Bioregional Literature, Out of the Box: a dissection of ecocritical culture

p1260499Here’s a beautiful ecocritical conference. Wouldn’t it be great to go?



Critical Approaches to Bioregional Literature of the Great Lakes Basin (June 20-24 2017, Detroit)

It’s about rust. Rust is grand. Rust is romantic. Rust is what happens when the industrial revolution meets the air. Humans can breathe that corrosive air. Iron can’t. The air turns iron into rust, which can dissolve in water, and which trees and plankton and other plants can take up, to make more oxygen, which makes more rust. But that’s not the ecology under discussion here (nor does it have to be). Look:

Long associated with steel, car culture, and the music of Motown, Detroit is also a site of struggle for racial and environmental justice, against depopulation and “ruin porn,” and for the preservation of artistic heritage.

Got that? This conference will discuss a “struggle for racial and environmental justice,” in opposition to “depopulation and ‘ruin porn'” in the context of “the preservation of artistic heritage” which is “steel, car culture, and the music of Motown.” Who could argue with all that. Powerful and important things, although that “environmental justice” is a loaded term. Does it mean: “justice for water weeds?” Does it mean: “justice for humans requiring a healthy urban environment and clean water, too?” “Does it mean something else?” Impossible to tell. So don’t trust the term, because it’s probably the most important one, and the one that is going to be discussed here. Good to know. Let’s carry on. Here the organizers talk about the venue, Detroit:

“A nexus of encounters between indigenous nations and the French fur trade, it became a locus of the Great Migration, “white flight,” and gentrification.”

That’s it? Language is getting away with itself here and could do with being reined in. It’s making a narrative based on its own grammar. These “encounters” between “indigenous nations” and “the French fur trade” are one of the 3 or 4 cores of European/Indigenous encounter on a vast continent, which is entwined heavily with the loss of water habitat through the destruction of beavers, the vast indigenous slave trade, the collision between the Spanish, the French and the Americans in the Missouri, the Apache slave raids on the “Great Migration”, the War of 1812, Cajun chicken, the politics of the dispossession of Canadians in the Pacific Northwest and the creation of the cultures of Ontario and British Columbia, the rebellion of Louis Riel, the anti-catholic religious porn of the early 19th century, and on and on and on. A vast environmental story, and not just “became the locus of the Great Migration,” “white flight,” and “gentrification.” That’s rhetoric, not history, and out of it can only come a contemporary history, with no roots in the past. Is that worthy of the name of the eco-criticism? Is the past and its lingering threads in the present, which are an expression of it working itself out in time and society, not an ecology with the potential of being vastly different than the narrative that sentence sets up, which makes the history (and the French and indigenous peoples, i.e. everyone before “Americans”) subordination to developing energy and the history of American post 1835? Or an environment? All it is is a place where the “nexus” took place. Well, that’s up to eco-critics to bring those discussions to the table. The organizers have a different idea, which goes like this:

“Water-rich on the strait between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, Detroit and its neighbors struggle against corroded infrastructure and government corruption. For all those reasons, Detroit is an ideal place to confer about rust, resistance, and recovery.”

