The Return of the Water People

Coots love the water so much that they only leave for the deep south (100 kilometres away) when things get too rough in January. Then they come up and literally hug the ice, as if it were a floating bed of reeds they could nest on. Soon they will follow the edge of the ice to the high country lakes and ponds where they will raise their young, but for now they float in armadas on the lake. Here they are, from 150 metres up the hill.p1490086

And cruising among the gulls.

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And cruising.
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And looking through the window their reflection makes of the light playing on the surface of the lake, into the depths.p1490695

Here, this is one human equivalent of that deep look.

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And another. Welcome to your mind. Note the gull flying through it, just larger than a water drop.p1490474

It is a time for celebration. The lake is calling.p1490090

The water people answer.

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Your turn.

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The Spirit Whale of the Okanagan

Here’s what might sound at first like a fantastical story, but it does end with a deeply practical point. I hope you enjoy it! To start, look at the spirit whale of the Okanagan at the end of a winter day. The first people who came through here 12,000 years ago were ice-edge hunters from the ocean to the West. They would have known about whales moving through leads in the ice. The trees in the foreground would have been underwater then.p1480903

Look at the big fin of the whale’s tale to the south. That’s quite the whale.p1480921

Over time, she has risen from the water. The purple line below was the lake shore 12,000 years ago. The red one, 10,000 or so. The drop was rapid in each case.

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As you might just be able to make out above, when the tide was in (so to speak), the whale’s tail would have had three heads. Its fin would have been hidden. Swinging to the left, her head would have looked like this:

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She was underwater, that’s what she was. Her body was a canoe full of animals. That would have been intimate knowledge to oceanic ice-edge hunters, and common to a number of indigenous flood stories. Look below for a closer look of the prow. The whale’s head is just a tiny island, leading the way like a porpoise. In this image, the ancestral animals who are the cargo are more clear.

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The image below shows the stern of the canoe again, as it would have appeared above the lake, blunt-nosed as we would expect, with two trails of froth. The stern itself is a clown’s head, a motif we see on hundreds of sacred rocks in the Pacific Northwest. Whatever the reasons are is a discussion for another day. For now, let’s just be present on this ancient shore.

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There’s no way of knowing if people viewed the whale this way or not 12,000 years ago, but one thing is certain: over the course of half a day she lifted out of the water and left behind a lake in the shape of a snake. Two thousand years later, she did it again. Today, that snake is called, derisively, Ogopogo. With more respect, but in equally colonial terms, she is called a lake. That discrepancy between spiritual and European knowledge is worth keeping in mind, when assessing my story of the mountain that is a whale: whether they are indigenous or scientific, story-tellers bring their knowledge and see it reflected in conversation with the forms of the land. People who come from that land, however, see the spirit first.

p1480907As a man, if that’s what I am and not “tree walking” or something like that, what I see in the image above is my self. I can’t say I understand this, or do not. “Understanding” is the wrong concept to apply to that presence, and can only access deep threads of European knowledge and explanation. Like “lake” or “mountain”, however, such activity comes from somewhere else and does not describe the bond between my body, spirit and mind and those of the land. Even “land” is the wrong word for this stuff. I seem to be evolving past words. What’s next, I wonder.

Big Ears for Big Sagebrush

The Big Sage blossoms with its scrubby flower stalks in the fall. There’s not great colour in them, but they do stick way up high. I’ve wondered about that often, with thoughts like this: “Hey, Big Sage, why oh why oh why?”
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It’s kind of, well, blah. “Maybe it’s a wind thing,” I thought. But, I dunno. Look what happens in February, when the sun comes in through cloud.p1480241

The brown flower stalks catch the evening sun coming into the gullies, while the plants do not. It’s pretty dramatic. Look at the slope above in the image below (to the left) and compare to the hotter slope to the right.p1480238

Is this sticking way up and turning copper in the late winter sun a way of getting the benefit of the hot slope without drying out as it does? Does this strategy bring spring months early to the seeds of the big sage? I dunno, but it does so for me.

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And the ladies, of course. Check out the ears. They are good at getting up above the sage.p1480454

Maybe the flower stalks are big sage ears? What are they listening for? Wind? Birds? The sun? Ah, if we could hear that sound.

The Palette of Saskatoons Through the Year

Isn’t it very fine. There are the saskatoons of winter, with bark in a palette of rose and plum.

saskThen there are the saskatoons of springtime. Look at their palette now! (This palette is laid down over the rose and plum palette of winter.)

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Then summer comes!

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Then autumn!

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And all together through the year? Look below. Those are the colours of saskatoon, or síya?. 

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The image below shows the continuous sequence of colour change from wood to fruit to leaf to wood, where the opening begins again, or rather, continues.

saskatoonspectrumAt one time of the year, the wood gives its colours to fruit. At another time of year, the leaves give their colours to wood. Put that another way: the fruit ripens out of winter’s wood, just as autumns wood ripens out of spring’s leaf and, when it is fully ripe and is again winter’s wood, it ripens into summer’s fruit. It is the story of the separate rising of the blue, then yellow and their stilling again. Half the year is yellow, half is red. Half holds the sun. Half holds the fruit that the sun will ripen. What an astonishing creature saskatoon is!

