Indigenous Land Use and the Agricultural Land Reserve

It’s actually the law of the land: indigenous rights precede all others. No matter that the rule has scarcely been applied since 1858, it’s still the law of the land, and it still makes sense. For instance, right now, negotiations are under way in my country, British Columbia, for ways in which to realign a land-use practice called the Agricultural Land Reserve, which intends to prevent the sale or use of agricultural land for any other purpose. Land like this:

The reserve has been in place for forty-five years, and was prompted by a desire to halt the infill of British Columbia’s scarce farmland with houses. Any land that was farmed, or that had once been farmed, was frozen in place overnight. Or so it seemed. Forty-five years later, vast regions of farmland are currently unharmed under this system, being dedicated instead to golf courses, on the one hand, private horse paddocks on another, and large private lawns on the other, while many others sport houses 10,000 square feet or larger: obviously more urban residences than viable farm houses. Some agricultural land owners (and not a few) have simply dumped rocky fill on their land until it could, reasonably, be declared unfit for agriculture, while others have used arguments that land is not economically viable as agricultural land and landowners deserve to get profit from their private holdings. Human cleverness being what it is, there is no end to the work-arounds. In a province which makes the bulk of its money from selling houses to foreigners or Canadians from east of the Rockies, the system is exacerbating tensions, hence the current call for reform. The Agricultural Land Reserve Commission is now taxed with finding a better balance between urban and farming land uses, presumably not subject to abuse. Land like this:

Land like this:

Fair enough, but all of this fiddling is beside the point. The argument is not whether land removed from agricultural use should create profit for its owner, or how it should be developed into housing or industry, but that the original removal of land from its indigenous owners, between 1858 and 1878, for the most part, has even the slightest shred of ethics behind it if the argument is accepted that it was needed to develop an economy, to support a government, to prevent a takeover by the United States (a publicly-advertised threat back in those days), regardless of how much that usage represented racial policy. What that means is that if urbanized agricultural land, like this …

… or like this, which escaped land reserve censure through an extensive green belt program..

… is ever to be removed from agricultural use for industrial or other development purposes, two processes must ethically precede that. First, the land must be returned to the productive health it was in before 1858, with the kind of natural-process, fire-regime indigenous farming practices local people built up over thousands of years, before any sale could be made (the resulting viability would prevent any argument that the land was not viable farmland, only that it was not viable in a racially-derived land-use system based on degrading natural values rather than improving them, and good riddance to that) and, second, any land alienated from the original claim should be returned to its original indigenous owners, with one exception, noted below. Even a compromise between the two systems is possible, with shared governmental authorities between the three claimants to this land: British Columbia, the peoples of this Pacific Slope, and the other people of this space, who deserve travel corridors through any built space, rather than being shot when they enter it, or denied any access at all.

A claim is often made in this country that the hills are dry and full of weeds, and that the country is hot, dry and unproductive. None are true, and can be countered with a wide dispersal of knowledge. After all, the reason the land appears dry has to do with destruction of its original vegetation, as well as the infilling of tens of thousands of acres of wetlands, for industry and housing. Water is natural here. Here’s a tiny remnant on the Commonage Land Claim, disputed since 1895. This creek is all that remains of a vast wetland filling the entire floor of the valley. It has an airport on one side and a sports field on the other, and low-cost housing developments throughout, all of which are the equivalent of dumping waste rock on agricultural land today to render it unviable.

It has to stop. It is unsustainable. What is not acceptable is to compound the original theft by now removing the land from any productive or natural capacity at all, and turning it into this:

That is, again, unsustainable, unless compensations are made for it to the original debt, and payable to indigenous peoples and indigenous environments, with the full participation of indigenous peoples. The thing about all of this is that it is easy, and less intrusive to society than the original land theft, or the reconfiguration of private land rights through the Agricultural Land Reserve Act. Sure, there would be difficulties, but any government that can invest $11,000,000,000 into an unwanted, unneeded, actively opposed dam project on Indigenous land, against the wishes of its rightful Indigenous owners, surely has the money to invest in supporting its farmland owners to make the transition from degrading environments to improving them. After all, it is already investing in agriculture — in industrial agriculture. There is a valid point to these millions of dollars of investment, in terms of protecting the ethical responsibility that adheres to the original privatization and racialization of land, but when the flip side happens and that ethical responsibility is squandered, then environmental and social ethics take precedence. Moving the land further away from its debt, into increased urban density without changing urbanity into an environmentally sound model on indigenous principles, is ethically, economically and morally bankrupt. Are there issues, between the needs of the federal state, Canada, and all its regional levels of government? Of course there are, but they can be worked out. Setting them aside is only going to compound them.

