Girls Fun Day Out in the Okanagan Snow

Wanna have some fun in the snow? Well, if you’re human, sledding is great. Bit of a bumpy ride down, and watch for the cacti under the snow and broken off volcano bits and all that, but whee.p1460632

However, then there are the pros. Slalom …

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Loop-de-loops!p1460616

Graceful glides down through the powder at 16 Below. Bright sun. Nice.p1460617

You can ski alone.p1460621

Or in tandem.

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Or as a trio.

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It’s all in the stance, of course.

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That’s my amateurish man track to the right. I admit, it’s slow skiing. p1460743

But fun.p1460737

And beats the crowded conditions at the bottom of the hill.p1460694

Fast food joint, you know.p1460750

Boring. Better to hit the slopes with the girls.

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Yeah.

 

Gravity Engines in the Okanagan

I left you with this image yesterday and said that all the balance and water we would ever need was here.p1440741

Now that you’ve had some time to live with the image, let’s talk. To locate it, this is an image of the west arm of Okanagan Lake at Minus 19 Celsius. It is in the process of freezing. This lake:

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There is clear sky, fog over open water, and (in close) ice. The ice is covered with white spots. They are not snow. They are tiny fluffs of hoarfrost that has frozen on surface of the lake:

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What you cannot see in the image is the water evaporating into the cold air — at minus 19. It drifts for a bit less than a metre then vanishes. Along the way, it builds frost.

p1440726 The specific texture of the ice surface doesn’t seem to matter.p1440717

Perhaps, though, specific atmospheric conditions do matter; some of the ice, which should be evenly covered with frost feathers isn’t: seemingly a goose broke it …

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…at a critical point and the newly open water caught the hoarfrost upon freezing, while the older ice didn’t, or at least not so much.

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All in all, what we’re really looking at is a relationship between the lake and the sky.

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And the sun.p1440526

And the wind.
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With the geese …

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…as tricksters in the process.p1440584

Poor things. I told them that migration might have been a good option. They barely had the energy to hiss. Still, a few things are easy enough to observe. First, hoarfrost is heating in the sun and evaporating into the air, despite the cold (and the geese.)

p1440389 Second, it is drifting on a breeze and condensing again.  These two effects don’t have to happen at the same time. p1440360

It’s likely that the clear, dry, high pressure sky is absorbing the evaporated frost, which was likely laid down when fog moved in off the open part of the lake at night.p1440377

Third, this frost holds the directionality of the wind, and forms in incredibly thin structures. Likely, this shape that allows them to melt despite the cold, and evaporate into the dry air.p1440418

To rephrase all that: darkness and cold bring the heat of summer across the ice, where the heat drops away to leave water behind; together the sun and the night move water across the ice and deposit it (store it), for later release. All of this couldn’t happen without a sky that has been stripped of water by its journey over the mountains to the west, and which creates a pressure vacuum, a kind of wing, that accelerates the evaporation process. After all, if the sky were heavy with humidity, it would simply snow. Now, let’s place this activity into context. There is frost moving across the lake, storing energy and releasing it across time…

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… and there are leaves, trading electrons across a membrane to create sugar …

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and there are lungs that trade gasses from air to blood by pressure differences, photovoltaic cells that trade electrons across a threshold and there are nuclear reactors that knock atoms apart so they can reassemble, in a process controlled by temperature and pressure. There is, in other words, the shifting of material across space and time by utilizing energy shifts across thresholds of form. The processes can be complex, but they’re also elegantly simple. The surface of the lake, for instance…

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… which is made out of the intermolecular and surface tension of innumerable molecules of water (in other words out of an atomic charge)…

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…is a plane of energy on a particular wavelength between water and air, which invites frost to form little differently than the way in which a leaf manipulates carbon dioxide and water atoms to transfer electrons across a membrane by inviting molecules to sit in just the right position that further atoms slide into the correct places for building sugar, and no other. It is a passive process, but a powerful one.

