The Flicker in the … Cold Mine?

The neighbourhood flicker is a handsome bird.

And always watchful. We love our flicker! Especially in the orange light that breaks through the car exhaust that is the latest idea for this old slip fault valley and its molten glacier.

That stuff is explained away as “a temperature inversion.” You know: warm air on top of cold air, trapping all the stuff that usually evaporates away. Well, yeah, good to know. That stuff really makes the colours pop, though…to humans, at least. To other flickers, I dunno. Maybe it’s the wrong colour entirely.

Those chest feathers should be white. Well, they are, but who would know? Does another flicker know? Is another flicker even looking? Or does a big colour shift dampen flicker desire? Could it be that dirty air dampens human desire, too? Dunno. Here, let’s check. Does the following image fill you with hope and longing for the future?

This smoke is largely coming from the cars and wood stoves of retirement communities. Procreative desire matters there not a whit. The kids are across the mountains, in Calgary. Not so, the flicker.

It would be good if our university tackled these issues this year. I hope so. Last year, the explorations seemed a little…

… well, little. I mean, try smelling your partner’s shirt in this:

Maybe Pokémon Go is just a “so what” moment. Let’s ask the flicker:

The Future of Remembrance

Autumn is a time of year when mixed maturity and loss exist together in the poignancy that for much of Western history has been the heart of art.

P1350731Autumn Study: Red Cabbage, Sleet and Hawthorn Leaf

And a beautiful thing it is. The mushrooms popping up everywhere on the hills…

P1300728The berries ripening on the hedges …


The ragweed finally laying its pollen to rest and making peace with all men …


There’s something about the colour of this season, as in these “Hens and Chicks”, that never looked like this when they were digesting the summer sun.


The grapes on the vine, lingering forgotten long past harvest …

Can you hear the starlings?

The roses, catching the red rays of light and pulling at the heart strings…


The dogwoods, too, of course, showing their true colours, battered by a season, cut adrift by thin layers of cork at the base of each stem. They’re on their own now…


Soon the wind will take them.

For a long stretch of human history (well, all of it up until the last century) this was a human story, and a spiritual one. Now it’s part of the randomness of the universe. Ah, but look at the sumacs!


Random? Really? It Looks More Like the Big Bang.

Even cruel and stinking, disgusting weeds put on a show now…


Knapweed bursting in supernovas out of dead stalks. 

Life, it seems, is not going out without a bang.


This is the glory time for orange lichens. They match the snow buckwheat flowers perfectly.  And the snow buckwheat leaves match the grey lichens on the rocks. Is that random?

I’m not saying there is intelligent design in this universe. I am, however, pointing out that human observers see what is there for them to see. That includes the glory of harvest, the work of men and women with their hands to purify from a year’s sun and wind and rain the spirit of the year, which for millennia has been called wine.

P1310372Winemaking in Canada


P1310365Boys with Toys

Notice how the forklift appears to be powered by a beer keg.

Do no men touch the world with their bodies anymore and make of it an artwork? Have we, those of us who are artists, failed? Could it be that art is not part of the solution? That it’s part of the problem? Of course. It’s part of the culture. It’s still beautiful, certainly.


Modigliani Copy Contemplating a Feather, Gallery Vertigo, Vernon (Click)

But humans are not the only ones making art…


Coyote and Deer Footprints in the Vineyard Roadway Mud

Yes, of course, art theory holds that

if it’s not a conscious pattern it’s not art.

Isn’t that part of the bias? Isn’t that part of the problem?


The Glaciers Left It

Glacial erratic at the the top of the oldest rock in British Columbia, Okanagan Falls.

It’s not art in a human sense … so? Isn’t it time to get over ourselves? When I was a kid, I lived in the world. Now that I’m approaching the, ahem, autumn of my years as a man on this earth, I am still haunted by images like this:

P1310335 Zinnia, Two Weeks Back

Each of those petals is a seed. You don’t get that in the summer.

I think there’s something to learn from the world. Like giving yourself away freely, as this rose is doing:

P1310315 And fog. Contemporary culture says that fog conceals. Does it not rather also reveal?P1330290 Are patterns dimly perceived perhaps stronger than those seen in sharp light?

P1330265 And are three seasons of care not worth one flower?

P1330099And does that flower not contain the universe? Let the empirical workers scoff. What else is there at this time of year but this all-revealling, all-encompassing light?

You can’t measure it, 

hold the voices of scientific mythology. Really?

