In water, an island is an eye of land giving sight to water.
On land, an island is a pool of water giving life to air. Grasslands are oceanic environments.
In water, an island is an eye of land giving sight to water.
On land, an island is a pool of water giving life to air. Grasslands are oceanic environments.
It is a catastrophic summer in the Interior of British Columbia. Close to 15,000 people have been evacuated from their communities. Indigenous communities who refuse to leave are isolated. Read about the grim situation at Anaham here: http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/first-nations-community-holds-on-as-fire-threatens The question of why these people have chosen to stay in the face of catastrophic fire, isolation and great danger can be answered only in troubling ways. They are, however, simple enough. The tsilqhot’in are this place of fire. There is no evacuation. A lot of this has to do with a century and a half of great cultural hurt, but there’s a positive story here as well. Perhaps this image from the height of this land, at the crest of the Yellowstone Plume, in the great caldera that is the heart of winter …
…and fire on this continent and which anchors our country, Cascadia, like the eye of a pool in one of her rivers displays something of the answer:
A pine rooting on the face of the cooled molten plume, from this post about my journey to the height of the land: https://okanaganokanogan.com/2015/09/28/cascadia-land-of-fire/
If we call these uncontrollable and violent fires “wild fires”, we are participating in the environmental destruction that has created them rather than in the solutions that will control them. Until then, they will remain gothic and destructive, like the nineteenth century creations that they are. At the moment, of course, we must protect our homes and our loved ones, with all the vigour we can bring to this terrifying and important work, but let’s do it in a way that leads directly to the future that must follow this catastrophe of environmental mismanagement. Let’s call these fires by their correct names. They are not wild. Fire lives in this plateau. Smoke, such as obscured Okanagan Lake below, is the natural form of summer here.
Through neglect to honour fire’s primary place, it has been called into violent incarnation by excess fuel. The explosive sage below, above my house, is a bomb waiting to explode, and it’s the creation of bad resource policy. It can be fixed. We will have to be doing this in the next few years.
To say these horrific fieres are wild, is to say that an abstract notion of fire is fire’s base state, and that fire that escapes the boundaries of the controls of intellectual understanding is “wild”. That’s insulting. In Cascadia, wild fire control began a bit more than a century ago, to protect the nationalized forests made out of depopulated native space for the benefit of industrial and recreational use. This management regime was a replacement for indigenous fire management, in land forcibly removed from indigenous control. The indigenous understanding was based on living within space. The replacement, modern civilization, declared the land wild and foreign to human consciousness. That was a lie. Fire remains far bigger than any human or any collection of humans. Perhaps the image below of when the grassland hill above my house burnt a few years back and the fire turned to life within a few weeks can illustrate the edges of the tsilqhot’in resistance to evacuation. Within a few weeks, this:
Nootka Rose Sprouting from Cooked Rock
Let’s bring the irresistible force of living and destructive and creative fire within our social group and develop strategies to tame it. It’s coming to us anyway, horrifically. Yes, let’s save our homes, our farms, our communities, our forests, and our lives with all the effort we can bring to it, but let’s then move on to build a society that recognizes that fire is the natural state of this place.The failure to create civilized, or artful, fire within organic environments such as grasslands and forests, except at moments of catastrophe when fire sweeps in waves across the land due to being ignored for too long and its potential disrespected, is also a created state, but not one of which we should in any way be proud. And I want to be proud of how we live with fire. This work can wait until the crisis is over, but we can start now in a small way, by throwing away that awful racist term: wild fire. The time for that was 160 years ago, two weeks ago, today, and tomorrow. Fire is here to stay. Let’s hope we are too.
Central British Columbia is going up in flames.
Towns in which I used to live, with my friends, have been evacuated in the face of fire. We got off the plateau just in time yesterday, before the last road over the Bonaparte Plateau was closed, leaving our beloved Big Bar Lake to face the smoke alone.
May the fire ride gently across the land, may the wind still and call the rains, may we all come safely home, may the lakes and trees receive us, may we humbly accept this second chance.
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.