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There is nothing in the process that could not be managed to create, store and move energy in a landscape, and nothing in it that could not be used to create technologies that would do the same in built environments. This is an atomic reactor at work:

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That it is not seen as one is probably because scientific traditions are built around measurement by devices, with the goal of building further independent devices, on the model of the independent human observers who implement them. They could, however, be built instead around environments, with the goal of building further environments, on the model of the biological observers who implement them.

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Using our valley to manipulate heat and cold, pressure and water through the cooling and evaporative process available to us, driven by the energy wing of the mountains, would lead to a situation in which this slope of the lake  …

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… is, like the lake, the reactor. It wouldn’t look like this, of course, all weed-choke, because it would be managed for energy effects. In this context, the sage brush below …

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… is frost which has condensed as a reaction to a pressure environment …

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and this bunch grass…

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… is a complex device that uses a column of evaporated water to hold water against both the gravity within the soil and the pressure effect (also a gravity effect) in the air. In other words, this particular atomic reactor is a gravity reactor. If we use it wisely, there will be water for all.

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If we don’t, the water will blow away in the wind.

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An Okanagan university would be working on these processes day and night.

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.

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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.

How the British Columbia Government Looks After the Land and the Water

It doesn’t. If I look from my house towards the western shore of Okanagan Lake, I see this.p1430520

The land has been burnt, slashed by logging roads, scarred by development and turned into an ugly sore that will take a few centuries to recover. A government would work to heal the land. The legislature that we have administers public land, on the principle of making it available for industrial uses, as long as it doesn’t interfere with certain, assigned protected values, including special reserves for rare plants or animals on the model of the Indian Reserves of 1871. The principle is set out in the provincial land use plan, as follows:
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At no time is the use of land governed or planned, other than in this process of setting aside reserves; at all times, the government promises that reserves will accommodate all possible uses at the same time, unless one so contravenes the requirements of a specific, limited protected area that it can’t be allowed. Walls are like that: Indian reserves placed all people outside of common community and gave privileges to a certain class of land owner and degrading poverty to another; environmental reserves allow a certain class of land user to maintain privileges while placing common people and their land outside of community. It would be better if we all decided to live here and started looking after the place. Whatever problems we have with each other that have led to these convoluted hierarchies of selling our land without governance …

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… we should settle between each other. The land can’t afford to pay the price for this ideology any longer. Nor can we.

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The Real Work is to Take Down the Fences

The task is to provide young people with support for their energy and visions, and space for them to open them into physical and social expression.

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All young people have a need for space, both among the living and among their ancestors.

p2080007These ancestors include the earth, their fellow creatures upon it, and the spirit world.

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Young people need space that is not already committed.

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Elders need to be allowed to guide them into giving visions a living context.

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Together, youth and elders work to erase lines of ownership that deny access. An example of a limiting line of ownership is the privatization of land and water; they control access to spaces of interchange.

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Another example is public land with committed purposes not serving the young people of that space. These might even include parks, national forests, roads or dams.

Typically in these countries that sprawl across my land, roads lead to points of private ownership, or between them. Some of these private lands are public.

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In space oriented to youth, lands alienated from the commons for one purpose must be returned to the commons when that purpose fails, or when it ends. Returned land must be in the original state of the commons. When it isn’t, compensation must be made.

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Youth have a right to guidance by their elders. Elders have a right to guide youth. Both have a duty to support each other. Both are their ancestors singing.

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For example, tribal lands stripped of aboriginal ownership do not revert to national forests when they prove unsuitable for agricultural settlement; common lands removed from common wealth for agricultural purposes do not revert to housing development when the agriculture proves to have been a bad idea or draws down the wealth of the land until tillage or pasturage becomes untenable. It must return to the people from whom it was removed, with compensation for its degraded state.

This compensation does not have to be monetary. There are many forms of currency.

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True elders build new series of common governments or common access, to create space for the fundamental right of young people: movement.

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The act of creating space can be the act of creating common social space.

