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?

The Mysterious Surface of Water

When the tension of light on the surface of water is randomly broken, the water no longer looks like water.P1050323

The random patterns are more attractive to the human mind.P1050321

It’s because they’re worth figuring out. They can’t be. What can be achieved is a sense of beauty.


And beauty is a point of balance — just a different one than narrative or understanding. The solution is not about material and its designs.


Seeing the water is absolutely the wrong thing. In fact, seeing is the wrong thing.


Being present on earth is to be in body and mind together. In Western tradition, this is the end of art.


Here on the Columbia Plateau it is only its beginning.P1050469

It is a beautiful dance.


Even light breaks itself to it.


Everything completely open.


Everything moving across boundaries.P1050475

But remember: these images aren’t the goal.


They are what is broken and, being broken, creates balance. Even the wind  breaks it.


Even the water itself.


Even a grass blade.P1060398

Even the light …P1060423

… and the rain.P1060288

I could say “Welcome to your mind,” but that’s the wrong thing, so I’ll say “Welcome to your life.”


You can call them your thoughts, but they are, of course, only ducklings.P1060625

They have the capacity for flight.



The Two Faces of Beacon Rock

What’s in a name? Lots. To US American culture, this batholith is called “Beacon Rock.”

Kind of a lighthouse, really. When you see it, you know where you are, from a distance. To the Tsinuks, who were here for thousands of years before the Beacon people came with their steamships, the rock has two (well, hundreds, but the two you can see above) faces, looking up the Columbia River and down, at the point at which tidal forces stop pulling and pushing the water. In their cultural understanding, it is the rock that watches. The people live in the space of the rock watching. In this space, the watching is as gifted to the rock as it is returned. This weaving of world and identity is profoundly different from the US American conception, but not so different that a joint understanding is not still possible. I dream of that union and work towards it daily.


Of Racism, Nature and Ethnic Cleansing

Most trees in the Okanogan and the Okanagan are scrub growth that grew up after the land that was the people was ethnically cleansed to create wilderness. The pines below, victims of last year’s fire, are to be mourned, as all living things are that pass, but not in a simple way. Certainly they are a part of natural history, but they are a lot more than that.


In contrast, the ghosts of two pines turned to soil in the grass on the slope below are Sinlahekin trees. They grew and fell when the land and the Sinlahekin people were one. They do not belong to the realm of nature, except in an abstract sense, in a kind of abstraction that is effectively a dismissal of human worth.P1070028

Certainly these trees are a part of natural history, but they are a lot more than that. The Sinlahekin are no longer mentioned in their valley. It’s as is they were never there, or that in death they have gone back to nature, as spirits of earth and air. That’s simply not true.

In Praise of Great Basin Giant Rye Grass

It would be beautiful if we taught the children of the Okanagan and the Okanogan that in our country grass doesn’t compost and make food for worms. Actually, this is a story that stretches from California to the Boreal Forest, in the channel of fire between the mountains. Look.
P1050036That’s Great Basin Wild Rye, three years of it, perhaps four, standing tall. No composting. No humus. No soil building from the leaves. No worms. None of that. Those things come from Europe. They don’t know what to do with a grass that lives in the sky.

P1050017Notice how it holds seeds for years. P1050037

They only fall when you, or someone with four legs or two wings, rustles through them. The concept of years, or the cycle of the seasons, is nonsense in the vicinity of Giant Rye Grass. We should tell the kids.

Battling SCS, the Petroleum-Induced Cancer, in the Okanagan

You know that corn on the cob that tastes so good? No, this is not corn.


This a farm here in Vernon that grew sweet corn for a few years and now grows wild mustard, and not much of that, because the soil is dead. It’s an illness produced by a soil-depleting monoculture (sweet corn), aggressive tilling, aggressive application of herbicides and aggressive application of petroleum-based fertilizers. The result is forty acres of land that needs about 1000 full dump truck loads of manure to be alive again, but, of course, that much manure is going to add a lot of cow methane to the atmosphere, and there goes global warming. You could say: the image below is the image of global warming.