P1350714Can’t you make coffee out of it? Is that not a measuring? Is it not “taking the measure”?

Dandelion root in a place of honour at the top of the day’s harvest. The anticipation of the hand work ahead of me, and then, finally, those few cups of glorious drink, fills me with joy. What else is there in this world? Not-Joy? Would you choose that?

So, maybe the thing is there are no words for this. That brings me back to my point: we, who call ourselves poets, have failed. We got distracted by words. My cousins, the Swiss Lutheran pastors, I’m pretty sure would say something like this,

But this is the price of original sin, Harold. Of course human cultures are broken. They can’t help but be.

Wise words. There is still, however, the mystery of grace.

nutLook at that. You can pick the universe off a tree. You can crack it open. You can taste it. You can be nourished by it. Yes, there are hard choices,

the price of progress,

and all that, but those are military choices, and militancy is not the goal. Peace is the goal, and union, grace and joy. There just are no words for this. They were blown out of the world when they were taken far too lightly by  men called officers and the men they sent to die in the muddy fields of France in 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1918. We, who call ourselves poets, who stand in the shoes of the men and women who made our language out of the earth and the air, need to do the real work now, the work that was left off a century ago. What is that work? Well, maybe a start is to say it’s time to stop making art like this:

P1280811Harvest: A Lure for Humans

The shed no one uses, the wheelbarrow no one uses, the romantic flowers, the pumpkins no one eats. That’s a poem. It brings bodies in off the street, who bring their selves and their wallets with them. That’s not really respectful. That’s not really spirit.

So, I stopped by Poetry Magazine today, to see what they’re doing with their $100,000,000 bequest. I found right up front this poem by Fady Joudah, called Tell Life. Such beautiful language, so skillfully arranged, so deeply felt …


You can read the whole poem by clicking here. I suggest you do. It’s a strong piece.

… and so empty of spirit and of words to speak the ineffable. What is says is, really,

There are no words. One can only howl.

Really? There used to be words for this. The triumph of science and mechanized culture has stripped them from us … but shouldn’t we resist that, with grace?


Menhirs, Yverdon-les-Bains, Suisse

After 4,000 years, this place is still alive. It’s not history. It never went anywhere.

It is a commonplace of humanism that humans are masters of their own destiny. Does it have to come with spiritual poverty? Is that the price?


Are we all for sale? Are we all selling each other and our selves to each other? Really? Is it a price worth paying? Let me tell you my answer: no. It’s possible to talk. If this is where the language of poetry is now …

P1290159 … and spiritual nourishment, the sacred apples the monks distributed throughout the German forests, to feed the people in body and soul has come to waste like this ….


Discarded Apples in Vernon…

left to Rot because they were marked by hail or touched by insects or wind.

… then it’s time to be men again. Cheap apples on the shelves of industrial grocery stores are subsidized by the death of culture and community. They leave us all alone on a dying earth, to celebrate dead soldiers on Remembrance Day, who died under the direction of fools. Why do I speak so strongly? Well, the mechanized killing of a million men in a summer to see who can kill the most is not worth celebrating. If we celebrate anything, let’s get the words right. That’s the real remembering. After a century of forgetting. Let’s start by correcting the original humanist and nationalist error, with one simple sentence:

It is not about us.

The owners of this place are watching.

P1290974It’s time we built a relationship again. Yes, with words, not with critical analysis, because, and I feel I must repeat it:

It is not about us.


I am a Weed and Proud of It

Would you call this a weed?

P1300819Russian Thistle aka Tumbleweed

How about this?

P1300825Full Bloom!

I found four colour variants today: Gold, Yellow, Pink, and Red.

What is a weed? The everyday understanding is that it is any plant that is growing where you don’t want it. In the case of russian thistle, which came over with seed grains from the Ukraine and soon spread across the West almost a century and a half ago, helped along by the over-grazing of natural grasslands by sheep and cattle, run by large landowners attempting to create themselves as a gentry, this means that a weed is a plant that interferes with economic progress.


A Plant That Will Not Be Controlled is Called a Weed

In turn, that means it is a plant that interferes with the privilege such men have for mining living environments for their living members, until nothing will grow but plants such as russian thistle, which attempt to heal broken soil. Russian thistle, or tumbleweed, is, in other words, those of us who are from anything other than a small privileged class, trying to live among the few remaining indigenous peoples who were cleared off of the earth by colonial or colonizing land-use practices. These practices are called farming. They are really the mining of the earth of life and the negating of it by turning it into economic capital that cannot be returned to the earth. Instead, it is given to non-living systems, which are called jobs and economies. These are things that do not live on the earth.