Well, you get it, right? Water rusts iron, and this water-rich environment, confronting steel, has rusted it. But has it rusted the French Canadians? Has it rusted Indigenous peoples? Isn’t that insulting? Wouldn’t it be better to say that American migration and colonialism either absorbed, expelled, repressed or killed these peoples on an axis of race? It has less to do with water, doesn’t it, than greed and possessiveness and racial politics? Isn’t it a bit über-romantic to say that that is rust? It kind of begs the question: is the conference worth attending? But to open up that rust idea a little: one of those neighbours the organizers mention is a Canadian city, south of Detroit, called Windsor. Its version of the rust belt was created by a border, and a series of exploitations and compromises across it, which manipulated peoples far different, even apple-growing peoples in the West or wheat growing peoples in the Palouse. These exploitations and compromises, are called trade deals. Not only have they transferred control of a sovereign auto industry to a kind of branch plant industry of Detroit, bound up with NAFTA, which is currently under heavy political fire in the USA, but have transferred control of distant industries and ways of life and ecologies, with the rust of Detroit. Detroit, in other words, isn’t Detroit. It’s a way of concentrating the natural economy of a country into economic capital. This environment is politically charged, but takes place in a country in which class and Marxism and all of its tools are forbidden subjects, replaced by more social ones, such as race, which stand in for it, although loosely. What’s more, this environment crosses a border, and is a vital part of the War of 1812, living on today, and that war, what was it? Why, the first American Civil War, fought between Americans who chose to live under a king, largely because the Americans who didn’t ran roughshod over them, and Irish who fought for the Americans fighting Irish who were fighting for the British, all for the liberation of Ireland. It was also a war against indigenous people, and against the principle of indigenous identity. That’s the war: a series of proxy battles, fought on this soil for something that has nothing to do with this soil. That’s an environment, for sure: a historical, political, military and social environment. It has nothing to do with the land, which is also an ecology, so the story it presents is of an invasion of the land and its use as a proxy. The organizers leave room for such a discussion. Here’s their call:

They invite participants to interpret the conference theme [Rust] as broadly as possible and to imagine their work in terms of content and form.

Well, I would say, as a Canadian, living far to the West, within the country formed by those battles fought around Detroit (I don’t mean Canada; I mean the Pacific Northwest), rust, decay, the turning to oxygen, would, honourably, be the subversion of the aims of this conference, because it takes a broad series of vital historical and economic issues and squeezes them through a lens of approved and silently disapproved topics. That’s cultural, of course, but what’s the point? If the point is to get beyond contemporary categories, then this should be a marxist discussion, but that won’t fly. It just won’t. In its place, there are a vast number of disciplines of discourse, that sidestep these issues of class and capital, to get at them sideways. The result of this dance is to recreate the missing story in new terms, not to start with it and expand it. I can’t see that going anywhere, except where it already is: into spheres of comfort. But is this about comfort? I mean, if the theme is to be taken up “as broadly as possible” and if it is to discuss the full ecology of this place. Their solution is not so stark or dramatic. It is this:

We particularly encourage non-traditional modes of presentation, including hybrid, performative and collaborative works; panels that minimize formal presentation in favor of engaged emergent discussion; interdisciplinary approaches; environmentally inflected readings of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, film, theatre and other media; and proposals from outside the academic humanities, including submissions from artists, writers, teachers, practitioners, activists and colleagues in the social and natural sciences.

Note, they don’t encourage non-traditional modes of thought or identity, only of presentation. Is that useful? It’s worth asking. What they are saying is that the ecology of the place is going to be found through an ecology of approaches that is not limited to “formal presentation”, i.e., given the academic context of the conference, probably the reading of academic essays to a large (or small) listening crowd, without discussion. A kind of top down thing. Put ya to sleep. A good thing to move beyond. In its place, they want what I’d call a new art, a “hybrid” collection of “performative and collaborative works” and “engaged emergent discussion”: kind of like one of the masques Ben Jonson put on while Shakespeare was playing at being John Lennon. Hopefully, this called-for hybridity includes demolishing at least one abandoned house and building up at least one other one, and hopefully the conference will be held in an abandoned school, or panels will be held in vintage muscle cars from 1972, each with a driver, a host, and three passengers, switching every twenty blocks as they drive all night, or, perhaps, every conference participant will be taught to cut and weld iron, and will be given a ton of rusted metal, and asked to build an essay out of that. Because talk is talk and experience is experience. It just depends upon what your goal is. So what’s the goal? Unstated. Why? Don’t know. But I don’t trust that. As I see it, the subject of the conference is about obedience, and about bringing together disciplines of analysis into a cross-disciplinary experience, which is like saying: we know who we are and where we have come from; our task is to build a vision separate from those, but honouring them. That’s really great, but the question I am going to pose is this: do we know who we are and where we have come from? What if half of the discussion of racism in Detroit isn’t about race, but about capital? What if it were 20%? Or 70%? What if the abuse of the Northern border of the USA is the real issue here? What if the real issue is the individualism that makes America great in the first place? What if this is not a comedy? Setting aside these important questions for a moment, here we go:”Topics may include, but are certainly not limited to:” (please consider two things when scanning this long list: 1. the plethora of broken approaches, much like the tower of Babel, and 2. the vision of using “rust” as a metaphor for a new world that might otherwise be called dystopic, and 3. the issue of human identity as a series of topics of “resistance.” To what? Well, that’s another buzz word. Read on.

