The Power of Words

If we call this wetland, runoff, mud, rot, ditch or swamp, we are talking about a social relationship to it, and not the thing itself.

If we call the beautiful surface of the water “water tension,” we are reducing this living force of the universe to a category of thought, or at least an application of a “law” of “nature” — something to be judged and dismissed before we consider the next case before us.

If we call these photographs, such as they are, “art”, however poor it may be, or comment on Harold’s “eye,” or “creativity” (whatever that is), we rely on a social relationship that places an image, such as the ones above, in a non-practical space, one that moves no energy or does no “work,” in the sense of the forces described by the science of physics, as follows…

In physics, a force is said to do work if, when acting, there is a displacement of the point of application in the direction of the force. For example, when a ball is held above the ground and then dropped, the work done on the ball as it falls is equal to the weight of the ball (a force) multiplied by the distance to the ground (a displacement).

Work transfers energy from one place to another or one form to another. Source: Wikipedia.

I dunno, but that sounds like a description of this to me…

Perhaps it is not considered so by the science of physics because the energy involved does not move things from one place to another, except, well, light, protozoa, human hearts, and so on … rather passive energies that flood into empty space not by moving but by filling or appearing.

And that is called, for some reason, “art” or “poetry” instead of “physics.” Here, let’s see what the collective porridge pot of the world has to say about that:

Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.[1][2] Source: Wikipedia

Well, that’s simply untrue. It says that art is a way of creating artifacts, that these artifacts express imaginative or technical skill, which is limited, and that the artifacts are defined by an intent for them to be appreciated for beauty or emotional power. The human or bot that wrote that is neither an artist nor a maker of tools for physicists. Words have such power to bring us close or to distance us. What, though, if we chose words that did not set us at a distance, and called this…


Or life. Or breath. Or mind.

Could we make that “work”, in the sense of physics, by moving our cities from one state (environmental decay) to another (environmental integration and growth)? Sure, but it wouldn’t be “work,” and so an attitude embalmed in language deems it not to be. It would be “art” to this distancing attitude, and thus can be dismissed, should one choose to, as “not practical.” A new physics, an indigenous one, that starts from the land, will have to start on different principles, one in which any equations include the observation that this…

… is this …

… is this:

… is this …

… is this:

W = τ θ

In other words, every calculation of physical forces contains calculations of perceptual forces. The forces are all equal, socially, but their disruption into different realms gives them roles to which they are then bound. These are strong 18th and 19th century European values regarding social order. Indigenous systems of law do include such calculations. So can all.



Hole in the Sky, Not Empty

A couple weeks ago, I told you about a hole that frequently appeared in the clouds above the city of Coldstream. Here’s a picture of it taken five days ago…

The image is taken towards the East, but at dusk, with the setting sun down over the mountains to the West. It is directly above the intersection of winds from the West and the North, which are, rather, redirected winds from the West as well, so a kind of eddy, like a little back current in a trout stream. In a way, it’s kind of an illusion created by the intersection of human visual ability and open space that cuts across the prevailing winds. Look how many of these holes appear in the clouds below.

Nonetheless, this intersection is meaningful, as it does lead us, humans, to a particularly fruitful spot and the site of an ancient village site and trail. I find it inspiring, that we are that much the weather of the world.

A Practical Experiment in Applied Grassland Meandering

We had an inspiring discussion in Kelowna the other night.

One of the things that came out of it was a conversation on the work being done to bring back the threatened languages of the grasslands. Much work stands before us, and I drove home in the dark thinking that perhaps one way that those of us neither syilx nor secwepemc can contribute to this vital rebuilding is to advocate for adequate resources and funding for it. Another, however, might be to build public support for it in terms that a technological civilization, and its technological universities, can readily and quickly get behind financially and at heart. What follows is an example of my thinking in this regard: an adaptation of the beautiful ecological balance of blue bunch wheatgrass to technological solutions, on the foundation that understanding the grass requires a knowledge of the relationships within the grassland, which are capturable from very close observation and even more deeply understood through indigenous language. I’m not saying that rebuilding languages should be done for technological reasons. I’m merely pointing out that public support is required for any large expenditure and that building up technological interest might be a way to drive a desire for the salvation and growth of these languages and their ancient repositories of families and their deep wisdom. Plus, the technological solutions should be able to build up a right relationship with indigenous grasslands, that corrects the capital-ownership model inherited from colonial times, and its costs in grassland and social deterioration. Such a strategy wouldn’t be isolated from other strategies. The bottom line is that this work must succeed. In a spirit of inquiry and support, I offer a few thoughts below.