In a Land Sense Divorced from the Earth, this Deer Browse is Called Weeds

(The deer are called a nuisance and the sagebrush is called a protected ecosystem.)

I know I promised to explain how language goes astray today, but I found that these images so clearly set out an issue about the colonial and economic legacy behind contemporary word usage that I would share them with you instead. Monday will bring us back around to the words. Until then, here are a few more from the essay…

I don’t think it’s up to government to find answers. I don’t think it can. Its concepts of private and public ownership, its subdivisions, highways, forest practice codes, educational curricula, criminal codes and health contracts are all more or less set and will continue to turn out more or less the same result as they have in the past. This is their strength, actually. They endure. Luckily, you and I do more than that. We are alive. All of us, men, women, children, black bears, otters, sea lions, salmon, blue-tailed skinks and even tomato hornworms live in earth and water and air — not as resources but as living things on a living earth. That’s the other side of the British Columbian political system. It is called the commons.


What I’d like to emphasize about the commons is this: it is older than the law, cities and corporations erected on its strengths. It is not sustained by ownership, as the law built upon it is,  but by the lack of ownership. It is that old; it extends beyond the power of any state. Without it, there would be no British Columbia, people wouldn’t fly-fish on the Campbell, the Fraser would be dammed above Lilloett, and there wouldn’t be any salmon anymore. And there I am, talking again about the legacy of Roderick Haig-Brown. I’m proud to do so, because he lived a full life in the commons, as a writer, a fisherman, and a magistrate — all of them with no more authority than that which he held as the birthright of every man, woman and child. He never accepted less.


We have. In Canada today, nearly forty years after Haig-Brown’s death, the proud, ancient English tradition of the commons is best known as the House of Commons, a place that isn’t really a house and is common mostly in the sense of people gathering in order to be rude (common) to each other and to the institution.


I’d like you to think of this: being rude to the institution means being rude to you and me, because we are the commons.

The other day, I left you with an image of a Northern Flicker, to stand in for the words that subordinate its rights to human language and all of its difficulties at touching the world. Here she is again …

P1290946I would like to leave you with a thought for the weekend: if language reduces the earth to human social categories and conversations, is not the way towards healing the earth the path of granting social equality to the earth? It would, of course, mean having a language that could speak intimately with it. Fortunately, we do. It is very old, but fortunately it is very much alive — only subordinated to the will that has led us away from our common, living heritage. That is called theft. Next week, we’ll be talking about that. Happy Thanksgiving.




All Conversations are Not Between People

Why are these people kayaking in Kalamalka Lake?P1300155 To talk to the lake. Why am I showing you this? P1300139

To talk with the sky, along with you. Why did I take this photograph of a red root pigweed?P1300323To talk with the universe. Why did I plant sunflowers?


So the birds could talk with the earth. So I could listen. Why did I pick these tomatoes in the face of frost?P1300478To talk to people. Why am I writing these words?




10 More New Water Collection Technologies for the Okanagan (And an Extra One for Fun)

Currently water is collected in the Okanagan by three methods. The first is to turn high country lakes and streams into reservoirs, which are then piped down into the valleys, to provide water pressurized by gravity. There aren’t any untapped lakes left. The second is to pump water out of the lake. There isn’t any capacity left. The third is to pump water out of underground reserves. Water tables are falling. It’s time to think how else we can catch water and store it. Our teacher is the land itself. A few weeks ago, I talked about new ways to collect water in the Okanagan. You can read that post here: click. Below are more observations about some ways in which we can keep the plentiful water that falls on this land from evaporating away before it can be used to sustain life. These are our new water sources. You might notice a little bit of repetition from the previous post. I’ve tried to add new information and a new perspective whenever that happens. After all, I’ve worked for nearly two years getting to this point. It’s hard not to be excited! This is material for the final chapter of my book.

1. The Road Surface.


Good Old Gravel Road!

Sure, mud puddles like the one don’t make for safe driving and lead to washouts, but the dips they fill are efficient at collecting water, and the fine glacial silt and clay of the valley’s upper soils are very effective at keeping it from draining away. Bumpy roads are a bad idea, and waterproof roads prevent frost heaves, but why are we rushing through our residential areas anyway? We can build landscaping cloth that lets water through but prevents weeds from growing upwards, and we can manufacture diapers that wick up a colossal amount of baby-processed milk and water in one go, without dribbling a drip, and we can’t build a road surface that traps and channels water, like that mud-puddle? Ah, but as I mentioned in my previous post on this subject (here) we do…

P1080225Alluvial Channels of a Roadside River

That’s the curb on the left.

