Come Join the Discussion on Visual Culture on Tuesday, December 5

Where: Alternator Centre for the Arts

Time: 6-8 p.m.

Date: Tuesday. This Tuesday. December 5.

I hope you can come and take part in a discussion about the visual culture of the Okanagan. Tania Willard and I will be speaking at Kelowna’s Alternator Centre for the Arts from 6 to 8 p.m. on December 5, which is this Wednesday. Tania will be talking about her #Bush Gallery curatorial project and her work as a Secwepemc artist and curator. Expect to learn about this exciting work:

I will be speaking about the connection between eye and world in the valley, through a discussion about English as an Earth Language. I will work to set the concepts of Land, Landscape, Property and Place to the side and replace them with living terms. Expect to see images from Iceland, the Okanagan and across the Pacific Northwest, as I explore the words of my ancestors, including “Far”…

 

 

…”Head,” “Fell,” “Thick”, “Eye”, “Flow” “Self,”… class mapping in Downtown Kelowna…

… and this guy’s Mexican woes.

I hope to see you there. There will be lots of time for you to speak as well. The event is organized by Katherine Pickering of the University of British Columbia Okanagan, and, yes, UBCO landscaping will form part of the show. See you there, eye to eye.

 

Sustaining the Okanagan 21: The City of the Okanagan

In keeping with my conviction that we would do better to build things than tear them down,  I would like to propose a new form of civilization in the Okanagan Valley. By “civilization” I mean the creation of city environments and the forms of human organization that follow. The current form of civilization gives us this:

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That’s an image from Kelowna, a Canadian-American city in the Okanagan Valley, but not an Okanagan city. You can tell because what is for sale on this car lot is an extension of American industry, focussed, through trade agreements and from there through a beleaguered  automobile manufacturing culture in central Canada, a place called Ontario, which is full of Americans with a different form of government from those down south, but not that much different, as the American technology sales centre above shows. The city, you can see below, is designed for this technology, and not for people.

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It is remarkable. If Kelowna were an Okanagan city, it would be filled with local technology, offering local culture, and extending its roots into the future. What it is currently extending is its connections to the Canadian and American rust belts, and, as you can see above, to the investment culture centred around global big oil. To understand that clearly, let’s take a step back to the big picture.

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The Okanagan Valley, a former grassland in British Columbia, is a collection of droughted weeds between certain foreign cultural interventions including golf courses, vineyards and subdivisions. It has severed its ties to its grassland past through the hard work of a lot of people, including some in the tourism industry who sell the current city’s American-Ontario offerings instead, like this:

Urban and rural; nature and culture; playtime and downtime: Kelowna isn’t just one destination. It’s a whole bunch of them, located in one uniquely beautiful place.

Kelowna lies in the heart of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, the largest city on Okanagan Lake. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly holiday, a romantic getaway, a weekend with friends, or all three, you’ve come to the right place. https://www.tourismkelowna.com

Tourists will be well-catered to, in concrete hotels in strip malls, on golf courses or on ski hills, eating at chain restaurants, and taking trips out through subdivisions to golf courses and vineyards and ski hills. It is, in other words, a theme park, a kind of Disneyland. The real economic driver behind the enterprise, though, is the sale of property in the sun to people from the colder Canada to the east: a kind of permanent tourism.

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The newcomers are happy, because they are living within their dreams. The people who’ve been here for a couple generations or more are not, because they are forced to live in the dreams of others, within an environment further degraded to support them because any environment can only support so much. This is called progress. It is based on the principle of “change”, which, in this water-starved environment is really the principle of desertification. It’s not a very successful form of civilization that can’t last more than four generations without being aquatically bankrupt. Currently, the valley is attempting to manage the acute, self-created water shortage of an improper civil model by limiting access to water on both a class basis and on the claim that the valley is a desert, and people need to learn to live in one. The thing is, it’s not a desert.

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It’s just that  there’s not enough water to sustain the current imported civic model. We need something better in its place, something in keeping with the climate we live in. The grasslands were good at that. We can solve many of our water issues and our social issues by rebuilding them. Other positive things we can do include developing new water technology on the model of our grassland plants, instead of new smartphones apps or new animated films to be shown on TVs or small screens across the world. At the moment, we have an American-Canadian-American cultural education institution, absorbing the talent of our children, who live in Kelowna and use the former grasslands not as a classroom or a living room but as a foundation for imported playgrounds (ski slopes, beaches, golf courses, vineyards and so on) as we have for generations.

