The Okanagan’s Missing Water

Here it is.

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Blue Bunch Wheatgrass

This 10-year-old re-seeded slope shows the likely historical condition of the valley under Syilx stewardship. This grass is very much alive.

The valley hasn’t looked like this since 1858, but as you can plainly see it can be replanted. Look out your window right now. Do you see someone out there replanting the bunchgrass? No? This grass that translates water into hydrocarbons, which in turn hold rain and snow from evaporating and flowing away, while using it to nourish themselves? Do you see Saskatoon playing the same trick out there?
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We could have that. We could even more easily incorporate its process, which is this:

The land we love in the Okanagan has been made by a process of stopping the flow of water. It is the process of holding it and keeping it.

There’s a trick to that. It means that the valley’s big lakes, like the old double-spirited lake (now called Kalamalka) below…

… are not water but reservoirs of potential water, which can be delivered by evaporation and cloud to replenish hydrocarbons and the web of life that moves through them, such as the balsam roots, saskatoons, douglas firs and ponderosa pines in the foreground above. In other words, in this inverted landscape, in which the sky more often removes water than delivers it, this guy …

… and this one …

… and humans, such as I am and such as you are (if you are a Google Bot, eat your heart out, sorry)…

… are marine creatures moving through an aquatic environment in which water is a series of connections in a matrix of carbon, not nineteenth century colonial technology like the stuff below (a vineyard intravenous tube).

 

Piping Water Downhill, Using Gravity

Our work here is to help water stop flowing, or, perhaps better, to help it flow as slowly as possible, through the greatest possible hydro-carbon web and the greatest possible connections between its joints, where we, the weavers, excel in our work of transferring energy. That is not the same as harvesting water or energy, but there is a point of connection:

When there are abundant points of connection between carbonized water, there is abundant excess water for us to live from.

Call this water gravity. The trick is to stop it from flowing, so that we can flow, not to use it quickly and wait for the snow from somewhere to bring us some more. We need to take care of these things ourselves.

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Surely we’re not so proud that we can’t learn from the grass.

The Cost of Nature

This is tourism.V0021629 The image below shows the price of tourism. Hey, the water had to come from somewhere, eh. V0000115

The myth of Canada is that we can have it all, that we can squeeze water from a stone, but that is just money talking. This is not money (but it is water):

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This is money (water on the hoof):

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Moo

And this:

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Mu

You can see what the birds think of that stuff. Ah, I’m being a trickster again, aren’t I. Look, here’s the deal. This is water:

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Great Basin Giant Rye Calling the Birds of Winter Out of the Sky

(It takes awhile.)

It is woven into the land and into the threads of life. The image below shows tourism. It is water separated from life and turned into an element, which can be recombined with desire and petroleum (a synonym for money) to create a nightmare for fish and birds.

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It is a dissection. And what do you have left after a dissection? This.

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A subdivision. Death. Let’s be polite to our political, social and economic masters from the Petro-state, let’s even invite them to our feast, but let’s stop covering for their bad behaviour. If they want to terrorize our fish and then build a house to look out over it all as if they were in Kenya some 2,000,000 years ago, they need to plant water in our soil.

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Apostemon Bee in Mariposa Lily

First things first.

Looking for the Water and Missing the Well

River, run, Rhine,

rhine herons

Herons, Assmannshausen am Rhein

Rhone, stream, Strom, flow, fleuve, current, rapid, cataract, these are all one word, a Celtic word, for life’s excess, that streams, that rrrrrrrrrrrrrs. It is a sound.

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Dock, Assmannshausen am Rhein

It is not the sound water makes here. Water winds here.

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It has more in common with wind and grass.

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It stones.

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It has more in common with cliffs.

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Water, so much for its rrrrrrrrr, and as for it’s ah, its Wahhhhhter, well, that’s latin’s aqua, which is the swallowing, but what of this substance in the world, separate from human enjoyment of it?

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Sure, that’s grassssssss, the sound of wwwwwwwwwwwwind or breath between pursed lips blowing, but what of the water there?

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Even in drought it’s still there. Such mystery!  But not just mystery: essential work. Here’s a thought:

When the rain strikes the dust on a hot day the air smells of a forge. That’s what life smelled like when it began. It is the breaking apart of bonds and their reforming in new material that holds its new shape. That is the essence of water.

Another old word, little used these days, much lost, adds to the conversation:

well

Celtic Well, Hauterive, Suisse

Words matter. If we call this stuff “water” we get one result. If we talk about hydrology, hydraulic pressure, riparian areas, and so on, we get one result. If we throw that word away, even for a moment, and talk about welling instead, we see a different earth, with different possibilities.