I’m working on a series of 100 practical things we can do in the Okanagan to create a sustainable culture. They are archived in the menu bar above. Let me give you a hint: this is not it:
Let that be our parliament. It is the pow-wow grounds at the Okanagan Indian Band at Head of the Lake. This is the biggest change of all, and the most important. We’re not going to get there all at once, but it’s not impossible to get there, and getting there is worth it. Please follow along through this argument, although it might be hard reading. I repeat: it’s worth it. Here’s how it works:
… waiting for dinner! Bless her. That nest has been rebuilt in the same spot for five years now, and who knows how many before that. I can lay no claim to it, except in a claim to care for it for her. If her kids would only leave my strawberries alone, but … oh well.
9. There are multiple levels of government in this place, which there should be, as this is a successful and dynamic democracy and a prosperous, liberal industrial state. It is a complicated place requiring a great amount of democratic discussion.
10. Let’s expand that discussion.
Currently, Syilx participation in those levels of government is minimal, although it is mandated by the Government of Canada, which set fair accommodation of the Syilx, and all native peoples, as sovereign peoples, as a condition of British Columbia (this place on the North Eastern Pacific) entering the dominion of Canada. Fair enough. Thing is, I have sat on local committees and only once has there been native participation (there has, however, been resistance to it, despite my protests), and that only in the body of one single man in a sea of 60 immigrants … not just Canadians but Canadians new to the valley, some only a week or two into the experience. All this in a situation in which in the last 145 years only two land issues between the sovereign governments of the 198 independent aboriginal nations of British Columbia have been settled. My revulsion aside, you might ask what right do I, a man with obviously European ancestors (Rhenisch, Silesian from Kattowice, Gleiwitz and Wroclaw) have to be commenting on First Nation issues? Good question. None, except… I was born in 1958, which makes my personal memory and experience of this experiment over a third of its total. Pshaw, that’s nothing. True. How about this: my grandparents came in 1929, which makes my family experience two-thirds of its total. Pshaw, that’s nothing either, not when considered against the, what, 500 generations of the Syilx or the, I dunno, 1000 generations of the Haida. That’s kind of my point. Still, I do think, though, it gives me the right to speak a little bit about European culture in this place. What I’d like to offer is this:
Every political decision made in this place should be made with the full and equal participation of the Syilx. It should have been so in 1858, but it’s not yet too late to start.
Period. No limitations or exclusions or excuses. None. No saying, “but this is Canada, and we’re all Canadians.” The terms of that takeover have not yet been met. This land is in Syilx care. There is no negotiation on that. We can join them, but that’s it. And they’d be welcome of any help. This is who they are, and it’s who I am, too.
This does not mean, though, that I’m advocating a single Syilx representative on every council and board in the region. That means 1 vote out of dozens, as big of a change as that might be. It would mean a bit of important ceremonial recognition, but little else. No, I’m advocating a change. I’m advocating a Syilx vote for every Syilx community in the region. In my city, Vernon and Coldstream (there’s kind of a disagreement over class, which gives 2 administrations, which is so White, isn’t it), there are at least eight traditional villages. Here’s one. It’s currently a trailer park, a dredged creek, an airport and a soccer field. Everything to the right of the creek has been in the courts since 1895. It is currently for sale.
This is not too much to ask. The European people of the Okanagan might be honest, and might have purchased their land in good faith, and they have, of course, but, ultimately, it’s not ours. It’s Syilx land. Ultimately, if I want to prune my apricot tree I should be conferring with Syilx elders about that. Now, I know that’s impossible, and no one, especially Syilx elders, who have grandchildren to care about, for the love of God, wants to get involved with that, but regulations can, and regulations are created by committees, and committees work on majorities, discussion and either consensus or majority vote. Eight Syilx members on every committee? That would make the discussions relevant, and would likely lead to something like a 50-50 sharing of power.
This hill above Kalamalka Lake stands just above the point of a triangle of three village sites. You are looking at three votes.