The only problem is we drain that water into waste water systems and then deliver it to the sewage treatment plant. It costs a humungous amount of money. In fact, the 40,000 people of the city of Vernon are currently facing a $100,000,000 dollar upgrade cost, to bring this system up to speed. That’s $2500 a person. Surely, since most houses in Vernon are on a hill of one kind or another, we could work out a system in which block by block, kilometre by kilometre, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, the water is stored in cisterns, or is diverted into a series of greenhouses, growing first watercress and then tomatoes, before it is delivered into vertical gardens planted in holes drilled in standing water pipes, before, well, you get the idea. The upgrade could pay for itself and when the water finally got to the lake, it would have produced a huge volume of food along the way.

2. Underground Waterway Construction.

P1080468Choke Cherry Grove and Its Water Collector

I spoke about this concept at some length yesterday, and talked about this natural system in my previous post on new water technologies. What I want to add today is the concept that the earth has underground channels of rubble, solid rock, silt, clay, and soil, working together with gravity, that concentrate, move and deliver water — usually right where the best soil is, with different plants thriving in different regions of the system. Such underground damming and delivery systems, built out of rock, concrete, sand and clay, could be easily inserted into the hills to deliver the invisible dryland water into productive areas, within a few metres, or at most a hundred metres, from the point of collection. In a drying (but not a dry) climate, look underground for the water. Collect it there. You don’t need enough to pump. Let gravity do the work. Now, let me clarify my perspective: at the tiny wages society pays its young people today to look after an economy for the aged, they will not be able to afford $100,000,000 upgrade bills. Let’s give them the gift of ingenuity and creativity instead. Let’s proudly work with what we have. This system could be combined with the road system above.

3. The Plastic Bag (And its Friends)

P1090127Weed-whacked Weeds, Bagged for a Community Compost Program…

…where it will be tossed and turned and heated and will steam all this water away. Hunh?

Currently, the water is right where we want it, in a portable form, the collection apparatus is present, and … we’re not collecting the water that evaporates from the weeds? Not only that, why don’t we just build a device that will dry the weeds on the spot, for the cost of a lawnmower, let’s say, and collect the water. The bag above, left for a few hours in the June sun, shows how readily the water from the weeds collects on the plastic. This should be an easy one. How much water would we get? Huge amounts. Plants are well over 50% water.

4. The Pile of Rocks

P1090417Leave a Pile of Rocks Lying Around on a Clay Base

It will collect water. Don’t forget to capture and store that water. Letting it muck up your road is just disrespectful. I covered this concept in my previous post. Today I’d like to add that in this climate wells don’t have to be underground. In an atmosphere stripped of water by depressurizing and re-pressurizing effects on a roller-coaster ride over the mountains, everything is in reverse. Once you learn to think like that, you will find your missing water, like here:

5. The Parking Lot

P1100280 This Soil is destined for the Patchwork Community Garden, on the Okanagan College Site.

It did an effective job of stopping the water drainage from this student parking lot and turning it into …P1100277


Notice how the parking lot construction method separated this water from the ornamental growing space beside it, which then gets reconstructed into an artful water channel, using landscape cloth, to prevent plant growth and piped-in water from high in the mountains.

P1100245 Notice the Automatic Irrigation Hose on the Left, Behind the Tree

Might this not be the community garden? 

No, of course not. The real one is behind a fence, with the food growing in artificial soil from the composting facility, and irrigated by …


…water piped in from high up in the hills. The food is then given away. It might be time to connect the dots. The water source and the sun are right here. Still, it’s a beautiful garden with an exciting mandate. I just think an opportunity was missed.

6. Wild Harvest

P1100519Don’t capture the water. Eat it.

Or plant grapes …


Seedless Grapes Gone Wild, Bella Vista

These grapes have survived for many years without irrigation. They’ve found their water where it concentrates along an underground cut (an old water canal that’s now a walking trail). They draw it up, and concentrate it in their berries, where it can easily be harvested. Miles of grapes could be planted like this. Huge amounts of water can be captured like this.

7. The Loader Bucket

P1090115That’s Enough Iron-Rich Water for a Row of Carrots for One Week

The next time it rains (and enough rain comes in June to last the summer, if it were all carefully used and conserved), put all your pots and pans and wine glasses out. Either that, or collect it from your roof…

8. The Roof

P1080822Downtown Kelowna

And grow a tree.

