The (Post) Colonial Landscape

These plants have gone wild from a garden above them. Not one is native here. They are native to Eastern North America.p1270436

To survive in its illusion of seasons, White culture requires extensive plantings of this colour. It is taught in school, even. It is even called “fall colour.” It is the east in the west, really. This is history, written in a story of loss and longing, of the pain of separation and an attempt to heal it with physical gestures of care. Let’s praise that care.


Let’s follow it.

The Mind of a Thistle

This is russian thistle in her glory.p1270507 Look at her climb a ladder of carbon to the sun, with precisely placed synapses to receive the wind. The colour of her sepals (not petals) are for the sun, not to attract insects.p1270362

The human brain is more complex than hers, but hers is a brain as well.

She too is conscious, but in the context of the world, not of herself.


We shouldn’t be greedy. We can praise intelligence where it finds us, right?

The Sun at Work

The sun reveals the shape of darkness.p1270324

That’s its work. With light, heat, radiation and even gravity, that’s what it does. The earth rises to it.


Even when it falls.

Movement is not necessary, but when we make it, as we have on the trail at Palouse Falls above, we make it in the sun, as darkness. Things are what they are.


So are we. To be the sun is to give praise.

Autumn and the Wind

Thoreau called images like the ones below “autumnal”. He described the ripeness of such leaves at great length. He called them fruits. Keats did much the same. He called them mellow fruitfulness, on the edge of death. Dante presented them as ancient etruscan, or perhaps Celtic, echoes. He placed them in hell. Those are all my ancestors. They are old, wise visions, from far away. I lived in those romantic agricultural worlds, too. I used to make the same observations. I learned that culture well. It was mine.dsc00158

Now that culture is foreign. Now I see spirit rising in a hawthorn spirit. I see it holding. I see spirit singing with a different intensity high up, in a height that is another form of spirit. I just don’t see autumn anymore. I no longer get that bittersweet autumnal buzz. The orchards are behind me now and I am growing older and closer to spirit myself. The earth is growing transparent, and the sky is growing opaque. I have lived on this syilx land for a long time now.


I am in the wind.


What Would Our Sons and Daughters Want for a World?

I mentioned yesterday that it is the genius of science that it separates the components of a scene  in order to be able to say what it does know and what it does not. The construction of a new conception of the earth, based on this certainty, is the goal of the pursuit.


So, from the unity above we get water, wasp, snow buckwheat, air, sun, and so forth, and a long chain of evolutionary moments that led to what you see above. The technique is built out of the ancient practice of monks who, wishing to describe God under a prohibition against representing God by either name or image (which would surely deny God’s infinite majesty), chose  to describe what God was not; what was left over, and which needed no description, would have to be God. What made the technique so powerful was that God was conceived of as thought itself; as this technique never left the realm of thought, its conclusions (thoughts) could be considered to be right on target. Scientific thought works on the same principle: since you cannot describe infinite unity …


… you set infinity and unity aside and consider its components, then reconstruct them in a non-sensory pattern. Along the way, sensory information is shown to be limited and based in the “illusion” of biological senses (on the premise that real information is derived from thought, or mathematics). It’s not that sensory information is limited in that way, mind you; just that the method selects for that observation. All in all, it’s really little different than the sacred techniques it evolved from. I don’t mean to dismiss science. That would be as silly as dismissing sacred traditions, but I’d like to leave room for an observation.

p1250424 The traditions of defining God by what God is not are not the only ones that we have inherited from our ancestors. There’s another tradition which works in a completely opposite way: the tradition of unity. Its goal is not to give a name to God or to prove God, but to be present in moments of infinite connection. Every gardener knows this connection when digging with the fingers under a potato plant in July and finding the first potatoes of a new crop by feel. That’s just one example. There are an infinite number. A science based on excluding what God is not, would look for principles outside of the individual that create measurable patterns, but that’s kind of missing the point of unity, which is where the exploration began.


