Sustaining the Okanagan 14: Plant Tech

We exceeded the valley’s population carrying capacity 25 years ago. Our issue is water. You’d think it would limit human population expansion, but humans are socially clever and limit social access to water instead. To forestall an inevitable class revolution, it’s time to develop new water technology now. The plant world offers many examples of what can be done. All that is absent is the application of human cleverness to something other than social manipulation and IT. For example, the beautiful weed, Bladder Campion…P1180659

Silene latifolia

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Look at how the flower forms around an open chamber, with a spray of petals around its lips.

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This arrangement is not designed to capture water, but no matter. We have the technology to use this example to create water collection devices, which could stand inert until it rained, catch the rain, and store it by funnelling it from their petals into their bells. At that point, the water could be drawn down a hollow stem (tube) into a larger collection device, or when the level in each bell reached a certain weight the bell could tip, the water would pour out into a trough, which would then deliver it to a collection or distribution point. Alternately, little collectors like this (or banks of them) could be placed beside individual plants. They could collect rain, just as the plant, its root systems and the soil do, with this exception: when the water evaporated out of the soil with the sun that follows rain these little bladders could release more water, slowly, to make up for the loss. I’m sure devices could even be built that could be laid out as sheets, or which could be laid out in banks like solar panels. We have the technological intelligence, we have the manufacturing ability, we have a university, we have the thunderstorms, we have a great need, we have burgeoning social pressures, and we still have the possibility of a bright future. Bright futures are made. We would do well to get in focus.

focus

 

The Mystery of Surfaces

Do surfaces have edges? Or do edges have surfaces? Is an edge the limit to a surface? Is a surface the space between two edges, that is given substance because the edges separate it from the nothing around it?P1180691

Cat Tails

And that nothing around it, that is called “air” or “space”, what is that stuff? Is it a surface or an edge or, as our ancestors put it, a room? Is that why we say “children need room to grow?” Is the lack of such a room an edge? If so, does that make a room a surface? Is a three-dimensional surface a room? Is a two-dimensional room a surface? Is a one dimensional surface an edge? And what about the surface of water? What’s with that? 

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I ask, not because I want to unravel the mysteries of the world (I love them just fine) but because these are really questions about the human mind and how it sorts the world, which is a unified whole and, I suppose, not a room. Look how complicated edges and surfaces can get.

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Mustard in Her Finery

And yet we can read them perfectly. Why not. We are looking at ourselves. What the world  looks like, well, that’s the wrong way to approach it. It doesn’t look like anything.

The Okanagan Meets Its Salad and Lemons Go Away to Cry

Remember my green grapes?
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That tasted, I promised, like lemons?
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Because until they turn colour, grapes are little suns made out of citric acid —so, like lemons, right?
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Well, I picked some.
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Those are Bacco on the left and Concorde on the right. Here are the Baccos. Very sour!
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And then I juiced them.
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Oh, my, soury-sweet. The colour settled down to pink (from the stems, I’m guessing), and, oh, if I may say so, it’s sooooooo perfect. It tastes like lemon juice, with a hint of fresh berry. Sour, but not overwhelming, and perfect for my salad, with apricots, spinach, romaine, and a few dashes of Greek olive oil. This is a very exciting day in the transformation of this valley! I’ll preserve this litre of juice in eight 125 ml jars. Do you know a chef who needs one of these? By the way, these grapes were growing wild, without irrigation. No birds will eat them at this stage … what potential!

Sustaining the Okanagan 12: Beauty and the Bees

When the big (failed) subdivision was put in on the slope above my house, the road fill was seeded with blue bunch wheatgrass, the signature grass of this grassland. Slowly some big sage, also native, is moving in.P1180393

The green you see above, scattered amongst them is a combination of two noxious invasive weeds, rush skeleton weed and dalmation toadflax. The idea is to protect the land for this:

Well, her grannies ate the bunchgrass back in 1890. Now she just gets a few weeds here and there. We must be looking at 1000 acres per cow. If we keep going at this rate, we’re going to get this, which is a cow trail in a “pasture” much like this, across the valley from my house and down along the shore a ways:

Wouldn’t you rather have this?

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These gloriosa daisies get along well with the native bunchgrass and the flax, and that mustard in back.P1180407

Why, think of it: we could save our bees and butterflies from extinction, and actually have something to be proud of, while the bees and butterflies settled in. Why, alfalfa gets along well with these girls.

