Replacing Wild Harvest With Mountain Culture

100 Sustainable Paths for the Okanagan: 19

Currently, agriculture in the Okanagan Valley is industrial, in keeping with colonial models from 1858, when water was diverted through Nlaka’pamux villages in the Fraser River Canyon to flush out gold in the gravels beneath them. This Okanagan mother and her twins do not live within that industrial form. 

It is exciting to see Indigenous peoples in the valley and across the entire industrialized landscape known as Canada call for an end to colonialism, and exciting to be among the voices asking for it to end soon. More, however, needs to be done. It is simply not enough to stand within the benefits of industrialized water and complain about colonialism as some distant force, perhaps deep in the past, perhaps expressed through systematic racism (the privileging of people of one race over those of another by inherent biases built into political and social systems lived in by otherwise well-meaning people), perhaps in addressing the inadequate responses of police forces and courts to the murder of far too many indigenous women or the incarceration of far too many indigenous men. Bound with industrialized water is also industrialized land. I know I have pointed this out before, but I think I have found a way to make a clear point about it. I hope you will follow along for a moment. This is important. If you feel you can’t follow along, here’s an image to leave you with.

 Crab Spider in the Asparagus (Camouflaged as the Sky)

If you would like to follow along, here is another image of wild asparagus, a few weeks later. This one has gone yellow, after a long season of ripening.

What I’d like to draw your eye to here, other than the asparagus, and the ability of your mind to instantly pick it out of the background slope — your mind is evolutionarily selected to do that —is the hill in behind. In the industrialized space called Canada, this is what is simultaneously called “wild nature,” “private land” and “a farm.” What it is farming is a few cattle, which eat the “nature” off of the space. That is a pure image of colonial activity. This “nature” actually consists of large swathes of overgrown sage brush (the consequence of overgrazing by those cattle) and cheatgrass, an invasive and destructive weed from the Russian Steppes. In the colonial, industrialized space, these two species, which have replaced hundreds, are called “wild,” although they are almost completely domesticated, in keeping with the industrial nature of this space. Note that the asparagus plant, which is not native to this place, and which is also called “wild” is not part of the industrial project. Here’s another.

And another. This one is reclaiming a seasonal watercourse created by erosion from industrial activity to lay a natural gas pipeline nearby. Notice the lack of water in all of these images.

The erosion here is not just geological. It is cultural as well.

For reference, the images were made just to the middle left of the image below. Notice that here water is flowing down in a dry channel between the pressure gradients of the hills. It doesn’t show on the surface as liquid water, familiar from industrial systems, or cropped water, familiar from orchards, grain, hay and vegetable fields using industrialized water, but as a system that passes water along from plant to plant to plant. The plants are the water system, not its recipients.
In that spirit, have a look again at Asparagus, but this time closer up. She is being fruitful.

She is also wild water. Did you catch the significance of that? I hope so! It’s worth spelling out again, because it’s such a powerful example of the post-colonial future we need to form on this land. Asparagus is a newcomer to this land, but lives on it without support, is fully integrated into it, not only lives without free water but enriches the land for many species, including humans, leads people into their natural habitat, opening other opportunities to them, and can be planted and gathered without capitalization. In short, we don’t need provincial parks, preserving wilderness — another colonial idea — except from ourselves; instead, we need more asparagus.

In the process of deindustrialization, it is important that ancient relationships with the land be maintained, such as the relationship between the syilx and their horses. This is a relationship that goes back a long way in time, possibly far longer than the 1790 proposed by non-indigenous scholars. At any rate, whether 220, 500, 1000 or 20,000 years in the past, the gift of horses from the land to the people was accepted.

The Horses of the Okanagan Indian Band on the Communal Reserve Pasture in April

Asparagus is making the same gesture today. There are complaints that horses gouge up and erode the grasslands (true), and suggestions that they be killed off to free up the range for more cattle or just more grass, but that’s offensive. The problem is not the horses but the number of horses maintained on constrained space created by industrial water and industrial land use. Private land, whether it is land set aside communally on an Indian Reserve or land privatized for the benefit of a single individual, is a sister of industrialized water. Land usage rights were also set in 1858 in British Columbia, and rose out of Gold Rush era water law and its structural racism. If there were enough land for the horses, there would not be an issue, and, besides, if horses are unacceptable as “non-native”, then so are cattle, and the industrialization of the land that makes space for them out of what were richly producing fields of plant crops 170 years ago.