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Well (Formerly Mariposa Lily)

All that is a well is available to us, in connection with this substance the chemists call H20: the wound, the blood, the miraculous appearance out of earth, the earth as water, the going-to-the-water with your body and taking of the water by hand, the mouth, the lip, the cool deeps, the irrepressible force, the living eye, and so on. Soon, hey, we’d see the water here together:

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We would not see drought. We would go to the well. Until then, we’re dreaming of the Rhine.

We’re looking for the run of the water and missing the well.

Sagebrush and Global Cooling

The image below shows a water strider. It uses the intermolecular bonds of water to hold itself up. If you look closely you can see the water bend beneath it, as if these creatures were walking on a film. They are: a film of energy.Meet the dry land water strider: big sagebrush.P2010108 The leaves of this aromatic plant are covered in tiny hairs.P2010101 These hairs trap the water which the leaves breathe out while they’re making sugar by eating photons from the sun.P2010096 They hold it in place by using those hairs in the way the water strider uses its legs. The result is a bond between the hairs of the big sage and the intermolecular bonds of the water.P2010095 This provides a high water atmosphere above the surface of the leaf, so it doesn’t lose water in the heat of the day, by augmenting the surface tension of the water — water’s own energy — to prevent the movement of water molecules across the barrier.P2010093

Just as water striders use the bonds of the water to hold themselves up in the air. This has been a summer of drought and fire. We would have gone a long way towards preventing it if we had adapted this technology and made membranes for our open water five years ago, or even this spring. It has the same effect as shade.

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In an atmosphere in which the loss of water, even from human skin, to the atmosphere creates heat, global cooling can start with the big sage.

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Sometimes walking on water means holding it still.

Gardening is Just Too Hard

Even if you spend many thousands of dollars to cover most of your whole yard in black plastic tarp and to cover it in river gravel, there is no guarantee of success at beating global warming at its own game, public responsibility or beauty.P2000274

It’s just plain hard, that’s what it is. Instead of beautiful sterile gravel, picture perfect like in a Japanese monastery, you get a dry land sandbar being reclaimed by weeds.

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Even if you spend more money yet and do the whole driveway in asphalt …

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… or concrete …

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… those darn weeds ruin your artwork. How can you have a desert when stuff grows in it?

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Plant pots are no solution. Or decorative wells.

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That peat moss looses water like a sieve, although it does achieve desert status quickly…

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… yet somehow doesn’t quite look like the hills of South Africa like it’s supposed to. I know. I tried marigolds in an old wheelbarrow last year, which was fine until they all withered up, and then the wheelbarrow fell over. What a mess. Here’s a new idea for the transition from irrigated gardening to desert temple:

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The entrance arbour, pegged in with wooden shakes, and honoured with a couple of plastic funerary urns. You don’t need plants to climb the arbour, you don’t need a path, you don’t need gravel, you just need the gesture. Priorities, that’s the thing. In the old Canada, you might have painted the peeling stain on that house before the wood was completely shot, but in the new Canada, the one in transition to a responsible global paradise, there are no rules, and gardening is just plain hard. Why, in the old days you might have sat under your cherry tree and enjoyed its coolness, while you sipped some wine you made of last  year’s crop, but now the wind might blow over your chinese manufactured shade arbour, and then what? Use the wine carboy for decoration, perhaps, but somehow there’s a nagging je ne sais quoi about the whole thing.

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Canadians, you see, do what they’re told. And don’t do what they’re told. All at the same time. And there’s no predicting which it’s going to be, except for disobeying rational traffic rules, neglecting to wear life jackets, and throwing cigarette butts out the window in fire season. That’s predictable, but gardening, no, that’s just plain hard. Sometimes you just have to give up halfway. Those damn rocks are heavy, and they don’t come cheap! Saving the planet, that can’t just be on the shoulders of one person now, can it?

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And if you want to beautify things a bit, say, if you’re a professor of French literature, perhaps, living in farming country, why …

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… your flower stand gets to sit beside a farmer’s bin of junk plastic (to make the soil hotter than it is already) and junk irrigation piping (to deliver water more efficiently) and it all makes for a nice effect, but maybe not the intended one. Such is life in the age of steampunk, by which I mean the age in which gestures are cobbled together from every known source and applied as shakily as the spray from a can of paint on a wall, and with as little regard for context..