Centre for Arts and Technology Kelowna is one of the top audio engineering schools, film schools, animation schools, fashion design schools, interior design schools, and photography schools in Canada. We are home to dedicated photography, interior design, and fashion studios, a film production studio, two digital recording studios, and 2D and 3D animation labs. https://digitalartschool.com

Sadly for our kids, we can’t afford this gentrified luxury any longer. The land and water are calling in our debts. All the petrodollar-based tech money flowing into the valley in the world just won’t create more water, or reduce the social strife that lack of attention to water has caused. Luckily, though, if we can keep our technology clean, simple and inexpensive, we could take it around the world. That’s one way we could sustain the Okanagan: by making it a part of the future instead of fighting to retain a past through advertising imagery.  We can only, after all, convince ourselves of so much before the gap between reality and fantasy is just too great to sustain. This is a problem coming down on us like a runaway train. We might as well face it now. To do so means that instead of following the culture of the United States we are going to have to replace it. We are going to have to learn to be home, which is a new thing for Canada, but there’s no longer any way around it, except into poverty. I have spoken about these ideas earlier on this blog. Today I’d like to add a note about civic organization, because it’s the principle of civilization that the method of organization creates the result. We have subdivisions and weeds today? They are both the result of how we have structured urban life here, period.

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They are the same thing, viewed across a class divide.

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Neither is sustainable. The subdivisions are mining the wealth of communities across Canada, to which they belong, and the weeds in the grassland display the removal of water-carrying capacity from the land, which the presence of subdivisions and the technology that supplies them has created. The reasons are complex, but, as I mentioned, a reorganization of civic principles would be a good start to addressing them. But don’t take it from me.

Whenever and wherever societies have flourished and prospered rather than stagnated and decayed, creative and workable cities have been at the core of the phenomenon. Decaying cities, declining economies, and mounting social troubles travel together. The combination is not coincidental.

