If you are over 50, you will find your childhood there. If younger, your pink parents.
If you are over 50, you will find your childhood there. If younger, your pink parents.
This is an Icelandic hiking trail.
It is public infrastructure for travellers and locals alike. You can see it on the scree slope below.
It is much loved. It leads to the heart of things (and a great view.)
A lower trail is in the image below, should you want to stay in the valley rather than head for the peak.
Here’s an Okanagan hiking trail.
The Okanagan Rail Trail covers 50 kilometres of level land. The costs include gravel, to make it safe to walk on, and rock scaling, also for safety, although the rock scaling risks destroying irreplaceable indigenous spirit rocks. I’m in favour of this fantastic trail and of spirit rocks, so I’m wondering, hey, does it need to be so complicated or so expensive? Let’s take a look at Icelandic rock scaling for safety purpose, one more time.
Canada is a country in which mountains are crushed to dust then rebuilt with hollow chambers, in which to shelter elders for profit. This is Canadian landscaping.
Shelter from what? From this?
These plants have gone wild from a garden above them. Not one is native here. They are native to Eastern North America.
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.
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.
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.
This is one of a series of posts about how to maintain a local landscape in the face of technological pressure. In this case, both the primary observation (all land and landscape is a system of ethics) and the intervention (be human) are simple. That’s not as obvious as it might sound. Let me try to explain. As an example, the grassland fly below is sitting on a cedar fence post from the 1960s, that is about to be pushed down to make room for a (guess) $1,500,000 house, affordable only to someone who did not make their money in this place, because this place no longer has the capacity to build its own houses in its most desirable spots for its own people — surely a measure of societal sustainability and success. (Selling the most desirable land to people from other cultures is not a recipe for cultural survival. It is a recipe for cultural replacement, with the notion of replacement becoming the culture.)
Something else you might notice: this fencepost is made from an old growth cedar tree from the British Columbia Coast, one of the 1,000 year old trees of pre-European civilization. It was stolen and transported here. What’s done is done, of course, and theft is not the issue. The issue is that this fly is standing on this history, in a world controlled by technology, yet is unable to control it. That right has been given to one particular class of inhabitants: homo sapiens. Within that group of critters, only one particular class has the means to control the technology, and that is a class of system managers from outside of this region, and those who serve them. That’s class behaviour, and that’s my point. It’s a method of human display and power-positioning to which the earth has now been enslaved. It makes all of us slavers. Those are harsh words, perhaps, but this is important. Please let me keep trying to explain. The image below shows a surviving bit of grassland, very close to where the green fly above was foraging. This is a mariposa lily with its pod open, waiting for a deer to brush it and knock its seeds into the bacterial crust on the soil. The timing of deer migrations and water patterns is probably exquisitely timed.
The only thing is, this is all taking place on a piece of land adjacent to the doomed fencepost, and likely the next plot of land for the next house. It is, in other words, also a class space. It is soon going to vanish. Eventually, so will the fly. So, putting all that together, we get something like this: in this piece of earth, a certain class of a certain class of inhabitants have the rights to self-determination, and others don’t. They are destined to extinction, in the manner that indigenous peoples were considered destined for extinction during the colonial period, due to their susceptibility to disease. (Of course, the disease was more the result of slavery and starvation than outright susceptibility, but that’s the secret few mention.) In this socially-charged landscape, the rightful inhabitants who don’t have land-ownership rights within human society are called “wild” or “nature” or “lazy” or “poor”, in the case of homo sapiens. Class behaviour for sure. The only thing is, every last one of us is equal in this place, and all of us are growing in the sun, and whatever this place is we are all part of how it is unfolding. Any deviation from that is a chose deviation, with class repercussions, not just for homo sapiens but for everything else that is here. Currently, this situation is being managed through technology, ownership and notions of capital (all pretty much the same thing), which draw down the energy of the land so it can be transferred into social energy, for class-based profit. That’s pretty efficient. It gives us houses (well, castles) like the one dominating a coyote, porcupine, bear and deer trail below.
And that bring us to another point: that house rises from the same set of social webs and the same set of class behaviours as the fencepost, the fly and the workers who built the house. It dominates the landscape exactly in the manner of its wealthy owners. It, too, is class behaviour. What’s more, as it stands in for a human, and is an expression of human bodily consciousness and social positioning, it is a special kind of human: a corporate human, much like the corporations which have the rights of biological humans to create the wealth that allows such houses to be built. And that’s my point: we can’t make accurate maps of social and material interfaces on this land without defining class and humanity. Including that house in the group of humans (calling it a specific class of human) makes discussions of land use more meaningful, in exactly the same way that including the drawn-down energy of the earth into financial calculations makes real costs and benefits more visible and more capable of being grasped and discussed. Check out this group of cows and their kids, put on the grass to eat autumn’s invasive weeds (nothing else is worth eating anymore, in this formerly wealthy landscape). Who needs a fence, eh.
Truth is, the fence is as much to assert control of other humans as it is to assert control over cows. It is an extension of human will. Those who live by it are bound to that human will. In other words, just like the house above let’s accord the cows, the invasive weeds, the surviving sagebrush and the fence human class rights as well. Does that sound strange? I hope it does. I hope it demonstrates how the word ‘human’ has been mis-used, along class lines, blurring equality between creatures, earth, societies, relationships and even virtual states. They are all humans. (Preposterous? Feel free to insert another word in place of ‘human’ and discard ‘human’ as an operative term.) After all, humans aren’t biological creatures. We are human because out of biological origins we have built up a parallel, virtual system of identity, based on the foundation of an interest in mark-making, such as the trail a five year old child made the other day, on the trail put over the old irrigation ditch made by Earl Grey back when this place was British. Elsewhere, he’s known for tea. Here, he’s a place to create identity — whatever identity you want.