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In the city of Kelowna, the city pays to have any such spontaneous display of territory painted over in defence of private property rights and public safety.wall

As you can see above, human weeds are to be dealt with quickly, although not consistently. The vegetative ones not at all. Still, someday it will all look like the image below, in the alleys where Kelowna’s prostitutes hang out, waiting for men to wander over from the parking lot or the tourist street with its street bars and chic bistros …

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It is just freaking hard to inherit a country based on biology, rebellion and renewal and to turn it into expressions of  artistic and legal order. Humans are as bad as weeds.

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Still, sometimes you achieve perfection, with order and flowers, or at least one flower …

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Of course, one prostitute was waiting for custom on the wall facing this one. Hey, a girl needs flowers, doesn’t she?

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I have been reminded lately that to become a popular writer I need to write about people, not landscape. People love to read about other people. We live in a social universe. Yeah, they’re right.

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Unfortunately, it is built upon the earth, and biological history, and those things just won’t obey, darn it.

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They just won’t. Gardening is hard.

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Hans Holbein

Sheesh. We’ve gone from this human habitat …

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… to this one, with razor wire and open temptations …

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… in only 150 years. Sure, more law and order, that will do the trick.

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At the risk of sounding immature, might it be, just maybe, that money can’t buy happiness?

P1810542 And urban planning systems can’t buy gardens?P1790236 And that the image below is not a romantic, ruined, farm building but a social ruin, from the weed-sprayed bottom land, to prevent (sic) weeds from growing on it, to the weed-choked, unproductive grassland on the hill?P1810479

Remember that, next time you get attracted to an image of luxury built on water in the desert. (click)

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Or feel like you might like to romanticize it like this:

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You are the one being gardened, and that is hard work. It will take a lifetime to fit into your plot, but you’ll make it in the end. Don’t worry.

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Chief John Chukuaskin Ashnola’s Grave, Upper Keremeos

This was once the old Smlqmix village of 2000 people. Now it’s Keremeos, the haunt of 1330. Progress, folks!

Someone might knock the cross off, yeah, but the weeds will still be there, hiding the gravel bit just to the left and the highway just to the right. That’s comforting, right? For all of this, I have three words: context is all. It starts here:

University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Kelowna

I think we’d better start getting serious, fast.

By These Fish We Take Our Measure

From the shore where fresh water mingles with salt ….mount

…and the tide comes in and out and humans erect the stories of themselves they have always lifted into the sky…up

… and the stories of their shadows come to joke and feast …

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… to the tidal river, where salt water meets with fresh and forests are brought in from a depopulated coast …

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…and where people tell stories of conquest …

simonfraser… as if it were a game for children …soldier

… and build ancestral poles to live in, above a train station decorated with gigantically-enlarged computer pixels and a banner that Canada is “a tent upon a hill” …

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… to the gravels laid bare by the drought created by the falling of forests far upstream and the burning of coal across the ocean that both paid for it and brought its people to it …

P2000133… and the Nlaka’pamux fishery idled at the feet of the old trail between the grasslands and the sea….P2000075… by the need for a few fish to find some place cool enough to spawn …

P2000140… fish which are stranded in channels cut away from their route upstream through the fresh-water tide zones that rise and fall each year …P2000200

… by 150 years of railroad and highway infill, such as here at Chapman’s Bar …

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… the fish, the great sockeye salmon of the Fraser …
P2000193 … are having troubles making it home this year ….P2000122…as the rains come too late …P2000194 … and in the warm water …P2000189

… our ancestors die too soon. P2000196 As we grieve for them after their journey to the open Pacific …P2000111 … and back …P2000128 … it is vital to remember … P2000094 … that this is not a romantic or bittersweet story …P2000100

… and it is not a story of nature and its excess and abundance, and the birth of life in death and renewal or any other such story …P2000088

…this is the year in which a people who have built a tent in which to live upon a hill watch the fins rot off of their ancestors ….P2000191… who circle idly…P2000099…unable to go on …P2000095…while we pray for rain to cool the rivers for the few with some muscle left, and for those which will follow …P2000190

…including us, who come from no tent but from these mountain tides …

P2000082 … and these ancient mid-Pacific volcanoes cast up onto the shore and ground down into bone …P2000216

… and rain …

P2000161 … and the memory that is not a looking back…P2000170

…  but a looking forward. Here are some of those sockeye salmon from the Horsefly River, two weeks of salmon travel north, in 2006.

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…and here again today, as the glaciers melt away …

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By these fish we take our measure.