A Practical Experiment in Applied Grassland Meandering

We had an inspiring discussion in Kelowna the other night.  https://okanaganokanogan.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=35870&action=edit

One of the things that came out of it was a conversation on the work being done to bring back the threatened languages of the grasslands. Much work stands before us, and I drove home in the dark thinking that perhaps one way that those of us neither syilx nor secwepemc can contribute to this vital rebuilding is to advocate for adequate resources and funding for it. Another, however, might be to build public support for it in terms that a technological civilization, and its technological universities, can readily and quickly get behind financially and at heart. What follows is an example of my thinking in this regard: an adaptation of the beautiful ecological balance of blue bunch wheatgrass to technological solutions, on the foundation that understanding the grass requires a knowledge of the relationships within the grassland, which are capturable from very close observation and even more deeply understood through indigenous language. I’m not saying that rebuilding languages should be done for technological reasons. I’m merely pointing out that public support is required for any large expenditure and that building up technological interest might be a way to drive a desire for the salvation and growth of these languages and their ancient repositories of families and their deep wisdom. Plus, the technological solutions should be able to build up a right relationship with indigenous grasslands, that corrects the capital-ownership model inherited from colonial times, and its costs in grassland and social deterioration. Such a strategy wouldn’t be isolated from other strategies. The bottom line is that this work must succeed. In a spirit of inquiry and support, I offer a few thoughts below.

Wheatgrass water collectors.

Wheatgrass offers models for aerial water collectors using thin sprung wires, tubes or fibres tipped with water-collecting combs harvesting rain, snow and fog. The mechanism deposits water through weighted tips to non-evaporative, subsoil fibres or mats, or down the wires or tubes to central cores. In both methods, the combs at the tips of the grass stalks hold water in place due to capillary tension and release it when they knock together in the wind or when disturbed by passing deer.

Blue Bunch Wheatgrass Directing Water to the Tips of its Root System.

The harvest of water stored in the plants’ fibrous root system is powered by solar evaporation, which uses thin tubes to draw water vertically by means of its natural capillary tension. Adaptations and extensions of this technology could be used to create scalable and linkable collection stations to sculpt and harvest water regimes. Volumes would be low for each plant, but ample for many uses, especially when linked millions of times in series. Possibilities exist for drip line systems to move water to required zones for crop growth or collection in ditch networks mimicking deer trails, water transfer through microtubes, solar pumping models, and much more. In all cases, models can be created through organic planting or extensions of principles through mechanical engineering.

Blue Bunch Wheatgrass

Power Sources: Sun, Atmospheric Pressure, Molecular bonds, Atmospheric disturbance, gravity, mechanical disturbance.

Figure 1. Components

Atmospheric collectors (top), fibrous storage (bottom), solar pump system (centre).

Figure 2. Stalk Transfer Mechanisms

In-tube transfer (left), surface transfer (right).


Figure 3. Gravity Transfer Mechanism

Combs at fibre tips collect snow, rain or fog, transform it to water and deposit it on the storage mechanism below. The combs resist atmospheric theft, delay transfer to prevent overcharging of storage fibres, and hold water as ice during freezing cycles to extend water harvest over time for continuous running of the system.

Figure 4. Mechanical Transfer

Weighted fibres planted on a slope transfer water to a downslope collector.

Figure 5. Multiple Capture Mechanisms

1Subsoil water moving by gravity is slowed by pumps before being deposited in 2holding ponds of subsoil water, which is augmented by 3precipitation and 4gravity fed water. This mechanisms allows a crop rooted in region 2 to have four water sources.

Figure 6. Integrated Pumping and Storage Nets

Fiber collectors and pumps on a slope (left) are interspersed with bulb collectors (See following entry.) and deliver water down slope to bulb (and tuber) collectors. In an organic model, on-slope bulb collectors (see entry below) can seed those on the horizontal plane below, which can be harvested for food or water. In a mechanical model, all bulb and tuber collectors can be used as micro-storage and harvested in series or through mechanical collection.


I have at least a hundred other ideas to sketch out like this, a great need to actually learn how to sketch in a comprehensible way (thanks for your patience), and all of them to work out in detail against the background of western physics, chemistry and biology. Linking these hypotheses to the knowledge within indigenous grassland languages and culture would form part of a complete approach. The ultimate goal is restoration of right relationships with the grass and all of its creatures, and the restoration of the knowledge, language and culture of its people. I think we can do this. I know we have to try, with all that we have.

Qanats for the Okanagan

Late afternoon in the grasslands. November. Light’s almost gone. Cloud everywhere. Nothing much to look at here. Zzzz.

Or, maybe there is. Have a look just down the trail. The guys building a new townhouse kind of, well, absented themselves for a couple months, but they’re back at work, hurrah, and look what the grass thought of that, eh.

So, rather yellow, yes, and shy on proteins, yes, but coming in nicely at the edges before they tilted that heat-absorbing shield back up. With that in mind, let’s look at our hillside again.

See that scree running down from the head of the hill there? It forms an underground river, a kind of qanat, such as the watercourses of ancient Arabia, the Gobi Desert, North Africa and the Roman Rhine, with water, slight as it is, protected from evaporation by a cover. And there’s more! Look how the grasses and sage are moving in from the side, soaking up the heat stored in the rock and harvesting it, just as this grass…

… did with its metal shield. And what have the construction boys been up to? Ah, very important high tech environmentally conserving work, all according to regulations, and, dagnabit, the seeded grass cover washed away, the dust fencing collapsed, and water wreaking its havoc, as it will, and all blamed on, you know it, yes you do, global warming and a shift in weather patterns to try the patience of St. Francis and all foundation forms contractors.

