Plastic, Gardens and Drought

The replacement of lawn with gravel to save a rain shadow valley from drought is based on the principle of laying plastic down over the living earth and smothering it so that its natural creative energy is killed.Or so it seems. After only two or three years, the earth reasserts herself and begins to bury the stones.
Any decorative appeal, which was gained at great expense, is soon lost.

Things begin to look like hell.

What a lot of work it is to kill the earth. Sometimes it’s just easier to give up and grow a garden.

Dang, but a few years will nix that, too. Whew.
Best to give that up to and relax by the lake. A cool brewsky. Kids playing in the sand. Corn on the cob. Nature, you know? Nice. Here’s the corn, coming along.

Oh, crap. Of course, you don’t have to kill the earth. You can use plastic to bring her to life, too. Water, you know.

A society gardens in its own image. That’s the thing. If you want to know your country, look to its gardens.

Ouch.

Global Warming, Indigenous Culture and Industrial Nature

Please, forget carbon dioxide for just a minute, if you can. It’s a symptom, not a cause. There is worse.

Nature in Canada

This mule deer doe is trapped by fences on this hill. The collection of weeds (all introduced by cattle farming, except for the sagebrush, which has choked out the hillside, is also a result of cattle farming. This is an industrial ruin.

Nature in the Swiss Alps.

These alms in Unterwasser, in Alt Sankt Johann, feature a flock a sheep around the ruins of an old croft, a pasture water dam (centre of image) on an old creek (dry), and machine-hayed, state-subsidized farms on the beds of old forests. This is an industrial museum, used as a pharmaceutical to enable people who live in urban areas to survive as biological entities in artificial environments causing physical and emotional stress.

Nature in Zurich

This is an indigenous city. Here the celts became romans, adapted, and became better romans than the romans. After 2000 years of that, they raise their children in cages. This is a school playground.

In this context of adaptation, biological nature is an artform. You can find it at the graveyard across the street.

The Art of Death and Life

It’s an ancient celtic thing, that lives on. It’s called landscaping, because that’s the fashionable way to talk about it, learned from the roman britons of the 18th and 19th centuries: another group of indigenous people who romanticized nature to survive the brutality of states built as cages, and built new cultures out of it.

The wealth created by spreading these new aestheticized cultures around the planet, and living off of the conversion of other indigenous spaces into romanticized nature, or wilderness, has powered the global economy for a long time. We all live in the industrial ruins (corpses) these compromises have left behind.

Industrial Ruin on Vancouver Island

The ancient salmon forests and rain forests of the North East Pacific Coast are largely gone now. A few trees remain, but that’s it. Some of the oldest trees, however, ancient Nuxalk, Kwakwala, Haida, Nu-chah-nulth and Tlingit trees, for example, that grew huge in a shared ecosystem of humans, human shell middens, salmon and bears, litter the shores of British Columbia now, where they are called driftwood. They are not. They are ancient forests, chopped into logs, and torn by storm out of log booms. They were intended as houses, for immigrants in the United States and Canada, as well as structural timbers for Allied Aircraft, and so on. The indigenous people of this land were sacrificed, in other words, to create homes for people displaced elsewhere.

In an industrial culture, such views of industrial ruin are romantic and beautiful. In this case, they are called nature.This large stone on the shore of Discovery Passage, for example, is called, in the language of nature, a glacial erratic, and in romantic, colonial language, a grizzly bear that froze just as it touched the shore of Vancouver Island, and mythological evidence of why there are no grizzly bears on Vancouver Island. The tale was made up by a 19th Century missionary, along the lines of the Just So Stories of Rudyard Kipling. It is a part of a far older series of ancestral myths. Its attraction for artists of the industrial age is a testament to its ongoing power of attraction. For humans, this is a kind of industrial mirror.

Nature itself, a European concept, is a series of ancient indigenous forests (celtic), sublimated as principles of regrowth and renewal. It is what grows within industrial settings, returning them to the state of the Garden of Eden. In that regard, this colonized and industrialized foreshore is a Christian landscape, which is why it is so attractive to European cultures:

Ancient Kwakwala Clam Garden, Willow Point

This is also a Christian Landscape, this time above the Rhine at Sankt Goarshausen, in the celtic and roman heart of Europe. This is a catholic landscape, from a time in which the Catholic church was a political and industrial institution, when it was, in fact, an adaptation of an indigenous culture (rome) to an invasion and takeover by its own slaves. The resulting new rome was catholic. It produced images of itself, just as contemporary Canada produces images of its colonial processes along its own shores.

