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.

 

Alfalfa Walking

When you rely on animals brushing up against your seeds, or pecking at them, to knock them to the soil, it’s best to fall over with the weight of your flowers, so your seeds are a whole body’s distance away. After all, right down in the middle of beautiful you isn’t going to work so well. Alfalfa is great at this kind of walking.

In this way she marches a whole body’s distance away, every year. What’s more, because clear ground has no dry stalks of vegetation to hold her up (and prevent her from falling over), it’s exactly there, where there is space for her, that she walks. We too.

Humans and alfalfa share an ecosystem and go out walking there together on a summer’s day.

Gardens of Water

I left the garden today, and all its lettuces, kale, spinach and dill, and went up to the water, where the birches rise out of the cedars and the wild roses.

The ducks were feeding on the blue damselflies and shrimp as clear and white as clouds.


The water showed the directionality of the sun, the coloured space that was blue from one angle, green from another, and from another all gravity and tension.


To my ancestors, there were languages: the language of birch, the language of cedar and the language of water, and sometimes they joined together and then there was song, or consciousness. My ancestors began there in that offering.


Being together with these languages, at the point of their meeting, was like reading cloud or reading the sea room for the weather coming from the north.


I am learning this language again. Poetry was once the tool for speaking it in human form. I learned this art in an old age of the world from a man who had gone to the old ages of the north of the world to find it.


It still is this art. It still is this age of the world. It is still this old earth. It is still this new.


It should not, however, be confused with literature or “communication,” as beautiful as they are. It can be spoken of alongside beauty, if by beauty we mean balance or organic or earthly form.


Speaking it as a garden is not a confusion. From high lakes like this, water leaves the sky and enters the streams and pipes that take it to my red orach, my oregano and my egyptian onions. They drink this. I feed on this, and not just physically.

From high lakes like this, light leaves the sky and enters my garden, too, in a form fitting of these heights. As I am this land, I am this water. It is not, you can see, what is normally called human. Of course it isn’t. This is the old knowledge. It is not humanism. That is a beautiful but far different thing.


To my ancestors, the cupped hands, or the skull, were raised in thanks and blessing. Skold! they said. They didn’t mean the skull, but the bowl it made that held the mind. They didn’t mean the hands, but the bowl — the old world was scale, or Schale, as they said (and say) in German — that held, that was the power of holding, lifting up and offering and that created them through this offering or lifting up.

 

This is the holding up and the offering, this language of birch and cedar and water. This is where mind becomes.

This is the garden.

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.

Placenta of The Earth

Every red osier dogwood is a placenta.

It streams with blood into the sky …

… or it catches the sky, and brings it to you.

Traditionally in this country it was used to control pregnancy and to stop bleeding after childbirth. That’s quite likely because it catches the seeds from these cattails, which are male (top) and female (below) flowers in one.

It holds them in the air for a later time, or dries them out, rather than allowing them to enter water …

… and carry the sun into it.

It stands apart from the two worlds.

It is at balance with earth and sky.

It is a screen of nerves, or blood, in the Earth’s mind, or body.

They are the same thing, and so are you: the one that is two, and still one, and still many.

This is the blood.

The red sea in your veins is no different. Rather than a metaphor, like this…

“The red of the dogwood is like the red of my blood, and the patterns of it are like the arteries in my eye.”

… there is this instead:

The complexities of the world are written here. We may read them, with minds built out of this same blood. If put in words, they might be reducible to something like this:

Blood flows through the dogwood and my eye, my heart, and my hand.

Ah, the heart, dear thing. Sure, it’s in the chest, but it’s also here, simultaneously:

Red Hill, John Day

It’s good to remember, of course, that this blood is also the screen of nerves in the mind. Perhaps you can see the thoughts collecting on neural points of gravity and tension below?

That is also blood. This is sacred medicine. It is not a metaphor, and it is not a unity broken apart into body and mind, earth and sky, thought and feeling, or anything else. It is as unified as light. Our ancestors didn’t learn to read the world by trial and error. They lived it.

