In Memory of Hans Rhenisch, Gardener, 1932-2017

Hansel in 1935

It begins with a grandfather taking a boy out into the garden. Then comes eight decades (and a bit more) of working with the earth to keep that moment alive. Such energy along the way!

Hans Throwing Hay in the Black Forest, 1947

Then we say good-bye and take up the flame. Aufwiedersehen, Vater. Hello.

Thanks for taking me out into the orchard.

1965

And thanks for all the kale and the gift of stories.

Love, Harold

No More Wild Fires Please

It is a catastrophic summer in the Interior of British Columbia. Close to 15,000 people have been evacuated from their communities. Indigenous communities who refuse to leave are isolated. Read about the grim situation at Anaham here: http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/first-nations-community-holds-on-as-fire-threatens The question of why these people have chosen to stay in the face of catastrophic fire, isolation and great danger can be answered only in troubling ways. They are, however, simple enough. The tsilqhot’in are this place of fire. There is no evacuation. A lot of this has to do with a century and a half of great cultural hurt, but there’s a positive story here as well. Perhaps this image from the height of this land, at the crest of the Yellowstone Plume, in the great caldera that is the heart of winter …

…and fire on this continent and which anchors our country, Cascadia, like the eye of a pool in one of her rivers displays something of the answer:

A pine rooting on the face of the cooled molten plume, from this post about my journey to the height of the land: https://okanaganokanogan.com/2015/09/28/cascadia-land-of-fire/

If we call these uncontrollable and violent fires “wild fires”, we are participating in the environmental destruction that has created them rather than in the solutions that will control them. Until then, they will remain gothic and destructive, like the nineteenth century creations that they are. At the moment, of course, we must protect our homes and our loved ones, with all the vigour we can bring to this terrifying and important work, but let’s do it in a way that leads directly to the future that must follow this catastrophe of environmental mismanagement. Let’s call these fires by their correct names. They are not wild. Fire lives in this plateau. Smoke, such as obscured Okanagan Lake below, is the natural form of summer here.

Through neglect to honour fire’s primary place, it has been called into violent incarnation by excess fuel. The explosive sage below, above my house, is a bomb waiting to explode, and it’s the creation of bad resource policy. It can be fixed. We will have to be doing this in the next few years.

 

 

To say these horrific fieres are wild, is to say that an abstract notion of fire is fire’s base state, and that fire that escapes the boundaries of the controls of intellectual understanding is “wild”. That’s insulting. In Cascadia, wild fire control began a bit more than a century ago, to protect the nationalized forests made out of depopulated native space for the benefit of industrial and recreational use. This management regime was a replacement for indigenous fire management, in land forcibly removed from indigenous control. The indigenous understanding was based on living within space. The replacement, modern civilization, declared the land wild and foreign to human consciousness. That was a lie. Fire remains far bigger than any human or any collection of humans. Perhaps the image below of when the grassland hill above my house burnt a few years back and the fire turned to life within a few weeks can illustrate the edges of the tsilqhot’in resistance to evacuation. Within a few weeks, this:

Nootka Rose Sprouting from Cooked Rock

Let’s bring the irresistible force of living and destructive and creative fire within our social group and develop strategies to tame it. It’s coming to us anyway, horrifically. Yes, let’s save our homes, our farms, our communities, our forests, and our lives with all the effort we can bring to it, but let’s then move on to build a society that recognizes that fire is the natural state of this place.The failure to create civilized, or artful, fire within organic environments such as grasslands and forests, except at moments of catastrophe when fire sweeps in waves across the land due to being ignored for too long and its potential disrespected, is also a created state, but not one of which we should in any way be proud. And I want to be proud of how we live with fire. This work can wait until the crisis is over, but we can start now in a small way, by throwing away that awful racist term: wild fire. The time for that was 160 years ago, two weeks ago, today, and tomorrow. Fire is here to stay. Let’s hope we are too.

 

 

 

The Japanese Okanagan

During World War II, most British Columbians of Japanese Ancestry were robbed of their belongings, their homes and their liberty and interred in concentration camps in the B.C. Interior. In Vernon, a few remained free, and married into families from the camps, who could never go home again to the sea. Alongside their old orchards, the flowers still bloom.

They are showing us the way.