The trail goes under these cottonwoods…
… planted to create a barrier between the poisonous chemicals sprayed on the orchard below and walkers on the trail. In other words, like cattle, or people separated from land by fences of private ownership (i.e. by capital), this tree has been assigned a class and slave relationship within its virtual living space, contemporary society. It too is human. It’s one thing to define our age as the anthropocene, the age in which humans have the power to control or destroy everything on earth, and it’s one thing to extend rights of power to all human groups, by race, gender, social class, country of origin and so one, but it’s a totally incomplete effort without extending that dignity and those rights to all that we assert control over and all the means by which we do it. If the world is controlled by homo sapiens, the world lives within the human social grid. It has been enslaved. If there are parts which lie outside that grid, let’s give them the respect of real difference, which means to break down the fences in our heads that tell us we have the power to control them. If there are parts which lie within the grid, let’s give them the respect of social inclusion, and talk about the pattern of social hierarchies that control not only them but all of us as well. Otherwise, the lives we really live, and the grids of power we live it within, remain invisible and every choice we make will founder, because it is based on a big lie. Is a society likely to take on this program? Of course not. Power is power, after all. However, a primary change is possible: to stop living from the proceeds of slavery. This we can change. It will create different patterns of individual and social identity, which will create more sustainable landscapes. Will it take 50 years? That’s nothing. I remember when those fence posts first came to the valley. That’s not so long. Will it take 100 years? That’s nothing. The mariposa lily I showed you has survived 100 years of overgrazing and fire suppression, and is still capable of springing back to abundance if given a chance. Does it matter? Yes. We will guarantee abundance for our children’s children’s children if we give them a place in the land. Sometimes things are exactly what they are. It’s not exactly that the nodding onion below (a vital and exquisite indigenous food plant) is “human”.
It’s that “human” and “nodding onion” are the same thing. The word “human” is a fence. We need to bust it down.
If you don’t know how, ask a cow.
Every house is a representation of a human body…
… including social representations of that body …
… and its cognitive sense of itself, inviolate in otherwise empty and invisible space…
So, of course, you’re going to want to decorate it with jewelry and bling…
These rhinestones are called “gardens”. You buy them. You, understandably, root out any plant that chooses to grow there on its own. It is not a gesture. It is the erasure of a gesture. Gestures are about tidiness. And boundaries. What is over the boundary is empty space. It is invisible. It should stay that way. If it crosses the boundary to the human body, it starts making the jewelry look cheap, and what kind of investment is that?
These jewels are very industrial (an old word for “creative”), that’s the thing, as you would expect from an industrial culture that invented artificial diamonds, so top marks for that. Just don’t let anything in through the skin. These jewels are also very ordered, as you would expect from a managerial culture.
Beauty has nothing to do with it. Beauty is a transient gesture. You can find it in any old lavender plant, and then move on, sated.
A glimpse will do you. The little gold choker around this body’s neck, for instance. Cute.
The only thing is, humans are, well human, and their minds wander and before you know it, they have made other little bodies and they scatter them all over the place. Oh, those humans! They like languages in which every word is discrete.
No connection between them except the gesture of setting them there. They clap their hands at this. “Beautiful!” they say.
These big apes are in love with artifice.
It’s reality they have troubles with.
Shoo! That’s body jewelry you’re eating there! Shoo, boys, shoo!
Plant a maple tree. Plant it beside a road.
Roads collect water. Roads shed water. Ditches, which line roads, collect water. Or maybe they’re just barren spaces, and just for show and meeting government regulations, but great for gophers, yes. Yes, great for gophers. (Note: Don’t worry. I didn’t fall over. I was just lurching. Don’t know why.)
Or rocks. You could get all up-to-date, low-maintenance, weedless, hip and modern. It’ll cost a fortune, I know, but with dump trucks and loaders and diesel engines all over the place, which is fun, and, bonus, you’ll never have to do a thing again, ever. Ever. Ever ever ever.
Well, maybe not weedless.
Maybe rocks collect dust and water and seeds, which is the whole point of rocks.
Well, forget the ditches, then. Just do the whole yard in gravel. That way you won’t have to mow.
Oh, right. Gravel is small rocks. Rocks and dust and water and seed all have a thing going. Shoot.
So, back to basics.
Plant a maple seed. After all, a road is just a big long rock, that collects dust and water and seeds. You can help, right? In a dry climate, where water gets more expensive and harder to source every year, why don’t we do away with ditches that don’t ditch and plant trees that take all that water away. I know, I know, they’re going to look pretty great and be full of orioles and gold finches and blue birds, but, hey, trees are like rocks. They collect things.
For the cost of a handful of maple seeds, our grandchildren will have a hardwood lumber industry. No irrigation required. The choice is clear: either no labour with that or hours of weed whacking every year with this:
And gophers eating your carrots. Sustainability is not hard. It’s often the easiest thing of all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Welcome home.
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…
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 …
(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:
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 …
… 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 …
… that needs to be manipulated. Not this:
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.