A native plant that returns disturbed soil to its natural state and makes most excellent summer-in-a-bottle for those winter days is called a weed?
Dandelion and Peach Forever
Really, we should be ashamed. This is floral racism.
A native plant that returns disturbed soil to its natural state and makes most excellent summer-in-a-bottle for those winter days is called a weed?
Dandelion and Peach Forever
Really, we should be ashamed. This is floral racism.
Some things are sobering. Here’s a cold frame (a glassed-in seedbed, for early growing) from 1978, updated for the new Okanagan in the age of vineyardization. Before 1978, this was an orchard, that supported a family and grew apples, peaches, cherries and plums. After 1978, it became a place where people could raise that food for their families themselves. As people turn away from the land today, hire Mexicans on special temporary permits to do “their” agricultural labour (actually, the produce is for export, a series of capital-intensive cash crops; the produce locally eaten comes from California and Mexico), and pressure the water system with overpopulation (yet blame the water deficit on global warming) while continuing to extol the fruitfulness of the land (heavily-taxed wine, affordable only to tourists and the wealthy), gardens transform into a new image of society.
A couple things to notice: the black cloth is intended to allow water through but to prevent weeds (or life of any kind). It has been augmented by some rocks, likely formerly a decorative garden wall, to keep it down, and has been growing some cheatgrass (like the green stuff in the foreground) in the fir needles (the tree is an important local hawk perch) that the stones have gathered. The yard is decorated with a pre-fabricated aluminum garden shed. The yard next door, which has replaced its garden with a small, decorative patch of lawn amidst a vast swath of rocks and gravel (because of that global warming, but also because yards are now large barbecue entertainment areas, not spaces for gardens, i.e. they are now interior spaces), has collected un-needed garden equipment behind its new (large) garden shed, which mustn’t be for garden tools. It’s likely for general storage. Welcome to Canada in 2017. It took us some work to create this, but we managed in the end.
Road shoulders are for living.
Watch where you park that Ford!
Canada is a big country. Here’s a tiny piece of it in the west.
What you’re looking at is a bit of a collision between a volcano and a seabed off the coast of North America, that became part of the land about 110,000,000 years ago, and then became a local landmark. Perhaps you can see the highway that cuts across the ancient trail it marked? (That’s our bluff again, in the middle of the image, which views it from the south, rather than the east, as we did in the preceding image.)
The first wave of colonization, the Hudson Bay Company’s pack horse trail, followed the old trail. The new trail, which follows the Hudson Bay Company’s route from the south (politely, we call it the United States of America now, for old times sake), is the result of imported technology (German freeways, Swedish dynamite, American earth-moving equipment, and so on) that came in on the trail until it became it. The old landmark still stands, though.
And it’s still doing its old work, of marking the paths of power. It’s just that now it is part of Canada, which has a culture with certain prerequisites. For one, it is a country imposed on an indigenous state, which means that indigenous landmarks must be translated into Canadian terms before they can be read. For Canada, these terms are displays of social power imposed on the landscape, such as the German architecture below.
Only the wealthy can play this game, but there are lots of them. Social power within Canadian society in this region — in other words, Canada in this region — is about extending these intrusions.
It is a complex game, and by making these images I have broken its rules, which are to look out at views of water, rather than looking back at Canada looking out. That is simply not done. It is breaking a social code.
These views, for instance are easily worth $1,000,000 each. As you can see in one below, they show the next in the series of indigenous landmarks, at a romantic distance, and the houses of other wealthy people along the lake, at an appropriate distance that allows them to be romantically embedded in nature, as befits an imperial British settlement.
Canada is a very romantic project. Thousands of people look out, at sufficient distance that a forest being trucked to a plywood plant disappears into landscape (look below.) Again, apologies, I have broken that taboo by making this image.
The next image breaks that taboo, too. Here you can see that one of these houses has constructed a garden, or perhaps a chicken run, from creosote-treated railway ties, covered with netting, to get past the ridiculous steepness of the land and its inappropriateness for chicken runs and gardens. It’s not pretty, but that’s because it is made from outside of Canada. The rule is, don’t take the picture until you’ve moved far enough to the right or left that the Canadian presence on the land disappear. Then make the image.
