A Visit From the Loons

If you’ve ever lived in the north, you will rejoice with me. The loons are here, passing through to the Pacific. (Hint: in Europe, they’re called divers. See the one in front, checking out the possibility for a dive?)P1590513

Well met, travellers! For those of you not from the north, imagine a bird older than any others, that is the spirit of any lake it lives on, which migrates to the ocean rather than to the heat. They come in pairs, except at migration time. The group above is a family group. I’ve seen 65 at one time, though, on Lac La Hache, waiting for the ice to melt so they could disperse to area lakes. Humans might think they are the spirit of the earth. Loons just are. Happy Day! The image above is the close up. The one below is what I first saw when I went down to Okanagan Lake this morning.

P1590509Blessed be!



The Poetry and Science of Flight

I am trying to learn how to read. So, I’m standing in the middle of the road hoping no car will come. I’m doing this because it’s time for the last birds to skedaddle. They get ready for the big push south by swirling around in tight, restless flocks. It’s breathtaking.

flying4 From below, they are written in one language, one of a single plane of identical creatures simultaneously beating their wings as if sharing one breath. From the side, though (it might help to open the pictures in a new window to see them in a larger view), there’s a different language entirely.

flying3Flapping and soaring of all kinds.

There are even paragraphs.

flying A little closer on that kind of thing …


Yup. That’s the winter fog above them. That’s why this place is not arctic.

Kind of like our own local Gulf Stream.

Amazing! It’s mathematics, physics and language all in one, but, here’s the kicker: it’s not human mathematics, physics or language, or, better put, it’s none that come out of the human traditions that bear those names. Because it has no name, it is called poetry, and set outside the boundary of discussion. It’s beautiful, right. Over and done with. The thing is, beauty is form and balance, which is to say, mathematics, physics and grammar. In contemporary ways of thinking, if this language of the birds could be measured or statistically analyzed, it could be included in the discussions of contemporary science. In fact, however, it goes to the very ground of contemporary science, because even the most precise, machine-based science holds within it a split between two traditions: one that sought to divorce humans from God, and one that sought to bring them closer. This is the closer part. Ah, but we were talking about migration. It’s not for everyone this year, I’m afraid.


Weathered American Robin Watching the Bird Show

Suddenly, there are robins everywhere. They must have arrived from the north. It must be getting frosty on the plateau. This one, though, I think he’s here to stay. As for language, photography and visual art have developed a grammar for what these birds are doing, and poetry, too, in moments of brilliance. It’s science to which it presents an open door into the complete unknown. Here’s how  science puts it in the age of algorithmic computer modelling (the quote is in the American language):

Basic models of flocking behavior are controlled by three simple rules:

Separation avoid crowding neighbors (short range repulsion)

Alignment steer towards average heading of neighbors

Cohesion steer towards average position of neighbors (long range attraction) Source.

All fine and good, but it does not describe, honour or in any way approach this, or at least in any human way:


Now, what is a flock? It’s an old term from weaving. It is the process of building up texture on a surface of cloth or wood by the application of small amounts of material over and over again. The icons of the orthodox tradition are flocked in this way. As for starlings, the birds whirling around in these images, the word is ancient, and comes from the proto-Germanic Staraz. It means “rigid”. So, rigid plus ling = little (or most loved) rigid things.

Most loved stiff things swirling in the air.

In those old languages, it wasn’t the birds that were doing the flying, but the flying that was catching up the birds and flocking them, or building them up on the sky into texture by the application of small amounts of material one and over again. There is room for science to grow into the space that describes. It would be a science of humans on this earth. It would be wise. Not stepping through that door would be, well, not stepping through that door.

P1360510Robin Nest with a Hole in It from the Fall Rains

The world offers many doors.

This is one.

How Could Anyone Want More Sun Than This?

The sun starts out as perfect as can be, burning the hydrogen of a star that shone before it and exploded long ago.


Out here, where other bits of that star accumulated in the same process that formed the sun — in the outer shell of the sun, shall we say — that hydrogen mixes with oxygen to form water, and blows around in the wind.

P1200618 It kind of swirls …

P1200635 That’s what a sun that is made out of water does …

P1200636All Photos Looking Over the Commonage Towards Coldstream, British Columbia

Other than just being beautiful, there’s a point here: when people put their attention to classifying plants closely, they realized a lot of things they had never known before, such as the similarity between saskatoons …

saskbarkSaskatoon Bark

… and apricots …


Apricot Bark

… and told a story that they were both within the Rose Family. Of this approach, a science of Botany was made, with all the benefits and understandings that flow from it. The sun that mixes with water and flows as cloud, however…

vinesSun Flowing Past a High Winter Vineyard, Bella Vista

… remains a thing of beauty only. It is the sun, moving water and energy through the landscape, completing, or extending, processes here that began 100,000 years ago in the sun’s core.

flockMigrating Cedar Waxwings Flashing up From Poplars

Random? Hardly. Just not human. Just the sun.

