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.

Who Loves Green Peppers Now?

Busted!

The new landscaping staff stealing a bite at work on the front yard while I was up on the hill and teaching me again that an interface works both ways.

Doe and her still-suckling twins.

Note to self: plant more peppers next year. Expect company to stop by.

Should I put out milk?

Where the Woods Meet the Water

Yesterday, I mentioned that Naomi Klein’s critique of this past season of storms and fires missed a Cascadian perspective. Here’s one, from Shuswap Lake.

Let me decode that. When one is of a place, instead of moving into place from a position of external power, one cannot speak of the trees, the rock, the fire, the air or the water without speaking of oneself. The image of the ponderosa pine tree “reflected” in Shuswap Lake is a good approximation of what that is like. So is this Kokanee, from Redfish Creek on Kootenay Lake:

Kokanee are what are called “land-locked” salmon. I doubt they see it that way. There are powerful political and economic forces that make the story of Big Oil critical to weather patterns this summer. There are equally powerful local forces, often expressions of external forces, that make the land susceptible to these global forces, which are called weather but are really economic, social and political, which have great power to amplify or deaden the effects of such global patterns as Big Oil. When we as the people of Cascadia develop intellectual traditions that begin with this migrating loon on a lake drenched in smoke and the light from a red sun, rather than from the smoke and the red sun, we will have the ability to resist Big Oil:

Until then, we will be helping Big Oil along, no matter how much we protest. In other words, protest against Big Oil is vital. Beneath its veneer, however, deeper structural work of bringing the earth into the human social group will need to happen if we are to heal or be in any way whole. We can do this. But it has to be whole, and it has to begin here:

Distance is a dangerous  illusion.

Global Warming, Indigenous Culture and Industrial Nature

Please, forget carbon dioxide for just a minute, if you can. It’s a symptom, not a cause. There is worse.

Nature in Canada

This mule deer doe is trapped by fences on this hill. The collection of weeds (all introduced by cattle farming, except for the sagebrush, which has choked out the hillside, is also a result of cattle farming. This is an industrial ruin.

Nature in the Swiss Alps.

These alms in Unterwasser, in Alt Sankt Johann, feature a flock a sheep around the ruins of an old croft, a pasture water dam (centre of image) on an old creek (dry), and machine-hayed, state-subsidized farms on the beds of old forests. This is an industrial museum, used as a pharmaceutical to enable people who live in urban areas to survive as biological entities in artificial environments causing physical and emotional stress.

Nature in Zurich

This is an indigenous city. Here the celts became romans, adapted, and became better romans than the romans. After 2000 years of that, they raise their children in cages. This is a school playground.

In this context of adaptation, biological nature is an artform. You can find it at the graveyard across the street.

The Art of Death and Life

It’s an ancient celtic thing, that lives on. It’s called landscaping, because that’s the fashionable way to talk about it, learned from the roman britons of the 18th and 19th centuries: another group of indigenous people who romanticized nature to survive the brutality of states built as cages, and built new cultures out of it.

The wealth created by spreading these new aestheticized cultures around the planet, and living off of the conversion of other indigenous spaces into romanticized nature, or wilderness, has powered the global economy for a long time. We all live in the industrial ruins (corpses) these compromises have left behind.

Industrial Ruin on Vancouver Island

The ancient salmon forests and rain forests of the North East Pacific Coast are largely gone now. A few trees remain, but that’s it. Some of the oldest trees, however, ancient Nuxalk, Kwakwala, Haida, Nu-chah-nulth and Tlingit trees, for example, that grew huge in a shared ecosystem of humans, human shell middens, salmon and bears, litter the shores of British Columbia now, where they are called driftwood. They are not. They are ancient forests, chopped into logs, and torn by storm out of log booms. They were intended as houses, for immigrants in the United States and Canada, as well as structural timbers for Allied Aircraft, and so on. The indigenous people of this land were sacrificed, in other words, to create homes for people displaced elsewhere.