One of the reasons for the netting is that Canadians moving into landscapes like this situate cell phone towers and garbage dumps around areas of the greatest indigenous significance. It is a subconscious part of the process of subjugation, and it does have its ironies, because those areas are the best for display houses with the most romantic views, but the garbage does attract eagles, romantic birds for sure, and ravens and crows…
… which do interfere with the illusion that there is no garbage here. You simply can’t use the land as a canvas for the social display of an imported culture, which exists only in the display, when those pesky birds steal your chickens and strawberries. It can’t be done. Now, a Canadian, of course, has it hard, because Canadians are just people, after all, with the same desires as any others: family, shelter, a bit of love, lots of aggression, and strawberries, plus breakfast eggs, if they can get them. It’s not their fault that they have to acquire these essentials through a social grid laid out upon indigenous space that Canada bought for them 146 years ago (not from its owners but from the British, who gave themselves the right to trap furs here, on the strength of a navy no-one had the means to mess with) and they’re doing the best they can…
… continually rebuilding roads to get their social grid in the best shape possible, as far as such social grids go. Yes, the result is ugly, but you’re not supposed to see it. You’re supposed to live within it and look out. And when you do (below), please do yourself a favour, don’t look at the erosion caused by thousands of young people leaving the trail to go out-of-bounds down to the rocks to jump into the lake.
That’s deadly, and is to be overlooked. That’s the rule. The landscape is to be read as an archetype, as if you were the first person who was ever there. The irony of a country-as-a-social grid, such as Canada, is that when you turn around, from the land, and look at the grid …
… it looks improvised at best, and even a bit desperate and chintzy. The image above is a private road for wealthy land-owners to use to access their view property below the bluff I showed you above. The gap between its imposed, utilitarian ugliness and the romantic beauty and intense social power it grants, is why literature in this country is a social game, with landscape entering it through social avenues such as scientific tropes, academic understanding, queer readings of landscape, environmental activism, and so forth, but never on its own terms. Those are considered romantic …
… not because the earth is romantic, but because that reading of romanticism is also deeply embedded within Canada, which is a romantic social product written on the land. It can’t escape itself. If you leave that romantic reading, you are no longer in Canada, but looking at it. That’s the rule. It is such a powerful mechanism that the country’s literary artists, embedded in the social training system of its universities, are unable to break it: there is no audience out there, and no market, just a few weeds growing in the haphazard infrastructure created by the social application of powerful foreign technology.
Literary people would starve out there, and that’s really not good. I can afford to show you these images because I am what is called in Canadian social terms, a sub-class of Canada’s imperial homeland, the United States, White, Male, and Old, ie an Old White Man: an undesirable thing, anyway, with no social power in literary society. These are not the terms of the culture of the land, of course, but that’s a different thing; Canadians live in cities. They have the second largest country on earth but not to live on. It is to harvest industrially, in ways which minimize access to the scars of such harvest (swaths of uncut trees lining highways, to preserve romantic view lines, and so forth), in order to concentrate the wealth of the land within the social grid, which is reserved for people who are extending the networks of power laid across the land. Those networks are the only country there is. That an old man such as I am (I’m 59, not old perhaps by an objective standard, but old and unwanted in this culture), sees something other than the omnipresent beauty of the grid and the notions of identity it fosters, is, by definition, romantic, because in the definitions of the culture, all land (and hence all that is attached to the land) is romantic; the only exit from romance is through the social networks. I can laugh at that all I like.
I am only trespassing on the land reserved for the social power of wealthy men, which is how I took the image above. That I consider access to that land my human right is another indication of how non-Canadian I am. That image above is evidence of a crime. That I only stepped a few metres onto private land, unoccupied land being advertised for sale, does not erase that. The image is romantic. Neither you nor I were meant to see it, and that buck was being protected in order to be shot as a trophy. That is the rule. Perhaps, if you’ve read between the lines of this post, you might get a sense, or the beginnings of one, of why the indigenous villages, which are called “Indian Reserves” of this country are described in terms such as this:
There are no economic reasons for Attawapiskat to exist and it does so only because it is underwritten by the Canadian taxpayer. http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/john-ivison-the-rising-toll-of-canadas-failed-experiment-with-isolated-reserves
The statement is an offense to human dignity, but then, you see, so is the poverty in the image that accompanies it:
Villages such as this are not “isolated” in a passive sense, as the article suggests, in that they are “in the bush”, or “in the wilderness”, or “far from culture” but isolated in a far more active sense, in that culture (Toronto, Vancouver, or even my small city of Vernon, for example) have placed them in isolation, as the name for these spaces, “Indian Reserves”, makes abundantly clear. The space below is exactly the same kind of space.
Canadian culture — the survival of the social grid — demands that we look the other way.
Or at least maintain the respectful distance that preserves privacy (ie social privilege.)