The poet T.S. Eliot noted that such moments come only seldomly, yet change your life utterly. That might not be a universal human atttribute. It sure appears to be a Western idea, at any rate. Christian traditions might name these moments as Grace, the granting of mercy and release (to put it roughly) by infinite authority. Even in non-Christian tradition, this principle holds: an ultimate ruler, such as the Governor of Texas (for example), can grant a stay of execution, despite any earlier judgement of the courts. For Grace to occur, however, there must be an infinitely powerful ruler, or someone acting in that ruler’s place.


Now, this ruler doesn’t have to be embodied in human form. It could be something as simple as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, gravity, evolution, Justice or whatever you choose, and … well, did you see what happened there? You had to choose one particular component of infinity and make the argument that that component was the infinitely powerful ruler in this case. That presumes a great deal of individual power — power set aside from the unity it passes judgement on. That’s a high degree of specialness. It’s built on the idea that to receive Grace from the judgement of this ruler you might be best advised to sidestep its power and trust in yourself as a pure image of it…on the principle that as you are in the world you are the world. Well, yes, perhaps… if you and your conceptions remain in the world.


Any conception that approaches unity by first removing itself from unity is missing the point, and is going to find it terrifically hard to get back to it. For that, Western culture has traditionally relied on poetry, especially romantic poetry, which has the ability to weigh moments of doubt, to present a series of possible solutions, to try them out with experience, and to come to a sonorous, unified image, which is both the process of exploration and the sought for unity with world and body at once. The end of John Keats’ Ode to Autumn is only one such example. Here it is:


And we rise up with the swallows. That’s very fine. The thing is, however, that swallow-rich unity was where we started, although at that point it was veiled from us. This is the old monkish game all over again. I’m curious. What would a poem look like that started with that unity, rather than ended with it, as if the elaborate game finding what was already there was the only way to do this stuff? Well, it wouldn’t be a “Western” poem, at any rate, because they all do it, even though it’s unlikely that brokenness is the structure of the universe, punctuated by moments of revelation. I’s a very Christian conception, though, and is likely even a good way of describing unity as humans experience it. Still, the whole conception of a universe is, well, meant to be universal, Right? And humans might just be the wrong creatures to describe that universality as what they experience? It might also not be the best of all possible foundations for creating a science which has the twin goals of understanding and practical application. If you’re going to be applying brokenness here, there and everywhere, you’re going to be inserting devices built with it into unified environments. You’re likely to have missed some steps and to have created a form of unpredictability. You might not even notice, because it’s the principle of unity to absorb whatever gets thrown at it and to present it again as unity.


We’re better at living on earth than that, but isn’t that the problem of a top predator? We have the smarts to read the world very finely and to follow fine gradations of probability. We draw pleasure from tracking things, and then, in the end, these things we have bonded with and which are the deepest expressions of who we are, we kill, and mourn, at the same time we’re devouring them. Christian tradition would likely present an image of original sin at this point, and of the brokenness and limitation of human understanding. That’s fair enough, under the circumstances, but is it really broken when we can actually be present in that unity? In the scrape of a boat keel on a pebbled shore that we know as shingle from the sound the keel makes as we draw it up together? In the sound of feet walking on finely ground stone washed up along the shore or blown there by wind, which we call by that sound, sand? All things have context. Language, and brains, that skip across the surface, cutting through categories to derive use from them, are powerful, but let’s not forget that they have context, whether it’s water on an Atlantic or Baltic shore, as my ancestors knew it, or snow buckwheat, which I live in now.