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So does native yarrow.

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If we’re going to have tourists, why not make it worthwhile? Why not resurrect the ancient principle of yil, of weaving social activity with the landscape to encourage the greatest number of species in order to ensure they all thrive, and humans, who are the weavers of them all, among them, so they can continue their weaving? It would be worth it.

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You’d come, right? Maybe for the lavender that likes this arrangement, too?

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The bees of these grasslands have survived for a generation in private flower gardens on their edges, gardens which are now being torn out and replaced with gravel, in a mistaken idea that this will conserve water. Well, mayyyyybe and maybe not, but without species-specific insects the ability of the grassland to support life will be lost, and without flowers to bridge the landscape for them, there is no chance for them to grow together, and for us to grow in awareness with them. It’s so simple.

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Right now, there was one inspired gesture, almost a secret.

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The tour busses stop at the honey farm four kilometres to the north. That’s roughly four to six busloads of Japanese travellers a week. They prowl around the scanty gardens of the honey shop with their cameras, looking for something to photograph, and they find it, but I suspect they would come here, and pay more for the honey gathered from these flowers. Wouldn’t you?

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It would be an honour to walk here with any of them. With anyone.

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“Look what we’re doing,” we could say. “We’re weaving ourselves, and the future of our children, into the earth,” and then we could say …

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… “isn’t it beautiful? Here, taste it.” Right now we can say, “Oh …

… that’s private property.”

 

 

Sustaining the Okanagan 11: Weaving Water to Combat Desertification

I know, I know, Chinese elms are a weed.P1180479

They grow well here, though.

Their flowers feed spring birds.

In turn, those flowers have a zillion seeds …

… and pop up everywhere.

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Everywhere.

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Thing is, though, they do a couple interesting things. For one, in environmentally simplified landscapes capable of only producing social stratification symbols for humans, who like that kind of thing, a lot …

Golf Course at the Rise

From 200 species to 1. It gives aficionados a shiver of power right down the back of the neck. Much desired in elite social classes.

… in a kind of stratification that is often quite remarkable for its naked power …

Yellowstone

The simplification here is from earth-as-living-and-working-space to earth-as-recreational space (the recreational activity is “looking” or “aesthetic enjoyment.”) It watches life flow away, as if human intelligence were not part of it.

Well, human intelligence is what you make of it, and what I’ve shown you so far today are social representations of human power. The elm, however, for all of its problems, offers a different one. It offers habitat, where habitat has been destroyed, while offering as well human social good, such as beauty …

… and the transformation of water into storable energy.

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Check out what the lightning did a month ago.

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That is transformed water there, bound with the sun and storing carbon for a human generation. No hydroelectric dam necessary. No one wants it, for some bizarre reason. It is quite portable…

…and can be used in measured amounts, according to need… the rest can be stored for many years.

When its elements are returned to the earth as water, energy and carbon, new elms will take them up again.

(Note: One doesn’t have to “remove” carbon from the atmosphere to remove problem carbon. One has to replace elemental understandings with process.)

The thing about elms is they grow everywhere in this climate, can be harvested quickly or after a generation, can be stored for a short period or for a generation, and can be used in measured amounts, in balance with new plantings.

What’s more, they take up water that otherwise flows as an element through a species-poor earth (made of lone elements), and in the process provide habitat for species that are otherwise homeless. They are arks. Yes, they are weeds, but they are healing the kind of error below, which wastes potential.

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That’s a green of the Golf course at the Rise behind the young Douglas fir at the crest of the slope. The patch of green in the middle of the image is yellow clover that is mining water that has bled out from the single-species (well, two, a fir) zone of the golf green. Excess water and waste fertilizer is collected in the road cut you can see just below the fir, which spills down the infill from the road. It wells up as a wave over the bedrock under the post-glacial gravel. This is a way in which the earth heals herself, by giving forth life from gravity. From gravity! Here’s a paper wasp, finding forage in the yellow clover that would otherwise be lost — weightless, shall we say, only a place for elements to pass through, like subatomic particles in a cloud chamber. Weeds, however, turn deserts into life.

A reasonable goal would, I think, be to create the greatest amount of life, to use the greatest amount of water within the systems of life, and to harvest the excess as human social energy. This must be the definition of sustainability. Mustn’t it? Because this isn’t:

Death Maker: B Reactor, Hanford

This machine makes nuclear bombs: the most horrific human social arbiter of them all.

