man whose ancestors were indigenous to Bohemia and the Rhine would know this stone. Everywhere that the people of the Pacific Northwest fished for salmon or made camp, these figures appear. I could lead them to you here, or in Germany, and help you to see with indigenous eyes. To such eyes, thought is a form of spiritual technology with no boundaries between spiritual and physical life. Here’s fox. And friends. The mind sees what the ancestors know. They are within, and without, and it’s the same space.

One crosses back and forth. One enters

One comes back in a different form.

So many Canadians worry that talk of indigenous rights means a lack of rights to anyone else. This is hardly the case. Canadians have every right to Canada. Canada, however, is not this land, and, speaking as a Cascadian, a man of the North Pacific Slope, neither do Americans, who have laid their country over this land as well. They have every right to this country, but it does not make them this land.

Shuswap Lake

I have often heard it said that the first peoples of Cascadia (or elsewhere in North America) have no more or less right to living in this place than any of the newcomers of the last 150 or 500 years, because they, too, claimed this land from others. It is a spurious argument. They came as people of the land. They listened. This is what they listened to.

Most newcomers listened to this:

They did not listen. They saw, and built a place to continue that seeing, with windows, and walls, and a deck that allows them to be outside and inside at the same time. They came to retire from work and struggle.

This is not the place for that. If one believes it is, then one does not live here, and one has not spoken with the ancestors.

Dead or alive…

…they have much to teach yet.

Forest Salmon in the Salmon Forest

In a trickle of water among the ferns among the roots of a red cedar tree high above San Josef Bay,

… a tiny salmon lives out its first year, hunting insects in water so dark it feels like air, occasionally shot through with light as the trees high above shift in the sky.

The trees that shade these tiny waters have grown from the bodies of the ancestors of this salmon. Now, this salmon forest is home for the future. This fish is the forest.

This is just one of the spiritual bodies of a salmon. Look at the skin it draws to itself from the water and carries to sea.

Eating farmed salmon is poison for your soul.


The Heart of the Shuswap

Some rocks are sacred.

The twins that allow water to reveal its spirit. The two halves of the heart.

And what a spirit!

Spirit on spirit on spirit. This red blood.

The rock that is a heart and … oh, what ‘s this crawling out from the water to it?

Spirit indeed!

It’s not hard to find your way on Shuswap Lake. It’s not hard to read the land.

By reading it, I read my self.

In the country I used to live in, this was called belief. I live here now.

And here.

Hidden Water in a Year of Drought

In a year of stress, everyone, from those ants to the right to the leaf miner that left its trail in this cottonwood leaf, is mining the last pools of spring water for life. Deciduous tree behaviour doesn’t just benefit trees. It stores large amounts of water, builds protected environments, and maintains them with deep, underground water through the heat. Without this so-called inefficiency, the land would burn to a crisp, even the fire-adapted grasses, native and feral together, below.

Construction Gone Bad in Vernon

Men have been digging at the hill to make a level place to build houses, and have put up a wall of blasted rock to hold the hill back. Note the deer.

In the two months since this wall was constructed, it has rained, oh, 0.5 millimetres once. It was enough to barely wet the soil.

But still it flowed.

And flowed!

Imagine what 2 mm. would do!

Imagine 1 cm.!

What were they thinking?

Were they thinking?

It sure doesn’t look like it.

It will be the city’s problem some day.

Someday soon.

How embarrassing.

As for the deer, she has been doing a little erosion of her own.

Her angles are precise. Note how she has loosed a little avalanche on the left.The rain ought to make good use of that when it comes.

There should be laws against this kind of stupidity and carelessness.