Looking east along the 50th Parallel
Campbell River, Vancouver Island, 7:15 a.m.
Looking east along the 50th Parallel
Campbell River, Vancouver Island, 7:15 a.m.
To be Indigenous means you come from the land, and are of the land. This land, for example.
This is an outcropping on Turtle Ridge in Vernon. Note the red lichen stains.
Typically, these stains come from lichens that inhabit places soaked with bird or animal urine: points of presence or habitation, often with a darned good view. In other words, they mark the markings that non-human people have put on the land, while placing themselves in a point of sight or visibility. These non-human people are called animals today. In an Indigenous world-view, humans are no different than those other people, and make the same marks, with one difference: the humans are conscious of following the pattern. Here is an elk and an eagle from the Tsilqhot’in Illahie.
Note how it is embedded among animal-lichen pairings. Now, note what non-Indigenous marking looks like (below), even on a Kwakwaka’wakw ancestral stone.
Discovery Passage, Looking Over Cape Mudge
It is an individual rather than an environmental marking, and makes the collision of individuals the environment. Not indigenous. Simple.
While making arrangements for my father’s funeral a week ago, I walked down at dawn to the mouth of Simm’s Creek, on Eastern Vancouver Island. No, this is not rain.
Four years from now, with some incredible luck, this plucky little salmon will be coming home.
Others like it will be returning to the fire forests (note the smoke) over the mountains to the east. Fire, water and fish: it is enough.
If your country started out as a chain of volcanoes …. …very exotic volcanoes… … in the tropical Pacific, very different volcanoes …. … in five different island chains over 150 million years …. … and if they then drifted across the sea and crashed into North America, lifting new volcanoes up into the clouds … … and welding the bits together …. a … and then if super-cooled, subglacial water had blasted all that away and the sea had a go at it for 10,000 years …. … why, then your beaches might look like this, too. All beaches are beautiful, of course, but these are the beaches of Cascadia. To be more specific, these are the beaches of the newest chain of islands to crash on the shore, Islandia. And if you lift your head and look across the last water to the previous chain, now uplifted and ice-carved and creating rain, why it might just look like this…
…and if you lived there, and if you knew that, you would never see a mountain again. You would see the earth, alive.
The stones here …
… are also part of the mixing of water and light …. … in foam …
… just as the mountains are the foam on waves of stone…
… or cloud…
This is life on the Cascadia subduction zone, where the seabed dives under the land and lifts it into the sky. Even the smallest stones hold this energy …
… created as they are …. … out of chains of widely varying, volcanic tropical islands …. … that have crashed like stone surf on the North American shore.They are as varied as each wave is varied..
… broken and welded together time and time again as each wave is broken and reformed. These are the mysteries.
On the other side of the mountains, this roiling surf becomes the story of time, or gravity, which is to put it more clearly.
Already, in early May, the lichens and mosses have finished their half year in the light. Now their winter begins. Their spring was in October.
The cheatgrass that started growing then, is also finished. Look how red it is between the native bunch grasses, which also began growing in October, and are in their glory now. In a few weeks, they will retreat to smouldering green cores, while the lilies shoot out of the soil and catch the bees in the air.
Plant by plant, water is used in a balance with the changing pressure of the air, and so the breaking water of the Pacific is stilled. The wild sunflowers have already put out their seeds, before spring has properly begun. The mule deer have already grazed them off, while the choke cherries flare in the arroyos and the lupines turn the yellow sunflower hills blue.
Wave after wave after wave, that is the action of the sun and the ocean crashing on the continent’s shore.
Those of us who live here …
… make trails, like this mule deer and coyote (and the porcupine in winter) track…
… that flow like water over the land, always finding the easiest gradient, always going to the interesting places. If you don’t follow coyotes and deer in this country, you will get lost. It’s all topsy turvy, in a balance of gravity and wind…
… and water. This is the Farwell Canyon grassland … as much a part of the rainforest as the giant, moss-hung cedars of the Coast, where the winds off the Pacific, and the Pacific’s stone, first strike the shore …
… but here, where they break in foam. This is Cascadia, where even winter and summer meet in waves…
… and mountains speak …. … and shore dunes are hundreds of kilometres inland and lifted hundreds of metres into the sky. It is a sacred land. It is not breaking. It is opening.
There is work to do here.
There are many misunderstandings to be healed. Here is a buck swimming across the Hanford Reach to the plutonium reactors. In a minute he’s going to climb out and walk among them.
Cascadia is the greater reactor.
We are the children here. We are the new ones. The land is old.
It is on fire.
There are words for this.
Roderick Haig-Brown fished for salmon, but his croquet pitch is now graced with fish as colourful as the hand-tied flies he used as words when he talked with fish and learned to change the world.
Rod’s Fly-Tying Box
See what I mean?