What’s more, Asparagus has a cousin, with wings, the ring-necked pheasant, which has adapted to this land as well, and often springs up underfoot in an explosion of wings, leading to photographs of departures, such as the one below…

… or the one below…

Like Asparagus, they pay very little attention to private property rights, which is to say they pay very little attention to colonial issues or issues of cultural appropriation, because they have appropriated nothing. They have gone wild. Asparagus has as well. Here is some in the spring. She uses a fence line, a boundary space where she can express the tendency of water to find the sun. She becomes the vertical green river that expresses that force.

She can even compete against cheatgrass:

Food for deer (and humans), Asparagus nonetheless puts out enough shoots over a long enough period, that she outwits the seasonal patterns of deer and humans.

There’s a lot of pressure on Asparagus, yet she manages, and she has a lot of seed. Birds get some in the winter (and they sorely need it, as neither cheatgrass nor sagebrush are adequate replacements for the seeds of thistles, wild sunflowers, waterleaf and lilies, to name a few.), but there is still more.

Beautiful, too. In all this work, Asparagus has fit in nicely to the work of Saskatoon …

… thistle, chokecherry, hawthorn, wild plum and dogwood on the “dry” hills and spearmint along the water and provides the foundation for cultural renewal, not cultural removal. Look at her again, healing the wound of a human mistake.

Look at the slopes.

Such slopes stretch for ten kilometres high above the city. Much of it would support gardens of asparagus, sunflowers and Saskatoon berries. All of them would draw people out on the land for recreation, while picking them.

Future Asparagus Farm

The sunflowers would support birds and the starving deer. The saskatoons would support yet more birds, and the starving deer. And the asparagus…

Note the Lack of Pests. Thanks, Birds.

… ah the asparagus…

Dinner for Four

…sells for $6 a pound in the supermarket right now, grown on nitrogen fertilizer and flown in from South America while we delude ourselves that we are a post-colonial society that needs to make living conditions better on Indian Reserves. We need to get rid of reserves, not to assimilate native peoples into dominant colonial culture, but the other way around. The land will have the last say on this.

Future Orchard, Coyote Highway, Asparagus Field and Recreational Area 

Over an acre of land, at a density of one asparagus plant per 100 square feet, sheltered initially in young hawthorns or old sage until being cut free, we could foresee 420 asparagus plants per acre, or perhaps 200 pounds of asparagus. Over 10,000 acres, that would be 2,000,000 pounds of asparagus, or 1,000 tons. The land is not making that much off of cattle, which means that its industrialization, its privatization into the hands of industrial men for the creation of an economy and the support of communities and their infrastructure, has been a total failure. Moving forward into a post-colonial model would make us all wealthy in this valley. Failure to do so will ensure the continued acceleration of industrialization and industrial development, and the steady furthering poverty of the people and creatures of this place. That’s how structural racism works. Water is part of that story. We need land and water reform.


Cultural Blindness and Agricultural Practice

Culture is a powerful thing. Here is some earth, laid bare by a plow, in preparation for seeding in the spring. In the past, it has been used to grow tomatoes. This last year, it lay fallow, to recover.

In Canadian culture, this is an image of fruitfulness, taken at the most fruitful time of year. Enjoy it.

The only thing is, it’s not fruitful, it’s dead. Look at how this soil is nothing but congealed clay and sand. Living soil, that things grow in, is a complex environment of fungi, microbes, insects and dead and living plant material. This is just clay and sand.

And it started like this.


That’s how powerful culture is.

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.

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:


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 …


… 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.


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:


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


…, 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 …


…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…


… 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.


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”.


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…


…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:



Our mirror.

Ending the Fraser War

This is the fifth in a series of archived posts on building a sustainable Okanagan together. This one is about water. And fish. And property rights. Today we’re at Mud Lake. It’s also called Rosemond Lake. Mud Lake came first, I bet. At any rate, this is the view looking to the North shore of the lake. Mud Lake is closed to power boats. It’s pretty quiet.P1160938

Mara Lake is in behind that shore, just a few feet away.


It is noisy with power boats and is pretty much fished out. Maybe we can do something about that. You see, that gravel berm is not a natural shoreline. It’s the bed for a railway that no longer runs. In fact, before there was a railway there was no Mud Lake. There was just Mara Lake, pooling in a big wetland where the Shuswap River flows in. That wetland is now Mud Lake. It is the amputated lung of Mara Lake.