 

 

 

Thought and Memory on Watch Over the Grasslands

The grasslands are ruined and replaced with a colony of weeds from the russian steppes, with toxins and diesel fuel in their veins. It is often true, and a source of our grief. Is all lost? Not, perhaps, in Oðin’s world, that civilization that almost rose to be the equal of the great civilizations of the Orient, India and China, able to describe our one world in unique terms and provide unique solutions. Here are the ravens Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory, which replaced the eye that Oðin plucked out of his head and threw into the pool at the roots of the World Tree, and which gave him all the wisdom on the world. They’re watching out from a gravel pile made of an ancient grassland. But which is which? Is that Thought in the clear, looking out, and Memory, leading the way but screened by knapweed from Russia?p1480300

Or is it the reverse? Is that Memory below, in the clear, while Thought is hopping down the slope, teasing in the dream of laying an egg soon enough?p1480375

What world are they planning to hatch? What does Oðin see through this eye? In Mediterranean-based traditions of civilization, we would describe their independence and darkness as the pupil or puppet in an eye, the self that the will directs in the mind before releasing into the world, but in Oðin’s World, is the thought and memory in the world, and mind, in its egg of bone, as the sky is an egg, what is hatched from it? Look at them discuss the possibilities.

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Thought and memory are always watching. They are the black hole in the eye.

p1450476 The sky is the eye. What we do beneath its gaze, thought and memory “see.” It is possible, in other words, to think with the world, outside of individualistic consciousness. It is a path that is our heritage. Our ancestors turned from it during the last century. We live in the ruins and weeds that turning made. It is perhaps time to go down to the well. It is time to take up the banner of civilization again.

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It is time to rejoin the conversation. It is time to talk. Kalook!

 

 

Reviewing David Pitt-Brooke’s Walk Through the Grasslands

I spent the early winter reading a beautiful and, unfortunately, incomplete book: Crossing Home Ground, by David Pitt-Brooke. It records an epic walk through the grasslands of Southern British Columbia: my own home ground. My detailed review was just published today in The Ormsby Review. You can read my review here (with beautiful photos by Pitt-Brooke): http://bcbooklook.com/2017/01/26/in-praise-of-grass/#more-30105. I’m thrilled that it is out. My goal in writing the review was to honour the book and the conversation of which it is a part. I’d like to show you a few images from that context. They are beyond the scope of the book, but help to anchor its discussions, I think. Here’s the mouth of the Okanagan River, as it enters the inundated Columbia. It is here that the private armies that invaded the Okanagan in 1858 crossed the big river on their way north, and it is here that scouts tagged invaders for later skirmishes in the Okanagan and Similkameen.

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This is The Forks, a major stopping point on the ancient trail to the deep north and the Hudson’s Bay company brigade trail that followed it. It is here that the route forked, to the Similkameen Valley to the distant left (the trail is a county road now, as you can perhaps make out), and to the Okanagan to the right. The image shows the Similkameen River joining the Okanogan.Tforks2

This is some of the Similkameen Grassland, above the Similkameen Gorge and looking towards Hurley Peak in the Pasayten Wilderness. Pitt-Brooke camped high above this country, just over the Canadian Border behind you as you view this grassland, and looked down on it at dusk.hurley

High up on Kruger Mountain to the left in the image below. This is Richter Pass. That green hayfield in the bottom is lost Richter Lake, drained to grow sileage corn. This is British Columbia. The Washington side (above) is in better shape.

He saw farms down there in Washington. Well, mines.mine2 The grass in this country, as Pitt-Brooke accurately points out, is damaged, but not irretrievably. Here is some grass and sagebrush above Nighthawk, Washington.  chopaka3

Areas directly on the Hudson’s Bay Company Trail, such as Garnet Valley below, have suffered the worst — grassland ruins that have not created a lot of prosperity, either.garnet

Here’s one of the culprits at work in Priest Valley, above my house in the North Okanagan. She is being grazed on a landscape of invasive weeds. That’s dalmation toadflax around her. You can see she doesn’t like it. Rush skeleton weed, though, well, she likes that. Almost all the bunchgrass is gone. That looks like a stalk of needle-and-thread grass in her mouth.

That missing grass is the original human habitat, and almost none is left on earth. Our bodies were made for this landscape. This is who we are. Luckily, there is some left. Here’s some bunchgrass that is grazed responsibly in Farwell Canyon, in the Chilcotin.

This is the grass that Pitt-Brooke loves. So do I. Please read David’s book, and then go out yourself to see what you can see. You might see wonders, like the virtually pristine grassland in the bed of Dry Falls, a waterfall that was once 30 miles long, falling 300 feet over these basalt flood lavas, from a river 300 feet above them. The only weed here is one stalk of toadflax in the foreground.

