A Canadian Education

Canada is a big country. Here’s a tiny piece of it in the west.

What you’re looking at is a bit of a collision between a volcano and a seabed off the coast of North America, that became part of the land about 110,000,000 years ago, and then became a local landmark. Perhaps you can see the highway that cuts across the ancient trail it marked? (That’s our bluff again, in the middle of the image, which views it from the south, rather than the east, as we did in the preceding image.)

The first wave of colonization, the Hudson Bay Company’s pack horse trail, followed the old trail. The new trail, which follows the Hudson Bay Company’s route from the south (politely, we call it the United States of America now, for old times sake), is the result of imported technology (German freeways, Swedish dynamite, American earth-moving equipment, and so on) that came in on the trail until it became it. The old landmark still stands, though.

And it’s still doing its old work, of marking the paths of power. It’s just that now it is part of Canada, which has a culture with certain prerequisites. For one, it is a country imposed on an indigenous state, which means that indigenous landmarks must be translated into Canadian terms before they can be read. For Canada, these terms are displays of social power imposed on the landscape, such as the German architecture below.

Only the wealthy can play this game, but there are lots of them. Social power within Canadian society in this region — in other words, Canada in this region — is about extending these intrusions.

It is a complex game, and by making these images I have broken its rules, which are to look out at views of water, rather than looking back at Canada looking out. That is simply not done. It is breaking a social code.

These views, for instance are easily worth $1,000,000 each. As you can see in one below, they show the next in the series of indigenous landmarks, at a romantic distance, and the houses of other wealthy people along the lake, at an appropriate distance that allows them to be romantically embedded in nature, as befits an imperial British settlement.

Canada is a very romantic project. Thousands of people look out, at sufficient distance that a forest being trucked to a plywood plant disappears into landscape (look below.) Again, apologies, I have broken that taboo by making this image.

The next image breaks that taboo, too. Here you can see that one of these houses has constructed a garden, or perhaps a chicken run, from creosote-treated railway ties, covered with netting, to get past the ridiculous steepness of the land and its inappropriateness for chicken runs and gardens. It’s not pretty, but that’s because it is made from outside of Canada. The rule is, don’t take the picture until you’ve moved far enough to the right or left that the Canadian presence on the land disappear. Then make the image.

 

 

One of the reasons for the netting is that Canadians moving into landscapes like this situate cell phone towers and garbage dumps around areas of the greatest indigenous significance. It is a subconscious part of the process of subjugation, and it does have its ironies, because those areas are the best for display houses with the most romantic views, but the garbage does attract eagles, romantic birds for sure, and ravens and crows…

… which do interfere with the illusion that there is no garbage here. You simply can’t use the land as a canvas for the social display of an imported culture, which exists only in the display, when those pesky birds steal your chickens and strawberries. It can’t be done. Now, a Canadian, of course, has it hard, because Canadians are just people, after all, with the same desires as any others: family, shelter, a bit of love, lots of aggression, and strawberries, plus breakfast eggs, if they can get them. It’s not their fault that they have to acquire these essentials through a social grid laid out upon indigenous space that Canada bought for them 146 years ago (not from its owners but from the British, who gave themselves the right to trap furs here, on the strength of a navy no-one had the means to mess with) and they’re doing the best they can…

… continually rebuilding roads to get their social grid in the best shape possible, as far as such social grids go. Yes, the result is ugly, but you’re not supposed to see it. You’re supposed to live within it and look out. And when you do (below), please do yourself a favour, don’t look at the erosion caused by thousands of young people leaving the trail to go out-of-bounds down to the rocks to jump into the lake.

That’s deadly, and is to be overlooked. That’s the rule. The landscape is to be read as an archetype, as if you were the first person who was ever there. The irony of a country-as-a-social grid, such as Canada, is that when you turn around, from the land, and look at the grid …

… it looks improvised at best, and even a bit desperate and chintzy. The image above is a private road for wealthy land-owners to use to access their view property below the bluff I showed you above. The gap between its imposed, utilitarian ugliness and the romantic beauty and intense social power it grants, is why literature in this country is a social game, with landscape entering it through social avenues such as scientific tropes, academic understanding, queer readings of landscape, environmental activism, and so forth, but never on its own terms. Those are considered  romantic …

… not because the earth is romantic, but because that reading of romanticism is also deeply embedded within Canada, which is a romantic social product written on the land. It can’t escape itself. If you leave that romantic reading, you are no longer in Canada, but looking at it. That’s the rule. It is such a powerful  mechanism that the country’s literary artists, embedded in the social training system of its universities, are unable to break it: there is no audience out there, and no market, just a few weeds growing in the haphazard infrastructure created by the social application of powerful foreign technology.