The way to beauty and the simple joys that are the strongest.

Words of forgiveness are not enough. Words of thanks and love are more fitting. Thank you. We love you. Let’s build the land you dreamed of.

 

A Summer Home for the Family, On Earth and in the Sky

Here we are in a community garden in Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, an old roman fortress, and before that a 4000-year-old settlement where Lake Constance becomes the Rhine.

A shaded picnic bench for the parents, in the middle of the garden, and a magpie nest for the kids, up in the sky, where they like it.

Rome, and the old sub-alpine culture might be gone, but its shadow can be very fiine!

Quince Doesn’t Mind the Cold

Perhaps this is why she moved north long before peach and apricot, apple and pear, or maybe the monks who carried her along were big on thorns, blood and blooms. Symbolism can be more useful than tastiness! Good to know.
The trick is not to bloom all at once, but to be ready, so when the sun does shine, you can, too.

The Snake and Turtle Trail

There is an ancient trail that comes in from spaxmən (Douglas Lake), crosses kɬúsx̌nítkw (Okanagan Lake) below, on the lower left …

… and enters a tongue of land called “The Commonage”. The trail then climbs this tongue to root gathering grounds on its rolling crown, including precious springtime bitterroot grounds …

…then descends to sacred chilutsus, “twin lake”, the lake that is two lakes in one, now known as Kalamalka and Wood lakes. There are three possible routes of descent, limited by cliff structures along the chilutsus shore. I indicate these trails by arrows below. The lower one leads to a winter village. The upper one accesses a second winter village at the head of chilutsus.

They all skirt significant landmarks, too many to mention in a short post …

… but one series stands out: turtles. This is turtle country. I indicate a few turtles with yellow circles below:

 

The one in the centre left of the image is Turtle Point.

A little closer, with less light?

The one in the centre right of the image is, again, Turtle Point. (The turtle’s head is on the right below, white with snow.)

The one just touching the upper edge of the map above is Turtle Mountain, the anchor of a series of turtling lava extrusions stretching along the so-called Bella Vista Hills.

I have no idea what this trail was called before it became a leg of the Hudson’s Bay Company Brigade Trail 200 years ago, but it’s a logical place to cross the lake of the twins to Turtle Point, the seasonal village east of it, and the trail to the salmon grounds beyond, on the Shuswap River, far off the right side of the map below.

Without an ancient name, I suggest that, for now, we keep the trail’s history alive by describing it after its crossings, and its anchor, the marker at its lakeshore terminus…

The snake! I suggest it’s a big-eyed Western Yellow Bellied Racer.

Such as the one above, which I found along the trail on the eastern shore of chilutsus.

I think it’s fitting that the trail follows a snake-like route across a rise of grass, to a cross from snake to turtle, and that this rise of grass is  a snake-shaped tongue of land that keeps us alive with salmon-coloured flowers in the spring, on our way across water to the salmon that see us through the winter. My deeper hunch is that this land, called the Commonage, was always held in common between chilutsus and kɬúsx̌nítkw, and has always been a place of crossing, just as chilutsus is: one of the points in which Syilx territory meets on its north-south and east-west axes, in a territory that was always the road between the north and the south, the east and the west. Sure, it’s called The Commonage, after a ploy by White Ranchers to gain the last stretch of indigenous land for their cattle, close to 150 years ago, but it could well be that the idea was accepted partly because it had always been a place held in common.

The land tells us all we need.

The Pacific Northwest is Not the Southwest

Here’s a place. Squeezed in between the United States and Greenland. Canada.canada-relief-map

Best to stand right-way up.
canada-relief-map

Lately, I’ve heard the strangest thing.  I’ve heard that my part of the country…canada-relief-map

… is called the Southwest. The Canadian Southwest. This was in reference to the name the region often goes by: the Pacific Northwest. Here it is in 1844, just before the 49th Parallel Canadian border (pink and grey on the right) was drawn across it, cutting it in two.