  • The literatures, arts, and cultures of the Rust Belt, the Great Lakes, and Appalachia. Bioregionalism, eco- cosmopolitanism, multinaturalism, (New) historicism, material ecocriticism, posthumanism, queer ecology, postcolonial ecocriticism, new media theory, decolonization theory, geography, and geocriticism as techniques for the analysis of rust-culture.
  • Transnational rust: Detroit and its relationship with Ontario; the borderlands of Canada and the United States; nationalist and cosmopolitan rusts; colonial, postcolonial, and decolonial rusts.
  • Elemental rust: Rust as an element of nature writing, natural history, agrarian and wilderness literature. The nature of iron and the arts of steel; water as an agent of rust; rust as vitality, materiality, and quintessence; corrosion as hyper-object; mines, foundries, and factories; nuclear rust; rust and oil, coal, and natural gas; Rust as programming language; rust as the essence of the Internet; the Internet of (Rusty) Things; steampunk aesthetics; rust as waste of civilization.

Well, that’s an interesting one. Steampunk aesthetics. The aesthetics of a) a form of jewelry and decoration, which uses amulets and charms made out of deconstructed iron and steam technology, or b) an understanding that humans, today, or equally constructed out of loose accumulations of design elements from a past age of the world, that this is called creativity, and is taught, or c) that the emphasis on biological human equality and identity at the expense of the creative human artifacts, in various stages of completion, construction and deconstruction, as well as the same stages of the so-called “natural” environment, is racist in and of itself. A little revolutionary? Why? Is it because we’re not going there? Because we’re going to talk about biological humans and their interactions, and are only going to talk about environments within the boundaries of a set group of topics, revolving around a traditional view of biological humans? That’s the classicism I mentioned yesterday. That’s how it works.  The limitations it creates are worth questioning, but does this conference question them? It does this:

  •  Labor and rust: Corrosions of justice; the literature and other arts of labor; agricultures of resistance; class as a category of environmental analysis; working class nature writing; environmental infrastructures; precarity and the corrosion of higher education; petrocultures of labor; the work of environmentalism; the energy humanities; environmental catastrophes and the working class; blue collar conservation and restoration; environmentalism and the Old Left; folk, rock, soul, funk, and other forms of music as resistance.
  • Aeons of rust: Iron ages: archaic, classical, late antique, medieval, early modern, Renaissance, Victorian, Modernist, and postmodern rust; the aesthetics and poetics of weathering, rhetorics of collapse and recovery; periodization after the “Anthropocene;” narratives of extinction; legends of rust; rust as telos; rust as closure; cosmologies, cosmogonies, and eschatologies of rust.

Did you see that? Another series of classicisms? Everything coming back to rust? Everything being subordinated to a central idea: rust? You could put a different central idea in there, and apply to the Central Valley of California. You could say: “lettuce.” or “Broccoli.” And it would be just as true. It’s like putting on a shirt. What I want to know is what happens when you take the shirt off? What happens when you’re not subordinated to rust? When you’re so much rust you don’t see rust, but see something else. Isn’t that what’s wanted here, that something else? Isn’t the “rust” only present because the society of North America is so far from being centred in its ecology that one has to start at a great distance and get at things through non-speech, through art and performance and installation, because speech is controlled. Might that not be the topic here? No, because the conference, if set on those lines, would not take place. But there’s more:

  • The arts and sciences of resistance: Public health and environmental justice; methods derived from climatology, paleontology, geology; changes in the weather reporting; post/industrial ecologies; urban ecology; urban nature/parks/green spaces, urban planning; planned resilience; cities and climate change; ecotopias, urban renaissance, new urbanisms; green architecture.
  • Methods of resistance: Recovering conservation, ecofeminism, Deep Ecology, intersectionality, critical race theory, comparatism, formalism, anthropology, folkloristics, social ecology, deconstruction, eco-Marxism, Green anarchism, Writing Studies, rhetoric and composition, and other “rusty” methods for the environmental humanities.
  • Genres of resistance: Natural histories of resistance; the poetry of witness; testimony, autoethnography, virality as modes of activism; slam and avant-garde ecopoetry; folklore; the visual arts of resistance; post/industrial photography; survivance as a resistant mode; “cli-fi”; sentimental literature as resistance; Naturalism; the proletarian novel; prison literature; resistant memoir; investigative theater; viral video; the politics of video games; the museum as target or agent of resistance; video installations.
  • Recovering ecological citizenship: Rhetorics of citizenship; the public sphere in the age of climate change; globalization and the “global citizen”; social media as an activist tool; traditions of direct action; democratic environments; green populism; civic environmentalism; activist pedagogies.

What if this wasn’t about social good works? What if it was, as the East German dissident writer Stefan Schütz wrote, about finding creative energy (he didn’t mean creativity) wherever it was, even among the criminal classes, even in violence, because the alternative, dulling state control and invasion of interhuman and intrahuman space, led only to a spiral of stupidity and a vast gap between experience and the words for experience. Eventually that gap became unbridgeable, a representative of the Berlin Wall but within all citizens, and the wall fell because there was nothing left except the wall. Are we at that point? Are we at the point of walking out of the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, 2000 of us, let’s say, each holding a candle, expecting to be machine-gunned down like Christ, or put into solitary confinement in the Blue Hell of Bautzen? No? We’re just talking? Well, talking’s good, but if we’re going to talk, why are the following topics bound together?

  • Recovering lost lands: Narratives of drowned cities and lost homelands (Atlantis, Tuvalu, Aztlan, Doggerland, Oz); the literature of hurricanes and floods; Katrina, Sandy, and the media; water rights; state seizures of local resources and governance; the environment of ethnic neighborhoods; refuges and refugia; sanctuaries; ecological sovereignty; ecological reparations; eco-cultural nationalisms: First Nations activism, gay and lesbian lands/queer territories, postcolonial recoveries; cosmopolitan alliances.

I mean, are ethnic neighbourhoods fantasies? Are indigenous homelands the same as Atlantis? Are we really going to go there with Himmler? Or are we going to go to the real estate fantasy of Oz, out there in San Diego? Why are queer territories put here with Atlantis? Are these useful boundaries between fantasy and experience? Well, there’s a principle at play here: water rights are built upon ownership; state seizures of local resources are built upon ownership, as a counter to slavery, with slavery defined as the separation of a man and his labour, on the proviso that a man or woman on land they don’t plant a fencepost in but have lived from for 10,000 years, or 20,000 years, have less rights than a man who plants a fencepost and an apple seed; gay and lesbian lands are not about ownership, except in a secondary sense that in today’s North American society, in this time of ascendant global capitalism, human identities are capitalized and owned. So, that begs a question: if one is going to have cosmopolitan advances, are they within the structure of capitalization of identity, or outside of it? Because this list places it inside of it, yet resistance (above) includes sentimental literature and industrial photography — highly capitalized arts. Surely, that’s hardly resistance. There’s more, and it’s tantalizing:

  • Recovering past and future: Ends of environmental history; paradises born in hell; the place of the Roman and other empires in declensionist narratives; linguistic recoveries; neo-medievalisms; fantasy fiction as imagined past; science fiction as extrapolation; queer futurities; archaeology and anthropology in the environmental humanities; the corrosion and recovery of literary history.