Perhaps you see how words direct our thoughts away from our knowledge? It’s not that

it’s as unified as light.

Rather, dogwood and light are one.

More clearly: dogwood, light, blood, mind, water, heart, birth, water, conception and life are one.

In this form, in this holding up, the sun speaks. It becomes offering. Well, it was all along, but we reach out to it, we respond to the sun’s hand with our own.

There is no end to the listening, which is the mirror of the speech. Yes, the hand listens.

Yes, the hand teaches, and speaks. Yes, the mind is a hand.

Yes, the hand is a mind.

More Than Ground Cover

When the weather is cool, spring is what you make of it.
The red oregon grape leaves among the poison ivy berries I found growing along Kalamalka Lake, are attracting warm light, invisible to my eye, while the yellow berries of the poison ivy (a form of cashew) keep humans and other predators out, even while signalling their presence to birds, who survive the spring partly because of this selection. As a result, both species are able to spread and take in more of the spring, effectively intensifying it — for all.

The Lessons of Red Osier Dogwood

I went looking for light. In a grey world, it was all in the red osier dogwoods, stəktəkcxʷlɬp, the purifier, the beloved of moose. I spent some time with it as it turned into them.p1450021 p1450016 p1450013 p1450012 p1450005 p1450002 p1440997 p1440981 p1450031 p1440978 p1440977

It is the net of blood in the eye. Anything that passes through it will be guided by it, stroked, and shifted to follow its flows. You feel it all over your skin and over your chest and arms. You can step into it with purpose. You must step out of it with its flow.

Sustaining the Okanagan 21: The City of the Okanagan

In keeping with my conviction that we would do better to build things than tear them down,  I would like to propose a new form of civilization in the Okanagan Valley. By “civilization” I mean the creation of city environments and the forms of human organization that follow. The current form of civilization gives us this:

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That’s an image from Kelowna, a Canadian-American city in the Okanagan Valley, but not an Okanagan city. You can tell because what is for sale on this car lot is an extension of American industry, focussed, through trade agreements and from there through a beleaguered  automobile manufacturing culture in central Canada, a place called Ontario, which is full of Americans with a different form of government from those down south, but not that much different, as the American technology sales centre above shows. The city, you can see below, is designed for this technology, and not for people.

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It is remarkable. If Kelowna were an Okanagan city, it would be filled with local technology, offering local culture, and extending its roots into the future. What it is currently extending is its connections to the Canadian and American rust belts, and, as you can see above, to the investment culture centred around global big oil. To understand that clearly, let’s take a step back to the big picture.

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The Okanagan Valley, a former grassland in British Columbia, is a collection of droughted weeds between certain foreign cultural interventions including golf courses, vineyards and subdivisions. It has severed its ties to its grassland past through the hard work of a lot of people, including some in the tourism industry who sell the current city’s American-Ontario offerings instead, like this:

Urban and rural; nature and culture; playtime and downtime: Kelowna isn’t just one destination. It’s a whole bunch of them, located in one uniquely beautiful place.

Kelowna lies in the heart of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, the largest city on Okanagan Lake. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly holiday, a romantic getaway, a weekend with friends, or all three, you’ve come to the right place. https://www.tourismkelowna.com

Tourists will be well-catered to, in concrete hotels in strip malls, on golf courses or on ski hills, eating at chain restaurants, and taking trips out through subdivisions to golf courses and vineyards and ski hills. It is, in other words, a theme park, a kind of Disneyland. The real economic driver behind the enterprise, though, is the sale of property in the sun to people from the colder Canada to the east: a kind of permanent tourism.

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The newcomers are happy, because they are living within their dreams. The people who’ve been here for a couple generations or more are not, because they are forced to live in the dreams of others, within an environment further degraded to support them because any environment can only support so much. This is called progress. It is based on the principle of “change”, which, in this water-starved environment is really the principle of desertification. It’s not a very successful form of civilization that can’t last more than four generations without being aquatically bankrupt. Currently, the valley is attempting to manage the acute, self-created water shortage of an improper civil model by limiting access to water on both a class basis and on the claim that the valley is a desert, and people need to learn to live in one. The thing is, it’s not a desert.