Here’s my thinking: the earth is dying; we did this; no excuses.Now, we can’t give the earth a vote; but we can give a vote to its fruitful places, the ones suitable for human settlement, through the people who answered that call and whose survival is dependent upon honouring it. That there are no people in the view below is kind of the point.
They’re there in spirit, and they need to be invited back there, not in some romantic fashion, but in the hard, nuts-and-bolts practical work of working together. They keep asking. Let’s answer “yes” this time. Let’s ask them. Anything else — anything else — is racism. That the “land” and the “water” below is a Provincial Park is racism (unless we use the time it has bought us to move forward) …
I told you this one was hard. Now, let’s work towards it, slow step by step. Let’s be brave. We can do this. If we can’t, we should pack up and leave. Me? I’m staying. What about you?
Looks innocuous, doesn’t it. Such an exquisitely designed magazine from a liberal democracy that has long outgrown its colonial past.
Well, looks deceive. This is a raucously colonial issue of this magazine, and since the Okanagan is the place being colonized by its pinkness, let’s have a look. First the big picture.
That’s the land of the beaver, that is, plus some other bits. The Okanagan is off to the left. Here’s the left. The Okanagan is in the red oval.
Here’s another look at that, the traditional territory of the Syilx (aka Okanogan) people:
Note that the upper part of this larger oval is, well, not Okanagan. There’s a reason for that: it’s Secwepemc. To say it was Okanagan would be like saying France is Germany. People,
That would be a bad idea.
Here’s another view, this one from the Okanagan Basin Water Board. It’s about 1/10 the size of the traditional territory above. This is today’s Okanagan — to all of its 400,000 “Canadian” residents.
I say “Canadian” because, nuts, Canadian Art Magazine has other ideas.
What you’re looking at is the opening of an article by a citizen of a coastal city 500 kilometres from the Okanagan, called Vancouver. Writing from there, he has crafted an article about a house, which takes Vancouver aesthetics and shifts them to a place some 700 kilometres from Vancouver, give or take, Heffley Louis Creek, which is here (the red marker in the upper middle of the image). Notice that it’s 200 kilometres of driving from the furthest extension of the Okanagan (the red oval).
Pshaw, what’s 200 kilometres? That’s the distance between Canada’s eastern capital, Ottawa, and Canada’s major cultural city, french Montreal. If anyone were to suggest that Montreal culture is Ottawa culture, the province of Quebec would immediately secede from Canada. Period. Overnight. Yet for some incomprehensible reason, Michael Turner can suggest, with a straight face, in a national magazine, that not only is imposing Vancouver culture on Secwepemc territory a good thing, which …
… is just plain insulting and is patronizing to a territory that has suffered enough already from government policy, including the heinous Indian Act, but is also suggesting by default that the nearly 250-year-old pre-European treaty between the Syilx of the Okanagan and the Secwepemc of the Thompson River and Shuswap Lake, as they are called today, is null and void, because to him it’s all the Okanagan now: a high country without even a connection to the Okanagan watershed, or the Columbia Watershed of which it’s a part, and with an entirely different climate and history. If you ever, ever were tempted to think that Canada is a post-colonial country, I’m sorry to say that someone lied to you, because colonialism and elite privilege are going strong, and this is what it looks like. Ah, but maybe the art is exquisite and new! Yes, maybe. Have a look:
Yuppers, “back-to-the-landers” built thousands of structures like this here 40 and 50 years ago. The only difference is that they wanted to become a part of the place. The new folks haven’t even bothered to find out where they are. I wish they’d go back to their own country. It would be such an unpleasantness to have to invade theirs. Look for it soon: Vancouver: the Okanagan’s newest wine-growing district. A lot of houses would have to be levelled, at 1,000,000-3,000,000 buckaroos a pop, but it can’t be helped. They’re going to be in the way, but, folks, don’t worry:
Why use words that can mean anything at all in the world and all of them insulting? What’s the point of that?
You know how I showed you Sen’klip (aka Coyote) the other day? Yes? No? Yip yip? Yap yap? No matter, he’s such a handsome guy he’s worth having another look-see.
