The Glacial Sky of Cascadia in the Morning

This is not an image of mountains, not of what rises or mounts, but what held against the ice that cut all else away.

The Coast Mountains

The ice is now air. Humans, bears,  martins,  squirrels, eagles and bobcats, to name a few, pass through it: the people of the ice. Nice.

Salmon On the Way to Sea

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.

Mapping the Formation of the Solar System, Now

In honour of my 500th post in this exploration…

P1130885The Okanagan Okanagan Nuclear Reactor at 500!

With a nuclear engineer, even! Hurrah!

…I’d like to ask a question of the ideal university. It is a question about water and soil atmospheres. Before I do so, let me briefly sketch out the story of water here in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.

P1100448What the Okanagan Looks Like Without Bunchgrass

(But with tractors.)

This story starts with the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, which lie to the west of the valley. As it interrupts the flow of the atmosphere caused by the rotation of the earth, this volcanic arc acts like an aircraft wing. To the West, it forces wet Pacific Ocean air to shed moisture as it is depressurized in its climb over the mountains. To the East, such as in the image below …P1130811

Okanagan Landing, British Columbia

… it creates a depressurized zone, which loses water to the air as the atmospheric winds descend to greater and greater depths. The deeper the air falls, the more water it absorbs from the soil, without ever gaining in humidity. What it gains instead is heat.

P1100075

Sagebrush, Queen of Heat

One clarification is necessary. Contrary to tourism brochures and brochures from water management branches of the government, It is not that the Okanagan Valley has no water, but that the water is pressurized within the air. For instance …

P1100083

Water in Okanagan Landing

But most of it is in the air. Notice how it does not fall. Amazing! Don’t let the lake fool you, though. That’s 10,000 year old melted glacier, that is.

Here, maybe my early morning attempt at a graphic will help to illustrate the wing effect of the mountains, as they translate the energy of the wind into water balance.

pressure3

A Simplified View of the Effect of Mountains on the Water Capacity of Atmospheric Winds in Western British Columbia

This whole process is powered by the formation of the solar system, during which the dust and gasses of exploded stars condensed under their own gravity, began to spin as their gravity bent their momentum, and just kept on spinning. The intriguing sense of balance, which gives a rainforest to the west of the Coast Mountains and a semi-desert to the east, is merely that original tension recreated in an atmospheric form. That brings me to the first question I would like to ask of the Ideal University:

1. Would a map of water in the grassland environments of Western North America viewed as an extension of the Big Bang help make more accurate water use plans?

OK. I have an answer to that one. Yes. Just what that would look like, though, is a task for the scientists and artist-scientists of the Ideal University. I am intrigued with the notion that this wing effect of the mountains, and the story of balance it tells, which extends deep into the earliest moments of the formation of the solar system, continues at finer and finer levels. For instance, above the soil of the Okanagan, available water decreases while heat increases. As a result, the air (and the heat of the sun, that represents its dryness) draws water up, out of the soil, while below the soil, gravity draws water down. The tension between upward and downward tending forces creates a continuous flat plane of water within the sloped hills, exactly like the lake in the valley bottom below.

P1130801

Beneath the grass, this column of water is a cloud.

To the west of the mountains, where water is falling from the air abundantly, to form rain forests, this subsoil water is more like a river than any kind of a cloud.

Here, it’s kind of like this:

soil and air

There’s The Rotation of the Earth Again, in a Different Form

So, questions, right. Here goes:

1. Given that the grass that lies between the soil atmosphere and the air atmosphere embodies the same balanced tension as the wing of the Coast Mountains or the formation of the Solar System, what would a science that understood photosynthesis, and life itself, as an embodiment of the way the energy of water moves through these forces, look like?

2. Would that not mean that life takes on very specific earthly characteristics, because of the very particular nature of this planet and its very particular balancing of pressures?

3. Is not the structure of a plant leaf just another representation of these forces of balance? If so, what are the consequences of such an understanding?

Through rigorously working out such questions, art and science are united in the Ideal University. It’s not just the cloud of bunchgrasses that embody these processes. They work down to the molecular level. Here, here is a leaf:

P1100973

Poplar Leaf, Gutted by a Leaf Miner

Note how there is a complex environment contained between the two surfaces of the leaf. In there, processes of pressure and energy exchange on a molecular level transform sunlight into solid form, which is the food for the plants, and for the leaf miners that eat them, and the birds that eat those, and so on.

And they work up to higher levels of organization, as you can see from these leaves:

P1130862

Yellow Butterfly Drinking from the Mud Amongst the Young Yellow Dock

Well, not exactly from the leaves, but from the butterfly that takes a secondary characteristic of the leaves, their shape, and uses it to rise into the air, just as water does.

1. Are not humans, like you and I, not also part of this process of amplification?

2. Are we not also part of the Big Bang?

Ducks, too…

P1110028Big Bang Expressing Itself as Duck and Duckling, Pinaus Lake

Years ago, I had an insight that all views of landscape were ethical. At the time, I didn’t have a clue what that meant. It was almost purely a visual insight. I think I’m getting closer now, so, again, in celebration of (I can hardly believe it!) the 500th post into this deep ecological exploration, let me pose an ethical question.

1. In what way does the aversion of traditional technical science towards such explorations  constitute a denial of human rights for participation in the universe, free of the manipulations of social hierarchies?

2. Should not the human body be granted the dignity of belonging in the universe and being a part of it?

3. Does not the universe belong to us all, free of the distortions of individual human competition?

4. Does Darwinian selection only tell part of the story?

5. Is it not time to tell the rest?

Well, darn it, in the spirit of Okanagan Okanogan: Yes! I tell you (in case you haven’t guessed), I am excited about the contributions a combined artistic and technical science can make to the planet and its creatures. Thanks again for walking this path with me. I couldn’t have done it without your continued support.

Flying Fish in the Grasslands

Winter cloud blows east off of the Pacific Ocean. When it strikes the Northwestern North American Coast it crests around the three thousand metre high peaks of the Coast Mountains …

singlepeakPhoto: Anassa Rhenisch

… and across the Central Plateau. Don’t be fooled. No one is drowning in this sea of water. Here’s what it looks like in a trench, carved by a glacier fed by those clouds long ago …

ravenRaven Flying on His Fingertips Under the Restless Waves of the Sea

Photo: Anassa Rhenisch