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It’s just that  there’s not enough water to sustain the current imported civic model. We need something better in its place, something in keeping with the climate we live in. The grasslands were good at that. We can solve many of our water issues and our social issues by rebuilding them. Other positive things we can do include developing new water technology on the model of our grassland plants, instead of new smartphones apps or new animated films to be shown on TVs or small screens across the world. At the moment, we have an American-Canadian-American cultural education institution, absorbing the talent of our children, who live in Kelowna and use the former grasslands not as a classroom or a living room but as a foundation for imported playgrounds (ski slopes, beaches, golf courses, vineyards and so on) as we have for generations.

Centre for Arts and Technology Kelowna is one of the top audio engineering schools, film schools, animation schools, fashion design schools, interior design schools, and photography schools in Canada. We are home to dedicated photography, interior design, and fashion studios, a film production studio, two digital recording studios, and 2D and 3D animation labs. https://digitalartschool.com

Sadly for our kids, we can’t afford this gentrified luxury any longer. The land and water are calling in our debts. All the petrodollar-based tech money flowing into the valley in the world just won’t create more water, or reduce the social strife that lack of attention to water has caused. Luckily, though, if we can keep our technology clean, simple and inexpensive, we could take it around the world. That’s one way we could sustain the Okanagan: by making it a part of the future instead of fighting to retain a past through advertising imagery.  We can only, after all, convince ourselves of so much before the gap between reality and fantasy is just too great to sustain. This is a problem coming down on us like a runaway train. We might as well face it now. To do so means that instead of following the culture of the United States we are going to have to replace it. We are going to have to learn to be home, which is a new thing for Canada, but there’s no longer any way around it, except into poverty. I have spoken about these ideas earlier on this blog. Today I’d like to add a note about civic organization, because it’s the principle of civilization that the method of organization creates the result. We have subdivisions and weeds today? They are both the result of how we have structured urban life here, period.

land

They are the same thing, viewed across a class divide.

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Neither is sustainable. The subdivisions are mining the wealth of communities across Canada, to which they belong, and the weeds in the grassland display the removal of water-carrying capacity from the land, which the presence of subdivisions and the technology that supplies them has created. The reasons are complex, but, as I mentioned, a reorganization of civic principles would be a good start to addressing them. But don’t take it from me.

Whenever and wherever societies have flourished and prospered rather than stagnated and decayed, creative and workable cities have been at the core of the phenomenon. Decaying cities, declining economies, and mounting social troubles travel together. The combination is not coincidental.