So, what do we have right now? We have a chain of communities, which were all once about the same size but have grown differently, according to different development models. They are spread for about 200 kilometres on a North-South line. The biggest of these towns today are Osoyoos, Oliver, Okanagan Falls, Kaleden, Penticton, Summerland, Naramata, Peachland, Westbank, West Kelowna, Kelowna, Lake Country, Vernon, Coldstream, Armstrong and Enderby. They all have an equal cultural claim to the valley, whether they are small ranching towns, farming towns, indigenous towns, former orcharding towns, former railroad towns, former real estate development schemes, former sites of Belgian Congo rubber money laundering schemes or former enclaves of the English aristocracy, and yet I was at a winery in the town of Okanagan Centre (in the city of Lake Country) three years ago, at which the young woman serving me wine chatted to me in a conversation that went much like this:
Young Woman: We have the oldest gewürztraminir vines in the Okanagan.
Me: Really? Older than the ones at sumac ridge in Summerland?
Note: I drove a truckload of gewürztraminir vines up from Sunnyside, Washington, USA, in 1978. That would make those almost a decade older than the ones she was referring to.
Young Woman: Well, but I mean here in Kelowna.
Note: Kelowna is the largest city in the valley, at the middle of 135-kilometre-long Okanagan Lake. It has 100,000 people and most of the advertising copy-writers.
 Me: But this is Okanagan Centre, not Kelowna.
Note: the towns of Oyama, Okanagan Centre, and Winfield joined together a couple decades back to prevent being absorbed into the city of Kelowna, which would have meant a loss of political agency over their own affairs.
Young Woman: Well, those of us from Kelowna call it the Okanagan.
And that’s the thing: it’s not. The Okanagan is not an American-Canadian city plunked down in the middle of a valley, dominating the valley with its imported culture. It’s the whole thing, including the ignored grass and its indigenous people. Now, we could complain about the gap between the colonial model and what we need to survive here, but that’ll get us nowhere, so we might as well stop with all that and join together into a common vision instead: one valley, one people, many centres, great diversity, one environment, new technology and every attempt at centralization to be met by dispersal. That means building not only technology but culture out of the local environment, what we need in it, and what it can teach us. To be clear, that doesn’t include grapes, which are European plants, or at least tearing most of them out as the water-hungry weeds they are. It means building an urban model that lives in the valley, rather than from it or upon it, and that ultimately supports the valley’s land, air and water rather than concentrates them in imported, dream environments, which create deficits elsewhere. The environment should not be a space for class struggle. It should be a space of class cooperation. To achieve necessary change, the current competition in the valley, between rural and urban space, between industrial and residential water, between indigenous and stolen land (well, it is), between grasslands, wetlands and asphalt lands, between farmlands and sidewalks, between water and ethics, between one town and another, between gentrified restaurants and greasy spoons, between food banks and ice wine vineyards, between low crop yields and high profits, between foreign workers and unemployment, has to end. It has to be replaced by a system of mutual support and celebration. The valley is weakened whenever one of these threads is focussed onto the particular urban model of Kelowna, where the rooftops are surrounded in razor wire so that local people don’t sleep on them. We can come up with 100,000 reasons why this isn’t practical, with many historical models, and many sociological studies, but the simple fact is: we have fouled our nest and have to do something completely different to get it ready for our grandchildren; doing more of the same, or refining what we currently have, is not an option, because it will lead to what we already have. This, for example, is not a life-sustaining environment. It is a view of a dead arm of Okanagan Lake.
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Traditionally, this kind of work has been the role of the arts. It still could be here as well, but the principle of dispersal will have to take place first here, too. At the moment, the valley’s largest cities, Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton have all built large performance centres to showcase American and Canadian (largely a sub-branch of American) “big-name” talent. They are, in other words, American cities, or at best Canadian colonial versions of them. It is part of the program that sees New York called a “major city” and Oliver, in the Okanagan. as a small town, with this slogan:
Oliver is located near the south end of the Okanagan Valley, in south-central British Columbia. Just 25 km north of the USA border, Oliver sits in the only desert area of Canada. The attractive climate fosters popular tourist activities including summer water sports, golf and sight-seeing. Oliver is an ideal setting for growing Okanagan wine grapes and producing among the best rated wines in the world! Of course, its mild weather year-round, also makes Oliver a great place to live for local residents. http://www.oliver.ca
This relationship was set by New York, not by Oliver. We can change this. The first step is to develop the remaining farmlands and grasslands within the cities of the Okanagan as more than viewscapes —to build them as integral parts of the civilizing experience. And I don’t mean this:
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And I don’t mean this:
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This is good work, worthy of our young people and our ancestors on this grass. We will know we have succeeded when the downtown core and the heart of our 200-kilometre-long city looks like this:
We will know we are deceiving ourselves when it continues to look like this:
 Let’s be people our grandchildren can admire, and thank.

The Canadian Invasion

How do you make a country out of a series of industrial art works?

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You take the sun and all that it does out in the red medicine willows …p1430345

… add some myths about the cold North left over from the expulsion of English patriots to Indian Territory after the American Civil War, and get Kelowna…p1430254

… a kind of Martian colony in the grass.

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It is a safe place for people who are a long way from home. It is a fortress.

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Oh, did you think that space colonization was fiction? Why, meet the life forms of this place, invisible aliens picking the snow out of the air. Well, invisible to some.

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It is a form of breathing. We live among wonders and artificial suns.

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We have all we need to find the light on our planet among the stars.

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What stories we could tell the Canadian-Americans…

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… if there were just a language we could share!

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Kelowna: The Inhuman City

At a certain point, when physical and social urban space is continually built out of practical considerations, usually the manipulation of people for purposes of efficiency and budgetary accountability, the city becomes an anti-human space. Witness this image from downtown Kelowna…P1150381

Anyone Waiting for a Public Bus Has to Stare at … Garbage. 

(And walk past it to board the vehicle.)