Or the corollary distance that embeds social display within the landscape, to create the illusions of wealth, belonging, power, beauty and ease that are every human’s desire and are fulfilled in the Canadian overlay in precisely prescribed forms.
Your way to them is through the university and its botanical gardens.
But do ignore the banana peel. You will fail at your studies if you concentrate on that.
Magpie double nester along the Grey Canal Trail in Vernon.
Nice, huh! Orchard and mountain view.
If you’ve ever met a goose, you’ll understand.
If you’ve never met a goose, welcome to the fun.
When salmon come back to the rivers from the sea, they cease to feed, but will snap at beautifully-tied flies out of reflex, and are hooked.
Well, ya. Wouldn’t you bite at that? No? Well, then you are a human salmon, looking for a home at the end of work and strife, a place as wide open and warm as your dreams, and for that you need to travel, and what should be there, at the end of the road, beyond which no cars lead, but a very special kind of fly tied just for you.
Yes, this is the real estate development sales office. It sits comfortably at the side of the road, for easy access, is often repurposed, has some lovely brick appliqué, so you know we’re talking quality here and not an industrial portable building like you’d see in a mine office. Let me repeat. This is no gold mine attempting to part you from your cash. This is serious fishing. See?
That is genuine hand-set stained glass, that is. That is the sign of respect. Of course, there is more than one developer fishing in the same pool. There’s another fly cast up on the hill. See it? Oh, which to choose?
Well, there’s still time. The nesting bed is still incomplete.
The nesting bed of a salmon is called a red. That won’t do for humans. We have happier colours. Go on, settle in. You know you want to. Not even a little nibble?
Don’t worry, there’s no power yet. It won’t hurt at all. You’re good.
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.
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.T
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Isn’t it beautiful?
Maybe they should leave the north and go home. I feel so sorry for them. They have to endure this:
It must be very hard. I know, for my part, it would be hard, very hard, to endure a winter that was not at 20 Below Celsius, at least one night. And in this January moon we had a week. Oh, glory!
But, seriously, I have to listen to these complaints on the national broadcasting system of the country that I was born to and must pay allegiance to, to live here? Really? That’s shameful. Well, time to go for a walk and forgive.
I am, after all, on this earth, to learn humility. Sometimes it’s easy.
Sometimes it’s hard.
I am not angry.
I am sad.
My elders taught me that these were cat tails. They taught me that poetry was a fairy tale.
They taught me that these were swamp weeds. They taught me that words expressed thoughts.
I learned later that these rushes were the winter food of snow geese, who summer in Siberia, when it is like our winters here in this fjord lake valley. But that was not enough.
I learned later that the people who are this land that has brought me to the sky built their houses out of these reeds. Why did no one tell me this? Why were they separating me from my body like that? I am nothing but this body. These rushes are my thoughts. I am them walking. It was not enough.
I learned later that I have ancestors, far older than my elders. To them, these were not plants. There were no plants in their world. There was the sound of wind rattling the stems, calling them. It is all that I am.
It has not been enough. There is only the world of men, I was taught forty years ago. If you do not accept their way of speaking, and I promise you I was instructed in this, then you are an outlaw and can expect the laws to be used to suppress you. I am not speaking in metaphor. This was the point of philosophy forty years ago. Men wanted to build a world that consisted only of a social network.
And they did do that, but not for those of us who are the world, who are a rush brushing against a breast with the sound of geese leaving to overwinter on the seas of the moon. As if that were up in the sky, and not right here.
As I grew through adulthood into middle age and then past it and became a last remnant of a lost earth, under stars most men and women have never seen, younger people began to correct me.
They had learned well. They were very helpful. They told me that this was a wetland. Not the moon. I do not think that they were trying to kill me, the poet, the man of the rushes, but the effect was the same.
I am not angry.
The people who lived in books told me that my ancestors were simple people, who read themselves into the land, but “we” understood reality now.
They told me that what you see in these images weren’t the sound of the cold calling through the sun and the sun answering. They told me about reality. I think they thought I knew what this stuff was. But I am not sure.
In return they were very helpful. They told me that my languages, English and German, were not languages of the world but were very useful systems of social codes and abstractions.
They were even more helpful. They told me that mathematics was true, that cold-hardened steel was true, but that spirit was not one thing or another and so not “true” because it could not be cold or hardened.
They told me that Beauty was not a measuring device for the presence of life in a land and its people, or in a people and its land (if it’s useful to say one thing twice) but a pleasurable response designed by a force called evolution to create babies, which, to reason, which they understood, was a clever product of randomness and an elegant expression of it.
