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.

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 Mystery of Surfaces

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

Cat Tails

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


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


Mustard in Her Finery

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

The Okanagan Meets Its Salad and Lemons Go Away to Cry

Remember my green grapes?
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.


Sustaining the Okanagan 9: 1 Hour, 42 Jars

Keep your eyes open.P1180010

Oregon Grape, Okanagan Lake Shore

Ripe when the stems turn red.

Spend an hour.P1180151

Go to the kitchen.P1180156

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


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


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


Giving the Children Water: The Bigger Educational Picture

Last night, I wrote about the benefits of environmental transformation that could come through the simple mechanism of attaching a wetland to every school in the Okanagan. It’s worth elaborating on, because the concept is vital. So, let’s dive in.


1.Why schools?

In the culture politically and socially dominant in the Okanagan Valley today, it is commonly accepted that schools are where children will be educated, that they will be educated in groups, along certain subject areas, and by professional teachers. In many cases, the work done in these schools is inspired. In many cases, the children who go there are inspired. Nonetheless, these institutions embody cultural choices, not human verities, and they come with costs.


2. What about classrooms ?

Culturally, schools today are divided into a number of rooms, each with approximately 30 students, a professional teacher, and, depending on the class mix, one or more assistants to help with students unable to thrive independently in the classroom environment. The goal of the classrooms is to help each student realize their full individual potential, with oversight from a professional trained in multiple modes of learning, with time to adapt instruction to the individual needs of each child. The goal is also to make this process affordable for society, by grouping students together for this work. Much of classroom time is accordingly spent managing the social dynamics of this concentration of students within this particular instructional model. This is one of the costs and benefits of the system: so much attention is devoted to social dynamics that they become a prime educational tool and even a goal of the educational process. The assumption is that the social skills learned in this immersive process will be expressed in the adult society of which the students will ultimately be a part. That is all admirable. Nonetheless, these rooms do a few other things: they divide children into manageable groups, they align them by age and subject of study, they often place adults in positions of authority, curriculum is set at a distance (not in particulars but structurally), and they are reliant on imported representations of the world: books, videos, reports, tweets, photographs, and so on. This is a cultural choice, not a human verity. It is also not the cultural choice of traditional (Syilx) cultures in this valley.


3. What is this cultural choice?

The cultural choice is ultimately scientific. It employs the profoundly powerful scientific method of breaking unified experience down into abstract categories, which can be simplified to a high degree, logically understood, and reassembled into new world views with a bias towards intervention, management, and industrialization. Given that Okanagan culture is a part of a larger capitalist culture, ultimately these world views are developed in order to be capitalized, either as public infrastructure or for private profit. It is a model that matches the classroom model.


4. What about “culture”?

Indeed. Much of contemporary Okanagan understanding of how water, wind, air, soil and sun work in the valley is based upon the detailed work and powerful methods of this approach. Much of contemporary Okanagan art and literature is also based on this method. A typical poem within the valley’s dominant culture, for example, dissects or reimagines experience, “proves” it with personal observation, and  ends in a moment of transcendance, in which this dissection, reimagination and presence is unified in a powerful image of the living, unified earth, as an expression of human understanding, or of urban space unified with logical understanding. These objects can be very moving. Then they end.


5. What’s wrong with that?

This particular cultural choice does not allow for points of view which start at the moment of unity, because that moment goes against the basic principle of the cultural method: to take things apart so that they can be put together in a new form. In other words, this cultural choice transgresses the root understandings of syilx (indigenous) culture and teaches in the main a process of dissection, coupled with a creative process of reassembly, which uses two materials: dissected material and human physical experience. This is a perfect map of colonial experience. It contains profound, innately racist social choices which are, at least, essential to talk about, if Canada, and the Okanagan, are to be unified societies. If they are to be disunitied societies, God help us all. Furthermore, if the method is displaying itself in these subjects in this way it is likely doing so in science as well.


7. Why Syilx?

Apart from the essential point, that a study of the culture that grew up with this landscape and maintained it for 4,000 years, in schooling situations that did not centre around classrooms, would be invaluable for the continued sustainability of human culture in this place, and the secondary point that the current lack of productivity of the natural landscapes reflects a 160-year-old turning-away from such knowledge, syilx culture is an invaluable doorway for fulfilling the current directives of the Ministry of Education of British Columbia for mandated inclusion of First Nations knowledge into the schooling curriculum. Applying a non-classroom model, centred around wetlands, would fulfill a major part of this mandate. Other benefits of a wetland-based learning area would connect the wetland with culture, history, environment, food production, and understandings of the relationships between people and the earth. Not only would such a model fulfill the Ministry’s mandate, but it would fulfill many other areas of education at the same time, without descending to a special class on Indigenous studies, without significant opportunities for it to enrich the conversation of the school with society as a whole. Besides, have you ever met any syilx people? I just plain like them.P1160057

8. Why a wetland classroom?

Schools aren’t classrooms. Classrooms are schools. Marshall McLuhan said it perhaps best: “The medium is the message.” To translate his slogan into the present, across more than half a century:

Where an action takes place determines the nature of the action.