It’s connected by a narrow passage. You can go through it.

P1160953You can come out where you should have been in the first place, and where the lake’s nutrients should flow but only kind of seep, a bit.


The fish need to live in cold water. Mud Lake doesn’t provide it, but fish need to eat, too, and Mud Lake provides that. It just needs to be flushed into Mara. What’s more, if the Shuswap River flowed there again, its cooler water would aid fish reproduction, while the wetlands would help clean the river. At the moment, it spills its muddy runoff for a couple kilometres out into the lake. That’s bad for fish. So, look again:

Mara Lake was amputated from its lungs to build a railway, but the railway no longer runs. This is easy to fix.  Here are the ripples from my kayak passing over the life-giving organs of Mud Lake.


Land and water alienated for a public purpose should not become private property when that purposes passes. This is a principle that occurs again and again throughout the Okanagan, as railroads, roads and irrigation systems are decommissioned. Mud Lake, just off the Okanagan’s northern tip, is a clear example of how much we could achieve. The privatization of water has led to one kind of investment … a kind we no longer need nor use anymore. The system of privatizing water and land solely on a first-industrial-user basis was a compromise laid onto common law by the Fraser War of 1858, when a couple dozen Englishmen stared down 40,000 armed American miners who had just slaughtered a few thousand British Columbians and were eager to kill more without an excuse not to. One of the consequences was Mud Lake. Fortunately, we no longer need corridors for transportation. The system was successful — so successful that no we have too many. What we need now are planes, for staying. We need Mara Lake to be reborn. We need the war to be over.

Why Poetry Matters

In poetic tradition, the number three is sacred to the Goddess of poetry, as is the colour red. This is not the age of the Earth in which people are comfortable talking about goddesses, or poetry, so let me rephrase that, with an image:hipthree


Three Red Earths in a Field of Energy

As this is also not the age of the Earth in which images are easily read, let me rephrase my original opening again:

 The number three … The birth-reproduction-death cycle

is sacred … unites the three defining components

to the Goddess of poetry … of the earth

as is the colour red… through the force of life.


Three Drops of Blood

The birth-reproduction-death cycle unites the three defining components of the earth through the force of life. One more thing: in contemporary culture, statements like this are to be understood, or dismissed. The sense of “understanding” at play is that of comprehension of a logical meaning or sequence within the statement. That is a new form of the Old English word “understand”, and one far newer than the comprehension of the birth-reproduction-death cycle which the word might claim to grasp. In terms contemporary with the lives of people who lived intimately with the earth, the word “understand” means “to stand among”, “to stand on”, in the sense of “being close to.” In other words, to say that one understands the statement “The birth-reproduction-death cycle unites the three defining components of the earth through the force of life.” is to say that one stands in the middle of this …


… that one stands upon it, that one accepts its truth as one’s own, and that one is intimate with and willing to be ruled by it. Rather than being an expression of individual strength, it is an expression of humility: the strength is in the earth.


Even when it looks to be a dead thing. As I said, we don’t live in an age of poetry, nor in one of images or of understanding in the original sense of the word. That’s not the earth. That’s just culture. The original force, however, is still present, meaning “here in our time.”

P1590872 This Image is Contemporary

So is the knowledge that informs it.

This knowledge has been given to us by our ancestors, who knew the earth intimately. We cannot claim to understand them, or their earth, if we do not stand under their knowledge, which is to say, if we do not stand within it.


Winter Haws

The magical tradition, from which poetry rose, honours these fruits as well, as does the Christian tradition, which draws parallels between them and Christ’s blood. Although this is not a time of the earth in which Christian or magical traditions dominate world affairs, their knowledge is still with us.

That this knowledge was originally expressed in language as poetry is precisely the point, because it means that the tool for accessing it is within poetry. As such, through to the end of the Christian age, poetry remained the most vital tool for training future state administrators. It was commonly agreed that a balanced social, spiritual and human world could not be created on earth without the use of the tools of poetry, with their deep roots in the intersection of spirit and the earth.


A Model for Governance

If you know how to read it.

This correspondence between the earth, human social affairs and poetry can serve as a simple yardstick: if anyone dismisses the roots of poetry within the physical earth, they are dismissing as well both the tools for understanding that earth, humility, the concept of understanding itself, and that earth. Unfortunately, the image below is rarely recognized as poetry today.

