Ending the Fraser War

This is the fifth in a series of archived posts on building a sustainable Okanagan together. This one is about water. And fish. And property rights. Today we’re at Mud Lake. It’s also called Rosemond Lake. Mud Lake came first, I bet. At any rate, this is the view looking to the North shore of the lake. Mud Lake is closed to power boats. It’s pretty quiet.P1160938

Mara Lake is in behind that shore, just a few feet away.


It is noisy with power boats and is pretty much fished out. Maybe we can do something about that. You see, that gravel berm is not a natural shoreline. It’s the bed for a railway that no longer runs. In fact, before there was a railway there was no Mud Lake. There was just Mara Lake, pooling in a big wetland where the Shuswap River flows in. That wetland is now Mud Lake. It is the amputated lung of Mara Lake.


It’s connected by a narrow passage. You can go through it.

P1160953You can come out where you should have been in the first place, and where the lake’s nutrients should flow but only kind of seep, a bit.


The fish need to live in cold water. Mud Lake doesn’t provide it, but fish need to eat, too, and Mud Lake provides that. It just needs to be flushed into Mara. What’s more, if the Shuswap River flowed there again, its cooler water would aid fish reproduction, while the wetlands would help clean the river. At the moment, it spills its muddy runoff for a couple kilometres out into the lake. That’s bad for fish. So, look again:

Mara Lake was amputated from its lungs to build a railway, but the railway no longer runs. This is easy to fix.  Here are the ripples from my kayak passing over the life-giving organs of Mud Lake.


Land and water alienated for a public purpose should not become private property when that purposes passes. This is a principle that occurs again and again throughout the Okanagan, as railroads, roads and irrigation systems are decommissioned. Mud Lake, just off the Okanagan’s northern tip, is a clear example of how much we could achieve. The privatization of water has led to one kind of investment … a kind we no longer need nor use anymore. The system of privatizing water and land solely on a first-industrial-user basis was a compromise laid onto common law by the Fraser War of 1858, when a couple dozen Englishmen stared down 40,000 armed American miners who had just slaughtered a few thousand British Columbians and were eager to kill more without an excuse not to. One of the consequences was Mud Lake. Fortunately, we no longer need corridors for transportation. The system was successful — so successful that no we have too many. What we need now are planes, for staying. We need Mara Lake to be reborn. We need the war to be over.

Don’t Be a Settler!

Shrimp skeletons on Okanagan Lake, eh.
P1150694The little buggers were introduced to the lake over 40 years ago. Pretty sci-fi.


Don’t worry. That sand is imported too. Oh, and the water? Aha.


Forty years ago it was as clear as crystal. The silt you see in it was imported, too. So does a colony of settlers express itself, within images of pristine nature.


The shrimp are down below.



Eliminate Black Plastic Now

This is today’s post on creating a sustainable Okanagan. Like the others, it is archived above.
Black plastic sheeting serves 4 purposes, but all look like this:

  1. It warms the soil for earlier crops.
  2. It keeps trickle irrigation from evaporating.
  3. It replaces human employment for weed control with profits for the petroleum industry, and rural economies with urban ones.
  4. It makes the investment in an expensive tractor worthwhile (tractors lay this stuff.)

The thing is, at the end of the season the plastic is taken to the landfill, the soil is depleted, people have no income, huge public investment is made in separating water systems so that there is no back suction of fertilizer-enriched water into freshwater systems (yes, every house owner subsidizes farmers on this one), weed seeds in the uncovered strips are laid down astronomically, and the difference between the actual labour cost of growing food and this enhanced cost becomes the farmer’s profit, minus the inputs of supplies and machinery, rather than the profit being the farmer’s labour. In other words, the whole system pays for the supplies and machinery, in order to replace farm-based economies with bank-based ones. That’s simply unsustainable.