Learning from Birds

Some of the people who live here only come two days a year.

P1210424Cedar Waxwings Settling in for the Night on Their Way North, Okanagan Landing

Without them, it would not be this place. This is why Indian Reserves and fences were set up in the Columbia Plateau by the U.S. Army: to keep settlers from learning about similar human methods of social organization among the Yakima, Walla Walla, Wanapum, Wenatchi, Sylix, Umatilla, Nez Perce, Methow, Sinixt, Sinlahekin, Similkameen, Sanpoil, and Palus people and all their relations. It’s good that the birds are still teaching us a better way, as they taught them.

Solstice, and the Wisdom of the Trees

Solstice. The sun is going through a tiny hole into the darkness today and out again tomorrow. It’s not a flower, exactly. It’s just the sun. It has been a beautiful journey walking with it into the dark this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, too. Today the earth here is almost entirely white and blue. All other colours are gone now. Time, which is not a linear substance (that’s a human interpretation) has come to the density of a seed. Light is pure. Here’s some time, and light, recorded in wood…


The story of trees is not a human narrative, with rising action, climax, and falling action leading to death, with lessons learned and hope given for a new understanding in a renewed Eden. Here at the birth of the year out of itself, it’s good to remember that such interpretations of the lives of our sisters are only stories we tell to tell our own stories to each other in the dark. The tree’s story is about branches, arriving at the same place, through processes of breath. These creatures of the sky migrate in winter, like their sisters and brothers the birds. Instead of flying south to the Gulf of Mexico, though, like the egrets, or west to the Pacific, like the loons, they fly down into the clouds of the subsurface skies. All winter long, their roots grow there in the dark. This is the knowledge of the celts. Such knowledge looks now like vineyards and forests and piles of stones. That’s just words. It’s just the industrializing metaphor of the Romans. The knowledge remains.



Yverdon les Bains, Switzerland

Blessed be.

Travelling Time

This is the season of travellers. A couple hundred showed up yesterday, as the last of the sun burst in under the clouds, with its deep orange rays come in horizontally from the horizon …top

Waxwings Resting on Their Way

Taking turns feeding on juniper berries.

I was reminded that the life of this place is anchored far away, and comes and goes like the tides.


Farewell, Travellers!

Two views of a tree: one flying off, one remaining still.

And all that from going in a wobbly circle around the sun. This, too, is part of the story of cosmological physics. Cool!

Milkweed and Monarch Butterflies in the North

Here’s a good reason for actively maintaining species diversity. The photo bellow shows a community of milkweed interrupted by a run-off stream created by a subdivision road and a water and environmental protection policy designed to put water on the surface …

Milkweed Among Its Successors

That bright green grass in the foreground was seeded to stabilize a rough road-fill slope.

Imagine, starting out in Santa Cruz, California and then flying 2000 kilometres to lay your eggs on this colony of milkweeds, then flying back, then returning, then flying back, then returning, then flying back, then returning…

Worth Travelling 2000 Kilometres For

Flowers that are the stuff of dreams.

Milkweed used to be terrifically common in the Okanagan, but suffered terribly (here and elsewhere) when it was harvested wholesale to stuff Mae West life jackets during the Second World War. Its long growth season and habit of growing on the edges of streams and roadways has made it vulnerable, too. You only see it occasionally now.

Monarch Butterfly

Home at last

This is California, or California is here, or there is a north-south dimension to our mountains and forests that interacts in complex ways with the other story of altitude, and only migratory birds, ladybugs, and monarchs remind us of it. This makes them useful as all get out.

Tattered After a Long Journey

This is the only colony of milkweed for miles, yet she found it, and at the right time, too. This is the first monarch I’ve seen in my half decade in the Okanagan. I’m sure glad she’s here. Um, it is a female, isn’t it? Can anyone tell?

Preserving milkweed — in fact, encouraging it to spread — means that we will continue to have monarchs to be inspired by and to show us the true and distant connections that make up our land. More than, that, though, it might make great economic sense. Milkweed is still used for hypo-allergenic pillows and comforters, has potential as a skin cream, and its seeds are actually an efficient, but costly, biofuel. If it can do all that, I’m sure it can do more to add to the resilience of our landscapes and our society. The butterflies would be the bonus of all that economic activity. More than that, though, it’s beautiful in its own right.


One of the sacred plants that is a marker of the year.