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At the moment, agricultural land is managed for profit, efficiency and lack of labour input. 1000 boxes of apples instead of 2000 on the same water, for instance, with less employment, for more expensive food, for people who, lacking work, cannot purchase it.

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Food is not an export product. Work and food are rights drawn from common resources. The youth are the land. They have rights to this work. It is theirs.

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Elders have rights to support youth with appropriate labour in place.

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The mechanical replacement of labour should be taxed if it replaces more labour onsite than it creates. The creation of labour in another area, or the replacement of the labour of water, should be taxed to maintain the primary relationships of labour and youth, and labour and land. For example, the 60% of water that evaporates by being moved to the valley floors of the northern Syilx Illahie, should be compensated.

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Similarly, underused land should be made available to youth with the vision and labour to work it.

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The task is to replace land ownership with land stewardship.

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Past and present infractions of the commons should be held to account, as a replacement of the current system, in which infractions of private rights are punished.

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Infractions of the capacity for stewardship are the true infractions against the commons and its people.

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Indigenous people, currently fenced by Indian Reservations, should be supported to build stewardship plans for lands and work outside of their reservations and to become stewards over commons.

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Currently common lands are industrialized by government, or are turned into recreational spaces by it. Both are forms of privatization. Like Indian Reserves, both are forms of fences.

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Incomers to environments should continue to pay infrastructure fees, to compensate existing communities for the costs of their immigration. To these, should be added commons fees to compensate the commons for the added load.

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If the load cannot be compensated, the right of habitation should be limitted to time frames, conditions or specific locations that can bear the load.

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At all times, the effort is to increase the capacity of common land, instead of drawing it down. Turning ancestral space into monocultures is a form of drawing it down. It is a killing of the dead.

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To kill the dead is to kill our youth.

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Movement is life. Every effort must be undertaken to mitigate and even erase borders that constrict it. Singing is a form of movement. Poetry is a form of government.

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If education supports concentrations of urban intellectual capital rather than its dispersal to the commons, it should be taxed. Distributing its products is trade. The two activities should not be confused any longer.

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The desire is not to create hubs of industry but networks of care. A land without people is the clearance of people from land. This includes the turning of land into property.

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A series of wilderness access points should be created, with support for access to people who can create visions to extend the interweaving of people with space.

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Those forms of nationalist intervention that support the nation state over the historical nation must be erased.

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Education must work to build common life, rather than to extend a self-declared common individuality and the boundaries of force, both physical and intellectual, by which it is maintained.

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Plant materials cannot be privatized.

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Stewardship, of the commons, with profit drawn as a share of the increased wealth or health of the commons which it has created, can be granted.

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Current models of education train youth to access common settler space, nation space or global  space. Common space is any other sense is considered personal. It is not.

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Let us give it to the young: to act, to speak, to be heard, and  to be followed as youth stewards, but not as owners.

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You cannot own the earth. No man or woman has the right to grant ownership.

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Talking space is common space. Artists weave common knowledge with individual experience so they are one.

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This unity is youth.

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Cities built out of the energy of natural systems which have not returned that energy to the natural systems have a debt to it which must be repaid: through  efficient gardening, greenways, fishways, and even in planning offices — that administer real benefits for natural systems.

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Ultimately debt must be repaid.

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It is time.

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Urban footprints can be huge: Toronto living off the North; Vancouver living off of all of the land west of the Rocky Mountains, and so on. These lands have been emptied of people by these privatized cities.

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Nature is a form of human clearance.

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It is a poor replacement for living space.

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Right now Vancouver ships its garbage across the mountains to Secwepemc lands on the Cariboo Plateau. That is not a repayment of debt. That is a transferal of a portion of the debt to those who subsidized the profit in the first place. It is garbage.

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The degradation of the grasslands and their replacement with monocultures or weed cultures is the same.

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Their replacement with ingrown forests maintained by fire suppression is the same.

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Increased ecological wealth is the principle. Its harvesters are youth.

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Elders plant space.

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They are on their way to becoming ancestors.

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Everyone is at home through giving.

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Taking and selling come at a price.

