Cultural Blindness and Agricultural Practice

Culture is a powerful thing. Here is some earth, laid bare by a plow, in preparation for seeding in the spring. In the past, it has been used to grow tomatoes. This last year, it lay fallow, to recover.

In Canadian culture, this is an image of fruitfulness, taken at the most fruitful time of year. Enjoy it.

The only thing is, it’s not fruitful, it’s dead. Look at how this soil is nothing but congealed clay and sand. Living soil, that things grow in, is a complex environment of fungi, microbes, insects and dead and living plant material. This is just clay and sand.

And it started like this.

 

That’s how powerful culture is.

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.

California Quail in the Rainforest

The ancient salmon forests of the Pacific Coast were felled long ago. Well, most of them.
Hoh

Some of the lost ones went to houses in Vancouver and Seattle. People still live in their bones. Others, though, still stand.

Ozette

Others, with long grains of clear cedar, which might have been used for fine cabinets and ceremonial screens, were turned into fenceposts, to herd humans and cattle and to hold grapes up to the sun to create jug wines, but that’s all in the past now. Now, the quail come.

  Hooo- HooOOOOoooo! Don’t our forests have new life now!

 

Crazy Okanagan Water

Today, I’d like to show you some water in its living environment and some crazy water. First, living water:

That’s mock orange, doing its thing. Home to deer, porcupines, bears, lazuli buntings, people, American goldfinches, chickadees, finches, quail, crows, pheasants, fritillary butterflies, swallowtails, yellow-bellied marmots, meadow voles, coyotes, wolves, magpies, northern flickers and everyone else who still manages to survive on this ruined grassland. Now for some crazy water:

I showed you this image of the bear I spooked out of the mock orange the other day, but it bears (ha ha) repeating in this context, because that’s not a natural landscape it is walking through. It is, actually, something much like this:

Syrian government officials walk on a road, back dropped, by damaged buildings from fighting with Free Syrian Army fighters in the old city of Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government in the north prepared to regain control of the central city of Homs following last week’s cease-fire agreement after a fierce, two-year battle with the rebels trying to oust him. (AP Photo)

Source.

Look at it again, if you please:

This is a ruin from a war over the land fought unevenly over the last 160 years between the valley’s syilx people and various industrial farmers. By 1871, the land was trashed by overgrazing born of ignorance. What you see here, a chokehold of big sage interspersed with invasive cheatgrass, both of them useless in these numbers for supporting complex nets of  life, are replacements for a rich grassland that flowed with life through the year. The rich grassland was a creation of a partnership between the earth and the syilx. Its trashing was an act of aggression: ignorant, for the most part, but aggression nonetheless. Still, a small amount of life survives in the ruins: voles, and the coyotes, bears and hawks who hunt them, all dependent on the lighter-coloured plants you see above, the arrow-leafed balsam root, a kind of wild sunflower that has adapted to the ruins and is recolonizing them. That is a vision of hope: a ruin, sure, but hope nonetheless. Note how much water these flowers represent, and how much of it flows through a renewable web.

Below is some more water from the war. This is Chief Emmitt Liquatum of Yale in1881.


Photo: BC Archives.

Note the top hat, a symbol of power from the fur trade days (or at least of a ritual belief in power). It is a beaver turned to felt.

Beaver Keeping the Water in the Sinlahekin Valley

Beavers ensure a balanced distribution of water in dry country but were trapped and traded, often before the first European colonists showed up, for war surplus Napoleonic rifles, in an attempt to stave off genocide. It worked, but barely, and more because of the top hats and pre-Canadian relationships than the rifles. The image of Liquatam was taken shortly after the salmon fishing on the Fraser River, the main food source of his people for 6,000 years, was rendered illegal by the new Canadian government (of 1871 in these parts), to support White salmon fishermen on the coast. I have another image (a bit farther down), which shows the crazy water that comes from this nonsense. It is an image of the north end of 350-square-kilometre-135-kilometre-long Okanagan Lake in this year’s high water. It has been poisoned. This has come about in part because of those dead beavers and the industrial agriculture made possible by their absence, and the private, industrial property aesthetic that presumes prominence for industrial uses of water and land over health of water and land for people and all creatures, and a lack of run-off. All these workings-out of old errors and privatization is now showing itself in this form:

Source

You are looking here at a toxic algal bloom on the Okanagan Indian Reserve at Head of the Lake — more specifically at the water off a recreational property leased by a band member to a White family. No-one wants to swim in industrial sludge, but that’s what this is. Here’s the story: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/algae-bloom-okanagan-lake-1.4178423. Here is, incredibly, what the story says:

The Okanagan Indian Band released a warning on Sunday to residents and visitors to stay out of the north arm of B.C.’s Okanagan Lake until further notice due to a toxic algae bloom.

 

The band says the bloom in waters off its land was first thought to be a sewage leak, but testing showed it was caused by a high level of organic material in the lake.

 

High temperatures over the weekend helped the algae flourish in a soupy mixture that the band says includes everything from burlap and sand debris to sewage, grass, leaves and dead animals.

