Vertical Lakes, Subsoil Dams and the Bear’s Cold Storage

There was forty centimetres of snow on this draw a couple weeks ago. Don’t think it’s all gone.

The shade on the south western slope is keeping it damp in the soil, and the bunchgrass on the hot north eastern slope is holding it in its roots. Same thing one cut to the west, below.

Welcome to the vertical lakes of Bella Vista! The saskatoons and choke cherries in the gap between the two regimes thrive on the water gravity draws down from the lee slope and the warmth from the grassy one.

As the winter progresses, the snow will come again, and will be caught in the tangle of bushes, effectively making tiny lakes of cold — artificial glaciers, if you like.

We could, of course, encourage this snow collection, by cutting the land so that the wind deposits the snow in these draws, which can be planted and harvested. Even hot, dry cuts, with inopportune sun exposure, can still delay the drought of August by enough weeks to support a few shrubs. If this were a flat hillside, they would not be here.Even without enough water to host some shrubs, the shade effects create two separate harvesting climates. That’s useful, too.

We could, of course, help out, as the rain erosion in this abandoned housing excavation suggests. Currently, snow is pushed to roadsides, so it can flow through storm sewers into the lake system. We could store it, instead.We don’t have to think small, either.

Look how a natural stone dam in the middle of a draw forces the subsoil water up the slopes and creates a lake of trees, effectively moving the boundaries upslope and using gravity to pump water to the bushes.

The harvesting period of a crop can be extended in this way. Think of it as cold storage, at no cost. Mind you, there are bears. Here’s his tunnel through the hawthorns.

I usually think like the fruit grower I am, but, hey, if it’s more productive to set up these orchards and harvest the game that shelters in them, that would work, too. It beats saying that the land is so weedy and overgrazed that it has no agricultural value any more and should be turned into housing, for which there is no water. It is called “doing something in particular.” I like that.

25% of Fruitgrowing Agricultural Productive Capacity in the Okanagan is Wasted

Here’s an industrial apple plantation after harvest. The trees are in long rain rows to facilitate mechanized farming, using multi-ton tractors and spraying equipment (combined weight of about 5 tonnes). After harvest, the impact of the equipment on the soil is plain to see. Average orchard compaction runs to 120 tonnes per year running alongside the tree rows per year.

I estimate that 25% of the soil above is heavily compacted, which means, effectively, it carries less than enough oxygen to adequately support life, reduces tree growth by up to 75%, dramatically reduces photosynthesis due to narrowing of leaf stomata, and increases production of ethylene gasses (hastening ripening in storage). Compensation will have to be made through increased fertilization, leading to decreased fruit flavour and increased orchard nitrate run-off, compounded by the inability of the soil to hold water or water-based nutrients Think about it. There are 35,000 acres of vineyard and orchard in the Okanagan. For the benefit of mechanized production, about 25% of the soil surface is lost due to heavy equipment uses, or 8,500 acres, and the ability of the trees and vines to prosper on the other 26,500 acres is reduced by up to 75%. Is that a fair trade?  We could effectively eliminate heavy equipment and free up 8500 acres for new production, which would be enough land for between 850 and 1700 young farmers. While you’re wondering about that, here is that orchard two years ago. Have another look…

See the leaves that the frost has dropped below the trees Those brown strips are lying on weed-sprayed land. As you can see, another quarter of the land has been sprayed with weed-killers.  Between compaction and weed-killing, in other words, only 50% of the land is reacting naturally to the atmosphere, and the land is potentially carrying only 50% of the microbes needed to feed these trees, requiring yet more artificial nutrients. Presumably, a system of managing the trees and the removal of the crop without the heavy equipment would be subsidized by decreased nutrient use, increased tree health and productivity, and decreased capital dependency, all offset by an increased entrepreneurial pool. Ah, why not have a look in the winter, before you make up your mind:

This expensive system of posts and wires is designed to eliminate labour, allowing for this land to be farmed with a minimum of employment and a maximum of capital investment. In other words, those 850 farmers would be working on this land if it weren’t for this mechanized system that has replaced them. Not only would the land be healthier, but so would the community. If you think of it, though, apples are shipped to packing facilities in 800 pound containers. There they are loaded into 32 pound containers, or even 20 pound ones, before being shipped to market. It would take a lot to convince me that we couldn’t eliminate the weight load on orchards by moving the fruit out of the orchard on lightweight fruit-bearing systems (they exist), even ones that made use of the pole systems. At  $25,000 -$75,000 per orchard/vineyard acre, a 30 acre orchard revitalizing its 25% lost land would have an instant land investment of between approximately $250,000 and $750,000. I am sure a system could be worked out for a tiny fraction of that benefit. Mind you, we could also talk about the 25% of fruit-growing land that is currently idle in the Greater Kelowna area, due to land speculation and gentrification issues. If that number holds for the entire value, then we need to revise our figures: 50% of Okanagan fruitgrowing land, or enough for 1700 full time orchard owners and their families, is being wasted, right now, today, every day. Do you want to chop it up another way? Sure: something between 25% and 50% of the horticultural water in the Okanagan is being wasted, without even taking into account the need for increased irrigation to make up for poor plant vigour. And here’s the thing: we ran out of water in 1992. That was, again (what’s with these numbers?) 25 years ago.


Who Loves Green Peppers Now?


The new landscaping staff stealing a bite at work on the front yard while I was up on the hill and teaching me again that an interface works both ways.