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It is possible to live instead.

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That is the task we learn from our teachers, who came before us and are here to guide us.

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It is time to call things by their proper names.

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It is time to speak them in their own language.

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It is time to listen and then to let life speak for us all.

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This is the real work.

 

 

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.

The Bounty of Water in a Dry Country

This is water.

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It is called Okanagan Lake. In Icelandic, where indigenous European language survives, it is a vatn, specifically a space of free water. Of that, it is a special form, called a læk, or a lick: a domesticated space of water, of agricultural use. Metaphysically and socially, it is both of those, but in terms of its own essence and how it works in this dry landscape, it is neither. This is water.
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It is also called a weed, or an unwanted growth. It grows on disturbed land, or land set aside for agricultural use but then abandoned and left in this state of abandonment, which is called wild, after the Old English (essentially Icelandic) wildeornes, a point (nes) for wild (wil or wild) beasts (deor.) In this dry country, such a space is one that is removed from agricultural space and given, generously but purposefully, to our brothers and sisters. This is water.

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It is an industrial orchard and garlic field (in winter ground cover), irrigated by industrially-supplied high country water along the model of the California Gold Rush of 1849. It is not vatn and is fenced against wild and other humans. It is, thus, as constricted as the flow within the gold rush technology that supplies its water. It is a form of sluice box (a hand-mining technology that harnesses water and gravity to separate gold from gravel.) This is water:p1410838

It is also known as crested wheat grass, an introduced pasturage species to replace blue bunch wheat grass, the native grass of this grassland, which doesn’t suffer well the predations of cattle. It is not vatn, læk or wildeornes, but because it has chosen to escape the rather loose boundaries set for it it is known as a weed, and is called wild, or nature. It is none of those. It is water. This is water:

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It is also known as grazing land, a kind of dry læk, although it has been grazed down to cheatgrass (an invasive weed, green in the image) and big sage (which is covering land denuded of blue bunch wheatgrass by cattle, in the land’s attempts to stop water from seeping out of life as vatn). This is water.p1410538

It is also known as a deor trail (or path, from pad (tread), from pfot (foot)). It passes through a mixture of weeds, big sage and blue bunch wheatgrass, like a river. A dry river. This is water:

This is the Columbia at White Bluffs, the great river of my grasslands, in the smoke from a grassland fire. It is what is known by the mouth, the throat and the lungs as a RRRRRR! A roar, a run, a river. It is known by them at the same time as an OOOOOO! A Strom (or stream), a roar, a flow. It is a flow, not a substance. This is water:

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It is known as blue bunch wheatgrass in the fall sun, waiting for the rains that it will gather and hold through a season, keeping them from leaving the land as vatn as long as they can. It is water doing that itself by climbing a ladder of carbon and hydrogen towards the sun. Look at it catch the sun. Look at it re-create it:

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Each drop of water is now a tiny earth called a seed. If one places, or plants, this seed, it will respond with a gesture of growth equal to the intention of the planting, whether that is done by the wind, a bird, a deer knocking through the grass, or the intention of a human hand. This is water. That’s the way it is here.

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That’s what you know if you live here.

The Private Landscapes of the Okanagan Valley

Here’s a healthy stand of bunchgrass, which I showed you a couple days ago. As I mentioned, the Okanagan Valley of the North Eastern Pacific Rim probably looked like this 200 years ago. It probably looked like this in 1858, and likely even through 1859 and 1860.
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Then came cattlemen, and cattle, which ate it down to dust and an invasive weed, cheatgrass, by 1871. Sagebrush (look at the image below), as native to this place as bunchgrass, took advantage of the vacated ecosystem and spread like fire. Cheatgrass (green below) filled in the remaining space, grew green all fall and winter, flashed quickly in the spring, and was dead by May: sharp, prickly and inedible. Rain that fell on the land evaporated away in a few hours. A rich landscape became a desert. Cattle did that or, rather, the fences men kept them penned with did that. Look closely.p1410553

