Practical Ways to Re-Indigenize the Grasslands. Really.

Two days ago, I suggested that the former grassland hillsides of the Okanagan Valley (now large, private expanses of unproductive and water-wasting weeds), an area at least equal to the 100s of 1000s of hectares of lost grasslands on the valley benches and the equally extensive lost wetlands of the valley bottom, can be reclaimed for environmentally productive use by weaving into them again valuable plants that have demonstrated an ability to enter the old ecosystems and fill now-lost niches. The balsam-root niche, a kind of clumping wild sunflower,

First of the Year! March 14, 2015

… could be augmented by forms of domestic sunflower…

 

My Wildflower Garden, with a Bird-seeded Sunflower

… and extend the season for birds and deer, replacing niches currently empty due to extirpation by cattle ranching, as well as provide seed and flowers for human use. Similarly, as I pointed out two days ago, the niche of early greens such as desert parsley…

Desert Parsley, a Few Days After Snow Melt

Seed is a secondary crop. Other early parsleys provide root flours.

… could either be augmented by seeding wild parsley and other cold climate greens, or extended into the lost lily niche by planting or seeding asparagus extensively, to present not one feral plant (as below) but thousands.

Asparagus Looking at New Opportunities

Should predation be a limiting problem, the plants could be protected by screens of young roses or hawthorns.

Black Hawthorn

Not so young, but it was once. There are several generations here. Note the youngest daughters to the left.

However, the reintroduction of human, nutritional and environmental values into degraded, industrialized, colonized and privatized land and, as I pointed out yesterday, healing its structurally racist agenda, need not solely concentrate on crops such as those above. Crops for bees and birds are also essential, if pollination, seed distribution and fertilization are to take place without human labour. For that, a concentrated reintroduction of grazed-down native thistles, would be a good start.

 

Cirisium Undulatum, Wavy-leaved Thistle

Thistles want to grow here. Here is a colony of scotch thistle…

… poisoned this spring under government orders to protect the grazing values of hillsides such as this …

In Colonial Society, this land is called a farm.

No, it is a mine. It mined ecological value, and is now a tailing field. So it is in a culture that started with a gold rush.

…which has virtually no grazing value of any kind.The grazing value was actually in the thistles!

Currently, wild bees are in crisis, wandering off the droughted, flowerless grasslands to access flowers in such places as my wildflower garden, which are rapidly disappearing, due to government recommendations to remove vegetation on private land, to conserve water. Soon, they will have nowhere to go, while their European cousins, the honeybees, are dying off because of high tech, nicotine-based insecticides sprayed on industrial farms. These are problems that a rejuvenated grassland could help solve. There would also be winter seed for birds, where this year there is none. We are facing a starvation winter that does not need to be. This is an interwoven grassland, which will provide most of the labour if we set it up and work to maintain its balance.

 

It would be naive to think that the class of property owners within Canada would relinquish the real social value of their private property rights in order to allow open community foraging on their land, and it is probably equally unlikely to expect that they would hire individuals to walk great distances daily over irregular terrain, in order to harvest a crop, such as asparagus, growing within the interwoven ecology of reclaimed syilx grasslands. However, there are practical ways forward. A burn can get things started.

9 Months After the Fire

It has the advantage of eliminating a great subsidy that communities pay to private land owners: their overgrazed, overgrown sagebrush and weed lands along city margins provide a huge fire risk.

Spot the Bear Trying to Blend In

Should fire come, it will be the communities that pay the price of damage, and pay the cost of fighting the fires. That is a massive subsidy. Levying environmental charges against landowners who cover their land in explosive weeds would be a start.

There are, however, many ways, other than prescriptive fire and penalizing levies, for providing benefit to landowners for a retreat from the industrial land-mining called farming. For one, there is a model from Germany, where land is valued. Take a look at an egg-and-bison (yes!) farm north of Lake Constance:

Hönig-Hof

The upper building is a new chicken barn. To get permission to remove agricultural land from production, the farmer was asked to provide an equal amount of land restoring lost ecological values to the district. He chose to plant the two hectare field inside the corner formed by the approach of the driveway to his larger set of buildings (hen house and packing facility) in wildflowers. He receives no payment for this, other than what he can earn from his eggs. Switzerland does it a little differently, providing subsidies of many different kinds, for such varied ecological values as bird habitat (old apple orchards rather than new ones), wild flowers (fenced off areas of pasture, off limits to grazing and cattle), and so on. We could enact legislation of a similar kind, tailored to meet our needs. What’s more, there’s this:

That’s traditional European farming applied to this land, with its corollary soil degradation. This method of farming allows for efficient machine access, in large unified planes. However, there’s also this…

That’s a shared coyote, snake, porcupine, deer and bear trail up a dry creekbed. Rather than being a plane removed from an interwoven environment, it is a line through it, allowing easy access to varied environments left and right, up and down slope. We could use this model to create access pathways, of use to all who use the hillsides, but making foraging efficient in a new agricultural model. And that’s just for starters. We can do this. If we don’t, we will die. The fence below?

