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.

Chickadee Photograph

So, the chickadees come and eat the weed seeds. This is part of the ecology of the new grasslands. It’s like moving to Mars, except Mars comes to you. Still, tasty, and a mixed menu, too.p1460874

And something scares you, like Harold coming with his camera, let’s say, so you leap to the mustard, and, yeah, you might only weigh in at a few grams, but it’s enough to get that tall timber swaying like a ship in storm off of Cape Horn.p1460872

The stalk records your weight in the snow. Look at how the recording is about the size and shape of a chickadee. Judging by the irregular shape of the hole, I’d say that some chickadee friends played second fiddle on this one.
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What a cool track to lay down!

The Bounty of Water in a Dry Country

This is water.

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It is called Okanagan Lake. In Icelandic, where indigenous European language survives, it is a vatn, specifically a space of free water. Of that, it is a special form, called a læk, or a lick: a domesticated space of water, of agricultural use. Metaphysically and socially, it is both of those, but in terms of its own essence and how it works in this dry landscape, it is neither. This is water.
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It is also called a weed, or an unwanted growth. It grows on disturbed land, or land set aside for agricultural use but then abandoned and left in this state of abandonment, which is called wild, after the Old English (essentially Icelandic) wildeornes, a point (nes) for wild (wil or wild) beasts (deor.) In this dry country, such a space is one that is removed from agricultural space and given, generously but purposefully, to our brothers and sisters. This is water.

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It is an industrial orchard and garlic field (in winter ground cover), irrigated by industrially-supplied high country water along the model of the California Gold Rush of 1849. It is not vatn and is fenced against wild and other humans. It is, thus, as constricted as the flow within the gold rush technology that supplies its water. It is a form of sluice box (a hand-mining technology that harnesses water and gravity to separate gold from gravel.) This is water:p1410838

It is also known as crested wheat grass, an introduced pasturage species to replace blue bunch wheat grass, the native grass of this grassland, which doesn’t suffer well the predations of cattle. It is not vatn, læk or wildeornes, but because it has chosen to escape the rather loose boundaries set for it it is known as a weed, and is called wild, or nature. It is none of those. It is water. This is water:

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It is also known as grazing land, a kind of dry læk, although it has been grazed down to cheatgrass (an invasive weed, green in the image) and big sage (which is covering land denuded of blue bunch wheatgrass by cattle, in the land’s attempts to stop water from seeping out of life as vatn). This is water.p1410538

It is also known as a deor trail (or path, from pad (tread), from pfot (foot)). It passes through a mixture of weeds, big sage and blue bunch wheatgrass, like a river. A dry river. This is water:

This is the Columbia at White Bluffs, the great river of my grasslands, in the smoke from a grassland fire. It is what is known by the mouth, the throat and the lungs as a RRRRRR! A roar, a run, a river. It is known by them at the same time as an OOOOOO! A Strom (or stream), a roar, a flow. It is a flow, not a substance. This is water:

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It is known as blue bunch wheatgrass in the fall sun, waiting for the rains that it will gather and hold through a season, keeping them from leaving the land as vatn as long as they can. It is water doing that itself by climbing a ladder of carbon and hydrogen towards the sun. Look at it catch the sun. Look at it re-create it:

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Each drop of water is now a tiny earth called a seed. If one places, or plants, this seed, it will respond with a gesture of growth equal to the intention of the planting, whether that is done by the wind, a bird, a deer knocking through the grass, or the intention of a human hand. This is water. That’s the way it is here.

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That’s what you know if you live here.

The Mind of a Thistle

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

The human brain is more complex than hers, but hers is a brain as well.
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She too is conscious, but in the context of the world, not of herself.

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

What’s Smarter than Humans

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

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

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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.

Sustaining the Okanagan 19: Humans, Class and Environment

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.)
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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.

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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.

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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. p1250920

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.p1260050

The trail goes under these cottonwoods…p1260046

… 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”.

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It’s that “human” and “nodding onion” are the same thing. The word “human” is a fence. We need to bust it down.

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If you don’t know how, ask a cow.