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:

Hönig-Hof

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 Seasons of Fire and Water

Where water is, there is the absence of water. There is always water, hidden in life. There is never water hidden from life. Even in the absence of water, there is water. Celtic consciousness dragged to this land from Europe holds that there are four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, which function in a cycle. This is a cycle of eternal return, a concept that European anthropologists wrote upon indigenous cultures throughout the twentieth century, often quite brilliantly, but do take a look at four images of one hill in one valley in one grassland above one lake in one small fault in the plateau east of the volcanic arc of the Northeast Pacific shore. These are the seasons of fire.

Where water is, there is fire. There is always water, hidden in fire. There is never water hidden from fire. Even in the absence of fire, there is fire. Fire is always present. It takes on bodies. It comes to life. Life is always present. It takes on fire. It burns. These seasons are one.

A Starvation Winter is Coming

Ah, the ripening grass of Autumn.

Yes, but this winter will be a hunger winter. Most awns and glumes are empty of seed. They look find, but the vast majority are empty. The others have very tiny kernels.

After the last bare-handed tomato picking, the stained man goes forth…

The young doe below is walking through the tinkling bells of the grass, but the tinkling is empty. She is eating weed, and the birds are all gone. Still, there are dogs up there. It’s worthwhile to keep eyes, ears and nose on dogs.

A hard winter is coming. That is the face of summer’s drought. Or, look, this is winter, here, now:

Or, put it another way: “Nuclear Winter” is a term used to describe the lack of a growing season through a summer, caused by clouds of dust in the stratosphere caused by nuclear war. We could as well say that right now we have passed halfway through a smoke summer, with the hardest months yet to come. 

May the birds find shelter and food where they can. May the deer people find weeds and scrub where humans have lacked the energy to remove them.

May the human people be patient and help them through.

May we get through this together.

The Great Artwork

This is what the present looks like. You can see how a 100,000,000 year old seabed, lifted into the sky by a collision with North America and silted up with the drift of a river running alongside a melting glacier is covered with life, the present state of the earth, and gathering rain to feed it.

The following is what time looks like. This is 10,000 years ago. You can see that the land has been scraped down to post-glacial rubble, contemporary life-giving water is piped across the land’s ancient face, the life is exclusively immigrant weeds, and houses have been erected on shelves of gravel taken from this slope and dumped on the hill. The goal is to re-create the moment when European cultures first stepped onto this human space, and claimed it as an art installation re-creating the moment when Homo sapiens first colonized post-glacial Europe.

It was an attempt to get past history. It is, as you can see, a fortress culture. This is the hill above my house. Millions of dollars were spent to create this bittersweet romantic artwork. Not a penny was spent to maintain the earth it relies on for its illusions.

That’s because the “wildness” of that space is one of the illusions of the artwork called time. What if we stopped looking?

How to Travel in Time, Seriously: an Indigenous Journey

Well, to travel in time, you could just wait, like this stink bug on this mustard.

Here it is, three generations ago:

It’s blending in better now!

European thinking holds that we are now at the end of a year (a circuit of the earth around the sun), with life coming to fruition in death. That’s Celtic, really, and ancient. It is a powerful story that controls the way human minds and bodies interact with Earth.

Earth Creature, you know where to go here, because this is your body, and your mind. It looks like it’s “out there,” but that’s trick of consciousness. Don’t be fooled too much.

If you postulate time, you see it as self-evident that the seasons progress one from the other, in circuit. If you don’t build time into the system, then you move through the earth differently. Take a look at the snow buckwheat below. Note the variation in ripening.

The orange snow buckwheat bloomed in a dimension called “three months ago.”

The white individuals, especially those at the immediate bottom of the slope…

… are blooming now. That’s how it is in narrative time. Outside of time, in time-space, shall we say, they are blooming all at once, just in different dimensions. Western thought might call those micro-environments, or variations in a species. Earth thought would call them environments of time: rain capture, soil structure, snow melt, genetic variation, the gamut. In that sense, this wasp from 15 months ago is clambering through the snow buckwheat now.