So, here are the elms (below), in a hillside reduced to knapweed, an abandoned landscape nursery, rock, yellow clover, mustard, gold finches and wasps. The gold finches feed in the elms in the early spring. They feed in the clover in July.

After a generation of drawing off carbon from the very technological excess which has allowed for the bulldozing of this living landscape and its reduction to a single-species vineyard and a single-species golf course up above, both human social displays, it can keep us warm in the winter dark, cycling water through human social space not as liquid but as life, and giving to us life, and roots, rather than liquidity, that either evaporates (witness the promise that the bulldozing attempted to fulfill) or flows away, leaving a desert, or, in human social terms, poverty. Choose life. Oh, and plant sunflowers, so the gold finches have something in August …

… because whatever they ate naturally is gone, and looks like human social strategies to turn the simplification of the earth into human class power (in this case, the irrigation of a vineyard to increase the social display value of houses, through the removal of that water from the earth):

… and without gold finches, and the memory of them across a span of fifty years or more, as is mine, from the elms that sifted them out of the air in migration in the Similkameen fifty years ago, for a few hours every spring, to the present …

… without that, we live in a desert, a desert which includes the barrenness of human individual life, crying out for connection but ultimately leading to isolation. In the image below, a lot of water was removed from life to create this coloured plastic, as a place for a human child to play in nature — a nature known as “outside”, and one otherwise unwanted, except for the social distance it provides between the next human “inside”. It is space — almost empty space.

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Water is life. That is not a metaphor. If we take it away from life, it is just technology creating the illusions that are human social display …

Winemaking in Okanagan Falls

…and human class power.

This isn’t a war. We’re in this together.

We don’t have to remain alone.

 

Sustaining the Okanagan 10: 24 Apple Pies

We know who makes the best summer apple pies. Here she is, the summer pie maker.P1180166

She was born in Russia 220 years ago. Look how young she looks in my garden.

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Here in Vernon, she usually ripens in late July. This year, three weeks early (two weeks before my apricots). Here she is, hanging out with marigolds, tomatoes, garlic, spinach (for seed) and marjoram.

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These are amazing pie and sauce apples. We could have a massive industry here, supporting a large processing and food industry. Instead, we have sweet fall apples to compete with industrial-scale production from Washington, while the warmer contours of the food industry are left to wine: a luxury product, exuberantly priced. People want pie. Don’t you? And tart apple sauce for those pork roasts in October? Of course you do!

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The sustainable beauty of transparents is their sweet tartness, their earliness and their processing suitability: no cosmetic pesticides necessary, and a very short season for other pests. What’s more, they respond well to climate, so we could pick them continuously for a month, from the bottom of the valley to the top, using water in the cool zone, where water consuming fruits like this belong. Besides, they’re even better when grown to be picked in September, just before mountain frost. And they are a remarkably easy tree to grow, incredibly resistant to bacterial disease. Look how clean they are!

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As another bonus, there’s a variety called Lodi, which ripens five days later, and stores longer. We could further extend our production. The trick of surviving in the Okanagan is about using water cleverly. These apples which take up water in our wettest month, June, and then are done, are a good start. We could exceed the employment of the grape industry, easily, which is a darned good use of our water, too. Think transparents. Think pie. If you’re in the Canadian Okanagan, there were some at Quality Greens last week. They’re probably all gone, but you might like to check.

 

Sustaining the Okanagan 9: 1 Hour, 42 Jars

Keep your eyes open.P1180010

Oregon Grape, Okanagan Lake Shore

Ripe when the stems turn red.

Spend an hour.P1180151

Go to the kitchen.P1180156

Soon you will have 30 Jars of jelly and 12 jars of herb-and-honey-spiced reduction. Share the wild. If you’re sharing domestic fruits you are sharing domestication. Sure, if you want to become industrial nitrogen.

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The choices are clear. Off you go. There’s still time this year. Imagine, though, if we bred these things and cultivated them everywhere water gathered at the foot of stone slopes. We’d change food culture world-wide, because there’s little that can compete with Oregon Grapes.

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If we stopped spraying them with pesticides, herbicides and other gick in landscaping planting, every building could be a habitat. Every building. Food doesn’t have to be private property.