What a fantastic list! But let’s be careful. Is science fiction really extrapolation? Or is it the failure of society to adopt the visions and modes of science fiction as reality, which causes a plethora of conspiracy theories about Roswell, alien moon bases, alien creation of humans as biological robots, and the weird, sad business of armed occupations, mall massacres, and the violence that has invaded the US Second Constitutional Amendment.  Wouldn’t it be better not to privilege “rational” thought and “normal” identity over science “fiction”? Why aren’t we talking about the elephant in the room, that fiction is a means, in today’s North American society, of talking about the forbidden, without putting terms to it, while the terms, grappling to grasp the unnameable, which has been given to emotion, splinters into the vast list of disciplines this conference (and it is by no means unique) so bravely (and necessarily) seeks to unite into … well, more of the unnameable. That’s the society. That’s its culture. That’s the way in which its resistance can become aestheticized. That’s the way in which ecocriticism, in its bondage to the academy, limits its ability to transform. All of it is the story of the book taking over human experience, until human experience imitates the book and can go no further. You doubt it? Here’s a passage from Revelation 22:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal,flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Two thoughts: 1. The form holds, both in the way this passage describes this conference, but in the way in which the passage ends the Bible with an image, and after that image no words can follow, and in fact are forbidden in the epilogue. 2. Why is this Christian ground to this entire discussion not part of the discussion? Because of this, from the epilogue to Revelation?

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

Surely, this is what we’re talking about. Apocalypse, and boundaries to life. Surely, we’re talking about crossing them. Yet for some reason this central material is not part of the discussion, and must be approached from silence and with silence, after the manner of an orthodox Ikon, which creates an images not of a saint or Christ, because that is forbidden, but of an image of an image. But come on, in today’s context of brutal suppression in Syria and brutal de-humanization (as defined in the West) by Islamic State thugs and murderers (many from the West), the fact that the Koran is equally non-pictorial is, well, the topic at hand. Yesterday, I said that ecocriticism needed to leave the academy. This is why: too much is forbidden; there is too much silence, which is charged with carrying too much weight; too often, the arts are left to carry experience, but in ecocriticism those arts are yoked to the abstract thought, the tendency to approach things by manipulating bodies rather than inhabiting them; the result is what a playwright might call “spinning your wheels.” Adam and Eve didn’t walk out into a wilderness of weeds and pain. They walked out because they had to. We have to.

What Aspens Can Teach Us

Aspens are powerful, because they are many and one: many trunks from one underground life. These are not individuals. They aren’t even trees.

They are individual expressions of wholeness. We do well to wander through them and get lost. Because these lakes of life in the grassland have edges, we soon surface, but we surface changed, just as we do anytime we descend into ourselves.




Water Math, Nerves & You

Water – Gravityp1200776 Water-Lightshadow Water – Gravity – Water + LightV0000012

The doors these mathematics open are not doors into the universe. They are doors into the non-actualized human self. In the way the rye grass is the seed that perches to attract the bird that drops it into the snow, where it dives down to the molten snow base to sprout, long before the spring sun ,,,


… this self reads this environment well. Why not. It is its nerve system. From zero, all points are alive.


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.

The Cost of Nature

This is tourism.V0021629 The image below shows the price of tourism. Hey, the water had to come from somewhere, eh. V0000115

The myth of Canada is that we can have it all, that we can squeeze water from a stone, but that is just money talking. This is not money (but it is water):


This is money (water on the hoof):



And this:



You can see what the birds think of that stuff. Ah, I’m being a trickster again, aren’t I. Look, here’s the deal. This is water:


Great Basin Giant Rye Calling the Birds of Winter Out of the Sky

(It takes awhile.)

It is woven into the land and into the threads of life. The image below shows tourism. It is water separated from life and turned into an element, which can be recombined with desire and petroleum (a synonym for money) to create a nightmare for fish and birds.


