Water in Fire Country

The Okanogan River (left) Entering the Columbia

At the mouth of the Okanogan River, which begins with snow melting on the rocks above my house in mid-winter, water is privately owned, whether flooding the old Hudson Bay Company potato fields in the background right above, or the southern flats of the Colville Federated Tribes’ Territory (foreground left). That’s the way things work in this stretch of my valley: the bounty of the earth is transformed into individual wealth, which is then leveraged for profit. The only land-based health comes through the process of flooding you see above, which is called wilderness, a term to indicate the romance that silences native land in the West. Strangely enough, fires on private land alienated from water, are fought with public funds, just as the use of fear and public funds were used to fight imagined native aggression in 1858 and 1891 at the site in the image above. When there is talk of wilderness in this valley, it is talk of the dispossession of people and water, which are the same thing.

The Earth is Alive

We are not alone.

This is fantastic news.

Burrow in the Valley

It looks like the resident is at home, too, waiting out the months of bad hunting. Such times of rest and waiting can last over two months.

Here’s what’s likely a foraging burrow:

The Mouth of the Earth

Here’s what the creator of that burrow looks like:

American Badger Source
One of Canada’s most endangered species. I first came upon one digging under a ponderosa pine high above the Similkameen in 1973. It’s good to meet again.

What does a badger ask of life? Marmots and ground squirrels to eat, and dirt to dig in. A bit of sun. No cars. Cars are rough on badgers. They are otherwise tolerant of humans, although humans are not very tolerant of badgers, probably because they’re so darned solitary. Badgers come together briefly to mate, mothers hang out with their young, and then the wanderlust hits them and they flow off into the land, wherever they can find something to eat. They have been known to move 110 kilometres in a season. Which is good, as long as they stay off the roads.

The Major Predator of Badgers Source

The badgers that have recently colonized the Marmot Ridge Golf Course in 100 Mile House, far to the north of the Okanagan, have a terrible commute.

Male badgers maintain a number of burrows and keep moving, often day by day by day. Overall, badger behaviour similar to that of otters in our Interior lakes, who fish like crazy and then move to another lake system when the fishing gets poor. I find the relationship between such animals and the land to be an invaluable guide to seeing our way into the future, such as here:

Okanogan Valley, Riverside Washington
Humans have colonized the grizzly bear habitat of the valley bottom, as well as the lower slopes (the best badger territory tends to occur on the edges of forested areas and grass.) If we were to lose the badgers, too, the land, we’d begin to think that the land was ours.

Here’s how math works, badger style, I think: sun + soil + a little bit of water = grass. Grass + marmots = badgers. However, humans also inhabit marmot territory, which goes like this, I think: Grass-grass = humans + cows = humans. Hmmm. Here’s what I mean:

Marmot Habitat Stacked up in Pleasing Aesthetic Shapes.

Omak, Washington. (No badgers.) 

In much of Western North America, this is what is goes for an artistic installation. Art here gets expressed through economic metaphors. Here’s another installation in the series:

Abandoned Packinghouse at Similkameen Mouth (Ellisforde Washington)
Seemingly, humans are as good at abandoning habitat as badgers are. Like badgers, we leave behind our, um, foraging burrows. This is not the first lost opportunity, either. There used to be three Similkameen villages in this location. Three. Villages.

Luckily for us all, badgers generously accept all the land as their own. For instance, this kind of thing means nothing to badgers:

Cross-species Nonsense

This is the right place for this kind of old-fashioned thinking.

Badgers give us entrance into the land. In the process, they leave 3-D maps of where they have gone, such as:

The Okanagan Underground
Note the claw marks.

When the land is alive like this, so are humans. What’s more, it puts human habitat in perspective, which is always good:

Okanogan River, Riverside Washington

This is not the Okanogan. It is a line of habitat that snakes through other planes and hillsides and cliffs and lines of habitat. Together, those habitats are the Okanogan. It’s not just the water that flows.

When we inhabitat a habitat, and learn to work with its processes, it doesn’t mean, necessarily, that we inhabitat all the habitats in which it is embedded. It means, rather, that we move through a network of energy flows.

That is one of the things to learn from badgers.