What a dude! Well, here’s his brother, from 95 kilometres up the Thompson Gorge and in morning light:
How cool is that! Now, as you can scope out, this second fellow isn’t a coyote. It’s Sen’klip’s bro, Fox, hanging out with his buddy turtle (in the foreground.) Yeah, I know, they are all chunks of basalt that broke off the cliffs behind them, either from catastrophic post-glacial floods or from 10,000 years of weathering, but they are more than that, too. It is easy to read the earth from them, that’s the thing, and without the exquisite tools and beautiful weapons of university departments of soil and water science. That’s important. Why? Well, because of this:
Isn’t it beautiful? That dune, among the remnants of a post-glacial Thompson Gorge lake bottom, is doing great work. Look at the tufts of dust rising off of its crest. Look at how it is feathering off into incredibly fine dust at its northern (left) rim. Look at how this small action of wind combines with the sun’s heat to keep the sagebrush away and how the sagebrush, creeping up from behind, stops the wind in its tracks, or almost does. Such conversations of light, water, soil and wind are 10,000 years old here. All the life you see in this image is laid down in the patterns of this energy, and there it is, still working, like a fire still smoking and not yet put out. That dune has not finished the job of making this life, just as the wind has not finished collecting the dust from this landscape to make the dune. Down by the river, there is a different story.
There, the river has sorted gravel (those are the river’s flood bars) in the deep channel it once cut through the old lake bottom you can see at the left (and out of which dunes are still forming.) This land is being sorted by water and air into their patterns, and life follows. Accordingly, water, air and life can be read from the patterns in the land, as well as …
…the motorized track some dweeb hopped up on technology and gasoline fumes made by driving up the face of that dune as if such erosion wasn’t an ethical affront.
Pitiful. One last look. The dust blowing over the crest of the dune is coming from the tracks of this idiot, as the dune and the wind come to a new balance, in a society that doesn’t understand the first one, because it has a word for this kind of thing: dune; a historical artefact.
A society that didn’t purchase its food with oil dollars from poor people in Mexico would have a science that would explore the processes of life creation and sustainment within this image. Ours does, too: it is called nature, which means it is off limits, except, of course, to toodle around in with a dune buggy, or a motorcycle, or a quad. That is culturally allowed, because, well, it’s nature, and no-one lives there. As I was saying, only a society that purchased its food with oil dollars would lack the words to describe what is really going on here. The raven in the image below does. Have fun finding it!
I was listening to a year’s worth of one of my favourite radio shows Quirks and Quarks (a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation science show) these past two weeks, and observed that despite the variety of astonishing discoveries made by brilliant, dedicated scientists the world over, there is an amazing sameness to it all. Take a look at the current schedule:
Culturally, these discoveries come from a very narrow band of experience, are all mediated by technology, and all have certain ends in mind. They are much like a classic form of misunderstood Indigenous story-telling, the kind of story that includes Sen’klip and the monsters he tamed to make this land safe for humans …
One of Sen’klip’s monsters, with him splayed out on top, in his doggy way, to keep it from wriggling. Note how it has been broken into three parts. The monster’s mouth and eye are to the right, at the base of the cliff. (Don’t worry if you can’t see it; it really doesn’t matter.) What matters is paying attention.
Look how the saskatoon bushes are mining the water that flows out of the bottom of the central part of the scree, in a shadowed line like beads on the hem of a dress. Beautiful, isn’t it! A study of those effects alone would be worthy of a grassland science. It’s not a “just-so” story, however, such as Rudyard Kipling wrote when the English thought they owned the world:
Here’s the beginning of one of these explanatory tales (if you open it in a new window you can get a better look at it):Contemporary scientists still seem to be taking unified stories about spirit and matter and re-telling them as explanations in support of a cultural idea called science. It’s wonderfully circular. It does not, however, replace the imperative of living in a living landscape, and viewing it with an eye for life. Look below, for example, at how the dress beads above have moved up the slope on an older scree facing the morning sun downriver. Forget the distance. That’s not the point. In fact, it does not matter at all. It only matters to people who do not live here but are only travelling through.