… the city that defines itself as “The Okanagan,” i.e. the city that defines this …

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(Okanagan, Not Kelowna)

… as itself. We can’t keep making excuses. The city attempts to humanize the space just around the corner from its insulting bus stop with this pretty image:P1150383

Notice how the landscape is portrayed as clothing on a youthful goddess figure, presumably Mother Earth, with apples (pine cones?) for breasts and a waterfall for a vagina, and a sacred rose spilling out of her fingers. Presumably, this …

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… is viewed in this depersonalized view of Earth-Human relations in the Okanagan as clothing on Mother Earth. This city has a problem. Clothing is a human social affair. Dressing the earth in it is as much as manipulating people. I think it’s the city …

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… that needs to be manipulated. Not this:

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Creating parks is not the answer. It is only an opening proposition in an ethical conversation, and wealth held in reserve until the city can unify with the earth. We need to have that conversation. We can’t keep making excuses.

Unlaunching the Okanagan in Kelowna Tonight

Tonight, March 9, 2016, at 6:30 p.m. at the Laurel Packinghouse, at the corner of Cawston and Ellis in Kelowna, I will be helping to unlaunch the Okanagan. Read all about it here. I will talking about stories, such as this one at Dry Falls…

… and my heart, Palouse Falls, just north of the Snake River.

I will also be talking about the loons of Kokanee Bay, from my book Winging Home, or the Centre of the Universe, from my book Tom Thomson’s Shack. Time will tell. Why not come and find out?

Water and Air Pollution in the Okanagan Valley

This is the bottom of Okanagan Lake, in 15 centimetres of water, in Vernon, on a public beach.
yuckI know the green stuff is algae, that shouldn’t be there, but what is the purply white stuff? Would you drink that? Would you let your kid swim in it? Would you even let your dog swim in it? The image below is from Okanagan Centre, twenty kilometres down the lake. It shows what those stones should look like: old volcanic cores gouged out in the over deepening processes of a melting continental glacier.P2200050

Unfortunately, I had to search for those stones. The image below shows what it really looks like, for kilometre after kilometre, at Okanagan Centre (below.) These stones are covered in green slime (like in the picture from Vernon above) in the wet (summer) season.

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Look, I know I’m as old as the hills, but I think it’s completely beyond acceptable that this has happened. In 1970, you could drink this lake. The water was clear for three or four metres, at least.  You could swim in it. Now people do this:

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You could make soup out of that junk, but would you spoon it up?

This is in Vernon, by the way. The  slime and weird whiten and purple crud photo at the top of this post was taken to the left of this image, where the brown resort apartments meet the lake. The current $900,000,000 (!!!!!!) water improvement project for Greater Vernon includes dumping millions of litres of treated water into this arm of this lake, letting the lake miraculously clean it, then pumping it back out again and spraying it on lawns, orchards and vegetable fields. From beginning to end, this is obscene. Ah, you think that is bad? Well, the image below is no better.P2190102

That’s the main channel of Okanagan Lake, ten kilometres north of Okanagan Centre and forty kilometres north of Kelowna. What you see is cloud, and below it a layer of smog blowing up from the city. In 1970, this air was so clean, there were no impurities in it at all, and certainly not brown smog blowing in. I remember the first time I saw smog in the Okanagan. It was in 1980, rolling south from Kelowna. Now, many people say,

that’s progress,

or even …

You can’t stop progress.

That’s bullshit. It’s a crime, that’s all, pure and simple. I know. I have the memory. I carry the grief within me. Just look at this!P2170755

That’s four days ago. Look at the brown smog in those clouds. Chances are it has blown north from Seattle or Vancouver: hundreds of kilometres away. It does that. Look at the lower level of smoke drifting up the main body of the lake, moving north from Kelowna, 35 kilometres to the south. Look at how it pools in the Shorts Creek Draw (in the middle right of the image, between the two low white clouds.) For the love of all things decent, hundreds of people get their drinking water from that creek!

What We Need to Talk About, Darling

The land I live on was an island that crashed into a continent. It buckled and smashed and was pushed up into the air by the collision.

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The old seabeds of its foreshore we dragged under the ground, pressurized, and their water, turned to steam, turned them to lava, and they rose and splashed over top of the ruins.

 

 

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These landscapes were broken by glaciers, which lie now in long inland freshwater fjords in beds that sink far below the surface of the offshore seas.

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There are many of these islands.

