Sustaining the Okanagan 19: Humans, Class and Environment

This is one of a series of posts about how to maintain a local landscape in the face of technological pressure. In this case, both the primary observation (all land and landscape is a system of ethics) and the intervention (be human) are simple. That’s not as obvious as it might sound. Let me try to explain. As an example, the grassland fly below is sitting on a cedar fence post from the 1960s, that is about to be pushed down to make room for a (guess) $1,500,000 house, affordable only to someone who did not make their money in this place, because this place no longer has the capacity to build its own houses in its most desirable spots for its own people — surely a measure of societal sustainability and success. (Selling the most desirable land to people from other cultures is not a recipe for cultural survival. It is a recipe for cultural replacement, with the notion of replacement becoming the culture.)

Something else you might notice: this fencepost is made from an old growth cedar tree from the British Columbia Coast, one of the 1,000 year old trees of pre-European civilization. It was stolen and transported here. What’s done is done, of course, and theft is not the issue. The issue is that this fly is standing on this history, in a world controlled by technology, yet is unable to control it. That right has been given to one particular class of inhabitants: homo sapiens. Within that group of critters, only one particular class has the means to control the technology, and that is a class of system managers from outside of this region, and those who serve them. That’s class behaviour, and that’s my point. It’s a method of human display and power-positioning to which the earth has now been enslaved. It makes all of us slavers. Those are harsh words, perhaps, but this is important. Please let me keep trying to explain. The image below shows a surviving bit of grassland, very close to where the green fly above was foraging. This is a mariposa lily with its pod open, waiting for a deer to brush it and knock its seeds into the bacterial crust on the soil. The timing of deer migrations and water patterns is probably exquisitely timed.


The only thing is, this is all taking place on a piece of land adjacent to the doomed fencepost, and likely the next plot of land for the next house. It is, in other words, also a class space. It is soon going to vanish. Eventually, so will the fly. So, putting all that together, we get something like this: in this piece of earth, a certain class of a certain class of inhabitants have the rights to self-determination, and others don’t. They are destined to extinction, in the manner that indigenous peoples were considered destined for extinction during the colonial period, due to their susceptibility to disease. (Of course, the disease was more the result of slavery and starvation than outright susceptibility, but that’s the secret few mention.) In this socially-charged landscape, the rightful inhabitants who don’t have land-ownership rights within human society are called “wild” or “nature” or “lazy” or “poor”, in the case of homo sapiens. Class behaviour for sure. The only thing is, every last one of us is equal in this place, and all of us are growing in the sun, and whatever this place is we are all part of how it is unfolding. Any deviation from that is a chose deviation, with class repercussions, not just for homo sapiens but for everything else that is here. Currently, this situation is being managed through technology, ownership and notions of capital (all pretty much the same thing), which draw down the energy of the land so it can be transferred into social energy, for class-based profit. That’s pretty efficient. It gives us houses (well, castles) like the one dominating a coyote, porcupine, bear and deer trail below.


And that bring us to another point: that house rises from the same set of social webs and the same set of class behaviours as the fencepost, the fly and the workers who built the house. It dominates the landscape exactly in the manner of its wealthy owners. It, too, is class behaviour. What’s more, as it stands in for a human, and is an expression of human bodily consciousness and social positioning, it is a special kind of human: a corporate human, much like the corporations which have the rights of biological humans to create the wealth that allows such houses to be built. And that’s my point: we can’t make accurate maps of social and material interfaces on this land without defining class and humanity. Including that house in the group of humans (calling it a specific class of human) makes discussions of land use more meaningful, in exactly the same way that including the drawn-down energy of the earth into financial calculations makes real costs and benefits more visible and more capable of being grasped and discussed. Check out this group of cows and their kids, put on the grass to eat autumn’s invasive weeds (nothing else is worth eating anymore, in this formerly wealthy landscape). Who needs a fence, eh. p1250920

Truth is, the fence is as much to assert control of other humans as it is to assert control over cows. It is an extension of human will. Those who live by it are bound to that human will. In other words, just like the house above let’s accord the cows, the invasive weeds, the surviving sagebrush and the fence human class rights as well. Does that sound strange? I hope it does. I hope it demonstrates how the word ‘human’ has been mis-used, along class lines, blurring equality between creatures, earth, societies, relationships and even virtual states. They are all humans. (Preposterous? Feel free to insert another word in place of ‘human’ and discard ‘human’ as an operative term.) After all, humans aren’t biological creatures. We are human because out of biological origins we have built up a parallel, virtual system of identity, based on the foundation of an interest in mark-making, such as the trail a five year old child made the other day, on the trail put over the old irrigation ditch made by Earl Grey back when this place was British. Elsewhere, he’s known for tea. Here, he’s a place to create identity — whatever identity you want.p1260050