By stepping between one and the other, by moving from the dimension of one plant to that of another, you move through that time. Western thought would call it space and memory. Note the high altitude lake, run through the houses of the city below, then filtered, now pumped high up here to irrigate a vineyard.

That’s part of Western thought’s attitude to time and space as well, sculpted for maximum use of machinery, although not maximum use of land, and is part of the picture, obviously. You can’t pick and choose. You get the whole thing.

 

I suspect that might all sound strange, so look here, if you will at an image of a little meadow of wheat grass, arrow-leafed balsam root, big sage and lots of weedy cheatgrass, in bloom.

Here, look again. Western reckoning places this dimension in parameters called June 7. Look how the cheatgrass, an invasive weed, is already red with Autumn, while the plants of 5,000 years ago are standing up to their waves.

Ah, you spotted the doe. She never left. Here she is. That’s her trail leading downhill to the corner of the vineyard fence…

… and uphill in the image I first showed you, from the same spot. 

That spot is a point of human presence in time. A dog would smell its way through this. When I start walking, time shifts, to reveal and hide its parameters and its dimensions. A hill moves as I move through the bodily shapes that form my sense of it, that push my body to where I have to go, from this …

… to this …

 

Note how the shifting of the hills has nothing to do with legal boundaries.

… to this …

 

… to this …

 

… and then to this…

… as I move through time. Note the deer trail. Today, I let it lead me, let the hills push me between their forms, accepted that the forms were my thoughts, and was swept uphill and to the west…

… and higher…

… following the deer trail the whole way …

… — the trail of the deer who were being swept in this direction by the land as well, as it matched their own bodies and their own minds. This deer is right here, right now, I realized…

…because it always present. It can be in no other place. And sure enough …

… we are in the same place.

I turned away, because driving them from their grazing was not in my interests. Keeping on the uphill path was. Again, I let the land guide me.

Because I have the ability, as an Earth creature, to see through space, that is to see form behind a screen of spring, or saskatoons and choke cherries, if you like, through my peripheral vision, that is, where I’m not even looking, I was seen in turn, and stepped just to the right for a better look…

Note that there’s something on the hill above me that his attention more than I do. A hawk perhaps. They follow wanderers, screaming, to see what flushes up in front of them, or me. I dunno, but…

… when he passed behind the Saskatoon and I passed higher up the hill so it would turn the earth to face me, he passed across time so that the earth would put the does in his site again — too early to approach, but early enough to keep them in mind. It’s not hard to find your way when you are the land.

Such a simple thing. Look at the wetland hiding behind the hill, home of bears and porcupine, woodpeckers, grouse and deer. It is a herd up there. One can expect herds from it, because it moves time across what Western thought calls the seasons. Look how green those trees are, watered by a fold in an old seabed 100,000,000 years old, while the land the earth turns to the sun is dry with invasive cheatgrass and the big sage that crowds in after cattle have over-grazed the earth.

As you would expect, it forces the deer off it. All that’s left is land humans have claimed for themselves. It’s a pretty spare life on the edge of time and space. Do you see that clump of Great Basin Giant Ryegrass at the edge of the gravel?

 

It’s more than at first meets the eye.

And at night, which is not a time but a dimension, a space, the coyotes go partying in the vineyard and then burst out.

Look. They are here right now.

Note the deer tracks entering from the left. The paths join here.

At all times they know where the deer are. They walk the same path. So do we, if we let the land walk us.

What It’s Like to Belong to an Ecosystem

So, remember the early moons of the year, when Siya? (Saskatoon) was opening out of winter’s buds that she held in offering on her stems?

Well, look at the offering now: light. Siya? is all offering. That’s a way of saying that this is our plant. It is for us. That’s why I can see it and can say “she is all offering.”

And what is this collecting of light and its extension into my mind for? Ah, for this:

They are meant to be taken. They are incomplete if we do not, but not just us.

This is what it is to be a part of an ecosystem. Western culture calls our reaction to Siya? “thought”, “hunger” and “desire.” It is none of those things. It is more.