P1080803If You Plant the Right Kind of Tree, You Can Harvest it Later

Downtown Kelowna

Either that or let the homeless people who live in this alley do so. After all, they live here.

9. Invent Water-Absorbing Artificial Grass. 

P1080584Plant it by the Roadside.

Harvest it once a year, instead of mowing the real thing.

Oh wait, why not just plant real grass on the roadside, harvest that while mowing, and process it in the sun-powered evaporator the plastic bags are suggesting above? Yeah, why not.


10. Suck the Water Out of a Wasp

P1100394Crab Spider, Unlucky Wasp, and Canada Thistle

Oh, wait, leave that for the spiders.

10.5.  Plant a tree

P1100480Northern Flicker in a Chinese Elm, Grey Canal Trail

Every tree is an amazing water pump, powered by the sun. Tomorrow I’d like to talk about the technological implications of that. I think it’s pretty exciting. I’m sure the flicker agrees.

Remember: choose life!

Muskrats That Live in the Trees

This is an awfully wonderful planet — sometimes delightfully so. Here is a typical reed dweller…


Red Winged Blackbird Giving Me the Eye

The weak colour of his wing patch indicates that he’s not feeling very dominant. Probably all the dogs and the fact that he’s at the end of the Vernon Airport runway. That’s Cessna angst in his eyes, good people.

And here is a typical water dweller …



Coots never touch shore. They even build their nests on floating reed islands, and swim around in circles in the fall, all the starry night long, to keep the water from freezing around them. If you’ve heard the phrase, “Crazy as a Coot”, don’t believe it. These guys and gals are smarter than all get out. A toast to the coots!

And here’s a typical tree dweller …


Northern Flicker

Happy in a bit of pretty Chinese greenery that has invaded the wetlands.

But what about this guy?

P1240297Muskrat Doing What Muskrats Do Best

This used to be a wetland. Now it’s a series of tiny ponds surrounded by mown grass, where people walk their very best friends, the ones with the bark at one end and the wag at the other and usually no leash in between. Still, this muskrat rules its little 700 square foot kingdom.

Thing is, this is its kingdom …

P1240304Did You Know that Muskrats Live in the Trees?

Move over beavers!

Of course, if you take more than three photos, they get wise to you …

P1240299Muskrat Descending to its Tree

and becoming the water.

In earth writing, things are exactly as they seem. The water is the unconscious. It is the place where real power takes place, and gravity and light mingle and flow, together…

P1240219Willow Tree Subconscious

It flows into you, while you flow into it.

And where do you go, together, pray tell?gull

Gulls on the Vernon Creek Estuary, Okanagan Lake

So why do humans abuse their subconscious and do this, hmmmmmmm?


Chopping up Eurasian Water Milfoil at the Vernon Creek Estuary (Okanagan Lake)

You do it so that people can go swimming without getting tangled in the invasive weeds. Note as well the forestry seed orchard planted on Syilx grasslands in the background.

Um, who is the invasive weed here?

Time Travellers, Dancers, and Evolution

Instead of a science that looked at precise instants in time, constructed out of exact measurements of the kind that gave civilization (so to speak) photography, the poet Goethe proposed a science that looked at all of time as one unbroken physical space. I’d like to honour that today. (Hint! If you don’t want to bend your mind around science, today, skip to the end of this post for an illuminating picture of the heart of human-dog relationships!) In the spirit of Goethe, here are some alfalfa plants of the future…P1160727

Alfalfa Seed in the Wild

Inside each of these thousands of curled seedpods are tiny kernels, which are the plants of the future. In a science of the world, the one that Goethe proposed, the plant is not producing seeds, by which to maintain itself in an aggressive world of competition, such as the one proposed by Darwin, but are refining themselves into points of absolute purity, in relationship to themselves and to the world around them. Each of these seeds is more like a poem than a strategic military map.

In the science of freezing time, the imported alfalfa above, and the indigenous bunchgrass below, have developed out of long, branching processes of evolution. They both produce seed, but they do so very differently, representing the different ages of the world in which they first developed their strategies for survival…


Blue-bunched Wheatgrass at Dusk

Caught in the dark thanks to a bit of artificial light. In the daytime, these stalks just disappear into the background.