Doe and her still-suckling twins.

Note to self: plant more peppers next year. Expect company to stop by.

Should I put out milk?

The Seasons of Fire and Water

Where water is, there is the absence of water. There is always water, hidden in life. There is never water hidden from life. Even in the absence of water, there is water. Celtic consciousness dragged to this land from Europe holds that there are four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, which function in a cycle. This is a cycle of eternal return, a concept that European anthropologists wrote upon indigenous cultures throughout the twentieth century, often quite brilliantly, but do take a look at four images of one hill in one valley in one grassland above one lake in one small fault in the plateau east of the volcanic arc of the Northeast Pacific shore. These are the seasons of fire.

Where water is, there is fire. There is always water, hidden in fire. There is never water hidden from fire. Even in the absence of fire, there is fire. Fire is always present. It takes on bodies. It comes to life. Life is always present. It takes on fire. It burns. These seasons are one.

Too Young To Shoot

One of the curious results of mixing houses with farmland is that farmers, or their designates, can shoot deer, with bows or crossbows, in areas otherwise closed to hunting. The deer know this. Here is one of three young guys hiding out in a ruined plum orchard, two metres from the road.

Now, I know you’re not supposed to shoot a bow within 100 metres of a house, for good reason, and you’re not allowed to shoot one from the road, but hunters have recently been spotted in this neighbourhood, at 5:30 a.m., breaking the first of those rules. I wonder if this guy is going to figure it out in time that humans can’t be trusted. Imagine, being surrounded by thousands of predators, with fences blocking you from escape routes and any food. It’s murder.

One for the Porcupine

So, you think you’re going to build a trail system across the porcupine’s trail to an orchard’s compost pile, eh, and water some trees along it to protect the people on the trail from spray drift from the orchard. Yeah, sure. You just go try that.

Trickle Irrigation Hose, Gnawed

Good thing the water was turned off to this system a few years back, due to lack of funds to maintain what was started. When a development goes bankrupt, all environmental promises are annulled.

The farmer continues to use the compost pile. The farm has been in the family for generations. I’m sure they know the score. All that was achieved, really, was a bunch of dead trees and a continually irritated porcupine.

Just to be clear: this is not a wild porcupine, but a relationship between a farm and a hill, with prickly bits and hose-cutting teeth.

In Praise of Scotch Thistles

B.C. Hydro, our provincial power provider, is a responsible citizen, and poisoned these invasive thistles last year.


It’s the regulation. One wants to protect cattle range from inedible weeds. The thistles responded by coming back tenfold.

They are doing well.

Very well.

Perhaps we should all just accept that the glory days of ranching are over in these parts, which they are…

Slim Pickings

…and provide a home for the last remaining insects of the rich syilx grasslands (here on one of the few surviving native thistles) …

…that were here before the cattle ate everything else down to nothing. This looks like a good start, don’t you think?

We should do this out of respect.

And love.

The Snake and Turtle Trail

There is an ancient trail that comes in from spaxmən (Douglas Lake), crosses kɬúsx̌nítkw (Okanagan Lake) below, on the lower left …

… and enters a tongue of land called “The Commonage”. The trail then climbs this tongue to root gathering grounds on its rolling crown, including precious springtime bitterroot grounds …

…then descends to sacred chilutsus, “twin lake”, the lake that is two lakes in one, now known as Kalamalka and Wood lakes. There are three possible routes of descent, limited by cliff structures along the chilutsus shore. I indicate these trails by arrows below. The lower one leads to a winter village. The upper one accesses a second winter village at the head of chilutsus.

They all skirt significant landmarks, too many to mention in a short post …

… but one series stands out: turtles. This is turtle country. I indicate a few turtles with yellow circles below:


The one in the centre left of the image is Turtle Point.

A little closer, with less light?

The one in the centre right of the image is, again, Turtle Point. (The turtle’s head is on the right below, white with snow.)

The one just touching the upper edge of the map above is Turtle Mountain, the anchor of a series of turtling lava extrusions stretching along the so-called Bella Vista Hills.

I have no idea what this trail was called before it became a leg of the Hudson’s Bay Company Brigade Trail 200 years ago, but it’s a logical place to cross the lake of the twins to Turtle Point, the seasonal village east of it, and the trail to the salmon grounds beyond, on the Shuswap River, far off the right side of the map below.

Without an ancient name, I suggest that, for now, we keep the trail’s history alive by describing it after its crossings, and its anchor, the marker at its lakeshore terminus…

The snake! I suggest it’s a big-eyed Western Yellow Bellied Racer.

Such as the one above, which I found along the trail on the eastern shore of chilutsus.

I think it’s fitting that the trail follows a snake-like route across a rise of grass, to a cross from snake to turtle, and that this rise of grass is  a snake-shaped tongue of land that keeps us alive with salmon-coloured flowers in the spring, on our way across water to the salmon that see us through the winter. My deeper hunch is that this land, called the Commonage, was always held in common between chilutsus and kɬúsx̌nítkw, and has always been a place of crossing, just as chilutsus is: one of the points in which Syilx territory meets on its north-south and east-west axes, in a territory that was always the road between the north and the south, the east and the west. Sure, it’s called The Commonage, after a ploy by White Ranchers to gain the last stretch of indigenous land for their cattle, close to 150 years ago, but it could well be that the idea was accepted partly because it had always been a place held in common.

The land tells us all we need.