Why Populism is a Bad Thing

Populism is a form of political system which furthers the beliefs of a class called “the people” against a class called “the elite.” We could call “the people” any of the following:

regular folks, white people, local people, indigenous people, poor people, and so on;

and we could call “the elite” the following:

rich folks, intellectuals, scientists, bureaucrats, career politicians, town houses, land owners, property developers, and so on,

or if we like, we could call the elite the following:

regular folks, white people, local people, indigenous people,  poor people, and so on;

and we could call the people the following:

rich folks, intellectuals, scientists, bureaucrats, career politicians, town houses, land owners, property developers, and so on.

Oh, brother. Let’s do a little experiment. Imagine, for a moment, that this fellow is “the people”:

And imagine, for a moment, that this is “the elite:”

Sound far-fetched? Not really. The porcupine lives in a riparian area draining from the back side of this hill. This upthrust lump of seabed, in other words, creates the conditions in which the porcupine lives. But, alas, look again:

The porcupine does not exist in a “natural” world. It uses a culvert as a short cut under a fence, to access a walking trail in an old irrigation canal to access its trail down to a farmer’s compost pile, which has fed its family for generations, well, in between nibbling on choke cherry bushes in the winter snow. At the same time, the “natural world” is not a proper elite. Look at it, just a kilometre to the west:

The elites of this city (and this is in the city), who tend to be retired oil men or the people who are developing the land for their houses, often call this a wasteland of weeds and cactus. They are rather correct. Look again:

A thousand hectares of once-productive grassland for one cow? No, two. The other one was behind a rock off to the right of the image. This is land that once powered the elites of Canada in this region, ranchers for whom the grasslands were sacrificed and for whom all property rules were created. 150 years ago, the act of privatizing this land, fencing it from indigenous use and putting cattle upon it was called development. Now the so-called elite wants it to be developed into productive farmland, with the weeds (both weeds and natural grasses) cut down to make good grazing, or the land broken up and turned into housing lots for “the people,” who tend to be “the elite.” This is not an elite which provides direction for the people. It’s just open competition. So, let’s look again:

When this land was first settled, it was farmed as “common land,” with open access to all. That meant that open grazing of cattle was available to everyone, which sounded mighty egalitarian but resulted, sadly, in the end, with the first man who could get his cattle on the land, often due to his wealth and power, getting the benefit of the grass and the rest of the ranchers (and the indigenous syilx) getting, well, dead cows. Privatization of land was meant to settle that. In other words, a form of populism.

The result of that, however, is that whoever places a house on this “privatized” or “popularized” land gets the benefit of the land, and changes the nature of the land, not for the common good of the land but for whatever purposes he wants, with no oversight other than the populist principle that a private owner knows best and his rights are inviolate. This is one reason that populism is a silly idea. The German sociologist Karin Priester, who has studied, among topics, Italian fascism and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, calls populism a relational idea with an empty heart. It is, by the way, this heart that populists such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini filled with mystic substance, in the place of rational analysis. In short, the term is a mess, and yet its ideas, and the relationships they present, are rife in contemporary society. They create a gap between oil men, on the one hand, and indigenous peoples, on the other, which governments then try to bridge, often against the protests of “the people” and, often, the protests (called appeals to the Supreme Court) of the oil men. This is the normal state of affairs. It can only, ultimately lead to one end, this: 

“The people” might want a grassland hill, or might want development, and “the elite” might want a grassland hill, or might want development. In reality, though, the productive capacity of the land has been destroyed. You are looking at a couple hundred hectares of richly productive indigenous land that can’t even support a single cow, and whose grasses have been replaced by weeds. You are looking at weeds. You are not looking at nature, because there is no “nature” at the heart of populism, even though Hitler and Mussolini argued that “natural man”, i.e. the heart of populism, knew best. That’s the trick of populism: it makes dichotomies where none exist, legitimizes, even creates, bad behaviour, and leads, always, to the dehumanization of the earth in the name of human values. These are issues which Karl Marx blamed on capitalization and its distortions of social relationships. Sure. Maybe. The smoky forest-fire light that this loon is swimming in could be called the result of capitalist distortions of healthy forest policy…

…but it might be more usefully called the distortion of populist policy, that places “nature” as an elite, which “the people”, i.e. humans, have a basic political right to draw upon, and which will support them unquestionably, as long as they adjust their courtly behaviour (land use plans) to fit the moods of the elite (the land.) Populism is dangerous, not because it pits one group of people against another but for 2 reasons:

It creates separate groups of people.