In an industrial culture, such views of industrial ruin are romantic and beautiful. In this case, they are called nature.This large stone on the shore of Discovery Passage, for example, is called, in the language of nature, a glacial erratic, and in romantic, colonial language, a grizzly bear that froze just as it touched the shore of Vancouver Island, and mythological evidence of why there are no grizzly bears on Vancouver Island. The tale was made up by a 19th Century missionary, along the lines of the Just So Stories of Rudyard Kipling. It is a part of a far older series of ancestral myths. Its attraction for artists of the industrial age is a testament to its ongoing power of attraction. For humans, this is a kind of industrial mirror.

Nature itself, a European concept, is a series of ancient indigenous forests (celtic), sublimated as principles of regrowth and renewal. It is what grows within industrial settings, returning them to the state of the Garden of Eden. In that regard, this colonized and industrialized foreshore is a Christian landscape, which is why it is so attractive to European cultures:

Ancient Kwakwala Clam Garden, Willow Point

This is also a Christian Landscape, this time above the Rhine at Sankt Goarshausen, in the celtic and roman heart of Europe. This is a catholic landscape, from a time in which the Catholic church was a political and industrial institution, when it was, in fact, an adaptation of an indigenous culture (rome) to an invasion and takeover by its own slaves. The resulting new rome was catholic. It produced images of itself, just as contemporary Canada produces images of its colonial processes along its own shores.

Wilderness in Sankt Goarshausen

These vineyards, and tens of thousands of steep hectares just like them, were farmed by hand two centuries ago, and even one, to create wine, which was marketted to dirty, industrial cities as a healthful, peasant alternative to industrial illnesses, containing simultaneously the power of the land, the power of simple people who rose from the land, and the hierarchal and imposed power of the church and God, who brought the power of the sun, and diefied power, into the grapes through the action of human hands subjugated to industry and piety. In its time, it was a beautiful compromise, creating a beautiful culture. It is all gone. Modern industrialization of wine land has created a price structure that cannot support hand labour.  This spiritual industrialization is now a ruin and, unsurprisingly, the churches are empty.

Wilderness in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley

Another name for this form of industrial ruin, or nature, is White Privilege. This is a landscape that became racialized in 1858 and which continues along the process of racialization. In the centre of the image above is Siya?, one of the four food chiefs of syilx culture. Everything else is a series of feral European weeds. In other words, Siya?, and the valley’s earth-based culture, live marginally within the unintentional consequences of racial abuse, dehumanization, and the separation of culture and landscape. But perhaps I am being unfair. Here, have another look:

Wild Rose in a White Landscape

In a Canadian context, she is called a weed, while the real weeds are called “grassland” and “nature.” That’s how far we’ve come.

What is the Canadian vision today in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley?

 

White Privilege: The View Over Indigenous Space

This is the outdoor, garden space of a home for Canadians retired from the petroleum industry to the East. It looks out over The Commonage, an indigenous pasture land that has been under land claim since 1895. This “house”, or viewing platform over a regime of power, will cost about a million bucks once the dust has settled.

You are looking at echoes of European architecture, filtered through the indigenous slavery cultures of the colonial American Southwest, and built out of machine-chipped wood, which is called “added value.” Bricks and European or Arizona-style adobe and plaster will be laid over these faux pillars and arches, to give the illusion of old world comfort and aristocracy. It is, however, only illusion. Not only will it not last, but it comes at a price that only people of White, industrial privilege can afford. Well, not quite.

You can, if you like, buy a town home and live on the edge of the privilege of your oil-wealthy neighbours up above, with a view over an industrial orchard. This too is called nature. This home is built on 5 metres of infilled gravel, into which 50 cm-thick (approximate) concrete footings were poured at -20C in the middle of the winter. Notice how the spring rains are wearing away the foundation. Expect the walls to settle.

Meanwhile, in Europe, nature becomes a gesture.

Rüdesheim am Rhein

Palm trees in the old Catholic wine-making town at the entrance to the Rhine Gorge.

The tourists are growing old now. They walked five years ago. Now they are hauled around in diesel “trains”, which clear all pedestrians out of the streets. This is wine culture today: not wine culture at all. These people are not buying wine. They are buying a tour of a museum town. What is on show is indigenous culture, through the filter of the compromises it has had to make over time to survive. This way people have of surviving in cages can be quite beautiful to people who live in cages.