We are the context. The self, that sets itself apart at the centre, is the self that sets itself apart at the centre. No more, no less. We who live in unity are not bound to stand at that centre (if that’s what it is). Here’s another way to put this idea:


This is dawn, at Big Bar Lake. Note the light. That’s the sun, reflecting off the water, among the Douglas firs at the lake’s northwest corner. The self would say, ah, look, the rays of the sun strike the water, reflect off of it, and strike my eye. That’s possessive, isn’t it: “my” eye. The eye, however, has already sorted this information based on past experience, as does the mind, long before it passes it on to the self, as does the self too, once it receives this information. This sorting behaviour is not an aberration, and not a distortion of the world. It’s human. Even so, we were present in that world to start with, and we never left it. It is our selves, and our language, that we wrestle with, because up to this point we’ve understood that if there are an infinite number of paths all are equal, and maybe they are, but there might be something to eat down one and something that will eat you down another and it might be a good idea to know the difference. For a long time, poetry has played the role of smoothing over the gap between unity and choice, but what now, now that poetry has become a series of conversations between selves and language? I mean, not dealing with the issue at all, because it exists within constructed contexts: literatures, cities, societies, and so on. Well, for a possible answer look again at the light.


Again, it’s dawn, ten minutes before the previous image. A self-based language would say the light thrusts here, that it is an active force, moving into empty space, but is that space empty? Is it not complete? Is the light not only light moving into completeness, and not changing the completeness in any way except by adding a form of energy to it? Is it not, in other words, filling the potential for light, in the way the robins I showed you yesterday …


… are expressions of “robin” spoken by the saskatoon, which is an expression of “robin” spoken by robins? Unity is not a threat. Individuality is not separate from it. So, why is our science still there? Because the president of Hungary has just suggested locking up a million refugees in concentration camps, so they can be evicted from Europe one by one, under rule of law? If we looked for unity instead, what would we find? How would it change us? How would it change our daughters? How would it change our sons?  What would they look for? What would they find? Maybe what we’ve all been looking for and which has been as close to us as the world.


What’s Smarter than Humans

Because it is the genius of science to separate moments of the world into their components, the view below is commonly seen as a pair of robins (and a finch) perching in a saskatoon bush, which they are using as habitat.robinsm

There’s more, though. The bush has branches that bend in the wind, just enough to accept the birds’ weight, with just enough leaves to offer them shelter and a view out at the same time. The birds first know this bush as fledglings, and it is in these bushes that they first feed, and in them that they hide from the world when they are first on their own. This is their their safe place. If you put all of that together, bushes like this call birds to them by providing just the amount of food, at just the right times, coupled with just the right kind of perching environment, to bring in the birds that feed on their berries, and no others. You won’t find a hawk, owl, vulture, heron, or sagebrush wren here. On the other side, these bushes are here because robins eat their berries and leave their seeds behind as they defecate over open spaces as they flit from bush to bush, and magpies drop their seeds in the cracks in rocks where they perch as they move over the grass, because they can never fly too far without a rest, and, besides, they’re curious and have a sense of fun. The entire environment conspires to deposit saskatoons here, which deposit robins here, and nowhere else. You won’t find them out in the sagebrush. Yes, that’s habitat, but it is also the organic way in which the earth works: not as separate processes and individuals coming together but as environments finding balance together. Now, with that thought in mind, have a look at this:


What you are looking at is four species of weeds, which have replaced a grassland of a few hundred species of plants and even more insects. Because the term nature is used for  organic environments, this is commonly viewed as an image of fecundity: the earth spontaneously giving forth life. But with the lesson of the robins in mind, it might be wiser not to separate this scene from its inhabitants, humans. If the principle of balance holds, and I think it does, then what we are looking at here is an image not only of ourselves (a field of weeds calls to us to transform it into something else) but of what the weeds are calling for, and that is for us to spread them, in exactly the same way that the saskatoon calls to the robins to come and spread its seeds. What weeds need to spread is broken soil, and we oblige. When we are called to these weeds we want to till them under and remake the land, and as soon as we do that they win. In the end, weeds cause us to build homes and our homes create weeds, which cause us to build more homes, which create more weeds. Our intentions are good, but we’ve been outsmarted.