Are there real reasons for farmers needing to sell their souls like this? Of course there are. But let’s just look at it: we need to efficiently distribute and conserve water, we need labour costs in balance with prices, we need heat, and we need healthy food and healthy growing conditions. What we don’t need is plastic. It’s amazing that society can subsidize, to the tunes of trillions of dollars a year, infrastructure to move more-or-less unnecessary automobiles …


…. when the same infrastructure could heat tomato plants, and feed us. Now, I’m not proposing that we ban automobiles or plant tomatoes and peppers in the middle of the asphalt, but imagine if we built permanent fields, using rock to gather heat, and planted tomatoes there. I did it with wood. My tomatoes will be ready in 3 weeks.

Sure, some efficiencies of scale would be lost by a rock wall method. Farmers wouldn’t get to drive around on tractors, so much, either, but, hey, the darn things cost major coin, and, besides, what I didn’t tell you was that the farm I showed you above was a self-pick operation. Farmers aren’t doing the labour of harvest in the first place! In short, no tractor is  actually necessary. Walking tractors would do …

Or maybe just a wheelbarrow. What would you need a tractor for? Moving manure once a year? Moving tomatoes four or five times? Tractors are useful machines, but I reckon that if we’re going to sell tomatoes as healthful products, as better than industrial tomatoes sold in supermarkets, we shouldn’t be compacting the soil with heavy machinery and killing it, reducing our yield rather rapidly over time, or growing tomatoes on plastic, destroying the soil, using unnecessary hydrocarbons, creating tremendous waste (it’s cheaper to lose 50% of a crop than to pick it yourself) …

… and hauling all that plastic to the dump at the end of the season, just to provide income for farmers on the difference between the potential cost of their labour and the actual cost of their supplies and equipment, on a pricing structure that incorporates all this waste and charges more than twice the cost for self-picked fruit than for fruit picked by the farmer. That is a way of moving wealth from the land to manufacturing centres, on the backs of the land. It might provide an economy on paper, but it doesn’t provide my black krims…

… or my late season Christmas tomatoes, protected against frost by a reusable (and recycled) tarp, months after the plastic-grown tomatoes are all finished and the only thing available is industrial, from the supermarket, shipped in from thousands of miles and grown there by people using walking tractors.

By the way, my insect control system is that marigold. That’s it. I don’t need more than that. One other point, if I may: I have these late October tomatoes because I don’t prune off the extra branches from my plants, to ensure even ripening in a concentrated season on a single stalk, which is the recommended method. I’d rather have fresh tomatoes for 5 months, a bucket every three days, than all of them at once and then nothing. What I’m proposing is a ban on black plastic. We don’t need it. I’d love to go further, with public infrastructure for growing food. Supermarkets, with their huge parking lots, are already displacing huge amounts of growing space. Community gardens and farmers markets already exist, on a small scale. It’s time to be done with the myth that farmer’s knowledge and cleverness can solve these problems, when the problems have to do with forcing agriculture into a non-agricultural business model. If we want food, the movement has to be the other way: the society provides the infrastructure; the framers fill it. That’s what’s happening right now, but the infrastructure is incapable of providing healthy food or of using the common resource of water wisely. It will take a lot to change this, but it’s not really that complicated, and the first step is simple: outlaw the use of black plastic for agricultural production, period. Let’s get smart again. Let’s stop doing this:

Call this removal of unpicked self-picked (and overpriced) fruit what you like, but if you call it farming you’re romanticizing the growing of money. We can’t afford this. There are too many of us in a small space.


Landscaping for Water Capture

Welcome to the second of a series of posts on creating a sustainable Okanagan. They are archived on the menu bar above. Today: smart water. Read on…

Wherever there is a crack, stuff grows in the Okanagan. P1050147 That crack above has yellow clover and feral grasses, but there are cracks, right on the sidewalk beside the main highway through town, which are growing wireweed, purslane, amaranth, wild lettuce and plantain, which is to say four food crops and one medicinal plant great against mosquito bites. As for downtown Kelowna, the Okanagan’s urban knot, have a look at this wild lettuce, growing behind a downtown restaurant.