800px-pacific-northwest

That’s an American view, on an American military map. You can see the remnants of the Canadian Northwest in the following image (note the blue oval). As you can see, it goes right up into the Arctic. In fact, a quarter century ago, it was all of the Canadian Arctic, right up to Greenland.

canada-relief-map

If you didn’t know the place, you might think this Southwest Canada stuff made sense. Ah, that’s where politics come in. For Instance, in 1752, the best map looked like this:

c00335

Note the big sea where there is no sea.

north

Basically, this part of North America (under that sea that is not a sea but possibly a memory of glacial melt events 12,000 years ago) is un-mapped. Here it is (below) in 1756. As you can see, no map of the region at all, really.

ti-mappe-america-sept-object

And 1795. By this time the coast is mapped…but nothing else. As I mentioned above, there is a name for this “empty space.” It is the Pacific Northwest.preview

It comes by this name along two routes. First, as the map below shows well, it is Northwest of what was then the centre of European civilization in North America, the Caribbean, which was colonized by the Spanish in 1492.3213606740_9e642903a4_o

Yup, that’s where I live: in Parts Unknown. Note the totally inaccurate Columbia River at the bottom, but, hey, at least it’s there.

unknown

This was a continent controlled by Spain (Southwest) and France (Northeast, and the centre of the continent, right down to the Gulf of Mexico), with tiny English colonies on the East Coast (later the United States) and an English trading area in the Far North. Much of Southern New France eventually went to Spain, and from there to the United States, in the Louisiana Purchase. Much of New Spain went to the United States in the American-Mexican War. But that great empty area, the goal of exploration, remained the Northwest.

 

ti-mappe-america-sept-object

So, that’s the first Northwest. The second has to do with the English and French colonies on the east coast. Here’s a later map (below) of New France. In my part of the country, this is called the East, although there it is called the Centre. The English colonies are on the far right. Everything else is French.

64nl000770

In other words, everything is the West, except for a narrow strip along the Atlantic. That’s the English view. The French view was that everything was the West that was West of Montreal. Here’s Montreal (below), the trading city of New France. The wealth of a continent, north, west and south, flowed through here:

64nl000770

No surprise that the trading company out of Montreal was called the Northwest Company, since it traded in those regions of New France that were north of old French territory on the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s a Northwest map.

mccormick_d_106

There are many others. Here’s one from 1810 that shows the Northwest interests in today’s United States. Note that Oregon Territory (today’s Pacific Northwest) is the territory of Great Britain, the United States and Spain. Below it is Mexico. In the centre of the continent is Lousiana (now Spanish). To the right is the expanded United States, with British Territory to the North. France is out of the picture. The red arrow is St. Louis.

 

na07-copy

St. Louis was the American fur trade headquarters, for all fur trading into Louisiana and Mexico. Canadian trade was still coming West from Montreal, in what is now known as Lower Canada (in the upper right.)  By this time, the eastern part of the Northwest is now called the West (today’s Mid-West) and Louisiana is still largely French-speaking. Please note that those families did not go anywhere. They are still there, but had a new culture, and a new language, given to them by colonization from the United States. The only area unexplored at this point was that area claimed by three countries in the upper left. It was politically dangerous to explore it. It was only when Spain was knocked out of contention, and it was just a disputed region between Britain and the USA, that it was given a Name: Oregon. Or the Pacific Northwest, to distinguish it from the other Northwest, which was now in the middle of the continent. Here is my Northwest, in a satellite view. Isn’t she beautiful? We call her Cascadia now.

pacnw_satellite_cropped

She has an old history, rooted in the French people who moved across the continent and intermarried with indigenous families, and took on their cultures. The arrow shows where I am living as I talk to you about this.pacnw_satellite_cropped-copy-2

To call this the Southwest of Canada is a complete erasure of a long French history, over three centuries older than the nation state of Canada and of the history of this place. The people of this history are Canadians, with more right to the term than most citizens of the nation state. Our heritage here is primarily with people in Quebec (Lower Canada), Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Northern California and Wyoming, and secondarily with the North and with the French culture on the Prairies. Canada, the 1867 British nation state, comes a long, long, long way down the list. It’s not that we’re not proud to belong to Canada here, but our history does not live within these borders:

canada-relief-map

We’re proud of that, too, because it is that old history that makes us who we are, not the new history of a country still trying to reshape it. So, the Pacific Northwest, or Cascadia, please. We are citizens of the continent out this way.

