The Hamlet Syndrome

 

Private land is not land. To illustrate that, here’s some private property, degraded from a grassland supporting a few hundred people to a weed land for about three cows, for about three weeks. Yet, it is socially very valuable, to one man.

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Let’s look more closely. Here’s the land. As you can see, to a human it’s about a road. This road, a line of will, leads into the land, where it becomes diffuse. Beautiful.land

When this land is considered in its entirety, though, you can see how human perception, and the road which represents it, leads to a horizon, not to the land. It is a boundary. There everything changes.horizon

At that point, the body stops representing itself as the land but represents itself as potential, energy, and a limitless future.

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It’s a trick of human intelligence. It creates a human narrative — ownership, or social posturing — out of unity.

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In this way, humans become aware of themselves. “To be or not to be,” said Hamlet, in a tragedy that was really a love story, in which the lovers, Hamlet, a gloomy sort, and Ophelia, another gloomy sort, were gloomy because they were separated. The separation led to high drama and tragedy (and to Hamlet usurping Ophelia’s story, sigh, which led to her death —logically, as she had been turned into nature)…

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The thing is, she isn’t, and neither is this:

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It is an act of separation, which creates drama. The problem with drama — and separation — is that the lovers die.

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Wouldn’t it be better if we helped them? No more To Be or Not to Be, for one thing. Love,  “land” and identity are not “not being” or “being” or any combination of them. Those are tricks of language and consciousness that divide earth from sky. Christ suggested that we bring them together. Then we brought him down.

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Peter Paul Rubens, The Descent from the Cross, 1616

The point was not the separation of body from spirit, but the union of sky and earth, potential and realization, self and other, right here, in every moment. That is not a narrative. That is consciousness. Selling consciousness, or Christ, or Ophelia, as a view is Hamlet’s problem.

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We could at least try to not make it ours.

 

 

 

 

The Mystery of Surfaces

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

Cat Tails

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

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

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Mustard in Her Finery

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

Living in the Air

These are clouds. P1190120

Just a bit of Okanagan bedrock, yes, but, yes, clods , or clouds. Here are some more clouds, or clods, clots and thickenings.

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Just a few clouds torn by the wind and sailing east, yes, but rock did that, too once. This is the planet that does that. Here they are together, mixing it up.

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And again.

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And again. What waves breaking on the shore!

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Rock is cloud. We live in cloud.

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The “earth” is far below us. Every lake is a star creature, just one cloud among many.

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Every tree.

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Every grass blade.

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Every stone. P1040936

And you and me.

 

The Okanagan Meets Its Salad and Lemons Go Away to Cry

Remember my green grapes?
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That tasted, I promised, like lemons?
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Because until they turn colour, grapes are little suns made out of citric acid —so, like lemons, right?
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Well, I picked some.
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Those are Bacco on the left and Concorde on the right. Here are the Baccos. Very sour!
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And then I juiced them.
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Oh, my, soury-sweet. The colour settled down to pink (from the stems, I’m guessing), and, oh, if I may say so, it’s sooooooo perfect. It tastes like lemon juice, with a hint of fresh berry. Sour, but not overwhelming, and perfect for my salad, with apricots, spinach, romaine, and a few dashes of Greek olive oil. This is a very exciting day in the transformation of this valley! I’ll preserve this litre of juice in eight 125 ml jars. Do you know a chef who needs one of these? By the way, these grapes were growing wild, without irrigation. No birds will eat them at this stage … what potential!

Camouflage is the Wrong Word

Camouflage is the military art of concealment. As a word it has been back-engineered to apply to the actions of animals, like the toad below. The toad is not concealing itself, though. It has been selected for its environment.P1170974

Camouflage comes from French slang: camouflet, for a puff of smoke blown in someone’s face, similar to the Italian Capo Muffare, to muffle the head. Toad’s aren’t muffling. They are evolving at one with their environment. It is an organic process, not an intentional one. If there is intentionality, there is intentionality of the observer, or the observational metaphor. It’s not the toad. What the toad has is presence. Here-ness. Now-ness. It is a form of stillness.

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No matter what the light does. That is far more beautiful and profound than “camouflage.” It’s time to discard these military words for organic earth. They just don’t fit.

Sustaining the Okanagan 9: 1 Hour, 42 Jars

Keep your eyes open.P1180010

Oregon Grape, Okanagan Lake Shore

Ripe when the stems turn red.

Spend an hour.P1180151

Go to the kitchen.P1180156

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

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

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

 

Giving the Children Water: The Bigger Educational Picture

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

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1.Why schools?

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

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2. What about classrooms ?

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

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3. What is this cultural choice?

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

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4. What about “culture”?

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

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5. What’s wrong with that?

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

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7. Why Syilx?

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

8. Why a wetland classroom?

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

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

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

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

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9. What kind of thinking can we expect?

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

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10. What about creativity?

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

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

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

 

Sustaining the Okanagan 8: Give the Children Water

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

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

 

 

Kelowna: The Inhuman City

At a certain point, when physical and social urban space is continually built out of practical considerations, usually the manipulation of people for purposes of efficiency and budgetary accountability, the city becomes an anti-human space. Witness this image from downtown Kelowna…P1150381

Anyone Waiting for a Public Bus Has to Stare at … Garbage. 

(And walk past it to board the vehicle.)

… the city that defines itself as “The Okanagan,” i.e. the city that defines this …

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(Okanagan, Not Kelowna)

… as itself. We can’t keep making excuses. The city attempts to humanize the space just around the corner from its insulting bus stop with this pretty image:P1150383

Notice how the landscape is portrayed as clothing on a youthful goddess figure, presumably Mother Earth, with apples (pine cones?) for breasts and a waterfall for a vagina, and a sacred rose spilling out of her fingers. Presumably, this …

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… is viewed in this depersonalized view of Earth-Human relations in the Okanagan as clothing on Mother Earth. This city has a problem. Clothing is a human social affair. Dressing the earth in it is as much as manipulating people. I think it’s the city …

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… that needs to be manipulated. Not this:

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Creating parks is not the answer. It is only an opening proposition in an ethical conversation, and wealth held in reserve until the city can unify with the earth. We need to have that conversation. We can’t keep making excuses.