Now, it’s not going to fly to grow our food in these cracks beside the highway, or in alleys, due to pollutants from traffic, but let’s consider a few principles here:

  1. The roads and sidewalks are collecting water and …
  2. the cracks are delivering it and …
  3. in what appears a total desert, life is flourishing.

In other words, the Okanagan is neither a desert nor dry. Look at how a simple roadway can be a seasonal river. That water could have been easily diverted at that joint, and used to grow the thistles I mentioned yesterday, or sunflowers, for a bird seed industry, or anything you like.

The land is simply not dry. Only the air is, and not always. Here’s that alley again. Note the tree on the right, and the water pouring out of a roof drain, uselessly onto asphalt.


Water is limited in the Okanagan, and so is agricultural land, but consider: every sidewalk and every road has cracks, and every road has ditches, and they all work on the same principle, collecting water, moving it and generating life with it. It’s not necessary for water to flow freely to create crops in this climate. With that in mind, here’s a crack:

Rocks like that are everywhere in this region, split by winter frost and spring thaw. They collect water. Not only that, they collect bird droppings, which contain saskatoon seeds, which bloom and give fruit. The image below shows a very common local sight.

The rock shelters the young plant from deer, better and more elegantly than snow fencing around inappropriate, irrigation hungry Japanese maples …

…and collects water and manure (from birds and marmots) and nutrients (from crumbling rock) to nurture the plant, despite the ongoing lack of free-flowing water. The trick in this climate is not to get water to flow but to get it to stop as soon as possible. This principle can be applied throughout the valley, for landscaping projects and even for creating farming land where no water is otherwise available. And we’re close. Look at the decorative rocks in the landscaping above. They are visually appealing (perhaps) and collect heat. They could have been arranged to collect water as well. We’re close on this one. Let’s take that one extra step.





A New Feature for Okanagan Okanogan

Today I launch an ongoing resource for the Okanagan, as we collectively work towards a sustainable future, out of our unsustainable present. This and future posts will be collected under the heading “100 Sustainable Paths for the Okanagan” above.

Water, land and space are at a premium in this fragile environment. There are things we can do. They might be large innovations or small ones, but together they add up to a living future. Send me your ideas. Once we get to 100, we can publish them, and go on to the next 100. So, to begin:

  1. Scotch Thistle
    P1150118Currently scotch thistle, an invasive plant, is poisoned with government money, for the damage it can do to the cattle industry.P1150099We have arrived at the point at which the benefits of growing scotch thistle exceed those of maintaining the cattle industry, and the costs of the aggressive poisoning of these plants and the toll that takes on wild pollinators.
    P1150109The solution is an agricultural and food industry based around the miniature but delicious artichoke hearts in each thistle head. Spontaneous seeding of remaining cattle land can be managed.


Advantage: this agricultural crop requires no water and maintains endangered but vital bee populations. The potential for breeding larger heads exists, but is by no means necessary. As a bonus, predation by deer, and the ecosystem disruption of deer fencing, is pretty much nil.

Land of Beautiful Water Without Name

Lake, right?P1050165

Big lake, big fun!P1050170

Pshaw. 150 metres above that lake.

P1150539 Rocks! Not just any rocks, either.P1150538 Lake rocks, river rocks, and rocks that have fallen off a cliff, all together. We’re talking shores.

Glacial lakes the size of seas, rivers flowing beside glacial arms, and debris carried by the glacier and dropped here when it melted, on the ancient floor of the sea…


… which the ice rounded off nicely into waves. The image below would have been deep underwater 11,000 years ago.


The land looks dry. With red-tailed hawks doing lovely fly-bys.

P1140386 But it’s water.

P2240611 P2240602 P2250624

On the Coast, water flows.



P2280228 P2290243Here it causes flowing.

bloom p1010342 P2310454

red toe kal

Same thing. Same water. Same presence, just falling there as rain and lifting into the air here and carrying you with it.