P1580073 Poetry today is one of the learned arts, taught as a communication form to transfer emotional material between the discrete individuals of a post-goddess world. It was not always so. What culture today finds through words was originally a direct expression of what was observed in the world and turned into a sequence of signs and symbols, which contemporary poetry calls metaphor and symbol.

P1580075 This is Not a Metaphor

P1580068 This is Not a Symbol

P1580066 As you open into your time here on this earth, you may find, as I have today, people calling absurd the notion that poetry is a function of the universe. To such people, this is not poetry:P1580042 Nor is this…P1580034 Nor this …P1580030 Yesterday I was even challenged by a linguist, who claimed that linguistics was a mature science, while poetry was a method of communication. If that were entirely so, either the following image would be a piece of communication….P1580029 … which it is not, as it has neither narrative, symbol, significance nor meaning, or poetry would be a human invention, which is to say it would be an application of rhetorical rules delineated by the logic of grammar and thus subservient to intellect. It would be much like learning to construct a speech or to strip down the engine of an automobile.P1580027 To a man whose identity is one with a certain stretch of the planet, it is an impoverished view of the earth, but, hey, it might be good enough for a lot of good work, except that attempting to govern the earth and to shape it by such mechanistic processes creates not this….P1580009 … or this …P1580005 … but this…

P1600900…and, closer, this …P1600891

… which is unsustainable, mismanages earth, water and health and provides industrialized food and industrialized landscapes in place of humanity and beauty. So, an observation: a mechanistic world view that does not “stand under” or “understand” the earth in the poetic sense produces a society that does not stand within the earth and, in its reflection, an earth that one cannot stand within…


Heck, they even build fences around it.


These new, created spaces exclude all humans (and other large mammals) except the creators of these spaces. We call such land engineers farmers. They are neither farmers nor poets. They are industrialists, transforming the earth into a factory and interhuman (and human-earth) relationships into relationships of power based on the authority of privately-reserved wealth. Goddesses don’t like that kind of thing. Nor do Christs. Nor do poets. Nor do living environments. Look how the weight of molten snow soaks the seeds of blue-bunched wheatgrass, and how the weight of winter water and snow bends down its stalks to the snow …


..where frost releases the seed onto the snow …


When the snow melts, the seed will be carried to a place attractive to water, where it will sprout, perhaps, into a new individual. Poetry acts like that, because it is as organic and responsive to the environment as that, and consists of organic observations like this one. Yes, poems are constructed of words these days (although also out of sounds, images, performance and video), but that doesn’t mean that it began with words. It began with the ability to be within the earth and no matter what new territory it rises from, it retains that ability. In fact, it nourishes it. It is, in fact, this:


Anyone who tells you otherwise is either not a poet, or does not live on the earth. You should know this. It’s vital.

Oh To Be a Heron in the Springtime

The Okanagan hosts the world’s only urban heron rookery. Things are full of action there at the moment.


The Rookery, Vernon

The rookery, however, is on private land, surrounded by tire dealerships, a walled housing village, and various mechanical shops. Currently, the “owner” of the land is protecting the herons’ right to this, their space, despite the protests of neighbours about the danger these trees present. If life is to survive the industrialization process in the Okanagan, land ownership rules will change to give priority to these birds, in the way that agricultural land uses are currently protected. When all thrive on this land, all thrive. Blessed be.

Humans Go 3-D

Yesterday I talked about how humans (and dogs) navigate the world through one- and two-dimensional patterns and the intersections between them. These are less qualities of the world than qualities of the human and canine minds doing the navigating (and sniffing). At the end, I brought you to a fields. Now, there are no fields in the earth. It just doesn’t make them. Humans do, though, as representations of their bodies, just as walking in a ditch is a representation of dogness. But then weirdness starts, because what do humans do in their fields, which are their bodies? Well, mostly they stand under the sky and scare all other humans away with barbed wire. That’s right, they’re kind of like scarecrows, really, the humans, the darlings. And what are these dear creatures doing while out there in the grass, surrounded by their barbed wire and their No Trespassing signs? Ah, they’re going 3-D, that’s what. They’re building two dimensional representations of their ways of seeing on top of two dimensional representations. Back in the day, humans got the idea of making images of themselves, which they called art. They looked like this:

P10302363-D Sculpture of a Human

Now considered as art and gaining its power when abandoned.