It’s only for people. We can make such violent forms of social interaction unnecessary. And that’s just the start.

Cultural Blindness and Agricultural Practice

Culture is a powerful thing. Here is some earth, laid bare by a plow, in preparation for seeding in the spring. In the past, it has been used to grow tomatoes. This last year, it lay fallow, to recover.

In Canadian culture, this is an image of fruitfulness, taken at the most fruitful time of year. Enjoy it.

The only thing is, it’s not fruitful, it’s dead. Look at how this soil is nothing but congealed clay and sand. Living soil, that things grow in, is a complex environment of fungi, microbes, insects and dead and living plant material. This is just clay and sand.

And it started like this.

 

That’s how powerful culture is.

Watercourse to Nowhere

The top of this new watercourse is two metres higher than the stream it is meant to drain.

And, yeah, the trees in the dumpster aren’t too happy about it all, either, but they’re sure going places.

But look at those colours! Environmental destruction is an organic art form, too.

Especially when it is done to conserve natural systems! Look at the sign below. That was a poem in a previous age of the world!

Now this is. (Note the metaphor whizzing by and making a wake.)Death can become a habit, when you’re a top predator.

It’s like learning to read the bouquet of a fine wine with your nose!

 

The Redfish Come Home

Things are pretty great on Redfish Creek above the over-deepened trough of Kootenay Lake these days.

The kokanee have come home.

The work of mixing the sun with the earth and the water continues.

It is good work.

To live is to rejoice.

To be here is to rejoice even more.

This is a human-made spawning channel.

A gift freely given.

And freely taken.

That is the circle. That is the way.

Racism and Noise in Canada

My neighbours above eat sour weeds because of racism in Canada, which created weedlands for them at the same time it created Indian reserves for their people. Right now, the country’s writing community is tearing itself to pieces over racial issues, between loosely (and poorly)-defined indigenous and non-indigenous communities. It is even lecturing itself on the tragedy of indigenous voices being silenced by uproars about race. I don’t think voices like this are meant:

They should be. Other recent writings on race circulating in the writing community assume that earth experience is all about race, when humans get involved with it. That’s rather self-absorbed. It’s called looking into a mirror. It would be more helpful to say that human experience of a certain kind is that. It can also, however, be described as dehumanization, dispossession, silence, rape, enslavement, genocide, murder, love,

wariness, respect and noise. None of those are solely human. All are powerful. Let’s remember that in the indigenous game of s’lahal, noise is meant to distract players and their spirit guides from the game. Let’s remember the silent ones, the animal peoples, and that it’s not about us. The earth is dying. Let’s stop that form of human self-absorption, because that’s the critical outcome of this whole horrible story.

It’s caring for the other peoples of this earth, including but not limited to other great apes, including the mis-named homo sapiens, that makes us human, not some frightful story of skin colour, evolution and human brotherhood or the lack of it. That’s predator talk with an old patch that is just, simply, exhausted. Let’s make something better together.

 

The alternative is continued silence and noise.

Tragedy in the Spring Snow

Our little herd of nine does had two fawns last year. The coyotes got one last week. This doe is now being very protective.

It’s hard, though. Forage is reduced by overgrazing, the orchards that maintained the deer are now blocked off for miles by fencing, the males are aggressively hunted, and coyotes, which can slip through the net of fences and feast on domestic dogs and cats, grow in numbers every year.

It’s called nature. It’s not. It’s an entirely new planet that follows new rules.

Filthy Air in the Okanagan

The difference in colour between the air in the foreground and the background of this image looking from Bella Vista (surely a misnomer) to Okanagan Landing and the Commonage in Vernon yesterday is a measure of how much filth we have put into only five kilometres of air.p1450985

Every cubic metre of that air holds extra heat from the sun. The colour shows that. It is as much a part of global warming as the weedy trees that have crept down the grassland hill, whose dark colour holds the sun’s heat in winter, melting snow that should be melting into the grass later, and then ejecting it into the atmosphere as water in the summer heat, where it is blown away to the east, and gone. The grass wouldn’t have done that, but in our ignorance of grass we did. Forget global C02 measures. We just need to step outside and look at the water. This is what “development” as an economic strategy leads to: dirt. Wear a mask. Because, when you get up to 650 metres on the hill, you can smell this stuff. Here’s what 15 kilometres of it looks like.