The clearance of 6,000 years of Syilx care of these grasslands through the insult of putting cattle on them remains, today, in 2016, ironically, there’s almost nothing for cattle to eat here. What a shame. It would be like clearing the cities of Europe away to create ruins of stone and sand in which one could plant olives. That this situation is close to what Europe is dealing with today with intense pressures from Africa and the Middle East is not lost on me. It would be foolish to think that here, in the west of the West, we are immune from the same pressures. We aren’t. They look like the European grape plants below, in the shadow of a November cloud, which are here to increase land values in the same way the fences of ranchers in the 1860s were there to increase land values, to turn, in other words, indigenous land into a product that could flow through the accounting books of a centralized government, instead of through the living process of the land:

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There are ironies. An ethical system of accounting would return the land to the Syilx, with an apology and an acknowledgement that a transformation of a humanly-cultivated land into a managed “natural space” was a failure. That’s not the way of things, though. The social succession here is to view the land not as the space of a cold war battle running since 1858, nor as a social ruin, but as “nature”. That’s a wondrous word that includes this cheat-grass-lined (and dangerous; it’s slippery as all get out in the rain) deer trail …

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… and this poplar tree, planted as an agricultural air-sprayed chemical buffer for a walking trail built on a filled-in irrigation canal commissioned by Earl Grey, of Earl Grey Tea fame, and blasted by the approach of winter it’s unsuited for.

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In short, “nature” appears to be a term containing things that are not ‘natural’ to this place, or ‘native’ to this place, and not particularly well-suited to it either: creatures inhabiting more the ruins of failed human social interactions with land than the land itself. Perhaps the following image can clear this curiosity up a bit:

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What you’re looking at is the same landscape as this …

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…, but after ten years without cattle. Look again:

p1410544 The sagebrush is still a bit out of hand, the cheatgrass is still stealing water from everyone and creating a desert, but the bunchgrass is coming back, although in balance with this new, water-poor “cheated” environment. This “Nature” isn’t a “natural state”, isn’t the way things were before settlement …

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…but the mechanism by which the earth achieves balance, with the forces at play upon it. That’s the same as saying that the first hillside I showed you above, this one…

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… is the balance achieved when cattle are placed on this landscape. It is, in other words, the signature of cattle. You can see a young one signing her artwork below.

Interestingly enough, in this version of nature, there is scarcely room for cattle or food for them, which is a way of saying that the balance is forcing them off. Note how the cow below is pushed off its diet of weeds by the traditional sagebrush removal process of this place, fire, and finds its natural environment: a gravel pile.

That doesn’t mean that either gravel or green grass and sagebrush are the natural state of the Okanagan Valley today. It does mean that the idea of grazing cattle on this land is unsustainable. It doesn’t fit at all. The earth wants something else. Look at it bringing November water for it—water that sagebrush catches poorly, cattle destroy and cheatgrass burns away too quickly.

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The colonial use of this land was for cattle grazing, yes. Because that idea bankrupted itself, and the return of the land to the bunchgrass and people who know what to do with it is not considered, for complex and ultimately unethical reasons, doesn’t mean that the post-colonial use of it should be one particular romantic use of “nature” —a space for “recreation,” like the golf course spilling over the top of the hill below. That use doesn’t inhabit natural space but a ruined social space, which it attempts to renew by renewing not the productivity of the land, which was here in 1858, but the aesthetic enjoyment of private space in “nature”.

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The argument could be made that this is the natural space the land finds when it is inhabited by humans, as demonstrated by these homes in the cheatgrass and the November fog…

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…but that argument is just silly: not all human activity is balanced in this way, and not all human activity is based around private enjoyment. After all, who enjoys this land’s water privately and doesn’t share?  That’s right, our old friend:

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Cheatgrass

Our mirror.

The Okanagan’s Missing Water

Here it is.

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Blue Bunch Wheatgrass

This 10-year-old re-seeded slope shows the likely historical condition of the valley under Syilx stewardship. This grass is very much alive.