Literary people would starve out there, and that’s really not good. I can afford to show you these images because I am what is called in Canadian social terms, a sub-class of Canada’s imperial homeland, the United States, White, Male, and Old, ie an Old White Man: an undesirable thing, anyway, with no social power in literary society. These are not the terms of the culture of the land, of course, but that’s a different thing; Canadians live in cities. They have the second largest country on earth but not to live on. It is to harvest industrially, in ways which minimize access to the scars of such harvest (swaths of uncut trees lining highways, to preserve romantic view lines, and so forth), in order to concentrate the wealth of the land within the social grid, which is reserved for people who are extending the networks of power laid across the land. Those networks are the only country there is. That an old man such as I am (I’m 59, not old perhaps by an objective standard, but old and unwanted in this culture), sees something other than the omnipresent beauty of the grid and the notions of identity it fosters, is, by definition, romantic, because in the definitions of the culture, all land (and hence all that is attached to the land) is romantic; the only exit from romance is through the social networks. I can laugh at that all I like.

I am only trespassing on the land reserved for the social power of wealthy men, which is how I took the image above. That I consider access to that land my human right is another indication of how non-Canadian I am. That image above is evidence of a crime. That I only stepped a few metres onto private land, unoccupied land being advertised for sale, does not erase that. The image is romantic. Neither you nor I were meant to see it, and that buck was being protected in order to be shot as a trophy. That is the rule. Perhaps, if you’ve read between the lines of this post, you might get a sense, or the beginnings of one, of why the indigenous villages, which are called “Indian Reserves” of this country are described in terms such as this:

There are no economic reasons for Attawapiskat to exist and it does so only because it is underwritten by the Canadian taxpayer. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/john-ivison-the-rising-toll-of-canadas-failed-experiment-with-isolated-reserves

The statement is an offense to human dignity, but then, you see, so is the poverty in the image that accompanies it:

Villages such as this are not “isolated” in a passive sense, as the article suggests, in that they are “in the bush”, or “in the wilderness”, or “far from culture” but isolated in a far more active sense, in that culture (Toronto, Vancouver, or even my small city of Vernon, for example) have placed them in isolation, as the name for these spaces, “Indian Reserves”, makes abundantly clear. The space below is exactly the same kind of space.

Canadian culture — the survival of the social grid — demands that we look the other way.

Or at least maintain the respectful distance that preserves privacy (ie social privilege.)

Or the corollary distance that embeds social display within the landscape, to create the illusions of wealth, belonging, power, beauty and ease that are every human’s desire and are fulfilled in the Canadian overlay in precisely prescribed forms.

Your way to them is through the university and its botanical gardens.

But do ignore the banana peel. You will fail at your studies if you concentrate on that.

Spring Wild Harvest Begins!

Sure, the snow was here two days ago, but, pshaw. It’s salad time. Some desert parsley, maybe?

Or some balsam root shoots, when they’re tender and sweet, before they get their throat lozenge bite (which is fine, too)? I ate one of these, oh my. Forget asparagus, beans, peas, you name it!

Heck, even a choice of colours!

The flowers will be a bonus. Here’s one from late March, two years ago:

Look at her there, just calling for the bees with all that pollen!

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.

The Mystery of Clouds and Ice

Clouds are water vapour held up by air, and are named after clods, or lumps of earth.p1490817

Ice floes are clods of ice held up by water. But in the world of light, which surely is a world, they are the same. There is a mystery there, as yet unravelled.p1490931

Western culture was working at it, until the guns of Verdun. We shouldn’t have given in.

The Spirit Whale of the Okanagan

Here’s what might sound at first like a fantastical story, but it does end with a deeply practical point. I hope you enjoy it! To start, look at the spirit whale of the Okanagan at the end of a winter day. The first people who came through here 12,000 years ago were ice-edge hunters from the ocean to the West. They would have known about whales moving through leads in the ice. The trees in the foreground would have been underwater then.p1480903

Look at the big fin of the whale’s tale to the south. That’s quite the whale.p1480921

Over time, she has risen from the water. The purple line below was the lake shore 12,000 years ago. The red one, 10,000 or so. The drop was rapid in each case.

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As you might just be able to make out above, when the tide was in (so to speak), the whale’s tail would have had three heads. Its fin would have been hidden. Swinging to the left, her head would have looked like this:

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She was underwater, that’s what she was. Her body was a canoe full of animals. That would have been intimate knowledge to oceanic ice-edge hunters, and common to a number of indigenous flood stories. Look below for a closer look of the prow. The whale’s head is just a tiny island, leading the way like a porpoise. In this image, the ancestral animals who are the cargo are more clear.

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The image below shows the stern of the canoe again, as it would have appeared above the lake, blunt-nosed as we would expect, with two trails of froth. The stern itself is a clown’s head, a motif we see on hundreds of sacred rocks in the Pacific Northwest. Whatever the reasons are is a discussion for another day. For now, let’s just be present on this ancient shore.

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There’s no way of knowing if people viewed the whale this way or not 12,000 years ago, but one thing is certain: over the course of half a day she lifted out of the water and left behind a lake in the shape of a snake. Two thousand years later, she did it again. Today, that snake is called, derisively, Ogopogo. With more respect, but in equally colonial terms, she is called a lake. That discrepancy between spiritual and European knowledge is worth keeping in mind, when assessing my story of the mountain that is a whale: whether they are indigenous or scientific, story-tellers bring their knowledge and see it reflected in conversation with the forms of the land. People who come from that land, however, see the spirit first.

p1480907As a man, if that’s what I am and not “tree walking” or something like that, what I see in the image above is my self. I can’t say I understand this, or do not. “Understanding” is the wrong concept to apply to that presence, and can only access deep threads of European knowledge and explanation. Like “lake” or “mountain”, however, such activity comes from somewhere else and does not describe the bond between my body, spirit and mind and those of the land. Even “land” is the wrong word for this stuff. I seem to be evolving past words. What’s next, I wonder.