Sterilized Geese on the Dole. Okanagan Lake

People keep feeding them, despite governmental orders not to do so.


Artificial Intelligence and Creation

The people of the world of the creation are creatures. They are creations, created by looking to the world in wonder (or anguish, confusion, need, joy or contentment, puzzlement or any other wave of energy)  and having the world answer with the form that creates a balance in the shape of that space.

That time is now, or it is 200 years ago or 2,000,000 years ago, or just now. The distance a person places it at does not change ability to respond to creation, but at a certain distance it means people will say that “they” will use “their bodies”, or the bodies of others, as tools. That is the original artificial intelligence, the one that calls yarrow and mustard (above) weeds, because they are not forage foods for cattle, without calling to them and accepting their response.  All other forms of artificial intelligence follow.

Fire Moves Snow As Well As Ice Does

Do you remember the summer of fires? A big one started at Elephant Hill, outside of Ashcroft, and burned to the north for months. Here is an image of the burn area from the first few days. It’s taken out of my car window as we drove through. I was struck by the power of fire, even in the cold. Look how the land, stripped of bunchgrass to hold the snow, holds it in its eroded gullies instead. This effect will only increase erosion, which is not a bad thing on slopes like this, as it creates water environments, which maintain life.

I was struck by how a pattern of fire replacing grass replaced by fire replaced by grass can be a kind of breathing of the land as it arranges water and settles into it. Fire, in other words, acts much like a glacier does in such environments, moving rock to make pathways for water and light and life. And it does so as a kind of breath, amplifying what is already here.

Beautiful! What’s more, this is an ancient post-glacial river channel, formed when the ice blocked Glacial Lake Thompson and the Thompson River flowed hundreds of metres above its present banks. That work is not finished yet. We are living in the time of creation.


How to Beat Global Warming By Turning the Grasslands Upside Down

Water has a surface tension. It divides light into bands of energy. It keeps some and sends more away, but not evenly.

So does mullein.

In mullein’s case, it covers its pulpy, absorbent leaves with tiny hairs, which capture the tension of water, like this…

… to create an insulating skin stronger than the pull of the sun to draw the water into the air, kind of a miniature atmosphere, really, like the water spheres on the cattails below …

…and then, when it snows, mullein holds that snow up in the air, where the cold air can cool it through the night. Slowly, the sun warms the mullein, from its vertical surfaces, drawing the water down onto its leaves and from there to its core.

Note how the hairs on the leaves strengthen the surface tension of the water and keep it from spilling off onto the ground. Useful? Sure is. Consider other ways in which the life up the hill is slowing down and channelling the melting of the snow that fell overnight, and channelling it. Look how the sun and the angle of the earth …

… are transforming time (as measured by water), depending upon exposure. The cottonwoods do this trick in the angles of their branches, from which meltwater spreads slowly outwards over their bark…

… hold it in lateral cracks, from which it is slowly released…

… and even twist it through a 90 degree turn by balancing the pull of gravity and the build up of tension on the bark to move it as a film.

Note as well the seam running across the upper side of the limb. In cottonwoods, those hold so much water for so long that they eventually rot the tree out from within. It drops branches because of this action, and then houses owls.

It inspires water collection devices which gather snow in multiple ways and deliver it through systems of cracks into an inner trunk, where it can be held through drought. Still, even rock is playing this game.

This rock pile, formed by centuries of water and frost action on stone, is little different than the plants above: snow held away from the sun melts slowly, feeding an elaborate plant community through a series of cracks, while the bulk of the snow melts quickly, disappears into the warm darkness between the rocks, and from there into deeper soil. Protected from the sun, it flows downhill.