The valley hasn’t looked like this since 1858, but as you can plainly see it can be replanted. Look out your window right now. Do you see someone out there replanting the bunchgrass? No? This grass that translates water into hydrocarbons, which in turn hold rain and snow from evaporating and flowing away, while using it to nourish themselves? Do you see Saskatoon playing the same trick out there?
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We could have that. We could even more easily incorporate its process, which is this:

The land we love in the Okanagan has been made by a process of stopping the flow of water. It is the process of holding it and keeping it.

There’s a trick to that. It means that the valley’s big lakes, like the old double-spirited lake (now called Kalamalka) below…

… are not water but reservoirs of potential water, which can be delivered by evaporation and cloud to replenish hydrocarbons and the web of life that moves through them, such as the balsam roots, saskatoons, douglas firs and ponderosa pines in the foreground above. In other words, in this inverted landscape, in which the sky more often removes water than delivers it, this guy …

… and this one …

… and humans, such as I am and such as you are (if you are a Google Bot, eat your heart out, sorry)…

… are marine creatures moving through an aquatic environment in which water is a series of connections in a matrix of carbon, not nineteenth century colonial technology like the stuff below (a vineyard intravenous tube).

 

Piping Water Downhill, Using Gravity

Our work here is to help water stop flowing, or, perhaps better, to help it flow as slowly as possible, through the greatest possible hydro-carbon web and the greatest possible connections between its joints, where we, the weavers, excel in our work of transferring energy. That is not the same as harvesting water or energy, but there is a point of connection:

When there are abundant points of connection between carbonized water, there is abundant excess water for us to live from.

Call this water gravity. The trick is to stop it from flowing, so that we can flow, not to use it quickly and wait for the snow from somewhere to bring us some more. We need to take care of these things ourselves.

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Surely we’re not so proud that we can’t learn from the grass.

The People of the Grass

Just look at this Great Basin Giant Wild Rye in the late November sun. It’s growing up the hill from my house, in land set aside for new houses. Actually, it was planted, to mitigate the effects of road-building and house construction — to embed that work within an act of ecosystem reconstruction and natural sustainability. Beautiful, isn’t it.p1410294

It’s more than beautiful, actually. There are three seasons of stalks here. One has lost its seeds to winter birds and the knees of deer as they knock their way through in the snow. The grass uses the energy of both to cast its seeds at a distance from the stalks. When the seeds land on the snow, their darkness gathers heat to melt their way down through the snow to the unfrozen soil below, watered by the snow they melted to make their path. Down there, they sprout, in the warmth of sunlight magnified by crystals of melting snow. By the time spring comes, most of “spring’s” work is done. This is the grass that first drew settlers to the Pacific Northwest. The Cayuse War of 1848, which started all the other Indian Wars north of California, was fought in this grass, and, in part, over this grass. Two hundred years ago, this grass, and its seeds, were valuable, for fibre and food. In the North Okanagan, where I live, giant wild rye is not as plentiful as it was in the Cayuse’s Walla Walla Valley. Due to its relative scarcity this far north, I think it’s safe to say it would be surprising to find unbroken stands of grass with year-old seeds and three-year-old stalks, untouched by human hands. The stuff is too valuable for that. So, look again:

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This is nature without humans. They have been removed from it. It was forcibly done, Replanting the grass without bringing the people home to it is still removal. It doesn’t matter what words are applied to it. Colonial societies, even in their mature, independent phase (we call it “post-colonial”), often claim a right to the land on the principle that all human activity is natural. Yes, it is. It is still violence, though, even if it is called beauty, or ecological regeneration, as long as it does not bring the people back. We could do that, you know. We have shown that we can plant riches.

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For the moment, they are empty. In romantic poetry, this sense of loss (in this case “a lost Eden”) intensifies the sense of beauty. The effect is called “bittersweet longing.” In post-modernist poetry (post-colonial culture’s equivalent to romanticism), it is called “desire.” It is more than either. It is a waiting, an offering, an emptiness actively calling to be filled, and a gift. Do we dare take it? Do we dare not?