They are being kind. Here’s some crazy water — in the old lake bed to the north of the lake by the looks of it but perhaps in the old lake bed to the east of the lake:

Source.

This is about privilege, even though it seems to be about work and economy and making a country. The thing is, before that country set the industrial terms for water use, water was a common good, shared by all. After 160 years of an uneasy balance between sharing and industrial water rights, filtering water through industrial crops before it flows into the lake, and the old syilx water system it represents, continues the original violence. There’s no way of covering that up, because ignorance is no longer an excuse. Sure, there appears to be a belief that if contaminated water is passed through soil, which is viewed as part of the de-indigenized cultural space called land, which has the other names of earth and nature, it will be again as pristine as the original White impression of indigenous/earth cultural creation in 1858, when all this began. That is crazy. First, because this so-called “nature” was a humanly-maintained cultural space, which gave the earth cultural autonomy, and secondly because the following image isn’t pristine:

It’s the lake bottom in the west arm of the lake, that’s what it is, just south of the algal bloom on Okanagan Indian Band shores which I showed you above, and right beside one of the Okanagan’s major swimming beaches, to which thousands of people come with their children every summer to enjoy what is, hopefully, “the good life,” and why not, family is really important. Here are some images of this arm of the lake…

 

So is the image of pristine water poisoned by industrialization below. It connects to beach culture, and the recreation use of Okanagan Indian Band lands, through a direct colonial desire to physically enjoy nature. In this case, it is through industrially-management of land, draining water down off the hills, to produce pumpkins for a European harvest festival. This work is done with a mixture of herbicides, fertilizers, cultivated weeds (the things are attempting to heal the soil, yet they are tilled under as they don’t fit the imposed industrial model) and water and sun managed by plastic, thrown away at the end of the season. This is an image from last year This year, this land is empty, except for a trial plot of genetically-modified canola under scientific trial. That the land was removed from life to produce this hyper-industrial product is, I’m sorry, in it context there’s no other word for it, an act of pure aggression and violence. That syilx water flows through it.


Okanagan Basin Water Board, are not absolved of blame just by saying good things.

“Our vision is to have a fully-integrated water system, meeting the needs of residents and agriculture while supporting wildlife and natural areas.”

Here’s their image of that:

 

It’s weird to have one’s valley turned into a cartoon, but note some important things: first, the 10,000-year-old lake of fossil water from the Ice Age is labelled “waste water”, and the river systems are labelled “municipal water” and “water supply” completes a cycle with “waste water.” That’s disrespectful of the bear I met the other day, the syilx, and anything else that comes from this land. In this conception, there is only urban infrastructure, based on colonial water use models. You can see the contrast between desert and lushness in the image of my city, Vernon, below:

This elite blindness is omnipresent and is a sign of ecological poverty. It comes from an intellectual culture that views, without question, this spring’s problems with water in the valley  as problems of extreme high water. Seemingly, if the land had just soaked it up a bit better, like we were used to last year, it would not get nuts like this. Well, it’s not the first flood. Blaming water run-off on weather, when the land’s ability to use water or hold it has been removed, is intellectual nonsense. Worse, when a cause is given, it is global warming. Global warming is serious stuff, but this is the result of the abuse of human-earth water systems, based on an ignorant or dismissive rejection of syilx cultural values, people and knowledge, over anything else. To say otherwise is crazy. The history is very clear.  I wish the craziness stopped there, but here’s some more crazy water, and once again it is crazy with the best of intentions and the worst of blissful ignorance and disrespect:

Source.

This is an image of vineyards, formerly the orchards of my youth, in Naramata, looking towards the southern shores of Okanagan Lake, where any muck from the north will eventually flow, before co out through the Okanagan River, in the middle distance of the image, and joining in that dredged, diked channel…

Source.

…with the outflow from the Penticton Waste Water treatment plant, before continuing south. It is the poster image of an article on a new water study being conducted at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna, at the approximate mid-point of the lake. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/could-soil-be-the-next-carbon-sink-ubc-okanagan-to-lead-study-1.4152301

The study, worth $1,400,000, is to determine some pretty useful stuff around the role irrigation water plays, including the rates at which dirt, in a hot climate, builds up carbon — not to protect the atmosphere from industrial pollution but to become soil, which is carbon=based life and dead life on which it feeds and which holds its water — under the effects of irrigation. The difference between the agricultural capacity of the soil before and after irrigation would be useful to know, especially since the early irrigated desert cultures of Mesopotamia poisoned their soils with the salt that comes from evaporation during irrigation and turned their gardens into deserts, which are now battlefields in hopeless and helpless wars, not to mention contemporary experience with the same issue in the American Southwest, in order to modify irrigation, but that’s not how the story is told. The media tells it like this:

“When we talk about climate change, we often discuss the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But actually a huge amount of carbon is stored in the soil,” Kirsten Hannam, a research associate on the project, told CBC’s Chris Walker on Daybreak South.

 

The buildup happens when carbon dioxide in the air is fixed by plants during photosynthesis and converted into leaves and roots. The carbon is deposited into the soil and accumulates over time.