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They stretch from Oregon to Alaska, all broken up…

P2100867 …, all welded together with old volcanoes from their deep stone seabeds.P2100825

Many are stilled rimmed by water. Many are still seabeds.

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Many still have tide pools.

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Many are still given to shoreline grasses…

 

 

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… even though the skies, torn by newer uplifted islands to the west, are the reverse of ocean air.

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We are still at sea. Storm still drains off of the rock.

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Generation after generation …

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… the creatures of the water have adapted to living in the air and making a living from the cracks in stone …

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… that catch the sea the mountains, the old islands, strip from the sky and give back to them. Even a stone can be a tide pool in this ocean.

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Our birds are sea eagles …

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… that come from India.

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But so do many of us. My ancestors did, long after the ice melted here.  We are travelling, among islands.

starlings We are gathering and giving away.P2100521 We are falling and rising up.P2060603

As humans, it is our gift to see all these things as one. All creatures have this gift. It is called being present.

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Humans have developed a science that takes apart this natural ability to see, in order to create stories of causality. It is a positive and powerful tool, as are one of its products, photographs such as these.

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This is not the human faculty, this science. The human faculty is to see all these images as one, as physical things in the world, and simultaneously as spiritual forces and as forces of energy deep in time, and to experience in something as simple as a breath of air or the movement of an arm, or a moment that humans call beautiful …

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… because it too is profoundly present, which is to say, all its energies are combined at once. Awareness is a word, not a human faculty. The faculty belongs to the earth. The word is us. This is awareness:

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The photograph is the word.

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Humility is the gesture. Again, it is a faculty of the world, not of humans themselves.

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We are given this gift of putting things together. Don’t accept it that science must take them apart.

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Our bodies know more than that. Of course they do, they are of the earth.

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And she is of us.

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This is a different thing altogether:

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The people who build a golf course like that, on a rich, living grassland, are not of this earth. This is their habitat.

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They are now dreaming of going to Mars. They are practicing.

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They are building their space ships.

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In many ways, they have already left.

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They are almost wordless now.

P2000484 They have become their words.P2000542 When someone becomes a word, and writes it in the world of manifested words …P2000506

… they erase it.

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The world is a weed to them.  The people of the world are weeds to them.

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They are shadows.

 

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They are grand romantic shadows, physical spirits who use their bodies as puppets, cars, and other machinery of transportation and communication.

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Their ancestors were trees…

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…  living on islands on the sea.

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These islands are still here.

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We are still here.

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Our bodies, which are of this earth are still here.

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We need to speak of this.

 

Gardening is Just Too Hard

Even if you spend many thousands of dollars to cover most of your whole yard in black plastic tarp and to cover it in river gravel, there is no guarantee of success at beating global warming at its own game, public responsibility or beauty.P2000274

It’s just plain hard, that’s what it is. Instead of beautiful sterile gravel, picture perfect like in a Japanese monastery, you get a dry land sandbar being reclaimed by weeds.

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Even if you spend more money yet and do the whole driveway in asphalt …

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… or concrete …

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… those darn weeds ruin your artwork. How can you have a desert when stuff grows in it?

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Plant pots are no solution. Or decorative wells.

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That peat moss looses water like a sieve, although it does achieve desert status quickly…

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… yet somehow doesn’t quite look like the hills of South Africa like it’s supposed to. I know. I tried marigolds in an old wheelbarrow last year, which was fine until they all withered up, and then the wheelbarrow fell over. What a mess. Here’s a new idea for the transition from irrigated gardening to desert temple:

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The entrance arbour, pegged in with wooden shakes, and honoured with a couple of plastic funerary urns. You don’t need plants to climb the arbour, you don’t need a path, you don’t need gravel, you just need the gesture. Priorities, that’s the thing. In the old Canada, you might have painted the peeling stain on that house before the wood was completely shot, but in the new Canada, the one in transition to a responsible global paradise, there are no rules, and gardening is just plain hard. Why, in the old days you might have sat under your cherry tree and enjoyed its coolness, while you sipped some wine you made of last  year’s crop, but now the wind might blow over your chinese manufactured shade arbour, and then what? Use the wine carboy for decoration, perhaps, but somehow there’s a nagging je ne sais quoi about the whole thing.