And this…
P1010098 … and then, because humans are always building new lines of energy on top of old ones, this …


Eventually, after all of this, humans came to look like this:


Human Field Turned into a Cube of Electricity

And that’s history. No more Michelangelo, no more Buddha chipped into the rock in Afghanistan or poured out of gold in the jungle, no more Venus de Milo with her arm snapped off, oops. Now, in the age of practical men, most humans build a body for themselves (well, OK, hire young men with hoodies and broken down cars to build it for them), that looks a bit like this:


Two Human Bodies on a HIll

Such bodies are expensive 3-D structures that a human, who has recreated himself or herself as a set of ideas, can inhabit. Come on, why get stuck with a simple biological body when you can have more, and be an ego, and build a new body, and use your body in it as an idea, and move it around, and get some wine out of the fridge, and slosh, and even invite guests over? What’s the use of a great big expensive body like that if you don’t show it off, eh. After all, not only does it have a view (social cost and environmental debt, $100,000 off the top, $1,000,000 if it’s lakeshore), but it has oodles of social status to spare, which is really great if you are going to have a field, because fields are all about  some basic personal control over who you are going to let into yourself and who not. A girl (or a guy) has a right to say that “No means no, buster!” Yeah.


The $800,000 Mid-Line Version Body

When you make the mistake of putting a body like this in the wrong darned field, in the wrong darned country, you go down to Mexico in the winter, and rent a second one there. What’s really great about that is that José brings  you drinks.

Um… isn’t it a little odd? You kill the earth to put up a field, which has some chance of paying off its environmental debt, but then you remake the field as a house, and then you don’t live in it? Folks, that debt is never going to be paid. It’s like people are starting to think like these big wooden bodies. I guess it can’t be helped. Truly smart critters like dogs wouldn’t have seen the point in it, but humans, ah, they’re smart chimps, and you have to admit a house is a much sturdier barrier around you, your darling spouse and the scurrilous kids and their dangblasted technological doodads than barbed wire, plus, bonus, houses are impervious to quail, pheasants and coyotes, that might, you know, raid the, gasp, fridge. Now, you might think, why these particular bodily representations, when you could choose this instead…


I choose her.

… or why you’d choose this particular house-body, when you could wander around in the grass in the Glory of God (humans talk like that in their better moments) …

Well, OK, Weeds, but, still.

… and let it teach you how the grassland is your home (where else, after all, is your field, hmmm?)…


Thule Reeds

The plateau people built their summer houses after seeing how well these things folded and wove together. You try thrashing through that after a duck, you’ll get the idea real quick. Barbed wire is amateur work in comparison to this stuff, especially when a house made out of this stuff puts you in the grassland, without the need for a field, but, hey, humans don’t always think things through, and they get a bit traumatized by violence, and what with all the field building and environment wrecking, and all the dear darling spouses, there’s a lot of violence. For this reason, humans like to huddle together. (This is because they are descended from mice.)


Strange, isn’t it. You start out with a field, and that is you, then you build a body to live in, with a view, then the walls aren’t enough and you huddle there with your neighbours, for, you say, the view, but only one of you gets the view, so … darn it, that’s dog society, isn’t it This is because humans and dogs learned to be dogs and humans together, and I think they got a little mixed up along the way. Still, it is what it is, isn’t it, and you can sure say this: humans aren’t just individual bodies but social creatures. They see arrangements like this one (the oversized humans obliterating a field, above) as the most natural thing in the world (so natural that they don’t even see it at all. Why, they even think this is the way things are.) This, too:


A Body for the Young

A multi-facetted training installation, to bring the young up to speed on individuality, communality, ownership, privacy, and the importance of viewing nature not through the grass, not through a field, not through a scarecrow, not through art, but through a house body you set up in a field, in which anything you imagine is real. Um… shouldn’t the young be starting with this …


Bunchgrass in the Snow

… and working their way up from there? Because if they’re not, then the education is social, and not physical, which is fine, but, get this, the world is physical. Shocking, I know, right, but there you go. We might as well speak the hard truths, because, I think, the coyotes are getting tired of yipping them to us at night. Alright, hard truth number 1:


“Tree” House, Aborted

There are lots of aborted bodies like this at the bottom of the hill. That’s the thing about human males. They had so much fun building their body out of the grass that they … go out and build one for the kids, instead of letting the kids build one for themselves, and then when the kids are mainlining YouTube instead of hunting gophers with the dog, they wonder what’s going on. Um, Dude, that’s because you have to build your own body yourself. You have to start from this:


That’s what bedrock looks like around here. Green planet! If you build it for the kids, it’s never there. That’s the thing about thinking in 3-D, you see, which male humans are truly great at: you might forget what female humans excel at, which is thinking in 4-D, because they were the ones who had to go out and pluck the darned desert parsley before you got scurvy, and they had to know, like, when. The fourth dimension is, of course, time. It is space, it does not flow. It’s here. If you think it flows, look again. That means you’re not here.