The trail goes under these cottonwoods…p1260046

… planted to create a barrier between the poisonous chemicals sprayed on the orchard below and walkers on the trail. In other words, like cattle, or people separated from land by fences of private ownership (i.e. by capital), this tree has been assigned a class and slave relationship within its virtual living space, contemporary society. It too is human. It’s one thing to define our age as the anthropocene, the age in which humans have the power to control or destroy everything on earth, and it’s one thing to extend rights of power to all human groups, by race, gender, social class, country of origin and so one, but it’s a totally incomplete effort without extending that dignity and those rights to all that we assert control over and all the means by which we do it. If the world is controlled by homo sapiens, the world lives within the human social grid. It has been enslaved. If there are parts which lie outside that grid, let’s give them the respect of real difference, which means to break down the fences in our heads that tell us we have the power to control them. If there are parts which lie within the grid, let’s give them the respect of social inclusion, and talk about the pattern of social hierarchies that control not only them but all of us as well. Otherwise, the lives we really live, and the grids of power we live it within, remain invisible and every choice we make will founder, because it is based on a big lie. Is a society likely to take on this program? Of course not. Power is power, after all. However, a primary change is possible: to stop living from the proceeds of slavery. This we can change. It will create different patterns of individual and social identity, which will create more sustainable landscapes. Will it take 50 years? That’s nothing. I remember when those fence posts first came to the valley. That’s not so long. Will it take 100 years? That’s nothing. The mariposa lily I showed you has survived 100 years of overgrazing and fire suppression, and is still capable of springing back to abundance if given a chance. Does it matter? Yes. We will guarantee abundance for our children’s children’s children if we give them a place in the land. Sometimes things are exactly what they are. It’s not exactly that the nodding onion below (a vital and exquisite indigenous food plant) is “human”.


It’s that “human” and “nodding onion” are the same thing. The word “human” is a fence. We need to bust it down.


If you don’t know how, ask a cow.


As the Pool of Agribusiness Giants Shrinks, Will Innovation Follow?

Here is an example of the kind of technological intervention in earth-human relationships which one contemporary urban- and intellectually-based elite sees as the solution for a shrinking food supply and an increasing population.

bayerIn agriculture, new ideas will be vital to satisfying growing demand in the face of diminishing resources.

Source: As the Pool of Agribusiness Giants Shrinks, Will Innovation Follow?

That’s right, hyper-industrialization and even robotics (do read the article), to reduce unit costs and increase efficiency … efficiency, however, of what? Of feeding people? Perhaps not. Let us remember that at the base of our food supply lies the earth, and the presumption that the earth will continue to provide endlessly, powered by the sun, and that we can just tap into this flow without feeding it. What’s more, at the base of the contemporary economy lies work, and if humans aren’t doing the work then the money for the work is not flowing through their hands, their bodies, their families and their communities, and they will do anything, anything at all, to see that it does.



The article points out that cooperation with small producers will be necessary to keep agribusiness from becoming moribund, but that’s the same as saying that dominant corporate capitalism, or dominant communism, or any globally dominant system of organization, will grow stale and unresponsive if unresponsive to its citizens.


It is one kind of state which has agribusiness corporations and industrial networks as its citizens, and another kind of state which has humans and social and community networks as its citizens. This article makes this mistake, and the mistake is profound.


It is time to remember our humanity and our planet, for they are one and the same.

Appetite, the Commons and Private Land






Henry David Thoreau argued that industrial agriculture and slavery were expressions of the same impulse, which led towards the replacement of common experience and trade with private possession and sale. In the cattle ranching West, this experience has led to an earth which reflects a mirror of human appetite.V0021621

That cow has been set on this hillside to graze weeds that have come from France. She and her sisters and their kids have been ignoring the weeds from the Ukraine. Her cousins across the valley have been munching on grass grown on treated sewage water. That is the state of the commons today. This is the state of privacy.

Bear Going Nowhere

Two years ago, a mama bear taught her cub how to find grubs at Big Bar Lake, by knocking the cap off this old tree carcass.

This year, as a two-year-old kicked out by mama and her three new cubs, she just doesn’t want to leave (perhaps because she’s a very tiny two-year-old), and had another go at it.

But that’s a guess. It might have been Mama, back for another lesson. Either way, it shows an intimacy among resident bears, or perhaps female ones, that you’re just not going to see in a wandering bear. It is the same for us.

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


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


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.



The Okanagan Meets Its Salad and Lemons Go Away to Cry

Remember my green grapes?
That tasted, I promised, like lemons?
Because until they turn colour, grapes are little suns made out of citric acid —so, like lemons, right?
Well, I picked some.
Those are Bacco on the left and Concorde on the right. Here are the Baccos. Very sour!
And then I juiced them.
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 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.




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 …


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.


Check out what the lightning did a month ago.


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.


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.


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.