 

 

 

The Okanagan in the Year 11,748

This is pretty cool. It’s the Carte Des Nouvelles Decouvertes Au Nord de la Mer de Sud, Tant a l’Est de la Siberie et du Kamtchatcka, Qu’a l’Ouest de la Nouvelle France, drawn by Joseph Nicholas De L’Isle and Philippe Buache in Paris in 1752.

title

There is no record of Europeans having been here to draw a map, but what the heck, here it is. This map is centred on the North Pacific.

31701

Here’s the North American half of it.

north

See that? That inland sea, the Mer (ou Baye) de l’Ouest?

sea

Whatever information the map-makers were working from, they have the rudiments of Vancouver Island, bits and pieces of the Columbia and Fraser Rivers, broken and not always in the right place, and this mysterious sea. Here’s the country today.

nepacific-1

The Pacific Northwest and the Western North

Red Circle: Chilcotin Basalt; Blue Circle: Columbia Basalt; Green Arrow: Home Sweet Home

The Mer de l’Ouest precisely lies on top of the Chilcotin Basalt, a plateau of flood basalts in the centre of British Columbia, matched by the larger Columbia Basalt in today’s Washington State. Both are related to the arcs of volcanoes along the coast. Here’s the map of the Sea of the West again.

sea

Now, much of this land was covered in water at the end of the last ice age, 12,000 years ago, in large meltwater seas following and spilling over the valleys. The four islands on the map could very well have been prominent orientation points. Intriguingly, they correspond very closely to secwepemc territory, centred on today’s city of Kamloops.

1449699436

Secwepemc Nation

 What’s more, this sea pretty much fits to the ancient span of the grasslands at the north of the Columbia Plateau and the eastern half of the Chilcotin Basalt. This is the traditional home of the plateau peoples.

map_plateau

Is that not our Sea of the West?

sea

A sea of ice that became a sea of grass, with four peaks, islands on the map, marking the boundaries of Secwepemc territory? Who talked to these mapmakers? How old do these memories go? 12,000 years?

Beavers and Trails in the North Okanagan

Here’s an observation about water. If I’m right, it’s pretty cool. So, have a look. This is a small part of the former Commonage Reserve, a wedge of land set aside for the Okanagan Indian Band and White cattlemen to use together as pasture land, which was later sold off to the ranchers. I’ve spoken of the political injustice of that before. Let’s just look at the water. At this year, it’s snow. Look how the snow stores cold better on the east-facing walls  of the old water courses and sunlight at best on their west-facing ones.p1460105
Note the abandoned farmland and the houses built around the flood plain and the wetlands in the valley bottom. All that remains of that is a creek (marked by the willows marching through the houses), with a couple of beavers here and there, making sneak attacks on willows at night. Now, look at the gullies again. See how the hawthorn trees in the gully are hiding just below the level of the sun? That’s right where the snow is protected from the sun as well. That’s a wall of cold.p1460108 If you walk up one of these gullies in the summer, that cold will certainly draw you to it in the afternoon. As evidenced by tree growth, note that the water doesn’t follow the bed of the gully but clings to one wall.

p1460107

Well, the thing is: before the beavers were trapped out to buy surplus Napoleonic War rifles to try to keep ranchers out of this country, I’d be surprised if there hadn’t been beavers in all these now-dry watercourses, building little dams, holding the water, right down in that trough of shadow. There’s a foreign city on the beaver country now, and no beavers.

p1460110

But just think of this: when the beavers were there, the water in the bed of the gully would have modified the temperature of the gully, drawing cold across to the warm side, warmth across to the cold side, and creating one environment, centred on water, with two different kinds of growth, one on one side of the gully and one on the other. Birds and animals could move from one to the other, instead of passing long distances across the grass. The gullies, in other words, concentrated animals, not along trails, as is the case today, but in pools, just like beaver ponds. Not only is that beautiful, but it’s invaluable for creating new sources of water efficiency as we move forward. I love it.