Those are some beautiful fish, eh! And add some trees, well, the water takes on the look of fish scales…
And when the caretaker throws in some food?
Fantastic. But nothing beats the rain …
… the glorious rain the makes rivers out of the drops of water on the tip of a leaf …
… and seems to make fish out of the water itself…
As Rod’s best friend Van Egan said to me a few years back, “After awhile you just become the river.” That’s for sure.
Tomorrow, I’m off to Campbell River on Vancouver Island, to present the 4th Annual Haig-Brown Memorial Lecture in Environmental Writing. I will be arguing that this Icelandic River lies at the heart of Canadian political and environmental traditions, and is a place to situate our government.
Talking with the earth and including it in our social group is not a new idea. It is at the root of English. In fact, it is at the root of being human. If we, the people, reclaim that language, the government will follow. It will take time, but over time, we will speak again. Some of us will even speak like this.
Harold Thinking Out Loud in East Iceland, April
When I get back, I’ll tell you all about it.
Museums: repositories of historically important cultural material. Natural History Museums: catalogues of animals and bones, plants and seeds. Think of both of them as books, that you walk through. They were born in the same age as public libraries.
Museum of Nature, Gotha, Germany
The goddess leading the lion? The lion leading the goddess? Not to mention the big question: Is nature a museum?
Maybe the idea is. What the entrance to this building (in the East German state, it was refurbished to commemorate the evolution and extinction that lead to the pinnacle of evolutionary process: Homus Sovieticus.) Don’t worry, the German state is redoing it all, so it’s completely modern and all that history is forgotten. In the meantime, a bit of it remains:
If you back up a few spaces from the 19th Century entrance to the Museum of Nature, the Soviet War Memorial to the Great Patriotic War of 1939-1945 is looking a bit tattered after the revolution of 1989.
And if you back up a bit further and step to the side? Ah, Nature herself.
…after a period of sovieticization and abject poverty (of both economy and imagination.) There is a direct line in places like Gotha from the Garden of Eden to medieval castle gardens full of roses, monastic gardens full of medicinal plants, aristocratic collections, botanical classification and the first modern universities, but all that’s broken now. Nearly dead roses are all that’s left.
We need a new idea. What of a museum of the earth? Now that the needs of the earth are foremost and it is clear that we are telling the earth’s story (badly), don’t we need a museum to tell it clearly? The human story is looking a bit tawdry, after all. Here’s one possible exhibit:
This Old Growth Cedar from the Rain Forest on the British Columbia Coast …
… has been dead since the 1960s. There are hardly any of those ancient trees left. This one is siding on a pre-fab house in Keremeos, in the dry, Interior Grasslands. It won’t be long now before it is taken to the dump.
Should it not be honoured, as one of the old ones, still with us?
Tree That Was Dropped in the Wrong Place, Cape Scott
And while we’re at it, we might as well honour the farmer who has lived among this old tree’s bones, in his haphazard mammalian way for all these years. Isn’t that part of the story?
A Mammal Tries to Fix an Idea that Never Did Work Out That Well
And fails, beautifully.
Here’s more of that farmer’s art.
Our museum could double as an art gallery.
As for humans, well, let’s stop telling their story and set them loose to celebrate the trees.
Sorry, the cedars are gone.
With any luck, soon we will be telling stories of humans in the language of trees.
Cedar Spirit, Campbell River, Vancouver Island
Returning a Power Pole to Glory
After all, if humans cut off branches, they have a responsibility to the life that still flows through them. Every board is a museum. Every board is art. Let’s honour that.
On Friday, I introduced the Cube, an experimental art space in Campbell River, as a model for a new type of art mentorship. If you missed it, here’s the discussion. For almost a year, it has worked towards a vision of social sculpture and urban renewal. Today, I’d like to give you some background and to show how what has happened in that space connects with what is going on out in the natural world, largely out of sight of social culture. It began with an attempt to take the power away from a technology that found its greatest expression in the trenches of World War 1.
Barbed Wire, Lavington, B.C.
The enemy of humans everywhere.
The above image was not the initial image of Ken Blackburn’s project to find the parameters of personal sculpture within the context of his many years immersed in social sculptural activity in Campbell River. That was a ten food long, battleship grey barbed wire barb that dominated a third of a wall at the Cube and refused all attempts to be modified into something accepting human life and energy. The above image was one I sent Ken as a suggestion of a way forward. As with most successful artistic explorations, Ken found his own way …
Talking in a Language Barbed Wire Understands
Ken found that once he had blown his barbed wire apart into separate panels, each fragment of disembodied barbed wire could be the anchor, or internal frame, if you like, of a separate image, each of them an alternate universe, in a language that blended the aesthetic balance, deliberate incompleteness, the physical practice of art, and a separate, self aware language derived from the aestheticization of the natural world.