It is a series of relations without a heart (a good definition of death), which replaces a series of relations which create life.

Relationships will always be there, but there is a big difference between a wooden house filling an ecological niche and a loon filling it, or between people who weave relationships which include the earth (i.e. weave relationships between so-called elites and so-called “people”) and those which treat it as a queen (nature), which will always return energy, forever, without input of any kind. It is a dangerous seduction.

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.

Indigenous or Aboriginal or Both or Neither, eh?

The Prime Minister of Canada, the colonial power in this space, spoke to the UN the other day about the need for Canada to reconcile itself with its aboriginal peoples. Notice that he did not say he was looking for reconciliation with the country’s indigenous peoples. That would be quite hard. Sure, the words are often interchangeable in usage, but they’re not really the same. Aboriginal is a word used for people who lived in a space before colonization. One can define such people as earlier colonists, and then use that definition to erase their claims, or at least to absorb it into a larger, more energetic colonial context. “Aboriginal” people get to be citizens of colonial cities, such as my Vernon, below:

Indigenous is a word for people who are the land, are native to it, and can’t be separated from it without losing their identity. For example, the cat tail below is an indigenous life form in this space of sun and wind in which I live:

In colonial culture, it is considered a weed. Surely, that speaks volumes. Take another look. The person below is indigenous to this space, and even to the wheat grass she is walking through, but not to the system of roads and houses both she and the grass are placed in, or the relatively pure stand of seeded grass (to stabilize infill from road construction) she is passing through. That is Canadian space. Property developers (for what else is colonialism but property development???) are native to that space. Not mule deer.

I hope you don’t mind that I call her a person. Humans indigenous to this space don’t.

Humans indigenous to this space pass through this grass in the same way as well. They don’t stay. There is nothing to stay for. It is a monocultural desert.

The people who stay are the property developers and the colonists who buy their title deeds.

That is Canada. What then is it to be indigenous? It’s very simple. It is to be the land. That really doesn’t need elaboration, but since the words are colonial ones (there was no “land” here before colonial property rights were introduced, for example, which is not the same as saying there were no property rights), it might be best to say a few more things. First, the earth is organic, and her processes are as well. Things fit into other things: the mule deer foot print in mud from a colonial diversion of water through a seasonal subsurface water drainage, creates a healing wetland, which a mule deer steps in, which allows seeds to gather and wait for rain, and growth. What happens to the land, happens in depth.

What happens to the land’s people also happens in depth, and is part of this organic process. This is not a wild deer. It is fenced by a set of ideas. Are human people any different?

The opposite is also true: what happens negatively to the land, happens negatively to indigenous people. If the land is fenced, so are they. If the land is capitalized and divided into property, there is a “Canada Indian Act” to turn indigenous people into aboriginal property, little different than trees or rocks, which can be milled or mined. It is this fundamental de-indigenization that lies behind current cries of protest about cultural appropriation of indigenous cultures for profit. It’s what Canada is for. This transformation of indigenous people into aboriginal people, and then their erasure by time and demographics, is a process often commented on by the political right in Canada: all people in the country are equal. Yes, all people in the country are indigenous to Canada, because it is ever-present, but not all people in Canada are indigenous to the land and share in its fate. That’s a huge difference. It is also something Canadians don’t talk about much: the difficult trails that coyotes and human people walk in urban environments to maintain their contact with the earth, and the difficult forms of taming and domestication that these colonial environments instilled in them, and how to tell the difference. Perhaps people in other countries need philosophies of existence or of individualism or of trade. What we don’t need in Canada is a philosophy of reconciliation. What we need is to make Canada indigenous to this place. We’re going to need new words and philosophies for that. For one thing, people are not a resource. The salmon people below are not a resource.

Canada is the resource. .