In contrast, in the science of unfolding processes, or, to use a long word that ties itself into knots on my tongue, phenomenological science, the plants are part of a shared developmental process that has yet to reach completion. The story is the story of ‘plant’. It can be viewed by observing the different stages of leaf development within individuals of individual species of plant, with predictions made for the future, based upon patterns observed in the present.


The Movement of Hedge Mustard Leaves in Time 

This image shows the pattern of variation in each leaf as it develops in the plant. Its point of origin in the unfolding plant and the time at which it originates in the sequence of development, gives it a different shape, which fits into different stages of the development of leaves originating at different points. There is no ultimate leaf shape. There is only a dance in time. Source: “Transformations in the Foliage Leaves of Higher Plants” by Joachim Bockemühl in Goethe’s Way of Science: A Phenomenology of Nature.

That’s a little rough to follow, perhaps. I think the following image (again from Bockemühl) makes it a bit more clear:


Ripplewort as it Exists in Time

Each horizontal row represents the story arc of a leaf, with the first leaves to emerge at the bottom of the image and the later ones at the top. The wave is the story. 

Goethe thought that if he could study leaves long enough he could find the essence of a plant, the idea that plants are expressing with this dance in time, the spirit of plants, so to speak, written out in an Enlightened, scientific form. No one knows what this plant might look like, because it has not yet finished its development. However, here’s a clue (Bockemühl, again):


The Dance, Choreographed

The developmental relationship between leaves in shown here to make a pattern that intersects in arcs, not in straight lines. Early leaves stop at certain stages, as illustrated by straight vectors. The pattern of when the leaves stop is read on curving arcs, and is the same pattern as the development of the complete leaf. As Goethe pointed out, the leaf can only be viewed in this totality. A precise measurement at a certain time will only give the story of a certain time. It won’t give the story of the plant as it exists in the world.

It’s the same with human development.


Human Embryos  Source

Each human grows through the complete stages of human evolution, from double celled organism, through snake, reptile, fish, marmoset, ape, and so forth. What comes out at birth is a story, that continues to develop through a human lifetime and over human lifetimes. The story is not finished.

Contemporary humans are not the pinnacle of this story’s development. When they act as if they were, they destroy the human story and, what’s more, the story of the earth, of which it is a single arc. No piece can be broken from any other. The story is not now. It is in the future. It is not ours. It is the universe’s.


Northern Flicker in the Snow

This is our story. It is not our story. A human culture can only be called mature when it realizes that the two are the same.

We are dancing. Leave the thinking for dogs. Let humans do what they do best.


Dog, Dropping Its Human Off at the Sport Shop

Courtenay, Vancouver Island

The Ethics of Nature Photography

Humanly created machines are great at capturing light and holding it tight for another day. It’s not so special, though. Everybody in the neighbourhood is into it. The juniper people, for instance …

Gingko Leaf and Juniper

Unlike the gingko, whose light ranchings days above these junipers are done until the spring, the junipers remain all saddled up outside the light corral but sleeping with their hats tipped over their eyes. They’ll start munching on light again when things warm up and the ginko will put out new leaves to join in the feast.

Even though light scarcely filters through the winter cloud these days, it’s still all here, a whole summer of it. Photosynthesis is one way to take photographs of light, but the seasons affect different light eaters differentlyHere’s a moving picture of light that can be viewed instantly…

Staghorn Sumac

All summer long, the sumacs have trickled away the energy of the sun and reconstituted it in elaborate photographs we call fruit clusters, which they hold up to the sky. Eat that, James Cameron.

Another way to capture light and store it is to make photographs, as I have done to present these moments to you. And what is a photograph but a way of mechanizing the touch of light photons to the human retina — a kind of photography, for sure, that is caught in memory and out of which humans construct a visible world, that they then walk through. Some of our brothers and sisters use the process more holistically. Instead of using the intersection of light and water to create thought worlds, as humans do, they represent it with their bodies.

Moss Photograph of the Sun

This isn’t digital photography, mind you, nor even film or daguerrotypes. It does, however, develop— very, very slowly. 

Such light photographs as the moss makes on the above rock can be viewed two ways: as the present moment, which follows the future-trending progress of time as the moss grows, or as a future photograph which is viewed, in the present, in a half-developed form. The latter idea fascinates me. If I were, for example, to destroy this moss photograph by overturning its rock host in the first world, the one of conventional time growing into the future, that would be that. Time would move on, undamaged, without it. If I were to do so (God forbid) in the second view of time, the one in which the photograph is not yet fully developed, I would be destroying the completeness of the earth and myself, and preventing the story from reaching its full depth. I would be locked as a biological stranger in an impoverished present.