Three Barbs in Their Natural Environment
These are landscape paintings. That’s the beauty of it. At the closing talk of the show, sixty humans came to sit in no man’s land between them, in their own form of the Occupy movement, while Ken led them through the story.
There is, of course, a long tradition of landscape painting in both amateur and official art circles, and it looks, of course, a lot different than that. Some of it looks like this…
Landscape, by the German Dictator of 1933-1944
He was living in a homeless shelter in Vienna and selling things like this image of latent psychological breakdown by pushing his way in among the street side tables of fashionable Viennese coffee houses and refusing to leave until one of the diners bought one of his paintings.
When reconstituted in a social sphere, landscape art can at times look like this…
The German Attack on Russia
Landscape with Human Figures and their Delivery Mechanisms, August, 1941
Art critics, of course, have their work cut out for them deconstructing this kind of landscape. The work is not yet complete, but early criticisms, which set the standard, looked like this…
The Russian Counteroffensive
The Outskirts of Moscow, December, 1941. In this battle of artistic visions, 30,000,000 Russians died.
Ken’s approach to the social contexts of landscape is more playful. It began with a show he called iPop, which he set up in a photography gallery five years ago, and which took the foundation of the modern landscape not as a sequence of mountains, ocean views with herons, and waves lapping against shorelines of ancient logs broken out of log booms in storm and rolling around on the coastal beaches ever since, but the modern doormat, mass-produced out of recycled industrial garbage in China and available for sale, for a few bucks, in any hardware store between Maine and Vancouver Island. Here’s one of the images from Ken’s iPop show…
Door Mat! iPopped!
With a Dancing Electrification Warning Dude and His Shadow Worshipping a Neon Red Sun!
The image (dragged out of Ken’s garage and propped up on an easel in the Cube) is Ken’s altar ego, staring out over Ken’s shoulder at the humans the barbed wire lured into their landscape snare…
The Audience, and Talking Ken are Gone Now
but the Warning Dude Continues His Vigil (and catches a few rays of light while he’s at it.)
The background is that landscape is sculpture, a kind of intersection between the physical (which is unknowable) and the social (which looks physical, sometimes, and sometimes like a piece of communication.) What Ken has done is to set up an intersection at which this…
B.C. Hydro Electrical Sculpture Control Node
Complete with iDancer
… and this …
Looking Across the Extreme Northern Few Metres of the Salish Sea Towards the Coast Mountains and North America
In Western art tradition, the image above is considered a nature photograph, or a landscape.
It isn’t. It’s more like this:
Ancestor at Extreme Low Tide
Watching across Discovery Passage to the ancient We Wai Kai village at Cape Mudge. Even at a normal low tide, this ancestor, and its companions, are beneath the waves.
Freed of pictorial landscape, landscapes can be seen as the social spaces they are. For instance, this…
Landscape of a Road in a Hayfield
… is really this …
Military Ruts in an Aboriginal Grassland Gone to Weeds
Vernon Army Base, Vernon B.C.
… and Ken’s Cube social sculptural installation in Campbell River …
iPainting Framed by Its Practice…
… with language as an echo of the visual world.
… besides being all the earth contemporary Western humans know is also my new writing classroom …
A Writer Lays Out His Tools …
… for a week of writing about foods and spices.
After all, all you will find on Google is material filtered by Google’s computers, which obey the instructions of their robot code and their industrial programmers, to manipulate an industrial technology, like barbed wire, to give you the results the programmers have statistically determined you should receive. It is no accident. Much of literature is self-referential and triaged in the same way. It is a self-referential, closed loop, that eliminates virtually all information, including this…
Artificially Framed Electronic View of the Writer’s Intent …
… designed to look like an image of the earth.
It isn’t. It is a story. The writing space and teaching space of the future is full not of books alone, but books, art, leaves, spices, eggplants, door mats, paintings, and humans moving too and fro and out into the earth and back with pieces of it in their pockets, which they practice by smelling and showing to each other and tasting and recombining into stories their bodies and minds can tell to each other. It is sculptural. It is a place where humans can be freed of their mirrors and start rebuilding the earth before it vanishes due to the neglect that barbed wire has placed it in. It is a gate, sometimes, and sometimes a set of bolt cutters. The whole world’s a book. We don’t have to be in a library. We can be here …
Two Horses Leave the Herd at the Sugar Cane Indian Reserve
Williams Lake B.C.
After all, we are on a journey towards re-finding and somehow saving the earth — a journey that entails rehumanizing, or, rather, re-eearthing or re-environmentalizing, social space. The journey goes, I think, here…
Our Two Horses Greeting the Pelicans at the Shore
An old photo with an early electronic camera, but maybe that’s more honest than the 15 megapixel version. Definitely worth a walk on the earth.
As usual, the horses were there first. But, of course. It should be like that, because the primary rule of life on the earth is: It’s not about us. Until we realize that, humans are as endangered a species as is the contemporary industrialized earth.