Wilderness in Sankt Goarshausen

These vineyards, and tens of thousands of steep hectares just like them, were farmed by hand two centuries ago, and even one, to create wine, which was marketted to dirty, industrial cities as a healthful, peasant alternative to industrial illnesses, containing simultaneously the power of the land, the power of simple people who rose from the land, and the hierarchal and imposed power of the church and God, who brought the power of the sun, and diefied power, into the grapes through the action of human hands subjugated to industry and piety. In its time, it was a beautiful compromise, creating a beautiful culture. It is all gone. Modern industrialization of wine land has created a price structure that cannot support hand labour.  This spiritual industrialization is now a ruin and, unsurprisingly, the churches are empty.

Wilderness in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley

Another name for this form of industrial ruin, or nature, is White Privilege. This is a landscape that became racialized in 1858 and which continues along the process of racialization. In the centre of the image above is Siya?, one of the four food chiefs of syilx culture. Everything else is a series of feral European weeds. In other words, Siya?, and the valley’s earth-based culture, live marginally within the unintentional consequences of racial abuse, dehumanization, and the separation of culture and landscape. But perhaps I am being unfair. Here, have another look:

Wild Rose in a White Landscape

In a Canadian context, she is called a weed, while the real weeds are called “grassland” and “nature.” That’s how far we’ve come.

What is the Canadian vision today in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley?

 

White Privilege: The View Over Indigenous Space

This is the outdoor, garden space of a home for Canadians retired from the petroleum industry to the East. It looks out over The Commonage, an indigenous pasture land that has been under land claim since 1895. This “house”, or viewing platform over a regime of power, will cost about a million bucks once the dust has settled.

You are looking at echoes of European architecture, filtered through the indigenous slavery cultures of the colonial American Southwest, and built out of machine-chipped wood, which is called “added value.” Bricks and European or Arizona-style adobe and plaster will be laid over these faux pillars and arches, to give the illusion of old world comfort and aristocracy. It is, however, only illusion. Not only will it not last, but it comes at a price that only people of White, industrial privilege can afford. Well, not quite.

You can, if you like, buy a town home and live on the edge of the privilege of your oil-wealthy neighbours up above, with a view over an industrial orchard. This too is called nature. This home is built on 5 metres of infilled gravel, into which 50 cm-thick (approximate) concrete footings were poured at -20C in the middle of the winter. Notice how the spring rains are wearing away the foundation. Expect the walls to settle.

Meanwhile, in Europe, nature becomes a gesture.

Rüdesheim am Rhein

Palm trees in the old Catholic wine-making town at the entrance to the Rhine Gorge.

The tourists are growing old now. They walked five years ago. Now they are hauled around in diesel “trains”, which clear all pedestrians out of the streets. This is wine culture today: not wine culture at all. These people are not buying wine. They are buying a tour of a museum town. What is on show is indigenous culture, through the filter of the compromises it has had to make over time to survive. This way people have of surviving in cages can be quite beautiful to people who live in cages.

Here’s the Okanagan Valley equivalent.

Indigenous Food and Medicine Crop in the Ruins

aka Arrow-Leafed Balsam Root in the cheat grass.

Most often, though, it just looks like this:

Or this: In White language, this landscape is called a desert, a term which increases its attractiveness and value (hence those American Southern indigenous-slave-culture architectural forms promising aristocratic ease), but it isn’t. The wheat grasses below (also an introduced weed but intended to replace the original grassland for grazing purposes), show just how much the land isn’t a desert. This grass is growing immediately beside the dead cheatgrass above.

Not a Desert!

“Desert” is a White term here.

So, please, forget carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming for just a moment and hang out with your mule deer sister. Look how afraid she is, racing through the weeds and a few indigenous plants that, like her, are surviving in this cage, and on which she grazes.

Carbon Dioxide is not a cause. It is a symptom. The cause is “Nature”. “Nature” is a racial term. The abuse it causes is the cause of Global Warming. It is a ruin. It has many forms. Similarly, the salsify (French) below along the old (Earl) Gray Canal Trail (British) in the old Syilx Illahie, is not a cause of ecosystem degradation but a symptom, and the source of new beauty.

This post-apocalyptic view, too. The regrowth here takes on special poignancy against the background of failed industrialization and rust.

This failed industrialization and adoration of death, shows up in the backyard image below: plastic chairs model after handcrafts from the American East, in the ruins of a Japanese orchard converted to gardening space int he 1970s, converted now to a lamp of bones over a new-age bowl of magical crystals, with partially-emptied jugs of home-made wine, with ground cloth and gravel to keep the old syilx land from growing through and creating the need for hand labour.

Death has been internalized. It is all powerful and we attempt to survive biologically within its grip. Global Warming is a logical consequence. Industrialization is not the cause. De-indigenization is.

Gardening in the Okanagan in 2017

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.

A Canadian Education

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.

Fly-Fishing Guide for Newcomers to the Okanagan

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.

jock-scott1280

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.

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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?

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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?

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Well, there’s still time. The nesting bed is still incomplete.

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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?

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Don’t worry, there’s no power yet. It won’t hurt at all. You’re good.

 

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.

mouth

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.