Some call this land Cascadia. That’s only the half of it.


I left names off of the images here in the hope that it would help you see them all as one.


Poison Without Purpose

Poisoning the land in the name of putting food on peoples’ tables …P1140588

… is pointless when as soon as a crop is sown …


… more weeds rise up than were ever poisoned. And when the crop (see below, in its infancy, is pumpkins, for decorative purposes…


… the poisoning is just poisoning for culture’s sake. Some countries don’t allow this kind of nonsense. We should be one of those countries.

A Gift of Berries

Changes in language are created by girls as they pass through puberty. Who better to names these berries than the syilx girls who traditionally picked them, between the birds, and the deer?


I went picking up on the hill today, along with magpies, robins, an indigo bunting (I think he was just keeping an eye on things), an oriole (ditto), a bohemian waxwing, a western tanager (no idea what he was doing), sparrows and a red-tailed hawk using a siya? bush as a preening perch. I learned stuff. For example, in English, a language not well suited to the western North American grasslands, these berries are called saskatoons, or perhaps service berries, after the Hudson’s Bay Company. They were a staple for the early fur trade. In nysyilxcen, the language of this place, they are called siya? because, and this is just a guess but I think it’s a good one, the bush makes a sound when you pick these berries, and that sound is siya?.


What’s more, when you bend the branches down (they are extraordinarily flexible), not only does the sparse fruit suddenly concentrate, in multiplication of the act of drawing them to you, which is a reaction to seeing them up high there in the sun, but the branches make a related but different sound: siʔiłp. And that’s the name of the bush.



Let’s face it. I don’t know nysyilxcen, but those are the sounds, and if I know young women, and language, I’m putting my money on a direct correspondence. I learned a few other things. I already knew that the berries don’t ripen all at once, but I interpreted that in an English way, as an adaptation to a variable climate, ensuring a crop of seeds no matter how odd the season became. It’s a good interpretation, but there’s another.


If you draw your fingers downward over a cluster of these perfumed berries, the ripe ones release themselves into your fingers, leaving the others behind. They literally give themselves to you. I would be surprised if there was not a direct connection between this giving and the general plateau cultural belief that humans are weak and pitiable creatures, which the earth, and the spirits that are its substance, support with gifts, including this most important food source. This giving, and its connections, go deep.


Not only does the bush grow high enough for birds to eat safely in it, they continue to do so while a human (me!) grazes in the lower branches. Except the magpies. They just swear. I love those guys. But the swearing is a constant reminder not to take too many, that one is being watched.


Quail Watch, Too.

Every branch that gives itself to bend low to a human hand is taken from the birds. It is given willingly, but the relationship is clear and profoundly humbling. The bush put out its blooms, and then its fruit, to attract insects, birds and animals.


Calling the Bees!

This giving is real. The sharing is real.


The sharing is profound. Magpies steal the berries away one at a time, like the treasures they are. Small birds, and young robins, that haven’t figured out yet how to hunt anything more substantial and need shelter after outgrowing their nests and falling to the ground and finishing off my strawberry patch, sigh, peck at the berries, one peck each, and then they move on. The siya? are a moving target in the wind, after all. With those lithe twigs, heck, they’re a moving target when a bird lands on them. A waste? No, not at all. Those pecked berries dry complete in a few hours (siya? contains very little water), and hangs on the limb through all the storms of summer, fall and winter, until the small birds of winter and the waxwings of early spring come and feast on them in the cold.


The connectivity across the seasons is profound. In turn, the birds, and people, and bears, seed the bushes. This one on Turtle Mountain, for example, at the heart of feminine sylix life in the Okanagan…


… was probably seeded on the cliff by either a bird or a human hand, dropping a berry high above as the bush released it. They come so easily a few tend to drop out from time to time. Well, a lot actually.