Northern Flicker Late in the Day

The photo is a bit weird because I had to muck around with the exposure, as my little time-compressing, mechanical-brain camera machine was not calibrated to deal with so much sky so late in the day and originally turned the flicker black as coal. Unfortunately, as a result it caught only part of the light, and so left everything looking a bit like an ice cream bar advertisement that spent too many summers sitting in a corner store window.

In the image above, a flicker, a biological life form, is adapting well to an earth narrative that long ago sacrificed the future development of the Peace River to produce its own technology. The rivers’s future development as part of the chain of light developing on this planet has been altered by this intervention. What is done to the Earth is only neutral if the present is considered to be the real focus of time. That’s quite the human bias. In fact, to think like that, a human has to separate herself or himself from the world — powerful technology, for sure, but one that might not lead to the survival of biological earth.

High Density Apple Orchard Viewed from Above

Life as a machine.

And what is a machine? It is the human will, set above the will of the Earth. There’s no way we’re going to have a healthy environment unless these machines are set to work more closely with life’s development. Time had to be stopped to produce this image called an orchard. The expectation is that it will develop further within human social networks, when the light pictures it makes, apples, are eaten by humans. If such herding of time is going to have any ethical meaning, then the social networks need, ultimately, to develop within contact with the earth, the water, and the sun. Anything else is a fantasy.





Gripple Apples

Gripple. Nice word. It has an active form, too: grippling. These old words don’t hang out in a dictionary, though, and Google is hopeless with them, but you can find them in Henry David Thoreau’s last work (1862), Wild Apples:

Such [apples] as grow quite wild, and are left out till the first of November, I presume that the owner does not mean to gather. They belong to children as wild as themselves, — to certain active boys that I know — to the wild-eyed woman of the fields, to whom nothing comes amiss, who gleans after all the world, — and, moreover, to us walkers. We have met with them, and they are ours. These rights, long enough insisted upon, have come to be an institution in some old countries, where they have learned how to live. I hear that “the custom of grippling, which may be called apple-gleaning, is, or was formerly, practiced in Herefordshire. It consists in leaving a few apples, which are called the gripples, on every tree, after the general gathering, for the boys, who go with climbing-poles and bags to collect them.”

Sadly, not any more. Here is the state of grippling today, behind the twelve foot tall deer fences that surround orchards like concentration camps:

Northern Flicker and Gripple

I sure do miss grippling.

OK, private property that only mice and birds are free to invade, I get that, sigh (Says a grippler of old), but it comes at a price. In order for apples to return a profit in a world in which there are too many apples stored too long and shipped too great a distance too easily, a few things have to take place:

1. Apples are grown on super-dwarf trees, to reduce labour costs and to double fruit size, which halves labour costs for picking and handling and creates apples the size of turnips or even acorn squash.

2. Apples are thinned on the tree, so that the apples left at picking time are of the highest aesthetic quality, to reduce or eliminate shipping and sorting charges at the packing house level, as well as the picking costs for fruit of low aesthetic value.

3. At picking, any apple not visually perfect is thrown on the ground. 

Up to half of the crop can lie on the ground after the completion of this process. There they will freeze over the winter and ferment in the spring. In the spring, the robins will get drunk on the resulting apple cider and have been known to lie feebly on the ground, lamely flapping a wing now and then, whee. There is nothing left for grippling. There is, also, no employment. In fact, the whole system is designed to eliminate employment. There is, however, this:

Royal Gala Apples

It used to be that apples like this would be picked up for juice. In fact, farmers in these parts once had their own processing facility, called Sun-Rype, to handle this juice. The victim of late 20th Century ideology, it ceased to serve the farmers and now sells huge volumes of concentrated juices imported by tanker truck. The price for apples picked up off the ground is now less than the cost of picking them up. Even so, no grippling.

There are some costs to this kind of land use. Here’s a bit of a list:

1. Precious water is, effectively, thrown away.

2. Farmers are going broke. Their investment and labour is, effectively, wasted.

3. Only people with money have access to food. To protect private property rights, people without money to purchase food receive donations at volunteer institutions called Food Banks.

4. People drink concentrated apple juice from the Third World, contaminated with pesticides illegal in North America. They also often drink industrial apple juice that is digested by enzymes in large tanks and then siphoned off, filtered, and sterilized. Did you wonder why it tasted so weird?