Wheatgrass water collectors.

Wheatgrass offers models for aerial water collectors using thin sprung wires, tubes or fibres tipped with water-collecting combs harvesting rain, snow and fog. The mechanism deposits water through weighted tips to non-evaporative, subsoil fibres or mats, or down the wires or tubes to central cores. In both methods, the combs at the tips of the grass stalks hold water in place due to capillary tension and release it when they knock together in the wind or when disturbed by passing deer.

Blue Bunch Wheatgrass Directing Water to the Tips of its Root System.

The harvest of water stored in the plants’ fibrous root system is powered by solar evaporation, which uses thin tubes to draw water vertically by means of its natural capillary tension. Adaptations and extensions of this technology could be used to create scalable and linkable collection stations to sculpt and harvest water regimes. Volumes would be low for each plant, but ample for many uses, especially when linked millions of times in series. Possibilities exist for drip line systems to move water to required zones for crop growth or collection in ditch networks mimicking deer trails, water transfer through microtubes, solar pumping models, and much more. In all cases, models can be created through organic planting or extensions of principles through mechanical engineering.

Blue Bunch Wheatgrass

Power Sources: Sun, Atmospheric Pressure, Molecular bonds, Atmospheric disturbance, gravity, mechanical disturbance.

Figure 1. Components

Atmospheric collectors (top), fibrous storage (bottom), solar pump system (centre).

Figure 2. Stalk Transfer Mechanisms

In-tube transfer (left), surface transfer (right).


Figure 3. Gravity Transfer Mechanism

Combs at fibre tips collect snow, rain or fog, transform it to water and deposit it on the storage mechanism below. The combs resist atmospheric theft, delay transfer to prevent overcharging of storage fibres, and hold water as ice during freezing cycles to extend water harvest over time for continuous running of the system.

Figure 4. Mechanical Transfer

Weighted fibres planted on a slope transfer water to a downslope collector.

Figure 5. Multiple Capture Mechanisms

1Subsoil water moving by gravity is slowed by pumps before being deposited in 2holding ponds of subsoil water, which is augmented by 3precipitation and 4gravity fed water. This mechanisms allows a crop rooted in region 2 to have four water sources.

Figure 6. Integrated Pumping and Storage Nets

Fiber collectors and pumps on a slope (left) are interspersed with bulb collectors (See following entry.) and deliver water down slope to bulb (and tuber) collectors. In an organic model, on-slope bulb collectors (see entry below) can seed those on the horizontal plane below, which can be harvested for food or water. In a mechanical model, all bulb and tuber collectors can be used as micro-storage and harvested in series or through mechanical collection.


I have at least a hundred other ideas to sketch out like this, a great need to actually learn how to sketch in a comprehensible way (thanks for your patience), and all of them to work out in detail against the background of western physics, chemistry and biology. Linking these hypotheses to the knowledge within indigenous grassland languages and culture would form part of a complete approach. The ultimate goal is restoration of right relationships with the grass and all of its creatures, and the restoration of the knowledge, language and culture of its people. I think we can do this. I know we have to try, with all that we have.

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

Where: Alternator Centre for the Arts

Time: 6-8 p.m.

Date: Tuesday. This Tuesday. December 5.

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

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



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

… and this guy’s Mexican woes.

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


The Teachings of Water

When I look into the water I see blurred shapes. Or do I?

Are they not, rather, revealed ones?

Is this not a message from my body?
Is it not the intersection between opening through movement and movement through opening?

Is it not the lesson of the water that they are the same? Is this not the blood speaking?

Is it not saying that life and the body each have their languages? and that they touch?

and that this is the mystery?

25% of Fruitgrowing Agricultural Productive Capacity in the Okanagan is Wasted

Here’s an industrial apple plantation after harvest. The trees are in long rain rows to facilitate mechanized farming, using multi-ton tractors and spraying equipment (combined weight of about 5 tonnes). After harvest, the impact of the equipment on the soil is plain to see. Average orchard compaction runs to 120 tonnes per year running alongside the tree rows per year.

