Inland from the Pacific, on the west coast of Cascadia, the Salish Sea fills the glacially-carved mountain valley system between Vancouver Island and the older island chains lifted into the sky in which I live. Look how even a glance towards North America at dawn reveals a torrential river of cloud pouring in off the Pacific, and a wall of fog as it rises over the mountains on the eastern edge of the sea. This emptiness is the human habitat. Its draw is our wellspring.
50th Parallel at Dawn
The boulders in the foreground, visible only at very low tides, are left from the glaciers that poured down off the mountains and cut this valley deep enough that it became a negative space that drew the Pacific into its body. The mingling of fresh, glacial water and salt water at that time is repeated here every year. Every spring so many mountain rivers pour down into this sea that in many places it is more an estuary system, blending salt and fresh water much like the bands of light and cloud you see here, than it is an ocean.
Every glacier creates empty space. Trees and water, air, gulls and salmon have moved into the space at the same time that the space drew them in. Without that space, there would be little to draw humans here as well. There would be rock.
When glaciers lay in the valley, rivers ran along the side of the ice, high up, 170 metres above today’s shore. They tell a tale still of eddies, currents, and washed-out and red-deposited lake beds and sand bars, laid down in an exquisite pattern, how exposed and wicking salt to the air.
These river beds are now the home of wild bees.
Sometimes, it is a river stone that falls from an old sandbar that provides the beginning of the bee’s burrow.
These drainage waves were formed 10,000 years ago when a lake as large as a sea filling the valley below my house drained in half a day. They are still catching sun and water, in the forms of heat and cold..
In other words, the lake is still alive. It only seems so long ago because of our individual life times and generational change… but it’s still that moment long ago. Wondrous!
The Similkameen River makes a big bend to the east at the foot of Chopaka and Hurley Peak (the left and right peaks below)
A few ridges and fifty miles to the south, the spectacularly mis-named Starvation Mountain is their twin.
After 12,000 years, this is still the spirit zone of the ice. We are the creatures who dwell in this energy zone. We call it the sky. Below is an image of their brother, K-Mountain, twenty miles upriver from Chopaka, in a spring dawn.
Isn’t that Sen’klip, Coyote, dressed all in white, playing his tricks on the mountain’s face? To live in the Similkameen is to live in a poem, with a refrain.
These are the bones of our mother, with the glacial outwash gravel that cut them from her body above.
These are some of our mother’s bones weathering in the sun and the cold.
Beautiful bones, eh. They are just stone shadows of her heart, too. Her heart is the real show.
Notice how Rabbitbrush is at her side. Faithful companion! Here she is in the Autumn.
Here’s Owl, within our mother’s thoughts.
Note: I don’t expect you to see the story in this cliff. I’d just like to point out that the bones and the story are there but they have nothing to do with a European, a literal, a scientific, or a natural history understanding of the land. I’m kind of hoping, though, that the surprise of seeing the picture here, and the challenge of seeing an owl in what Enlightenment tradition has taught us is only rock, might give you a tiny glimpse of our mother, just for a flash. And then? Then it’s your story.
The green colour comes from the bright lake bottom, which is the remains of the bed of an underground glacial river, made of tiny, flat, oval pebbles ground off the uplifted seabeds of the mountains just above the lake. The river flowed 10,000 years ago as the continental ice sheet was melting, then flowed around a 5-kilometre-long block of ice, no doubt encasing it in blue-grey gravel, which kept the sun from it. Eventually, the ice melted, the gravel became the lakebed, and the ice became this water, which is replenished with every winter’s snows, with its waving underwater leaves and that damselfly, moving between the dimensions.
Who would pump this stuff into the rock to extract oil, and remove it from life forever? Only an agent of death.
It starts with a drop, of water you might say, but I think it’s a drop of life. Look how both bunchgrass and lichen on this glacial erratic repeat the patterns of the stars. (For the best view, click the image to enlarge it.)
Vaseaux Lake Nature Conservancy
A culture that sees nature as living in a few scraps of land in between industrial, agricultural and residential developments is a culture that does not live among the stars.