That, unbelievably, is a description of life on earth: carbon, deposited and accumulating over time. How disrespectful. How obscene. But it’s not just the media. Here’s how the government sees it:

“These new investments are part of the government’s commitment to addressing climate change and ensuring our farmers are world leaders in the use and development of clean and sustainable technology and processes,” said

Lawrence MacAulay, minister of agriculture and agri-food in a statement.

Got that? The government is going to address global climate change by using scarce and incredibly precious water, already over-committed by overpopulation of humans, in the Okanagan Valley, and is selling this as a way for farmers to develop clean and sustainable processes. I think this means is that farmers will be using our water to sequester industry’s carbon, and will be paid to do that, instead of producing food, or learning to work with beavers, or respecting the syilx. Really, this has to stop. The spring has been rife with young Indigenous writers demanding that the violence stop, and calling out the White community on their sense of entitlement. Well, it’s not about statements of social inclusiveness. It’s about changing the story so that the story is a syilx, or a secweopemc, or a cree story, and that’s going to mean that the earth and her creatures, and non-industrialized, non-privatized water are going to have to be at the centre of law and ethics. Anything else is absolutely stark raving mad.

We either stand with the earth and her people or we shoot it in the temple. The problem is: we are her people. The solution, which is easy, is that we are of her water, and we need to go home.

Open and Closed Air in Indigenous Switzerland

In Zurich, this is nature. A sobering thought.

Or, rather, it is a school sports field. Note the tree. It is placed where there is room. Note as well the aesthetic, architectural arrangement of elements. There is a human world in which nature is an architectural element. What the earth is, well, that’s another matter.

Cowboys and Indians

In 1847, it was the Cayuse on the ridgeline, with the lightning flaring from their appaloosa’s eyes and their water monsters painted on their bodies, and early American settlers on the flats below.

These grazing patterns continue today in the Walla Walla Valley, where my country stepped into history with a rifle shot.

Gardening in the Okanagan in 2017

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

Tragedy in the Spring Snow

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

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

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

Reviewing David Pitt-Brooke’s Walk Through the Grasslands

I spent the early winter reading a beautiful and, unfortunately, incomplete book: Crossing Home Ground, by David Pitt-Brooke. It records an epic walk through the grasslands of Southern British Columbia: my own home ground. My detailed review was just published today in The Ormsby Review. You can read my review here (with beautiful photos by Pitt-Brooke): http://bcbooklook.com/2017/01/26/in-praise-of-grass/#more-30105. I’m thrilled that it is out. My goal in writing the review was to honour the book and the conversation of which it is a part. I’d like to show you a few images from that context. They are beyond the scope of the book, but help to anchor its discussions, I think. Here’s the mouth of the Okanagan River, as it enters the inundated Columbia. It is here that the private armies that invaded the Okanagan in 1858 crossed the big river on their way north, and it is here that scouts tagged invaders for later skirmishes in the Okanagan and Similkameen.

mouth

This is The Forks, a major stopping point on the ancient trail to the deep north and the Hudson’s Bay company brigade trail that followed it. It is here that the route forked, to the Similkameen Valley to the distant left (the trail is a county road now, as you can perhaps make out), and to the Okanagan to the right. The image shows the Similkameen River joining the Okanogan.Tforks2

This is some of the Similkameen Grassland, above the Similkameen Gorge and looking towards Hurley Peak in the Pasayten Wilderness. Pitt-Brooke camped high above this country, just over the Canadian Border behind you as you view this grassland, and looked down on it at dusk.hurley

High up on Kruger Mountain to the left in the image below. This is Richter Pass. That green hayfield in the bottom is lost Richter Lake, drained to grow sileage corn. This is British Columbia. The Washington side (above) is in better shape.

He saw farms down there in Washington. Well, mines.mine2 The grass in this country, as Pitt-Brooke accurately points out, is damaged, but not irretrievably. Here is some grass and sagebrush above Nighthawk, Washington.  chopaka3

Areas directly on the Hudson’s Bay Company Trail, such as Garnet Valley below, have suffered the worst — grassland ruins that have not created a lot of prosperity, either.garnet

Here’s one of the culprits at work in Priest Valley, above my house in the North Okanagan. She is being grazed on a landscape of invasive weeds. That’s dalmation toadflax around her. You can see she doesn’t like it. Rush skeleton weed, though, well, she likes that. Almost all the bunchgrass is gone. That looks like a stalk of needle-and-thread grass in her mouth.

That missing grass is the original human habitat, and almost none is left on earth. Our bodies were made for this landscape. This is who we are. Luckily, there is some left. Here’s some bunchgrass that is grazed responsibly in Farwell Canyon, in the Chilcotin.

This is the grass that Pitt-Brooke loves. So do I. Please read David’s book, and then go out yourself to see what you can see. You might see wonders, like the virtually pristine grassland in the bed of Dry Falls, a waterfall that was once 30 miles long, falling 300 feet over these basalt flood lavas, from a river 300 feet above them. The only weed here is one stalk of toadflax in the foreground.

Before this became a Washington State Park, it was a ranch. The grass came back. We can do this.