I estimate that 25% of the soil above is heavily compacted, which means, effectively, it carries less than enough oxygen to adequately support life, reduces tree growth by up to 75%, dramatically reduces photosynthesis due to narrowing of leaf stomata, and increases production of ethylene gasses (hastening ripening in storage). Compensation will have to be made through increased fertilization, leading to decreased fruit flavour and increased orchard nitrate run-off, compounded by the inability of the soil to hold water or water-based nutrients Think about it. There are 35,000 acres of vineyard and orchard in the Okanagan. For the benefit of mechanized production, about 25% of the soil surface is lost due to heavy equipment uses, or 8,500 acres, and the ability of the trees and vines to prosper on the other 26,500 acres is reduced by up to 75%. Is that a fair trade?  We could effectively eliminate heavy equipment and free up 8500 acres for new production, which would be enough land for between 850 and 1700 young farmers. While you’re wondering about that, here is that orchard two years ago. Have another look…

See the leaves that the frost has dropped below the trees Those brown strips are lying on weed-sprayed land. As you can see, another quarter of the land has been sprayed with weed-killers.  Between compaction and weed-killing, in other words, only 50% of the land is reacting naturally to the atmosphere, and the land is potentially carrying only 50% of the microbes needed to feed these trees, requiring yet more artificial nutrients. Presumably, a system of managing the trees and the removal of the crop without the heavy equipment would be subsidized by decreased nutrient use, increased tree health and productivity, and decreased capital dependency, all offset by an increased entrepreneurial pool. Ah, why not have a look in the winter, before you make up your mind:

This expensive system of posts and wires is designed to eliminate labour, allowing for this land to be farmed with a minimum of employment and a maximum of capital investment. In other words, those 850 farmers would be working on this land if it weren’t for this mechanized system that has replaced them. Not only would the land be healthier, but so would the community. If you think of it, though, apples are shipped to packing facilities in 800 pound containers. There they are loaded into 32 pound containers, or even 20 pound ones, before being shipped to market. It would take a lot to convince me that we couldn’t eliminate the weight load on orchards by moving the fruit out of the orchard on lightweight fruit-bearing systems (they exist), even ones that made use of the pole systems. At  $25,000 -$75,000 per orchard/vineyard acre, a 30 acre orchard revitalizing its 25% lost land would have an instant land investment of between approximately $250,000 and $750,000. I am sure a system could be worked out for a tiny fraction of that benefit. Mind you, we could also talk about the 25% of fruit-growing land that is currently idle in the Greater Kelowna area, due to land speculation and gentrification issues. If that number holds for the entire value, then we need to revise our figures: 50% of Okanagan fruitgrowing land, or enough for 1700 full time orchard owners and their families, is being wasted, right now, today, every day. Do you want to chop it up another way? Sure: something between 25% and 50% of the horticultural water in the Okanagan is being wasted, without even taking into account the need for increased irrigation to make up for poor plant vigour. And here’s the thing: we ran out of water in 1992. That was, again (what’s with these numbers?) 25 years ago.


A Sky Map of the City of Coldstream

Downtown Coldstream, on the valley bottom north of Kalamalka Lake,  is the hole in the centre of this map of clouds. The ribbed clouds below it are the eastern edge of its uplifting energy. The illuminated cloud in the foreground is related. It often hangs above Middleton Mountain, at the north end of Kalamalka Lake and the southern edge of Coldstream, at the confluence of the Coldstream and Priest valleys. Time and time again the pattern is repeated. When the illuminated cloud is being blown north (as it is here, slowly), it reforms within fifteen minutes. Similar mountains taking form in the air are evenly spaced behind it. What a beautiful map. What a beautiful dance of earth and sky.

Okanagan Woman and Magic

Strange, the things that come in the mail all on their own. There I was reading over coffee, looking over a manuscript about this valley, and thinking about the mail. So I got the mail. “Okanagan Woman” came in the mail. I think she was a message. But what?  Are there forces out there which wish to speak to us? Is this the only way they can speak? If so, what is she trying to say?

