Water in Fire Country

The Okanogan River (left) Entering the Columbia

At the mouth of the Okanogan River, which begins with snow melting on the rocks above my house in mid-winter, water is privately owned, whether flooding the old Hudson Bay Company potato fields in the background right above, or the southern flats of the Colville Federated Tribes’ Territory (foreground left). That’s the way things work in this stretch of my valley: the bounty of the earth is transformed into individual wealth, which is then leveraged for profit. The only land-based health comes through the process of flooding you see above, which is called wilderness, a term to indicate the romance that silences native land in the West. Strangely enough, fires on private land alienated from water, are fought with public funds, just as the use of fear and public funds were used to fight imagined native aggression in 1858 and 1891 at the site in the image above. When there is talk of wilderness in this valley, it is talk of the dispossession of people and water, which are the same thing.

Green Fire

Cheatgrass burns off a whole season’s water at once … in early March.


By May, this will be a desert, and this fire will be red. This sagebrush-cheatgrass culture takes the place of a complex world of 100s of species. It is the result of exploitive grazing in the 1870s. When will we adjust our agricultural regimes to this new timing? Spring is actually in October now. Right now, it’s been like that for about 138 years. Would 139 be long enough? 140?

Red June Cheatgrass, Colville Federated Tribes Reservation