Love a Bear Today: A Cariboo Saga

A year ago, I showed these berries.
kinnikinnikThis year, I tasted them. They taste like this:

You can be the wasp, if you like, but it’s really standing in for a bear. This bear:


This was her a year ago, as young thing, getting ready for winter, eating that delicate, dry taste of perfumed rose. Well, she made it through the winter, and her mother had two new cubs, and kicked her out.


But did she go? No. She stayed, in tiny Big Bar Provincial Park, roaming the eskers, turning over the same logs her mother taught her to turn over last year.


Thing is, mother stayed as well, with two new cubs. That makes four bears in tiny Big Bar Lake Provincial Park. Last year, two cubs and their mother were relocated. Three other bears were shot. That’s a lot of bears. So, yesterday I asked, what is the earth doing? She is sending us bears. We emptied the entire plateau, an area the size of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the Czech Republik, and probably Slovenia, Slovakia and Wales as well, of any place where bears could feed or hang out, and all that’s left is tiny Big Bar Lake Provincial Park, and the cabins along the lake, with their rhubarbs, rented out on Air Bnb. So what is the earth doing? She is responding to fear. The bears don’t want to go. They want to stay, with us. There’s nothing out there. You did this, the earth is saying? Here, look after the kids. Thirty thousand years ago, we let wolves into the firelight, because they asked, and because we wanted them. Well, the bears are asking, and I want them. All summer, I lived with them at Big Bar Lake. All four of them. They kept to their place. I heard them turning over logs when I went out to watch the hawks. “Hey, Bear!” I called. “I’m coming, give me five minutes, and I’ll be through,” and they did, you know. When I lived in 150 Mile House, a bit to the north, among the savannahs, and a bear came through, we didn’t call the conservation officer to shoot it, we just called each other. “The bear’s here,” we said. “Thanks,” we said. And we kept an eye on the kids. That’s the thing. Keep an eye on the kids. That doesn’t mean you need to shoot a bear, for the love of all things decent. They are evolving. We should evolve at the same rate. If we don’t, we should leave, now. Twenty years ago, I stood on a road in the East Cariboo, early in the morning. Two hundred metres ahead of me, a sow had lined up her two cubs on the logging road, to get a good a look at me, at what a bastard looks like. I turned. I was like a model on a runway in Milan. “Have a good look,” I said. “This is what you have to deal with!” I turn again. “See?” Then I stood still. Let them focus. After ten minutes, she led them away. I gave her ten minutes to find her path, then I went back to camp. Was that that hard? No, that was that easy. This summer, as camp host at Big Bar Lake, I had the chance to talk to some Secwepemc girls, who were five and six years old, out there for a birthday party and a picnic, all the way from Canoe Creek or Dog Lake, on the back road. I showed them how to use to my walking stick, and what it was for. They tried it out. They told me about the bear they’d seen on the way in, and I knew at once  it was this one:


I thanked them, and went back to camp, and told a couple campers about the bear, about how she knew about us, the campers, but there was ice cream, I said, for the kids, so she might be curious tonight, and all that food of theirs, that should come inside. She was a good bear, I told them. She knew stuff. But tonight’s different. There’s ice cream, I said. We understand, they said. That wasn’t hard. So many families on this shoulder of the world can trace their ancestry to bears. Canadian society calls this myth, but that’s just ignorance. It’s based on experience. The bears need us. We need them. They make us better, physical, and real. They make the woods dangerous, and not ours. We have to walk with awareness and respect, which we become, by practicing it. Sometimes we have to wait. Sometimes we have to go the other way. I wait gladly, and go the other way gladly,  don’t you? It’s not hard. If you’re worried about your kids, stay with them. Don’t send them two kilometres away to the beach at dusk with the family dog, to draw the bears to them, while you sit around the picnic table with a beer. Without kids and bears, our first first peoples, there’s nothing, only beer, and it won’t drown your sorrow when they’re gone.