What about women who aren’t white ancestral figures? What do they make of approaches like this from the long pre-modern history of the Baltic? I don’t know. What about the real power of spirits like that — Hans Anderson’s 1844 “The Snow Queen” is mentioned in the magazine — who froze children’s hearts? She is a combination of ancient gnostic religion, the Lady of the Lake, the well at the root of the Tree of the World, from which the god Oðin received blindness and sight (in the form of two ravens) and a Christian sermon. There is also a troll, who creates suffering, in place of Eden’s more familiar snake. Is she telling me to stop reading Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash, which neatly dissects the class conflicts that created White culture in these grasslands, by showing their long, long roots in elite culture and its relationship to slavery, and worse? I don’t know. I am deeply troubled though. Perhaps, though, this is not what the reference is. It’s about beauty, certainly. Perhaps this is what this creature from deep in the ancestral past has become now, courtesy of the robots in Seattle (see below). Friendly stuff. But is it friendly? And Is it beautiful? What do I know. I’m not a good commentator, because I do take ancestral memory seriously, and I don’t jest about spiritual power and I don’t find class behaviour particularly beautiful. Many, however do. Look below.

Thanks, Robots of Google

So much devotion and labour has gone into all of these images, I don’t think they have anything to do with the Snow Queen at all. Still, it troubles me. Should these ancient powers of darkness — a Wicked Witch of the West who melts to water at the touch of a pure heart — be called forth so casually? Is this what an Okanagan woman is now? Why? Who hurt her that much? What is she afraid of? Yes, fear. Look.


But not just fear. It opens into desire. Look. Inside, she opens up. She melts!



And why does she look so bruised? I’m sure she speaks to a lot of women and a lot of hurt (and there’s more than enough to go around), but what I’m puzzled by is how a group of people could live in an indigenous valley, apply a European concept of winter to a complicated set of interwoven grassland seasons, pull in an image from Northern Europe, of a white woman laboriously turned into an image of pure Whiteness (whatever that is), couple it with aristocratic flourishes circa 1790 and a dangerous dressing in elven motifs (surely trouble) and then ship it all out as a message — and, if the cover means anything, a celebration of holiday. In my experience, you don’t take such liberties with the gods. Do the editors of this magazine feel they are immune? I feel like they are playing with plutonium. But what do I know. I am 59 years old, male, and my hair looks like hers above without the hours of makeup work. Not much of the golden colour anymore, either. Death has me in her sights. Is that who created this magazine and shipped it out?  Is that who is staring out laughing through those eyes? Ah, but the editors were thoughtful. They put a magic carpet on the back of the magazine to whip us away to safety.

Is buying a magic carpet the way to save oneself from peril? Might one want to try some real magic? Might one just walk?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. But now I’m wondering: what kind of spiritual message was the last white thing that came unexpectedly in the mail?

It’s starting to become a thing.

Fall Rain in the Grasslands

So, it rains, right. 35 centimetres of snow have already melted. Now the rain.

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.

And the sun.

Melting stuff, even through the clouds of rain.

So, that’s fun.

But what’s it all going to do? Flow away? Not if we can help it! Let me introduce my friends, the beavers of the dry hills, the water keepers!

Look at them hold onto that rain!

They are not going to let it go, not these girls.

No way.

Or at least not yet. This is the grassland equivalent of a storage dam, a big lake in the mountains holding back the rivers so that the soil (and the roots) aren’t oversaturated, and moving the water out to the root tips, where bacteria can use it to dissolve minerals (for the roots) and roots can draw it in. In this case, when the wind comes and that sun will start drying things out again instead of just warming them up, well, down will come the stored rain, bridging the drying effect, and keeping the soil wet until the frost comes. Run off is prevented in this way. Soil health is protected from the air in this way. Isn’t this a beautiful aerial lake?

And my other sisters, the ponderosa pines, are in on it too. Look at them carefully aligning the water beneath their branches. When it falls, it will water the dryest parts of the soil, the ones protected by the needles.

Not only that, but look at this young one drawing the rain in, shedding it off her waxy needles, and then holding it on their rough undersurfaces. Right now, she is breathing through a cooling veil of water. It’s a kind of hibernation.

Not only that, look how needles, splayed horizontally by the weight of water, hold water droplets between them in stronger bonds, by their naturally-occuring capillary tension, making capillaries in the air. That’s a technology that can be adapted to water storage and transport systems. Yet other sisters in the grasslands use the rain to keep their fruit fresh, and keep a nice healthy bacterial environment, so the frosts of January and the sun of February can set those bacteria to work breaking down the acids of these fruits to sugar …

… right when the birds will need it. Until then, beauty keeps humans in thrall.

But who would mind with a grassland team like this?