The Private Landscapes of the Okanagan Valley

Here’s a healthy stand of bunchgrass, which I showed you a couple days ago. As I mentioned, the Okanagan Valley of the North Eastern Pacific Rim probably looked like this 200 years ago. It probably looked like this in 1858, and likely even through 1859 and 1860.
p1410222

Then came cattlemen, and cattle, which ate it down to dust and an invasive weed, cheatgrass, by 1871. Sagebrush (look at the image below), as native to this place as bunchgrass, took advantage of the vacated ecosystem and spread like fire. Cheatgrass (green below) filled in the remaining space, grew green all fall and winter, flashed quickly in the spring, and was dead by May: sharp, prickly and inedible. Rain that fell on the land evaporated away in a few hours. A rich landscape became a desert. Cattle did that or, rather, the fences men kept them penned with did that. Look closely.p1410553

The clearance of 6,000 years of Syilx care of these grasslands through the insult of putting cattle on them remains, today, in 2016, ironically, there’s almost nothing for cattle to eat here. What a shame. It would be like clearing the cities of Europe away to create ruins of stone and sand in which one could plant olives. That this situation is close to what Europe is dealing with today with intense pressures from Africa and the Middle East is not lost on me. It would be foolish to think that here, in the west of the West, we are immune from the same pressures. We aren’t. They look like the European grape plants below, in the shadow of a November cloud, which are here to increase land values in the same way the fences of ranchers in the 1860s were there to increase land values, to turn, in other words, indigenous land into a product that could flow through the accounting books of a centralized government, instead of through the living process of the land:

p1410706

There are ironies. An ethical system of accounting would return the land to the Syilx, with an apology and an acknowledgement that a transformation of a humanly-cultivated land into a managed “natural space” was a failure. That’s not the way of things, though. The social succession here is to view the land not as the space of a cold war battle running since 1858, nor as a social ruin, but as “nature”. That’s a wondrous word that includes this cheat-grass-lined (and dangerous; it’s slippery as all get out in the rain) deer trail …

p1410538

… and this poplar tree, planted as an agricultural air-sprayed chemical buffer for a walking trail built on a filled-in irrigation canal commissioned by Earl Grey, of Earl Grey Tea fame, and blasted by the approach of winter it’s unsuited for.

p1410606

In short, “nature” appears to be a term containing things that are not ‘natural’ to this place, or ‘native’ to this place, and not particularly well-suited to it either: creatures inhabiting more the ruins of failed human social interactions with land than the land itself. Perhaps the following image can clear this curiosity up a bit:

p1410547

What you’re looking at is the same landscape as this …

p1410536

…, but after ten years without cattle. Look again:

p1410544 The sagebrush is still a bit out of hand, the cheatgrass is still stealing water from everyone and creating a desert, but the bunchgrass is coming back, although in balance with this new, water-poor “cheated” environment. This “Nature” isn’t a “natural state”, isn’t the way things were before settlement …

p1410630

…but the mechanism by which the earth achieves balance, with the forces at play upon it. That’s the same as saying that the first hillside I showed you above, this one…

p1410550

… is the balance achieved when cattle are placed on this landscape. It is, in other words, the signature of cattle. You can see a young one signing her artwork below.

Interestingly enough, in this version of nature, there is scarcely room for cattle or food for them, which is a way of saying that the balance is forcing them off. Note how the cow below is pushed off its diet of weeds by the traditional sagebrush removal process of this place, fire, and finds its natural environment: a gravel pile.

That doesn’t mean that either gravel or green grass and sagebrush are the natural state of the Okanagan Valley today. It does mean that the idea of grazing cattle on this land is unsustainable. It doesn’t fit at all. The earth wants something else. Look at it bringing November water for it—water that sagebrush catches poorly, cattle destroy and cheatgrass burns away too quickly.

p1410639

The colonial use of this land was for cattle grazing, yes. Because that idea bankrupted itself, and the return of the land to the bunchgrass and people who know what to do with it is not considered, for complex and ultimately unethical reasons, doesn’t mean that the post-colonial use of it should be one particular romantic use of “nature” —a space for “recreation,” like the golf course spilling over the top of the hill below. That use doesn’t inhabit natural space but a ruined social space, which it attempts to renew by renewing not the productivity of the land, which was here in 1858, but the aesthetic enjoyment of private space in “nature”.

p1410702

The argument could be made that this is the natural space the land finds when it is inhabited by humans, as demonstrated by these homes in the cheatgrass and the November fog…

p1410379

…but that argument is just silly: not all human activity is balanced in this way, and not all human activity is based around private enjoyment. After all, who enjoys this land’s water privately and doesn’t share?  That’s right, our old friend:

p1410527

Cheatgrass

Our mirror.