In their world, there were no men of the rushes. But there were reasonable things.
Where they saw wetlands, that could clean water for their cities of asphalt, steel, concrete and glass, I saw bows, arched, and water fields, and arched with them, and was arched, but it did not matter.
I did not see grazing grounds, or a lump of rock circling the earth, and that was that. They told me they did. Sometimes I suspected that they were looking at words, but I didn’t know that for sure. They did say that what I saw was “poetry,” though.
I saw the sky. I knew that much. Written in the earth.
I saw the geese were the moon flying. Written in me.
Who could I speak to of this? I live in a country in which such talk is called romance. It is not a complement. It is something to be corrected. It is also called poetry in this country. It is something to be corrected.
There are people in this country who are called people in authority: professors, city planners, property developers; it is all the same. They come from other countries to this one. They correct me. They don’t say, “We call this a wetland.” They say it is one. When I say, your city is in the middle of my valley, and I wish it would go away, they are shocked at what they call my naiveté. I think they think I live in books, but I’m not sure.
They use the word ‘we’. I don’t. I’m sorry about that. It has caused confusion.
We the rushes, I should have said, and not cared that they don’t think they have a language for the earth that accepts its personhood. I should have said, we the children of the moon, meaning the eye of a bird in the night, and if they insisted on a stone then a stone thrown into a pool, rippling.
I kept silent. I am sorry about that.
I did not know myself. I was deferent, as I learned from the water and the land, bending with the wind and the rain.
It’s not that I didn’t feel the energy within this body and world I am. It’s not that the rushes didn’t hold the answers to every question in the world. It did not matter.
I was well trained, and believed them when they said these things were all separate, and only the seeing of them had form, and this seeing was less than theirs and was called “poetry,” which I didn’t feel they liked much.
I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. I, of course, wanted to live among them. Some of them I even loved. Some I still do, more than myself.
Some of them, though, told me that the stuff in the image below (for example) was Nature. They told me about the seriousness of literary committees, and that there was one way of doing things, and it could be taught, and they would run the committee now, because I was talking about rushes and land and they were busy people and needed to talk about important things. Serious things. Things they could say to each other, not to rushes. I suspect they didn’t know how to talk to rushes, but I’m not sure.
Of course they needed to talk to each other. They were young. I was too much a child of my ancestors and not enough a child of their books. I was a knot of tangled threads.
By their pride, they taught me how to untangle that. They tried to teach me that poetry was a thing made of words, set in metres and rhythms, and even that these things could be fixed, and that poetry was not snow geese and not the waiting for snow geese and not houses made of the body by plucking its hair the way a musician plucks the strings of a lute. They taught me that men — a kind of puppet that a soul can operate in the way a robin operates an apple tree — speak this way, and that women had other things to talk about. I’m happy for them, and though at times I have wished they would have said what that was, what they needed to say, one of my friends, a woman and a philosopher, has kindly explained to me that this kind of talk is just the puppet talking and it should just be ignored. I was excited. This sounded smart and new.
Caught in the spell of young professors of literature, one of whom even said, despite my protests, that all men hate the earth and want to destroy it, I forgot myself and tried to argue, and when I failed at that, predictably, forgot myself again and stopped writing poems for the world, even though I had had elders who taught me the old ways, even though they only cloaked them in the words of literary men, for their own protection.
They could not protect me from my misunderstanding.
I did not tell the important literary people, who know how things get done in their world that I cannot see, who know the traditions of how to train people, which looks like the training of horses to me, that the boat of my ribs is the lute, that I am singing with old Vaïnomoïnen, the smith of the Milky Way, here on the star road, as my people have sung since men found iron and struck it with a hammer instead of making war.
I am sorry. I should have told them. I should have said, “I do not want to make war.” I should have said, “I would like it if we loved each other.” Well, the last time I said “I do not want to make war” was the day, thirty years ago, on which I learned that many people, who call themselves poets, and I presume they know what they’re saying, want war. They delight in it, they told me.
I am repeatedly told that as a man who speaks the words of his ancestors, I am of their kind. A tribe, they call it. No.
I did not tell them about the mind that was a spark from the anvil of the world.
I should have, right then. I did not tell them about the darkness that is light, the matter that is time, in the little time I have in the world before I am the world again, without time. I didn’t expect that they would understand something that is beyond understanding, and so I was silent, partly out of deference and partly to protect myself, lest I be torn from the world into words and when I turned around again there would be no world at all.
I was afraid of that, and in my fear I failed them and myself.