All you need for this is two rocks, really:

What is beautiful about this pair is that the larger rock, with its minerals and its seam of quartz, is facing the warm southern sun. Its snow disappeared quickly, into the plant community at the stone’s base, but look what the smaller stone, of more porous material, has done…

Either it has absorbed the snow (or the run-off) and is releasing it slowly, in a kind of reverse of a heating effect, or it provided a surface that allowed snow to adhere to the larger stone. Either way, it transforms the sun, just as this water does:

It is, after all, the same snow and the same sun making all these transformations. Here’s a man-made slope doing this work, but vertically instead of horizontally:

In this case, bunchgrass, rooted in the terraces of a stepped wire cage, is stopping the water from flowing, although not stopping the snow from melting or twisting it through time, as the cottonwood does. It simply melts it quickly, then holds onto it, creating a slow waterfall weaker than the roots of the grass. The base of this simple system…

… is unused, and unlike this slope…

… there is no opposing cool slope to hold the snow, to allow the sun to heat it and slowly melt it down the draw between the two slopes, as the mullein does, in the balance of heat and cold illustrated by this globe of moss.

Still, we could build water dams on the hill like this, which would slow time, to release water through seepage through the long hot summer, without losing any land at all. Simply, a south-facing slope like this:

… could be faced with a north-facing one (instead of the open space in which we are standing), which would collect snow and shelter it from the sun. It could even be constructed to channel winter wind and gather deep drifts, to extend melting effects for weeks or months. The melting would come from the south-facing slope we see here. The channel between the two would hold water, which could then be put to use, much like this stone below…

If that’s too much engineering, why not just take that stone as a model and reverse it, like this:

You: Harold! What on earth is that?

Harold: Dearest, it’s a vineyard driveway littered with gravel.

You: That’s what I thought it was! Oh now, look, I have muck on my shoes.

Harold: Those are nice shoes.

You: They were nice shoes. Now they’re mucky. I can’t go to town like this.

Harold: Oh. Sorry. (Pause.) You want to go to town when you have all this cool muck?


You: Yes!

Harold: Oh.

(Harold blushes and continues.)

So, gravel. Look at what it’s doing. Little rocks rise above the cold soil to collect the sun, to melt the snow, which runs off of them and pools at their bases, slowly seeping into the soil instead of running off.

As the sun continues to warm the stones, the absorption area spreads…

… and we have stopped time by storing snow, releasing it slowly and storing the resulting water at a rate matched to the capacity of the soil. It will be released as life and slow subsurface flow through the spring, which is great, but what if we just reimagined the process slightly, laid down an absorbent mat covered with tiny hairs, like the mullein, with little heat units, either spikes of grass or blocks of stone, rising at intervals out of the hairs, to catch snow at various depths and melt it slowly down into the mat. If the mat were on a wall surface …

the heat unit could be below, and lined, like this wood, with vertical conduits that could fill with water. A fence made out of gravel in a cage, or simply stacked rock, would do as well. If the mat were on a road surface or a walking surface…

… the pressure of traffic could squeeze it into transport or deeper capture structures. In all cases, the water will follow the pressure exerted on it in such a way that it maintains bonds with itself, like this flock of starlings…

… or these juniper berries, so pungent and yet so sweet.

The transportation of water is only the manipulation of water tension and time, in relation to the sun. For that, the transportation is more across a membrane …

…than from high country dams to low country farms…

In this vineyard, much of this work is already being done, but in a model conducive to machine harvesting and the capitalization of water (huge volumes are required to pay for the huge cash outlays required to support the system.)  It might be, however, that the heating and cooling effects are as simple as turning stones over, so that their white bellies, of solidified soil salts brought to the surface by the sun, send that sun away, to allow the stones to operate as the engines of cold we need them to be at this time.

We could turn them over again when we need heat. In fact, if the stones took the shape of trees…

…they could be both at once. Time to go out and plant some trees.


Vertical Lakes, Subsoil Dams and the Bear’s Cold Storage

There was forty centimetres of snow on this draw a couple weeks ago. Don’t think it’s all gone.

The shade on the south western slope is keeping it damp in the soil, and the bunchgrass on the hot north eastern slope is holding it in its roots. Same thing one cut to the west, below.