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Canadians, you see, do what they’re told. And don’t do what they’re told. All at the same time. And there’s no predicting which it’s going to be, except for disobeying rational traffic rules, neglecting to wear life jackets, and throwing cigarette butts out the window in fire season. That’s predictable, but gardening, no, that’s just plain hard. Sometimes you just have to give up halfway. Those damn rocks are heavy, and they don’t come cheap! Saving the planet, that can’t just be on the shoulders of one person now, can it?

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And if you want to beautify things a bit, say, if you’re a professor of French literature, perhaps, living in farming country, why …

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… your flower stand gets to sit beside a farmer’s bin of junk plastic (to make the soil hotter than it is already) and junk irrigation piping (to deliver water more efficiently) and it all makes for a nice effect, but maybe not the intended one. Such is life in the age of steampunk, by which I mean the age in which gestures are cobbled together from every known source and applied as shakily as the spray from a can of paint on a wall, and with as little regard for context..

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In the city of Kelowna, the city pays to have any such spontaneous display of territory painted over in defence of private property rights and public safety.wall

As you can see above, human weeds are to be dealt with quickly, although not consistently. The vegetative ones not at all. Still, someday it will all look like the image below, in the alleys where Kelowna’s prostitutes hang out, waiting for men to wander over from the parking lot or the tourist street with its street bars and chic bistros …

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It is just freaking hard to inherit a country based on biology, rebellion and renewal and to turn it into expressions of  artistic and legal order. Humans are as bad as weeds.

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Still, sometimes you achieve perfection, with order and flowers, or at least one flower …

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Of course, one prostitute was waiting for custom on the wall facing this one. Hey, a girl needs flowers, doesn’t she?

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I have been reminded lately that to become a popular writer I need to write about people, not landscape. People love to read about other people. We live in a social universe. Yeah, they’re right.

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Unfortunately, it is built upon the earth, and biological history, and those things just won’t obey, darn it.

lucasvanleydenthefallofman1529Lucas van Leyden 1529

They just won’t. Gardening is hard.

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Hans Holbein

Sheesh. We’ve gone from this human habitat …

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… to this one, with razor wire and open temptations …

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… in only 150 years. Sure, more law and order, that will do the trick.

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At the risk of sounding immature, might it be, just maybe, that money can’t buy happiness?

P1810542 And urban planning systems can’t buy gardens?P1790236 And that the image below is not a romantic, ruined, farm building but a social ruin, from the weed-sprayed bottom land, to prevent (sic) weeds from growing on it, to the weed-choked, unproductive grassland on the hill?P1810479

Remember that, next time you get attracted to an image of luxury built on water in the desert. (click)

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Or feel like you might like to romanticize it like this:

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You are the one being gardened, and that is hard work. It will take a lifetime to fit into your plot, but you’ll make it in the end. Don’t worry.

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Chief John Chukuaskin Ashnola’s Grave, Upper Keremeos

This was once the old Smlqmix village of 2000 people. Now it’s Keremeos, the haunt of 1330. Progress, folks!

Someone might knock the cross off, yeah, but the weeds will still be there, hiding the gravel bit just to the left and the highway just to the right. That’s comforting, right? For all of this, I have three words: context is all. It starts here:

University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Kelowna

I think we’d better start getting serious, fast.

What are Those Americans Up to Now?

I don’t know. Look for yourself.apparel

 

Downtown Kelowna, 2:40 pm. August 20, 2015

I think the Okanagan’s brothers and sisters (nominally Canadian) in Okanogan County (nominally American) need our support in working towards a different post-national vision than this.

Alien Architecture in the Okanagan

Here’s a trail in the grasslands. Note the old house to the right of the trail. Ya, the round brown hillock. You got it!IMG_3260-2 copyHere’s who lives there.

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Weaver ants! Thatch, in the earth, that’s the way. The door is on the roof.anthill-1That’s the traditional house style of these grassland valleys for humans, too. You let the earth keep you warm. The doorway in front is the woman’s entrance.

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Men entered from the sky. You can see this all better by clicking here. Contemporary Okanagan architecture looks like the stuff in the image below. Click on the image to see it up close and personal. Best to wear sunglasses, though, I think. Those colours are looking way too bright.

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These “houses” look like they were dropped here from outer space.