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.

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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.

 

The Pacific Northwest is Not the Southwest

Here’s a place. Squeezed in between the United States and Greenland. Canada.canada-relief-map

Best to stand right-way up.
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Lately, I’ve heard the strangest thing.  I’ve heard that my part of the country…canada-relief-map

… is called the Southwest. The Canadian Southwest. This was in reference to the name the region often goes by: the Pacific Northwest. Here it is in 1844, just before the 49th Parallel Canadian border (pink and grey on the right) was drawn across it, cutting it in two.

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That’s an American view, on an American military map. You can see the remnants of the Canadian Northwest in the following image (note the blue oval). As you can see, it goes right up into the Arctic. In fact, a quarter century ago, it was all of the Canadian Arctic, right up to Greenland.

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If you didn’t know the place, you might think this Southwest Canada stuff made sense. Ah, that’s where politics come in. For Instance, in 1752, the best map looked like this:

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Note the big sea where there is no sea.

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Basically, this part of North America (under that sea that is not a sea but possibly a memory of glacial melt events 12,000 years ago) is un-mapped. Here it is (below) in 1756. As you can see, no map of the region at all, really.

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And 1795. By this time the coast is mapped…but nothing else. As I mentioned above, there is a name for this “empty space.” It is the Pacific Northwest.preview

It comes by this name along two routes. First, as the map below shows well, it is Northwest of what was then the centre of European civilization in North America, the Caribbean, which was colonized by the Spanish in 1492.3213606740_9e642903a4_o

Yup, that’s where I live: in Parts Unknown. Note the totally inaccurate Columbia River at the bottom, but, hey, at least it’s there.

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This was a continent controlled by Spain (Southwest) and France (Northeast, and the centre of the continent, right down to the Gulf of Mexico), with tiny English colonies on the East Coast (later the United States) and an English trading area in the Far North. Much of Southern New France eventually went to Spain, and from there to the United States, in the Louisiana Purchase. Much of New Spain went to the United States in the American-Mexican War. But that great empty area, the goal of exploration, remained the Northwest.

 

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So, that’s the first Northwest. The second has to do with the English and French colonies on the east coast. Here’s a later map (below) of New France. In my part of the country, this is called the East, although there it is called the Centre. The English colonies are on the far right. Everything else is French.

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In other words, everything is the West, except for a narrow strip along the Atlantic. That’s the English view. The French view was that everything was the West that was West of Montreal. Here’s Montreal (below), the trading city of New France. The wealth of a continent, north, west and south, flowed through here:

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No surprise that the trading company out of Montreal was called the Northwest Company, since it traded in those regions of New France that were north of old French territory on the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s a Northwest map.

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There are many others. Here’s one from 1810 that shows the Northwest interests in today’s United States. Note that Oregon Territory (today’s Pacific Northwest) is the territory of Great Britain, the United States and Spain. Below it is Mexico. In the centre of the continent is Lousiana (now Spanish). To the right is the expanded United States, with British Territory to the North. France is out of the picture. The red arrow is St. Louis.

 

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St. Louis was the American fur trade headquarters, for all fur trading into Louisiana and Mexico. Canadian trade was still coming West from Montreal, in what is now known as Lower Canada (in the upper right.)  By this time, the eastern part of the Northwest is now called the West (today’s Mid-West) and Louisiana is still largely French-speaking. Please note that those families did not go anywhere. They are still there, but had a new culture, and a new language, given to them by colonization from the United States. The only area unexplored at this point was that area claimed by three countries in the upper left. It was politically dangerous to explore it. It was only when Spain was knocked out of contention, and it was just a disputed region between Britain and the USA, that it was given a Name: Oregon. Or the Pacific Northwest, to distinguish it from the other Northwest, which was now in the middle of the continent. Here is my Northwest, in a satellite view. Isn’t she beautiful? We call her Cascadia now.

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She has an old history, rooted in the French people who moved across the continent and intermarried with indigenous families, and took on their cultures. The arrow shows where I am living as I talk to you about this.pacnw_satellite_cropped-copy-2

To call this the Southwest of Canada is a complete erasure of a long French history, over three centuries older than the nation state of Canada and of the history of this place. The people of this history are Canadians, with more right to the term than most citizens of the nation state. Our heritage here is primarily with people in Quebec (Lower Canada), Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Northern California and Wyoming, and secondarily with the North and with the French culture on the Prairies. Canada, the 1867 British nation state, comes a long, long, long way down the list. It’s not that we’re not proud to belong to Canada here, but our history does not live within these borders:

canada-relief-map

We’re proud of that, too, because it is that old history that makes us who we are, not the new history of a country still trying to reshape it. So, the Pacific Northwest, or Cascadia, please. We are citizens of the continent out this way.