Welcome to the vertical lakes of Bella Vista! The saskatoons and choke cherries in the gap between the two regimes thrive on the water gravity draws down from the lee slope and the warmth from the grassy one.

As the winter progresses, the snow will come again, and will be caught in the tangle of bushes, effectively making tiny lakes of cold — artificial glaciers, if you like.

We could, of course, encourage this snow collection, by cutting the land so that the wind deposits the snow in these draws, which can be planted and harvested. Even hot, dry cuts, with inopportune sun exposure, can still delay the drought of August by enough weeks to support a few shrubs. If this were a flat hillside, they would not be here.Even without enough water to host some shrubs, the shade effects create two separate harvesting climates. That’s useful, too.

We could, of course, help out, as the rain erosion in this abandoned housing excavation suggests. Currently, snow is pushed to roadsides, so it can flow through storm sewers into the lake system. We could store it, instead.We don’t have to think small, either.

Look how a natural stone dam in the middle of a draw forces the subsoil water up the slopes and creates a lake of trees, effectively moving the boundaries upslope and using gravity to pump water to the bushes.

The harvesting period of a crop can be extended in this way. Think of it as cold storage, at no cost. Mind you, there are bears. Here’s his tunnel through the hawthorns.

I usually think like the fruit grower I am, but, hey, if it’s more productive to set up these orchards and harvest the game that shelters in them, that would work, too. It beats saying that the land is so weedy and overgrazed that it has no agricultural value any more and should be turned into housing, for which there is no water. It is called “doing something in particular.” I like that.

Fall Rain in the Grasslands

So, it rains, right. 35 centimetres of snow have already melted. Now the rain.

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.

And the sun.

Melting stuff, even through the clouds of rain.

So, that’s fun.

But what’s it all going to do? Flow away? Not if we can help it! Let me introduce my friends, the beavers of the dry hills, the water keepers!

Look at them hold onto that rain!

They are not going to let it go, not these girls.

No way.

Or at least not yet. This is the grassland equivalent of a storage dam, a big lake in the mountains holding back the rivers so that the soil (and the roots) aren’t oversaturated, and moving the water out to the root tips, where bacteria can use it to dissolve minerals (for the roots) and roots can draw it in. In this case, when the wind comes and that sun will start drying things out again instead of just warming them up, well, down will come the stored rain, bridging the drying effect, and keeping the soil wet until the frost comes. Run off is prevented in this way. Soil health is protected from the air in this way. Isn’t this a beautiful aerial lake?

And my other sisters, the ponderosa pines, are in on it too. Look at them carefully aligning the water beneath their branches. When it falls, it will water the dryest parts of the soil, the ones protected by the needles.

Not only that, but look at this young one drawing the rain in, shedding it off her waxy needles, and then holding it on their rough undersurfaces. Right now, she is breathing through a cooling veil of water. It’s a kind of hibernation.

Not only that, look how needles, splayed horizontally by the weight of water, hold water droplets between them in stronger bonds, by their naturally-occuring capillary tension, making capillaries in the air. That’s a technology that can be adapted to water storage and transport systems. Yet other sisters in the grasslands use the rain to keep their fruit fresh, and keep a nice healthy bacterial environment, so the frosts of January and the sun of February can set those bacteria to work breaking down the acids of these fruits to sugar …

… right when the birds will need it. Until then, beauty keeps humans in thrall.

But who would mind with a grassland team like this?

How to Catch Seeds and Plant Them

It’s good to use a net of grass and stalk. No further action required!

If you have no net and the ground is dry and as smooth as water and any old seed will just skitter over it in the wind like a figure skater, no problem. Dry it out. It’ll crack like an old pot.

Once the seeds have caught in the cracks, nicely spaced by the intersections between the wind and the angles of breakage, water will get them going.

The trick is not to wait until May. This technique works for a spring in November.

What the Body Knows in Cold and Light

What is pale and drawn out by light and cold is not dead. The life is within, or, rather, it is concentrated, or distilled.

When you walk through the cold, every twig is power. If you grasp them, you can feel their line down to the roots, bound by ice to all of the earth and through ice to sky and stars. Now that you have found their power, come back in the light and find its concentration.

Welcome to the poetry of the earth, and the open secrets of red osier dogwood, medicine for body and soul.