It is a dissection. And what do you have left after a dissection? This.


A subdivision. Death. Let’s be polite to our political, social and economic masters from the Petro-state, let’s even invite them to our feast, but let’s stop covering for their bad behaviour. If they want to terrorize our fish and then build a house to look out over it all as if they were in Kenya some 2,000,000 years ago, they need to plant water in our soil.


Apostemon Bee in Mariposa Lily

First things first.

You are the Wind

Wind is the air, moving, at a speed greater than a breeze.P1240996

It is also energy.

It is a habitat. Humans and cottonwood trees both live in it.


It is not something to be endured.
P1250054 It is something to be lived.P1250066

And celebrated.P1250109

That we have named it shows it is part of who we are. It is not outside of us.


So, too, with stillness. We gave a word to that, too. That we identify it with age and death is a gift from the trees. Youth, too.


In our language, our ancestors live.


Ancestor in poplars. The year after the fire. Lake Conconully.

And guide us. It is poverty to view words as descriptions of a real, physical world. That is only a use to which they have been put.


We are not a use, just as these cottonwoods in water are not a use but intimately connected with the wind. Look into its face.


You are looking deep into time. You are looking deep into yourself. You can turn from that to “practical” ends, but you will lose yourself.


Environmental thinking is a way of trying to keep self and materiality present in the same moment. It is healing an error —  a social error — but not the world. That needs no healing. That we treat it as an environment rather than ourselves is what needs healing.


We live in the world. In fact, that’s what the word “world” means: where humans live. There are other worlds. Our ancestors knew this.

The Serpent of Siebenfelsen


That’s why the Duke of Sachsen-Gotha-Eisenach gave the poet Goethe a huntsman’s hut outside of his hunting lodge. It wasn’t so the poet could create beauty.hus

It was so that he could negotiate a new path, like any other physicist or engineer. But don’t take it from me. Take it from your ancestors.

P2140349 They are many, and one.
P2120551 Whatever form they take.P2120451

They live in the wind, too.P2070619

Ancestral Space at Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump

They are the ones who tell you that it’s blowing. Today I give thanks.bears2b

Bears passing through the country of the wind.

How about you?


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.

Becoming the Earth

Scientific culture tells us there is no relationship between this energy …
P1190283 … and this energy …
P1190460 … or this one …


… but it does propose a series of material causes and effects. They’re quite powerful. Science, however, lacks tools to view the patterns of connection between the above series with this …

P1190746 … or this …P1220635

… except to say that they form a part of an interlocking ecosystem based on competition (randomness creating pattern over time.) This viewpoint is cultural. To that culture, the pattern is inconsequential. The particular skill of this conception is its ability to become blind to pattern as a wholeness.


For that, it gains narratives of cause. That’s what it’s looking for. Not the non-cause of this photograph of a frog…


That the changes between energy states that lie within this world of chance are changes in manifestations of energy is not something its culture has the tools to measure, or cares to (it is looking for narrative, after all, which is a way of creating time out of unified space) so it ignores that image.


Materiality doesn’t draw on these questions, because it can’t prove them (Ironically, it can’t prove them because it doesn’t consider them.) Poetry and art have the ability to embrace this material, but poetry grew to be ignored as a tool of making these measurements after it went through the romantic period as an expression of wordlessness (emotion.) That was a valuable role, but it was easily circumvented with more materiality. At that point, poets chose to become aesthetic, hoping that would be an antidote to the commodification or materialization of language through its proximity to materiality. Unfortunately, its emotions were too easily manipulated, even by poetry itself, and in the end it couldn’t compete with machine gun fire in Northern France. Modern ways of thinking, that grew up in the time of machine gun emplacements and trench warfare, looked for pan-cultural universality, at the expense of intimacy. Essentially, it was an attempt to stop war by finding universal human commonality. That was found — in more war. Post-modern modalities suggested that the way to re-balance these poetic failures was to use pursuits such as poetry in a self-aware way. Poetry would thereby become a kind of scientific measurement device, to replace the ones that miss these manifestations. It would measure measurement. The world, however, went on wordlessly, as more than a plane of random intersections. It was obviously neither a measurement device nor a measurement method nor human.