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Let’s stop selling the Okanagan as a place with a clean environment. It just makes things worse.

Gravity Engines in the Okanagan

I left you with this image yesterday and said that all the balance and water we would ever need was here.p1440741

Now that you’ve had some time to live with the image, let’s talk. To locate it, this is an image of the west arm of Okanagan Lake at Minus 19 Celsius. It is in the process of freezing. This lake:

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There is clear sky, fog over open water, and (in close) ice. The ice is covered with white spots. They are not snow. They are tiny fluffs of hoarfrost that has frozen on surface of the lake:

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What you cannot see in the image is the water evaporating into the cold air — at minus 19. It drifts for a bit less than a metre then vanishes. Along the way, it builds frost.

p1440726 The specific texture of the ice surface doesn’t seem to matter.p1440717

Perhaps, though, specific atmospheric conditions do matter; some of the ice, which should be evenly covered with frost feathers isn’t: seemingly a goose broke it …

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…at a critical point and the newly open water caught the hoarfrost upon freezing, while the older ice didn’t, or at least not so much.

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All in all, what we’re really looking at is a relationship between the lake and the sky.

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And the sun.p1440526

And the wind.
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With the geese …

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…as tricksters in the process.p1440584

Poor things. I told them that migration might have been a good option. They barely had the energy to hiss. Still, a few things are easy enough to observe. First, hoarfrost is heating in the sun and evaporating into the air, despite the cold (and the geese.)

p1440389 Second, it is drifting on a breeze and condensing again.  These two effects don’t have to happen at the same time. p1440360

It’s likely that the clear, dry, high pressure sky is absorbing the evaporated frost, which was likely laid down when fog moved in off the open part of the lake at night.p1440377

Third, this frost holds the directionality of the wind, and forms in incredibly thin structures. Likely, this shape that allows them to melt despite the cold, and evaporate into the dry air.p1440418

To rephrase all that: darkness and cold bring the heat of summer across the ice, where the heat drops away to leave water behind; together the sun and the night move water across the ice and deposit it (store it), for later release. All of this couldn’t happen without a sky that has been stripped of water by its journey over the mountains to the west, and which creates a pressure vacuum, a kind of wing, that accelerates the evaporation process. After all, if the sky were heavy with humidity, it would simply snow. Now, let’s place this activity into context. There is frost moving across the lake, storing energy and releasing it across time…

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… and there are leaves, trading electrons across a membrane to create sugar …

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and there are lungs that trade gasses from air to blood by pressure differences, photovoltaic cells that trade electrons across a threshold and there are nuclear reactors that knock atoms apart so they can reassemble, in a process controlled by temperature and pressure. There is, in other words, the shifting of material across space and time by utilizing energy shifts across thresholds of form. The processes can be complex, but they’re also elegantly simple. The surface of the lake, for instance…

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… which is made out of the intermolecular and surface tension of innumerable molecules of water (in other words out of an atomic charge)…

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…is a plane of energy on a particular wavelength between water and air, which invites frost to form little differently than the way in which a leaf manipulates carbon dioxide and water atoms to transfer electrons across a membrane by inviting molecules to sit in just the right position that further atoms slide into the correct places for building sugar, and no other. It is a passive process, but a powerful one.

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There is nothing in the process that could not be managed to create, store and move energy in a landscape, and nothing in it that could not be used to create technologies that would do the same in built environments. This is an atomic reactor at work:

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That it is not seen as one is probably because scientific traditions are built around measurement by devices, with the goal of building further independent devices, on the model of the independent human observers who implement them. They could, however, be built instead around environments, with the goal of building further environments, on the model of the biological observers who implement them.

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Using our valley to manipulate heat and cold, pressure and water through the cooling and evaporative process available to us, driven by the energy wing of the mountains, would lead to a situation in which this slope of the lake  …

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… is, like the lake, the reactor. It wouldn’t look like this, of course, all weed-choke, because it would be managed for energy effects. In this context, the sage brush below …

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… is frost which has condensed as a reaction to a pressure environment …

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and this bunch grass…

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… is a complex device that uses a column of evaporated water to hold water against both the gravity within the soil and the pressure effect (also a gravity effect) in the air. In other words, this particular atomic reactor is a gravity reactor. If we use it wisely, there will be water for all.

icecracks

If we don’t, the water will blow away in the wind.

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An Okanagan university would be working on these processes day and night.