Before this became a Washington State Park, it was a ranch. The grass came back. We can do this.

 

The Pacific Northwest is Not the Southwest

Here’s a place. Squeezed in between the United States and Greenland. Canada.canada-relief-map

Best to stand right-way up.
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Lately, I’ve heard the strangest thing.  I’ve heard that my part of the country…canada-relief-map

… is called the Southwest. The Canadian Southwest. This was in reference to the name the region often goes by: the Pacific Northwest. Here it is in 1844, just before the 49th Parallel Canadian border (pink and grey on the right) was drawn across it, cutting it in two.

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That’s an American view, on an American military map. You can see the remnants of the Canadian Northwest in the following image (note the blue oval). As you can see, it goes right up into the Arctic. In fact, a quarter century ago, it was all of the Canadian Arctic, right up to Greenland.

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If you didn’t know the place, you might think this Southwest Canada stuff made sense. Ah, that’s where politics come in. For Instance, in 1752, the best map looked like this:

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Note the big sea where there is no sea.

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Basically, this part of North America (under that sea that is not a sea but possibly a memory of glacial melt events 12,000 years ago) is un-mapped. Here it is (below) in 1756. As you can see, no map of the region at all, really.

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And 1795. By this time the coast is mapped…but nothing else. As I mentioned above, there is a name for this “empty space.” It is the Pacific Northwest.preview

It comes by this name along two routes. First, as the map below shows well, it is Northwest of what was then the centre of European civilization in North America, the Caribbean, which was colonized by the Spanish in 1492.3213606740_9e642903a4_o

Yup, that’s where I live: in Parts Unknown. Note the totally inaccurate Columbia River at the bottom, but, hey, at least it’s there.

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This was a continent controlled by Spain (Southwest) and France (Northeast, and the centre of the continent, right down to the Gulf of Mexico), with tiny English colonies on the East Coast (later the United States) and an English trading area in the Far North. Much of Southern New France eventually went to Spain, and from there to the United States, in the Louisiana Purchase. Much of New Spain went to the United States in the American-Mexican War. But that great empty area, the goal of exploration, remained the Northwest.

 

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So, that’s the first Northwest. The second has to do with the English and French colonies on the east coast. Here’s a later map (below) of New France. In my part of the country, this is called the East, although there it is called the Centre. The English colonies are on the far right. Everything else is French.

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In other words, everything is the West, except for a narrow strip along the Atlantic. That’s the English view. The French view was that everything was the West that was West of Montreal. Here’s Montreal (below), the trading city of New France. The wealth of a continent, north, west and south, flowed through here:

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No surprise that the trading company out of Montreal was called the Northwest Company, since it traded in those regions of New France that were north of old French territory on the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s a Northwest map.

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There are many others. Here’s one from 1810 that shows the Northwest interests in today’s United States. Note that Oregon Territory (today’s Pacific Northwest) is the territory of Great Britain, the United States and Spain. Below it is Mexico. In the centre of the continent is Lousiana (now Spanish). To the right is the expanded United States, with British Territory to the North. France is out of the picture. The red arrow is St. Louis.

 

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St. Louis was the American fur trade headquarters, for all fur trading into Louisiana and Mexico. Canadian trade was still coming West from Montreal, in what is now known as Lower Canada (in the upper right.)  By this time, the eastern part of the Northwest is now called the West (today’s Mid-West) and Louisiana is still largely French-speaking. Please note that those families did not go anywhere. They are still there, but had a new culture, and a new language, given to them by colonization from the United States. The only area unexplored at this point was that area claimed by three countries in the upper left. It was politically dangerous to explore it. It was only when Spain was knocked out of contention, and it was just a disputed region between Britain and the USA, that it was given a Name: Oregon. Or the Pacific Northwest, to distinguish it from the other Northwest, which was now in the middle of the continent. Here is my Northwest, in a satellite view. Isn’t she beautiful? We call her Cascadia now.

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She has an old history, rooted in the French people who moved across the continent and intermarried with indigenous families, and took on their cultures. The arrow shows where I am living as I talk to you about this.pacnw_satellite_cropped-copy-2

To call this the Southwest of Canada is a complete erasure of a long French history, over three centuries older than the nation state of Canada and of the history of this place. The people of this history are Canadians, with more right to the term than most citizens of the nation state. Our heritage here is primarily with people in Quebec (Lower Canada), Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Northern California and Wyoming, and secondarily with the North and with the French culture on the Prairies. Canada, the 1867 British nation state, comes a long, long, long way down the list. It’s not that we’re not proud to belong to Canada here, but our history does not live within these borders:

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We’re proud of that, too, because it is that old history that makes us who we are, not the new history of a country still trying to reshape it. So, the Pacific Northwest, or Cascadia, please. We are citizens of the continent out this way.