And even so, all this manure added to the soil wouldn’t be enough to make it “full of nutrients” or “full or water-retaining organic matter” or any of those good things, although they are important. It would just make it alive. It’s just a start. Here’s some soil:



A common description of that would be that these fungi are living off of dead organic matter, and breaking it down into nutrients, which plants can use. Huh. Isn’t that a description of science’s own methods, rather than of the following image (grassland soil)?

P2250059 That complexity is complex life. Note, I didn’t say “supports” complex life, because the guys below are part of it.twobucks

How can soil die? Isn’t it dead already? Rock and stuff? No, this is rock:


This is soil.


It tends to be a social affair.

P1020086 Very social.

herd It reaches into the air.



And lands again.


Fun stuff. Some plants get into that wing thing themselves.


I mean, if you want to attract things with wings, grow wings, right? It’s what you do in the air, after all. You open. You wing. You stick your head into soil that has turned into pollen.P1010645Of course, you can move through the sky, as the soil, in the open, without wings, but it means you have to have long legs. But do note the ear wings! Makes sense, they’re in the sky, right?

P1030018Or spines, so long-legged soil doesn’t eat you. They make their point.

Yeah, I know, it’s normal to think of soil as a bunch of grains of rock and decayed organic matter, munched on by microbes and worms and soaked with water, but, really, it’s big stuff. With ears.

And eyes. It sees you.

Just because sweet corn is bred to be super sweet, doesn’t mean it’s good for us. Just because it stores for a week in a truck on the way to a grocery store doesn’t mean it’s good for us. We’re basically making an image of the petro state. Here’s how that works. You start out with the aerial soil called a grassland…


… and mumbo jumbo presto magic you get the stuff in the image below. That’s the Sweet Corn Syndrome (SCS).P1010788

Here, let me guide you to what you’re seeing: at the top of the image is a blue bunch wheatgrass grassland reduced to pasture weeds, that’s the first step of conversion of soil to petroleum, c. 1870; in the middle of the image is an apple orchard, grown like corn, the second step, c. 1990-2016; in the foreground is a former apple orchard (grown like an apple orchard) given over to value-added designer petroleum (corn and pumpkins) for a few years (c. 2000-2016), as well as a GMO seed trial (C. 2013-2015) for canola (a form of vegetable petroleum), which involved some heavy herbicide applications to create a buffer zone (the soil version of keeping monkeys in laboratory cages), and which has now been reduced to ground up rock (Petros). It has petered (petrified) out, i.e. it has gone to rock, because the life has been mined from it. The next step is to skip the designer petroleum and just turn the corn into petroleum itself. 45% of the corn grown in Iowa is turned into petroleum, actually, and Iowa is a corn monoculture. If we keep on on that path, we’re going to have cities made out of ground up rock, and a planet (soil) that looks like this:



P1010718But here’s the deal. Remember that grassland I showed you?


Yeah, that’s the one. Well, that’s someone’s back porch. On the toe of that slope coming in from the right, you’ll find this:P1030061Last year’s coyote nursery den, with weeds! Not only is it part of the soil and not only does it have a great view, but it’s strategically located. Look again: where the contours of the land lead water, they also bring life to soil, including deer. This is one of their trails. It goes around the front of the den, at a distance of about two metres.


That’s how you do it when you are part of the soil. You let life come to you.


It’s that or die.


So, You Don’t Like Plastic Bags, Right?

Let me show you the problem with that. Here’s the hill.P1000621

Nice, huh. Voles till it. Gophers. Weasels from time to time. Coyotes. Yes, Coyotes. Rototillers of the West! Nothing to complain about. Keep those plastic bags away, right?


You bet! Then comes the next step. Fence.


If you wonder where the rain forests went, those are the ancient red cedars rich there. But the story of the plastic bag doesn’t stop there, no no. Then there’s tilling, aka “breaking ground.” See?