In other words, if you have water on your mind, have the experience of water as your frame. To explain that a little more, as I mentioned last night, classrooms are courses within schools. What I meant was that the placement of children in classrooms teaches them about classification and abstraction, how to think in groups and how to put their words into sentences. That is actually the outcome of the course. Should an understanding of the environment, the earth, its air and its water, its living things and its rocks and mountains, be a desired outcome, that material has to be brought into the classroom in a broken form, and abstractly reconstructed in childrens’ heads. No one is building a mountain on the teacher’s desk. Better to make it the teacher’s desk.


Nonetheless, bringing material in abstracted form into a classroom is not entirely a bad thing, of course, because it is one means of teaching invaluable and much-needed abstract reasoning skills. Nonetheless, it is a cultural choice, and does not represent the breadth and depth of responses to and relationships with the environment which we will need to survive here in the long term, or to have a living earth to survive in. This is where the idea of a wetland classroom in every school comes in: if the room is the outcome of the course, and an improved or different outcome is desired, change the room. If we want children to solve our water issues (and, boy, we have them) twenty years from now, it starts with a wetland classroom now. That will be their environment. They will know more than we ever did, and will have relationships most of us today, and most likely almost all of our engineers, do not have. If we wait five years, the outcome will be delayed five years, if not more.


9. What kind of thinking can we expect?

Well, ultimately I would love every single child to have an intimate, unmediated experience with water that they will remember for their entire lives and which will inspire them towards dance, science, agriculture, mathematics, hydrology, family life, canoeing, literature, urban design… and on and on and on. I want the children to lead us, by their delight and wonder and I want them to have this experience when they are young enough that what they experience is not limited by, or pre-determined by, words and structured experience, whether in film, books, lectures, explanations, scientific diagrams, and so on, because as wondrous as those are, and as powerful and necessary as they are, they should come after the moment that changes childrens’ lives; if they come before it they will determine the shape of that moment in accordance with existing knowledge, and what we need right now is new knowledge. We need our children.We need them to teach us wonder and to help us live on the earth.


10. What about creativity?

In the book-classroom-dissection model of contemporary dominant culture, creativity is the practice of reassembling cognitively examined segments of continuous experience into a new understanding, which is a way of saying “assembling them into a new self.” That is a culturally-specific process, as I noted above, and not determined by human nature. I went on in my discussion last night with the observation that if wetlands became the natural habitat of our children, as they were here 150 years ago (and, heck, 50 years ago I was splashing through them, too, watching dippers dive under the water and rise out of it again in a splash of light, chasing tadpoles, and marvelling at little minnows frozen in the winter ice.), and surprising things might happen. I can image this, in this dry, dry climate, which is only dry because we have turned our collective knowledge away from the wetlands that stretch the entire length of the valley in an unbroken chain. Here’s what I said:

We could have a wetland city, in this dry climate, 400 miles long. We could work to extend water rather than to extend roads and parking lots, and could work hard to find room, here and there, for roads, as we now do for water.



First the water, then the water. It’s that simple. We don’t have to reimagine anything — none of our infrastructure, not a thing. We just have to give our children water to live in, teachers to guide them, and let them become the water keepers, like the beaver of Conconully above. There will be time for the hard questions. This has been the time for the vision. P2200975Welcome home.


Sustaining the Okanagan 8: Give the Children Water

Schools aren’t classrooms. Classrooms are courses within schools. Putting children in classrooms teaches them about classification and abstraction, how to think in groups and how to put their words into sentences. It is very bookish behaviour. If we want them to put water in a dry world, such as the Okanagan, if we want them to rebuild the earth, we need to put them in water. We need to give every school a wetland.

Bulrushes, Reflecting

Otherwise, they will build words and classrooms, as we have done, without adding wetlands. We could have a wetland city, in this dry climate, 400 miles long. We could work to extend water rather than to extend roads and parking lots, and could work hard to find room, here and there, for roads, as we now do for water. People tell me how hard these things would be, how nothing is possible without a funding source. First the funding, they tell me, then the service. Nonsense. First the water, then the water. It is very, very simple.