So, what do we have right now? We have a chain of communities, which were all once about the same size but have grown differently, according to different development models. They are spread for about 200 kilometres on a North-South line. The biggest of these towns today are Osoyoos, Oliver, Okanagan Falls, Kaleden, Penticton, Summerland, Naramata, Peachland, Westbank, West Kelowna, Kelowna, Lake Country, Vernon, Coldstream, Armstrong and Enderby. They all have an equal cultural claim to the valley, whether they are small ranching towns, farming towns, indigenous towns, former orcharding towns, former railroad towns, former real estate development schemes, former sites of Belgian Congo rubber money laundering schemes or former enclaves of the English aristocracy, and yet I was at a winery in the town of Okanagan Centre (in the city of Lake Country) three years ago, at which the young woman serving me wine chatted to me in a conversation that went much like this:
Young Woman: We have the oldest gewürztraminir vines in the Okanagan.
Me: Really? Older than the ones at sumac ridge in Summerland?
Note: I drove a truckload of gewürztraminir vines up from Sunnyside, Washington, USA, in 1978. That would make those almost a decade older than the ones she was referring to.
Young Woman: Well, but I mean here in Kelowna.
Note: Kelowna is the largest city in the valley, at the middle of 135-kilometre-long Okanagan Lake. It has 100,000 people and most of the advertising copy-writers.
 Me: But this is Okanagan Centre, not Kelowna.
Note: the towns of Oyama, Okanagan Centre, and Winfield joined together a couple decades back to prevent being absorbed into the city of Kelowna, which would have meant a loss of political agency over their own affairs.
Young Woman: Well, those of us from Kelowna call it the Okanagan.
And that’s the thing: it’s not. The Okanagan is not an American-Canadian city plunked down in the middle of a valley, dominating the valley with its imported culture. It’s the whole thing, including the ignored grass and its indigenous people. Now, we could complain about the gap between the colonial model and what we need to survive here, but that’ll get us nowhere, so we might as well stop with all that and join together into a common vision instead: one valley, one people, many centres, great diversity, one environment, new technology and every attempt at centralization to be met by dispersal. That means building not only technology but culture out of the local environment, what we need in it, and what it can teach us. To be clear, that doesn’t include grapes, which are European plants, or at least tearing most of them out as the water-hungry weeds they are. It means building an urban model that lives in the valley, rather than from it or upon it, and that ultimately supports the valley’s land, air and water rather than concentrates them in imported, dream environments, which create deficits elsewhere. The environment should not be a space for class struggle. It should be a space of class cooperation. To achieve necessary change, the current competition in the valley, between rural and urban space, between industrial and residential water, between indigenous and stolen land (well, it is), between grasslands, wetlands and asphalt lands, between farmlands and sidewalks, between water and ethics, between one town and another, between gentrified restaurants and greasy spoons, between food banks and ice wine vineyards, between low crop yields and high profits, between foreign workers and unemployment, has to end. It has to be replaced by a system of mutual support and celebration. The valley is weakened whenever one of these threads is focussed onto the particular urban model of Kelowna, where the rooftops are surrounded in razor wire so that local people don’t sleep on them. We can come up with 100,000 reasons why this isn’t practical, with many historical models, and many sociological studies, but the simple fact is: we have fouled our nest and have to do something completely different to get it ready for our grandchildren; doing more of the same, or refining what we currently have, is not an option, because it will lead to what we already have. This, for example, is not a life-sustaining environment. It is a view of a dead arm of Okanagan Lake.
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Traditionally, this kind of work has been the role of the arts. It still could be here as well, but the principle of dispersal will have to take place first here, too. At the moment, the valley’s largest cities, Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton have all built large performance centres to showcase American and Canadian (largely a sub-branch of American) “big-name” talent. They are, in other words, American cities, or at best Canadian colonial versions of them. It is part of the program that sees New York called a “major city” and Oliver, in the Okanagan. as a small town, with this slogan:
Oliver is located near the south end of the Okanagan Valley, in south-central British Columbia. Just 25 km north of the USA border, Oliver sits in the only desert area of Canada. The attractive climate fosters popular tourist activities including summer water sports, golf and sight-seeing. Oliver is an ideal setting for growing Okanagan wine grapes and producing among the best rated wines in the world! Of course, its mild weather year-round, also makes Oliver a great place to live for local residents. http://www.oliver.ca
This relationship was set by New York, not by Oliver. We can change this. The first step is to develop the remaining farmlands and grasslands within the cities of the Okanagan as more than viewscapes —to build them as integral parts of the civilizing experience. And I don’t mean this:
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And I don’t mean this:
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This is good work, worthy of our young people and our ancestors on this grass. We will know we have succeeded when the downtown core and the heart of our 200-kilometre-long city looks like this:
We will know we are deceiving ourselves when it continues to look like this:
 Let’s be people our grandchildren can admire, and thank.

Water Sprouts

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Beurre D’Anjou Pear Tree in Healing Mode

In pre-scientific knowledge, these vertical shoots, the result of aggressive and wrong-headed pruning, are known as “water sprouts”. The old knowledge says it well. The principle here is that water sprouts from the heart of the tree, dries in the sun, takes shape and hardens. This is solid indigenous knowledge. “Modern” thinking counters that knowledge by noting that a skewed nitrogen/hormone balance in the tree favours growth over fruiting. If left untouched, it will favour fruiting in time.

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Meadow Pear Tree

Indigenous Fruit culture in Hübli, Zurich Overland

The old way and the new are not in conflict. Pruning clippers are.