Tomorrow: islands in a grassy sea (and other non human spirits of great significance). Yeah, and dogs pee on them, too, geez. Until then, enjoy that body of yours, eh, and, body, just this:

Keep your mind on a leash!

The Manhattan Project Today

This is the Columbia River as understood by the people who brought us the Atomic Bomb.P1060309 Control Panel, B Reactor, Hanford Engineering Works, Washington

This is the Columbia River as understood by American wild west mythology:


Hauling the last of the white sturgeon out of the radioactive sludge, to release it again.

It takes 4 or 5 hours. Cut the line off the hook. Repeat. Two mothballed weapons grade plutonium reactors, sealed in stainless steel shells, in behind.

This is what the Columbia River looks like within the B Reactor complex, immediately before being run through the reactor. The valves are partially dismantled and open to Russian inspection as part of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

P1060367 This is the spot where the military industrial complex was invented in 18 months beginning in 1942. The scheme to dam the Columbia at Grand Coulee (and destroy the salmon) to provide water in order to settle 100,000 poor black families as free holding farmers was sidelined in order to generate the electricity to run this machine. It produced the plutonium for the Trinity Test and the Nagasaki Bomb. When the irrigation scheme was finally initiated, the land went to large industrial farmers instead, at a subsidy of billions, originally intended to settle the poor. It was here that the American agricultural dream ended.

P1060275 Here is the Columbia River in the Hanford Reach, the only free flowing section in the U.S. The white egrets have recently returned from what was thought to be extirpation.

P1060773This is the Columbia River as seen by the Wanapum People, the people of the river, who were largely extirpated by the Hanford project.

P1070419White Cliffs, Behind Spirit Island

These cliffs are the glacial silts of the Okanagan, lying in a twenty mile curve where the river breaks out of the mountains into the Columbia Basin.

This is the river as seen by the citizens of Richland, Washington, the residential area of the plutonium manufacturing project:


Totem Salmon in a Childrens’ Playground

There are virtually no salmon left in the river. The dead are honoured as if they are still alive. That is how important the notion of hunting wild animals is to US American culture. Meanwhile, because of a treaty signed downriver at Celilo Falls, more money has now been spent trying to bring back the Indigenous Salmon Fishery than has ever been earned by the technology that replaced it.

This is the Columbia River as seen by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation:


Outflow of the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project

The pumps at Grand Coulee Dam lift 45 cubic metres of water per second into the system. This is what is returned to the river.

This is the Columbia River, as seen by industrial fruit farmers employing Mexican workers, who are housed behind razor wire, in military compounds guarded 24 hours a day by armed guards.

P1060681Martian Colony on the Columbia River

Since the climate is not conducive to apple growing, Italian poplars have to be fed with Canadian water to break the wind, and overhead irrigation, with over 50% evaporation loss, has to be sprayed over the trees in order to produce edible (but tasteless) apples.  Frank Herbert wrote Dune in this climate.

The American way is to have all of these rivers existing at once and to manage the tensions between these irreconcilable visions on a partisan political stage. That is a questionable way of managing people. In terms of the river, it is abusive. Choices must be made, not between competing human demands, but in the name of the river. Choosing between human demands leads to short-lived solutions — a generation at best — that then lead to poverty and debt.


These are the Orchards of Hanford Town

They were abandoned to build B Reactor. The trees were abandoned and the apples left to fall to the ground. 50,000 workers housed here in 1942 begged to pick them up. They were forbidden.

The engineers at Hanford have now spent a decade trying to clean up the leaking storage tanks of radioactive waste on site, before contaminated ground water reaches the Columbia. They have spent upwards of 15 billion dollars. They have built a machine. It does not work. I present these images to you as a suggestion that the work of rebuilding the earth cannot proceed using past intellectual, social and political tools. This is where they lead:


Evening Sun Above the Richland Strip

During the Vietnam War, this was the image of American prosperity and power. Now the sun is pink because the overgrown sagebrush west of here above the Yakima River at Ellensburg is on fire. The pink is the colour of a century and a half of bad range and grassland policy. Effectively, 12,000 years of wealth have been mined down to this since 1860

They lead here, too:


Waterskiing on the Impounded Columbia in Richland

In the smoke of the sagebrush fire.