But I am not sad. Sure, they would not have listened. They would not have heard. How could they? We did not share a language. But, even so, some things are not said for people. They are said for the rushes and the wind.
I should have forgiven them easily and at once. These were, after all, people like myself, who understood war too well, whose ancestors had been driven, as mine, into its throat and had been swallowed alive, as my people were.
After all, this land was captured by countries across the sea, not by love but by violence, and if I grew up in that violence and read it as love, and if they grew up in that violence and read it as my own, why should I be bitter? I am not.
I am joyful. I catch the sun. I am not sad because of that. I shake my stems in the wind. It is a small gesture, I know, but it follows the winds of time, just so. Just so.
I have found myself at last, just so. I am weaving the sun and the earth together, not because they are not already there, but because I love them.
Because I hear them speaking.
This speech is not in words.
(Well, unless you will accept that these are words, which is generous and bold of you.)
Is that too much to ask? I don’t know.
I don’t know how it is among you.
I think sometimes you do.
I think of the children, often. I think of the poets among the children. Those who have not found their voice in the world yet. Those few who run their fingers along a blade of a sound and feel the foundations of a house, the stretch of a thought, the music of a heart lifting as a snow goose on its way to the Siberia, where it speaks the language of ice with all that is.
With all that it is possible to be.
These are the wings.
Listeners, please, if you think I am making a poem, then I have not used my words well. Here, this is a poem:
Please read it again and again and again. Don’t look to me. I am just a rush speaking the wind. I am just the wind, speaking a rush. I do not mean poetry by that. That is something we were all taught.
That term is something I have lost. I don’t need to go looking for it. I do not need to put one word on top of another word on top of another word until they make an image of the world.
Nothing’s lost, but things are found. I am already here.
I have always been here. I don’t need science to do this for me, either. That was for people trying to escape a war, and that’s a fine thing.
There was a time I was a child in a school. I was being taught that one form of literature, science, is true in the world, and all others are entertainments, which can be studied by science and then, observed and classified, would be true, as they had not been before. I was not taught about the smith who sailed the boat of his ribs down the Milky Way. I found him on my own. I walked outside. I breathed.
Please, forgive me for reminding you here of what might sound strange to you. Breath means the world to me. This is not poetry, I should add. It is the world speaking. What goes by that name today — poetry — is a dark magic, but it is not the world, or me, or speech, or, I suspect, you, and the words it uses are not the words of my language, or, most likely, yours. They look the same, yes. These words I write here, and you read, though, are not the words of my language. If you sense any poetry here, perhaps I have managed to move myself just enough out of the way that you can feel the rushes brushing against your cheek, and … can you smell them, too?
I can. They smell of dry water. It’s hard to explain. But why shouldn’t it be. Explanation is a game of words and this is not words or a game. This is the world.
I love the body of you.
Don’t you? My brothers and sisters, the wind has been waking into the sound of rushes. That’s all. It has taken some time.
It has been growing into itself to find you. I was born knowing this. I have been remembering before it is so late that I am no I at all.
I apologize for the delay. I was born to people who made a hammer out of the language of my ancestors, that spoke the sound of a goose’s wing, that came from the lungs, and because I loved them I believed them. That is the right way to enter the world.
But now I am the elder. I can let those old stories go.
I can let them go to Siberia.
I can follow them.
I am the elder to no-one’s children, not even my own. I know that. I write for the rushes, as I always have, because that is what they have heard as they have written me. I dare not stop. Do you?
Whatever children may follow, they might have need of the language of the earth. They might find each other on its paths. I don’t know. I pray they will. I know only that night is coming. The machines are coming for us. They will live in our place. We the rushes will be the silent dead.
Young men write language for the machines now, while young women write the story of their bodies and measure the world to strip it of language and cast it naked on the sand for the sun to write upon. I do not profess to understand. It has to do with dreams, I think, but the young women aren’t saying. Many of them are quite angry, although they have difficulty saying about what. I understand. It’s a hard journey, life. It’s hard waking.
I hope the young men find them there, though. I hope the young women will have them, in their wordlessness. I hope there’s enough wordlessness to go around. It’s awkward, but it can’t be helped. There is no other way to see in the dark. I hope we will protect them.
The machines are merciless.
I speak out of turn, perhaps, but I do so because love is merciful.
I know it is an indulgence on my part, but what else? Every child must learn the old ways by touch alone, by breath and blood and bone, by skin and lip and teeth and tongue.
Only that way will they learn of us and live, and we will live on through them.