The pattern of these changes can be read from the land, and from these patterns and changes a map of life can be built up, which includes where people can live, not to hunt and gather animals and plants, but to be present where they are and to harvest them without waste, when they come to the people. These are observations, not that dissimilar from those that the form of culture called science is based on. So, let’s look again, more carefully this time:
There are a couple levels of story here, which can be read as shorthand for each other. In one, that lump of basalt above is one of the earth’s bones, from a cliff that breaks up into characters and faces out of legend. This particular bone is the skull of Fox, Sen’klip’s brother, who always brings him back to life when he gets himself killed and is nothing more than a pile of bones lying at the side of the trail. There are deep mysteries here, because the differences between the bunch grasses and sagebrushes and the particular sheer angles and colour of the volcanic rock above do differ from those in the images below:
And the sage, of course, just uphill to the south:
People who live in these stretches differ just as much, even though they are related. In other words, by reading the stories of the land, much can be learned. In terms of Western culture, there is much to be learned as well. Let’s look again:
From the presence of volcanic breccia, we know the type of rock and its minerality; its water retention and shedding capabilities; and its coarse sands.
From the volcanic breccia, we know that the scree slopes are intricate patterns of water, as is the rock, and the life that rises from it like steam.
From the presence of the cliff above this artefact …
… we know that water has sculpted this landscape, which means that we know that its patterns are in sorted, fluidly-angled, water patterns, with varying usability depending upon deflection angles, eddies, lake bottoms, erosion channels, and much more, including that sorting I was showing you, such as these ancient layers of river bottom…
Ancient Eddy Pushing Up a Bar to Our Left and a Pool to Our Right
Of course, it likely took five minutes each time.
By reading the vegetation, we can read much of this sub-soil story, just as we can read the vegetation by reading the Indigenous story…
Because we know this is a story of water, we know that the wind will follow the water, so we know where to seek shelter and life-giving snow, and the plants that follow its drifts. In fact, we know how to read these effects down to tiny drifts a few centimetres in size.
Because there are lichens, we know there is drought, water, cold and heat, and that it is not always dry here.
From all of these readings, it is possible to know where to plant what, when to harvest it, where to live, where to find water, where to shelter (and in which season), and so on. The big questions.
That’s just a little of what can be read from the land, but the point is not to make an exhaustive list. Rather, I just wanted to show how Western science is indistinguishable from Indigenous myth and observational, land-based knowledge, except on one point: it is inferior; it is stuck doing this:
That is called anthropomorphizing (class), and cultural appropriation (theft). It is a colonial attitude, and one thing about colonists is that they do not live where they are. They do not live here:
Colonists don’t live here, either:
The wind does. The survival of Indigenous people was built on reading this land. The survival of all people here necessitates becoming Indigenous. If we don’t, then the land will reform itself not on the model of water but on the model of technologies used to break it …
Blasting Rubble and the Heavy Erosion of the Transcontinental Train Line
That’s an easy story to read, too, but there’s no life in it, only technique. Technique leads to technique. Life leads to life. This is a real choice. This matters.
Sagebrush. It loves the heat and it looks so grey, right. It loves the cold and it looks so grey, so very grey.
But it has a secret.
It’s really saturated with light, which it concentrates out of the air.
It takes great contrast for human eyes to see it, but to the sagebrush, pshaw, normal, you know.
149,597,870,700 meters from the earth (or about 149,597,870,700 of those sagebrushes up there on that hill above you), the sun is caught from the air, the way a spider catches flies, and springs to life, where there was otherwise only particles and waves passing through darkness. That means there are two suns. One made of hydrogen, and one a sacred plant that smells like split stone, right at the moment of splitting open.
Worth a bit of love.
Size is relative.
Grasslands are forests, too. They only appear short because we walk in the sky.
Imagine looking up at the hill and seeing the spirit that has been there for 12,000 years for the first time.
450,000 people live in the Okanagan/Okanogan Valley. For all of us, this is our Cathedral of Chartres.
Isn’t it beautiful! I’m going up there soon, to see if that’s a flake of stone or a coyote den under that saskatoon.