Here’s the Okanagan Valley equivalent.

Indigenous Food and Medicine Crop in the Ruins

aka Arrow-Leafed Balsam Root in the cheat grass.

Most often, though, it just looks like this:

Or this: In White language, this landscape is called a desert, a term which increases its attractiveness and value (hence those American Southern indigenous-slave-culture architectural forms promising aristocratic ease), but it isn’t. The wheat grasses below (also an introduced weed but intended to replace the original grassland for grazing purposes), show just how much the land isn’t a desert. This grass is growing immediately beside the dead cheatgrass above.

Not a Desert!

“Desert” is a White term here.

So, please, forget carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming for just a moment and hang out with your mule deer sister. Look how afraid she is, racing through the weeds and a few indigenous plants that, like her, are surviving in this cage, and on which she grazes.

Carbon Dioxide is not a cause. It is a symptom. The cause is “Nature”. “Nature” is a racial term. The abuse it causes is the cause of Global Warming. It is a ruin. It has many forms. Similarly, the salsify (French) below along the old (Earl) Gray Canal Trail (British) in the old Syilx Illahie, is not a cause of ecosystem degradation but a symptom, and the source of new beauty.

This post-apocalyptic view, too. The regrowth here takes on special poignancy against the background of failed industrialization and rust.

This failed industrialization and adoration of death, shows up in the backyard image below: plastic chairs model after handcrafts from the American East, in the ruins of a Japanese orchard converted to gardening space int he 1970s, converted now to a lamp of bones over a new-age bowl of magical crystals, with partially-emptied jugs of home-made wine, with ground cloth and gravel to keep the old syilx land from growing through and creating the need for hand labour.

Death has been internalized. It is all powerful and we attempt to survive biologically within its grip. Global Warming is a logical consequence. Industrialization is not the cause. De-indigenization is.

Understanding Nature

This field of swiss grain above Lake Constance is a good example of the kind of conversations humans have with the earth. This represents technology brought from Asia to Europe and used as a tool for people to live on a land without enough resources to support their population without a technological intervention of some kind. These techniques were imposed on less settled peoples by a priestly class seeking to bring the world into the order of the Garden of Eden. They fine-tuned the rewriting the land as God’s Word in monasteries, and disseminated it from there. This is a middle-eastern field, a page from the Bible, written across old post-glacial space, and over the culture that preceded this field and its people. Its current lush green represents a new imposition: chemical agriculture, laid over what was a model farm in the 1950s for the perfection of pre-industrial, pre-chemical agriculture on a model of cleverness and discipline, also gifted to the Swiss by monks. In all senses, it is a profoundly cultural space, which can be re-read and re-written, should we wish. It is not nature.

The World as a Decorative Object

Willow, Lake Constance

Formal gardens transform the earth into a system of social arrangement. Relaxed gardens, the English gardens of the 18th and 19th centuries and their heirs, recreate this social arrangement on the model of English country estates and a life of sophisticated culture built on the foundation of the physical world. The orchards of the Okanagan are one form of these gardens. The willow above, beside a lakeshore villa in Switzerland, is another. Both are beautiful. Both are artificial creations, serving  the purposes of human social hierarchies. This is the Western way of integrating the earth into human social spheres. Our next step is to integrate these understandings into indigenous understandings, not the other way around.

What is Nature?

Stein am Rhein

It is not to be confused with the Earth or the biosphere. That is to continue the white shaming of the earth that plagues North America. Sometimes “nature” is just an old roman fortress, rebuilt over the years, with weeds growing up in old cleared lines of fire, old farms, and over old paths. It is, in other words, a force of erosion of expressions of human will.

Open and Closed Air in Indigenous Switzerland

In Zurich, this is nature. A sobering thought.

Or, rather, it is a school sports field. Note the tree. It is placed where there is room. Note as well the aesthetic, architectural arrangement of elements. There is a human world in which nature is an architectural element. What the earth is, well, that’s another matter.

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!