The current fashion is to reformulate this failed solution by eschewing words completely and speaking of the non-space between words, where they are not (as if they were the things they named). This game insists that the space not be named or divided into forces, only honoured a new region of discovery called “vagueness.” Life (animation, energy) comes from it. Naming it kills its life.


This is a profound return to ancient Judeo-Christian (and earth religion) principles. Like Judeo-Christian principles, it is based upon a source of energy that can never be viewed (if it can be seen, or spoken of, it is not the right one) — a conception that dives within itself and opens up to infinity in every moment, not as the end of a process of development (as science would have it, with its bias towards points of observation).


Where’s the science that can match that dive into the moment? Where are the words that can unite its unity and disunity in one term, as science did nearly a century ago with the invention of quantum theory? Saying that poetry is social, which is poetry’s Big Idea today, and that even views of the earth are social product, is not an answer. I mean, look at this blown mustard.


That’s not social, except as an escaped weed, but that’s pretty aestheticized. The romantic mode is still an option: it can be a part of contemporary poetry through emotion, for example, including address (‘O weed, I feel your branching’… that kind of thing — very big in eco-poetry circles.) Nonetheless, this mustard is an integral part of an ecosystem which includes human bodies, both physical and social. Furthermore, it includes the ability of humans to cast up two sides to unified questions, so humans can debate them and bring them back together. Humans love that. They also love taking things apart. They put words to this stuff, for example…


… and it’s never unified again. Photography has proven more adept at that than words. What the Judeo-Christian tradition (which started with dividing the waters above from the waters below, in Genesis), and its science, and its poetry, have not done is to include the earth and its creatures within the social group, as non-human persons. This wasp hunter (below), for example, always moving for a better view right where I wanted to put my hand to get through this gate…


… or this wetland morning.


They look like poetry to Western eyes, I’m sure, just as I’m sure this entire conception does, and they’re certainly photography (although in its vagueness it lacks the vital bridging qualities of language.) Nonetheless, the work remains incomplete. Until we get past the idea that human-hood is person-hood or (its romantic-virtual incarnation) self-hood, or that being social is being human, we’re also stuck in such out-dated conceptions as male (or female) superiority, humans-as-language-monopolists, humans-as-the-rational-ones, and so on. We took the world apart, as part of a game, and for powerful reasons, most of them life-affirming. The other side of that game is to put it back together. Until then, we’re not fully human, because this…


… or this …P1180232

… will be not us. It will be other. Humans don’t do particularly well with ‘other’s. Furthermore, may I add, this raven and this rock…


… will continue to be seen as moments of the materialization of practical potentialities, rather than manifestations of unified energy that is, despite their difference, still unified.  Both are powerful modes. Neither precludes the other, except by force. Raven and rock are one. The word ‘habitat’ doesn’t really cover that, either, as it excludes the earth from the community of respect accorded to life. As a result, it loses the rights accorded to that respect, even so far as to be called “nature” (a human conception.) One consequence of failing to make this bridge is that men (culturally the holders of active force) will continue to be seen as road blockers to women (culturally the holders of receptive or attractive power), rather than being seen for what they are: together with women (and people of other genders and people of other species, including the earth) manifestations of a third, unified way. This cottonwood in wind at dusk, for example.


All that stands between us is fear of losing ourselves, although that’s precisely what we need to do. Poets are well suited to participate in this work of self-making. They have given it over to fiction (narrative) for too long. It’s been fun, but it’s time to tell our children our family stories now. Our big family. It’s time to enter space and become time.


The physicists and other cultural workers and beauticians will follow with their mathematics. They always have. Let’s welcome them heartfully and with full presence of mind.

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.