They sure grow profusely. Imagine: siʔiłp is so well-suited to this environment, and so intimately connected to human culture, that its cultivation requires no direct planting and no fields or orchards. Just the act of a girl picking the crop and dropping a few berries, as children will, seeds the crop for her children’s generation, right where they need to be (mostly). The grove below in the Mid-Thompson, would have supported the Syilx village across the river in any good year.


And they taste so fine.


What a gift!


Thank you, Siya?.


Spirit Mountain and the Legacy of the Dreamers

Back in the Cold War, this was one of the most secure sites in the world, bristling with anti-aircraft defences against a nuclear first strike. Now it’s a dry hill beside an alfalfa field.


It was protecting the site where the Yakama chief Kamiakin …


…and his braves fled the genocidal sociopaths of the U.S. Army during the Yakima War in November 1855. They were fleeing from Gabriel J. Rains…. rains..the man [arguable] who went on to invent the torpedo and the anti-personnel mine, which he put to the service of protecting slavery. The rocket emplacements were not protecting Kamiakin here, though. They were protecting the machine that created the plutonium that killed 40,000 people in 1 second in Nagasaki in 1945, much like, well, a torpedo or an anti-personnel mine.


This machine is called B Reactor. It is a humbling thing to stand before it and listen to the tour guides mock the Russian nuclear disarmament inspectors who come very year to check that it is not being used any more. All this, though, is not why there is a spirit mountain here. This is:


This is the Wanapum people’s river, the mid-Columbia, across and a little to the south from B Reactor. For two generations it was off limits, but we can go there again, to the heart of the people of the river. These were their islands. What does that have to do with a mountain? Well, if you’re a mountain man, you’re going to go to a river for a power. It works the other way, too: a river man goes to the mountain. The mountain is called Rattlesnake Ridge. It is a 20 mile long rattlesnake of stone and grass, with a big fat rattlesnake head pointing to the prophet Smohalla’s ….


…camp at Priest Rapids, and a striped rattle pointing to Kamiakin’s camp at Horn Rapids on the Yakima River, far to the south. The snake has also just had lunch, a nice fat rodent or something. This was the mountain that Smohalla went to for visions: a place with no water at all, but with that rodent lunch thing going on under its diamond back skin….


… and with this going on, too, if you look closer:


OK, so not a rodent. More like a … what? A lizard?


A man? Spillyay the trickster? A fish? All of them at once? I tell you, if I were going to the dry mountain for visions, I’d go there, to talk with an ancestor like that, in a snake like that, even if I knew it was a slope of basaltic breccia, with a military service road cutting the slope below it. Wouldn’t you? What dreams we would have! Especially with the military road, and that horrible machine below. Smohalla was insistent that if his people would just ignore the Whites, who were rushing (violently) into his country, and stick to old ways of living, they would be reunited with their ancestors. Followers of this religion are called Dreamers. They include Joseph, chief of the Wallowa Nez Perce …


… (note the Dreamer hair style). Joseph and his people fled the depredations of the sociopaths attached to the U.S. Army in the Nez Perce War of 1877. When the war chiefs were all dead, out in the Buffalo Country, he became chief by default. His first act was to surrender. His faith is still alive among his people in their ongoing exile, and in the Yakama country, both on the reservation and off of it, where the sun shines from the earth. Here’s a view 20 miles west of Rattlesnake Ridge, looking over the U.S. Army’s Yakima Firing Range.