5. A fruit production system that maintains market competitiveness by lowering employment costs finds itself surrounded by people without the money to buy its luxury products. This isn’t accidental. It is a reflection of social structures.

The point is that for all of its benefits the concept of private property means that public, common law rights are removed to enable the property owner to profit from that privatization of public right. It is a powerful tool and actually all works fine, if all citizens are labourers (rather than citizens with inalienable common law rights, such as the right to gripple otherwise unused fruit), and if they are paid sufficiently for their labour that they can provide for their needs for shelter, clothing, and food. For many interlocking reasons having to do largely with industrialization, nationalism, and globalism, that is currently not the case. And by the looks of it…

… their food is lying right here. Would they pick it up? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. That’s not the point. The point is that when privatization becomes wasteful of the commons and when there is no one to purchase the products it produces out of its monopoly, something has to change. In fact, that change is already upon us. We are looking at images of it.

Royal Gala at the End of Its LIfe

The tree with yellow leaves has only a short time left. Trees like this were planted in the 1980s, with the expectation of hysterical profits over a ten year life, before they were replanted with yet newer luxury varieties. Economic realities meant that didn’t happen. They linger on, in both slow physical and social decline. To compensate, more and more apples are discarded on the ground every year.

So, there you go. Grippling. A darned good word to use when grappling with cultures in decline. In this story, there are no villains. All are being equally exploited by forces that separate them from each other to greater and greater extent. In this shifting dynamic of the boundaries of private and public space, I have no answers. I just have an observation, and, at heart, I have this:


No, not Red Delicious but the apple that settled the West.

One of the best apples I have ever eaten was a nearly-frozen Delicious I grippled under a cottonwood tree, on the edge of an orchard in November, 1980, as the first snowstorm was coming down the Similkameen Valley in a blue wall of darkness. By the time I got the apple off of the top of the tree, and brushed the long, yellow apple leaves from my neck, It was almost dark, the air was long past violet, and snow and the last photons of light were whirling around my head and through the bare, black branches of the trees. As I walked through the new snow, I ate that apple. It was like eating the sun and the earth together, at once, as I held them in numb fingers. It was freedom. It tasted like light. What did Thoreau say about that? Let’s give him the last word:

THE era of the Wild Apple will soon be past. It is a fruit which will probably become extinct in New England. You may still wander through old orchards of native fruit of great extent, which for the most part went to the cider-mill, now all gone to decay. I have heard of an orchard in a distant town, on the side of a hill, where the apples rolled down and lay four feet deep against a wall on the lower side, and this the owner cut down for fear they should be made into cider. Since the temperance reform and the general introduction of grafted fruit, no native apple-trees, such as I see everywhere in deserted pastures, and where the woods have grown up around them, are set out. I fear that he who walks over these fields a century hence will not know the pleasure of knocking off wild apples. Ah, poor man, there are many pleasures which he will not know! Notwithstanding the prevalence of the Baldwin and the Porter, I doubt if so extensive orchards are set out to-day in my town as there were a century ago, when those vast straggling cider-orchards were planted, when men both ate and drank apples, when the pomace-heap was the only nursery, and trees cost nothing but the trouble of setting them out. Men could afford then to stick a tree by every wall-side and let it take its chance. I see nobody planting trees to-day in such out-of-the-way places, along the lonely roads and lanes, and at the bottom of dells in the wood. Now that they have grafted trees, and pay a price for them, they collect them into a plat by their houses, and fence them in, — and the end of it all will be that we shall be compelled to look for our apples in a barrel.

Snowing Fog

Now, this is a pretty fun kind of precipitation: tiny crystals of fog, that might add up to a centimetre after a day or two. But it looks pretty great on the ground:

Etching Rock with Snow

Every tiny face of this old lava flow catches the light differently, in patterns laid down by gravity and water. Pure music.

Here’s another example of how gravity can suddenly become visible in weather like this:

Flicker Perch on the Heights

This wild cherry tree, dead for years now, still holds the carbon it made out of the air, high up towards the sun. By the looks of it, the verticality of the plants in this scene do a good job of exactly counterbalancing the downward thrust of the rock. For some reason, it’s invisible without the snow.

I wasn’t the only one watching the fog fall to earth today. Speaking of gravity …

Northern Flicker in the Snow Fog

A few minutes before, this tree was vertical!

If experience is any indication, this snow will evaporate soon enough. It’s not like snow in other parts, that melts and turns to water. Here in the super-dessicated air east of the Coast Mountains it’s like the sky’s breath, resting for awhile, then taking flight again.