And maybe worst of all to this:


Personal Water Craft and Impersonal Hellish Racket

These offensive stupid machines were invented here. It is this culture of dammed rivers, extirpated salmon, nuclear engineers, subsidized industrial agriculture, boredom and entitlement that led to the invention of these toys. The world’s greatest salmon river has become a toy and a playground. As for machines, they are the modern image of the Cold War, the Manhattan Project, the Atomic Bombing of Japan and the dislocation of the people from the river and the earth.

What we are left with, with which to rebuild the earth, in a Kafka-esque maze of competing government and private interests, is this:

P1060211Chamra Nature Preserve, Richland Washington

This nature preserve at the confluence of the Yakima and Impounded Columbia Rivers, beneath the freeways that serve as streets in this self-professed Atomic Age City, is composed almost entirely of weeds. All the nature you see in the image above is weeds.

This is not nature. This is wilderness. In American terms, this nation, that began with fundamentalist Christian settlers and their  image of Eden, has created wilderness out of lived, loved and livable space, the very wilderness that Adam and Eve were expelled to. It is an image of what those early puritan settlers saw when they arrived at Plymouth Rock. To this date, this has been the purpose and achievement of the American state. Like Adam and Eve, it is up to us now to walk out into that wilderness and make it again a rich and life-giving space. To do this, the river has to be a part of every conversation, on her own terms.

p1070453 Stag Swimming to the Reactor Fields, Hanford Reach

For perhaps 150 years we are going to have to give to the river, rather than take from her. The time of the taking will lead only to increased poverty.

salmon2One of the Last Columbia River Salmon

Only a few thousand of these fish spawn in the Hanford Reach today, in a system that once brought home 30,000,000 salmon a year. Men like this, intent on killing them before they spawn, are operating within their cultural and political rights. They have, however, no ethical rights at all.

Killing the earth doesn’t end with the tar sands of Canada, shale tracking, chemical plants, or the deadly Basa fisheries of Vietnam. It is entirely part of the culture and infiltrates almost every act. Humans have the capacity to kill and to give life. It is time for the life-givers to call things as they are: killing is not a sport for humans. It is a sport for beasts. Let’s stop the nonsense and call things by their proper names. This nonsense of human ownership and superiority has gone on far too long.



Financial Matters

Up in the British Columbian Okanagan, we have just come through a civic election. Throughout the valley, the call was heard for responsible civic management, financial audits, and streamlining local governmental regulations to attract business. The goals are solid: to spend our money wisely and to provide jobs for our people, especially well-paying jobs, and especially for our young people. I think this is why:

Beurre D’Anjou Pears Frozen on the Tree on Election Day

If the goal of our communities is to care for our people by effectively distributing resources to where they are needed, something is wrong. If the goal of our communities is not to effectively distribute resources in support of our people, something is very wrong.

In the past twenty years plans to increase prosperity by streamlining government have repeatedly failed throughout British Columbia, and rarely for lack of good will, passion, intelligence, or commitment. They fail because you can’t buy prosperity (usually you have to work for it), cutting governmental costs often cuts the ability to develop unacknowledged community assets, and many structural problems are not local but provincial or even national. To date, the development model that sells Okanagan land to outside investors and homeowners has resulted in both prosperity and poverty. The prosperity lies in housing construction and sales. The poverty lies in the neglect of our ability to use our land to create wealth out of the energy of our young people, supported by community investment.

Snowman on Election Day

The family energy to work with children is alive and well.

Sometimes investment comes from Edmonton and Calgary oil men, who develop expensive vineyard properties into exciting opportunities. Sometimes, though, it is as simple as civic governments re-imagining land use policy to allow for full utilization of agricultural opportunity. It costs a lot more in governmental resources to feed the jobless and homeless than it would to take care of this problem:

Resources: Food, Wood, Work, Dignity, and Beauty

All dependent upon a food distribution and production system that could stand close scrutiny.

The answer is not to cut community management, but to direct it towards creative community planning, that will free latent opportunity. I believe it is time to consolidate the last thirty years of real estate investment in the Okanagan, by completing the land-use side of the equation. Tomorrow, I will suggest how that might be done. For now:


The Morning After the Election in Okanagan Falls