Rattlesnake Ridge is in the background, behind the high hills which you can see. The high valley of Selah Creek in the foreground is the flight path of Kamiakin’s friend, Father Charles Marie Pandosy…

Father Charles Pandosy, OMI, Nov. 21, 1824 - Feb. 6, 1891. -ridge of Faith, Oblate supplement

Father Charles Pandosy, OMI, Nov. 21, 1824 – Feb. 6, 1891. -ridge of Faith, Oblate supplement

…whose mission was torched by Rains and his men for his attempts to stop the Yakima War. He fled through here late at night in a snowstorm in November, 1855. Many women and children died in the dark in the ice and rapids of the river, at Priest Rapids, that night. History records that the rapids are named after Smohalla, who lived there. That’s just a guess, though. No one knows. Perhaps the name secretly honours Pandosy, whatever happened that night.P1120761

Heart mysteries here. History hasn’t decided who had the power here, Smohalla, Kamiakin, Pandosy or Rains, but I think it’s fair to say that their fates are bound together for a long time to come. A powerful part of the U.S. Civil War was forged on this grassland, at the feet of this spirit mountain. It will not be resolved without Smohalla’s Dreamers.


Vancouver’s 2016 Colonization of the British Columbia Interior, Illustrated

Looks innocuous, doesn’t it. Such an exquisitely designed magazine from a liberal democracy that has long outgrown its colonial past. art

Well, looks deceive. This is a raucously colonial issue of this magazine, and since the Okanagan is the place being colonized by its pinkness, let’s have a look. First the big picture.


That’s the land of the beaver, that is, plus some other bits. The Okanagan is off to the left. Here’s the left. The Okanagan is in the red oval.bcok


Here’s another look at that, the traditional territory of the Syilx (aka Okanogan) people:


Note that the upper part of this larger oval is, well, not Okanagan. There’s a reason for that: it’s Secwepemc. To say it was Okanagan would be like saying France is Germany. People,

That would be a bad idea.

Here’s another view, this one from the Okanagan Basin Water Board. It’s about 1/10 the size of the traditional territory above. This is today’s Okanagan — to all of its 400,000 “Canadian” residents.


I say “Canadian” because, nuts, Canadian Art Magazine has other ideas.


What you’re looking at is the opening of an article by a citizen of a coastal city 500 kilometres from the Okanagan, called Vancouver. Writing from there, he has crafted an article about a house, which takes Vancouver aesthetics and shifts them to a place some 700 kilometres from Vancouver, give or take, Heffley Louis Creek, which is here (the red marker in the upper middle of the image). Notice that it’s 200 kilometres of driving from the furthest extension of the Okanagan (the red oval).


Pshaw, what’s 200 kilometres? That’s the distance between Canada’s eastern capital, Ottawa, and Canada’s major cultural city, french Montreal. If anyone were to suggest that Montreal culture is Ottawa culture, the province of Quebec would immediately secede from Canada. Period. Overnight. Yet for some incomprehensible reason, Michael Turner can suggest, with a straight face, in a national magazine, that not only is imposing Vancouver culture on Secwepemc territory a good thing, which …

the lie

… is just plain insulting and is patronizing to a territory that has suffered enough already from government policy, including the heinous Indian Act, but is also suggesting by default that the nearly 250-year-old pre-European treaty between the Syilx of the Okanagan and the Secwepemc of the Thompson River and Shuswap Lake, as they are called today, is null and void, because to him it’s all the Okanagan now: a high country without even a connection to the Okanagan watershed, or the Columbia Watershed of which it’s a part, and with an entirely different climate and history. If you ever, ever were tempted to think that Canada is a post-colonial country, I’m sorry to say that someone lied to you, because colonialism and elite privilege are going strong, and this is what it looks like. Ah, but maybe the art is exquisite and new! Yes, maybe. Have a look:


Yuppers, “back-to-the-landers” built thousands of structures like this here 40 and 50 years ago. The only difference is that they wanted to become a part of the place. The new folks haven’t even bothered to find out where they are. I wish they’d go back to their own country. It would be such an unpleasantness to have to invade theirs. Look for it soon: Vancouver: the Okanagan’s newest wine-growing district. A lot of houses would have to be levelled, at 1,000,000-3,000,000 buckaroos a pop, but it can’t be helped. They’re going to be in the way, but, folks, don’t worry:

the lie

Why use words that can mean anything at all in the world and all of them insulting? What’s the point of that?