You could plant some tomatoes there, right? Wrong!  The following image shows where you plant tomatoes:


I mean, what’s the use of tomatoes ripening in September? People want them in July! In August! Yah! So, plastic heats up the soil and speeds that up, and the fertilizer gets spread through that water tube you see there. Very nice. And at the end of the season? Off to the dump with this stuff. You see, there’s no way around the plastic bag. Even if you put on your grandmother’s apron and cradle the tomatoes in that on the way home, the plastic has already been used, and it’s soon to be in the landfill, too. Late in the year? Well, as you can see, once the U-Pick, save the world from plastic home canners are gone, the farmer has his own rituals…

A couple weeks after pulling out all the plants and discarding the tomatoes, things are almost back to normal.

It’s not, you see, about a plastic bag. Meanwhile, on the edge of the farm, amidst the discarded plastic irrigation hoses of past years, life carries on …


The lambs quarter weeds there (not the feathery cheatgrass in back or the forgetmenots up front) make better eating than spinach, but does anyone here? No. No plastic needed. Early season. Crop off long before the water dries up. Across the road, where the apple trees are torn out because the money is not in them? Same thing!


Down the road a kilometre-and-a-half, where a replanting scheme (see yesterday and the day before) has gone all wrong, well, what do you know…


No plastic bag. See that? That’s the way. But tomatoes in the Okanagan? I hardly think so. This is one of the prices we pay for the myth that it is hot here. Canada needs this myth. We need to stop talking about plastic bags.

High Quality Apples in the Okanagan Valley?

Yesterday I showed you how the lack of art in farming, and the lack of memory, is rendering the land not only valueless but turning it into debt. Today, I’ll show you a modern orchard. These are Nicola apples on Malling 9 roots, grown on a slender spindle system of some 2200 trees per acre, to produce, at most, 10 pounds of very large apples per tree. A dozen apples, let’s say.P1010725

I showed you yesterday as well a government press release which talked about taking “low value” apples out of production. To be clear, we’re talking about trees that in the 1970s produced up to 800 pounds per tree, or maybe 2400 apples. Those are long gone, but the ones that replaced them, which produced half that volume, are now the “low value” ones being torn out:


To be clear, these are MacIntosh apples, a Canadian classic. The apples are great. The low value is in their inability to withstand industrial packing, storage and marketing without looking like bruise and tasting like mush. Still, people are lining up for food banks, so, really, the apples are of high value. It’s just that they can’t be capitalized very well, which means that in a capitalist monopoly they have no capacity to transform capital into profit, and without that, well, it doesn’t work. This doesn’t work either, though:


That’s the “orchard” I showed you yesterday, from the south east side. Here you can see rows of trees that were grafted too late last year being grafted again, the slow expensive way, because the first grafts were done at the wrong time, out of ignorance. The weeds are magnificent.P1010841

Here’s a closer view:

P1010836 What a mess. Here’s a closer view:

These look like very pricey Ambrosia grafts. I’m going to presume that they are replacements for the failed ones from last year, at the government’s cost. What you’re looking at is a short stick (3 buds long), cut at an angle and laid onto the growing layer of the rootstock (ridiculously crooked, which is going to create many problems in the future), which has also been bared with a side cut, bound with tape and painted with latex. The buds on the grafts are starting to push (grow). It looks like the cuts were mechanically made. This is not the standard way of doing grafts like this, at any rate, and not the one with the most contact, which would lead to the most growth, but it’s the easiest. No training required.

One downside is that poor unions lead to poor trees, especially on these Malling 9 rootstocks, which are extremely dwarfing, in part because they make poor unions at the best of times. A poor union means poor sap flow. On a variety like Ambrosia, with its tendency to produce fruit towers rather than growing trees, this is likely to be a problem, plus these aren’t going to produce the “high quality” apples the government invested in.graft

A country that can’t feed itself is a country that grows only the most expensive food, for those who can pay more than the going rate. They will be coming out, I promise, on land so expensive that the pressure to grow houses on it instead of food is only going to increase, so, really, ideological abuse like this hurts our children. I hate that.