Ah, but is it terribly wrong? Is that not the first step towards building a qanat? Don’t you have to wash the soft soils downhill, to make a seedbed down there for the coming water? And don’t you have to dig a channel to collect rocks — in this case, from side erosion — to form the qanat? Why, yes! And would not plants, over time, fill in the sides of the channel, bulking up on the sand they’ve caught as it drifted across the hill, and slowly building the soil up, as they have in the image below?

Perhaps trying to do it on the fly, all at once …

… is a good effort, but, you know, this one …

… with grass instead of poly cloth and rocks instead of tiny little grass seeds in a pap of recycled newspaper, is going to cost less in the end? I mean, it doesn’t need maintenance, or but thickens over time. Besides, it has room for snakes, and you like snakes, right?

Hmmm… maybe not ants. Well, I’m sure they’ll sort it out. And as you walk up the hill harvesting this side growth, what is there for you, to make it easy? Why, a staircase of stones! Beats slogging up the muck.

You’re just going to find ants on the muck, and they’re not half so fun as snakes, or what washes down from the muck and can feed you.



The Pueblos of the Okanagan

Here’s a bit of limestone about a metre across that bonked off the escarpment and has been lying around in the grass of the high hill doing what rocks do best…

… sheltering and incubating life.

Not everyone has left home, as you can see.I have wasp (?) nests like this in my storage shed, too, and have been keeping my eye on them for two years now. This brood has settled into a better place all around: nice and warm for the winter, and sheltered from the snow. I hope you’ll think of them when the blizzards come!

A Tale of Gophers and Quail

Sure, it looks like winter. A bit of shelter for mammals and birds, a few seeds to keep them alive through hard times, and brrrrr.


These are the vitamin and steroid sources under the canopy of grass that will enable quail and rodents to reproduce in the spring. Spring is too late for such important work to begin. That’s winter work.  Unfortunately…

…nibbling on green shoots of cheatgrass will not lead to reproduction. So, look again:

The gopher that makes the mound creates the quail chicks of springtime. The timing is important, to avoid the mounds being seeded by grasses instead. And so above-ground and below-ground worlds meet.


Why It’s Called a Grassland

Look what happens! The grass grows, and dries in the sun, to catch the snow. No snow. A raven, though! But look…

… then it snows.

Now the grass is bent in an arc, down to the soil. The energy shift continues. Watch.

The even snowfall is soon uneven, built around structures created by grass, all with exposed faces collecting heat and lee faces collecting cold.

But there’s more! Soon, the hill, one even gradient of soil, becomes a series of waves.

Beautiful waves. Waves created by grass built to bend to the wind. Now it is bending the snow that is carried on the wind. That’s the same thing, isn’t it?

A day later, and the sun begins to work on the faces of heat and cold the grass has made out of the wind.

It creates miniature avalanches, slumps, and flow patterns in the snow, deepening wells and extending connective membranes. The snow will melt in these patterns. But that’s not all!

The grass also guides the deer. The grass turns them into wind.

They follow its patterns. So does the sun. Look at it, spilling between these clumps of snow buckwheat, which are holding the snow.

Just as the deer’s trails are made at the intersection of their angular anatomy, grass and gravity, so are the sun’s trails made at the intersection of their expansive planes, grass and the form of gravity known as exposure. The sun’s trails are flat. Look how grass makes dimension out of this flat world. The tiny avalanches in the image below show the grass at work.

The summer that will build new stalks of grass to harvest and sculpt the sun into the following spring’s water starts here, at first snow.

By the time spring comes along, most of the preparation has been done. Grassland people, this is your snow:

The Seasons of Fire and Water

Where water is, there is the absence of water. There is always water, hidden in life. There is never water hidden from life. Even in the absence of water, there is water. Celtic consciousness dragged to this land from Europe holds that there are four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, which function in a cycle. This is a cycle of eternal return, a concept that European anthropologists wrote upon indigenous cultures throughout the twentieth century, often quite brilliantly, but do take a look at four images of one hill in one valley in one grassland above one lake in one small fault in the plateau east of the volcanic arc of the Northeast Pacific shore. These are the seasons of fire.

Where water is, there is fire. There is always water, hidden in fire. There is never water hidden from fire. Even in the absence of fire, there is fire. Fire is always present. It takes on bodies. It comes to life. Life is always present. It takes on fire. It burns. These seasons are one.

How The Sun Makes Rich Soil

It’s simply beautiful how it is done. First, water sorts out the finest grains of silt, and deposits them on the surface of low points in the earth, filling them in. Then the sun evaporates the water, and  cracks the silt all crazy like.
Wind and gravity (and birds passing through the seasons) deposit feathers and leaves. The angular effect of the sun on the fluid shape of the silt holds them from drifting.
When the rains come again to the lowest ground, it fills the cracks, softens leaf and feather, and then deposits new silt around them.

They are now mixed in.

The cycle repeats with each season, or each thundercloud.

This is the lightning of the earth.

Beautiful, isn’t it!

What exquisite music.