No More Wild Fires Please

It is a catastrophic summer in the Interior of British Columbia. Close to 15,000 people have been evacuated from their communities. Indigenous communities who refuse to leave are isolated. Read about the grim situation at Anaham here: The question of why these people have chosen to stay in the face of catastrophic fire, isolation and great danger can be answered only in troubling ways. They are, however, simple enough. The tsilqhot’in are this place of fire. There is no evacuation. A lot of this has to do with a century and a half of great cultural hurt, but there’s a positive story here as well. Perhaps this image from the height of this land, at the crest of the Yellowstone Plume, in the great caldera that is the heart of winter …

…and fire on this continent and which anchors our country, Cascadia, like the eye of a pool in one of her rivers displays something of the answer:

A pine rooting on the face of the cooled molten plume, from this post about my journey to the height of the land:

If we call these uncontrollable and violent fires “wild fires”, we are participating in the environmental destruction that has created them rather than in the solutions that will control them. Until then, they will remain gothic and destructive, like the nineteenth century creations that they are. At the moment, of course, we must protect our homes and our loved ones, with all the vigour we can bring to this terrifying and important work, but let’s do it in a way that leads directly to the future that must follow this catastrophe of environmental mismanagement. Let’s call these fires by their correct names. They are not wild. Fire lives in this plateau. Smoke, such as obscured Okanagan Lake below, is the natural form of summer here.

Through neglect to honour fire’s primary place, it has been called into violent incarnation by excess fuel. The explosive sage below, above my house, is a bomb waiting to explode, and it’s the creation of bad resource policy. It can be fixed. We will have to be doing this in the next few years.



To say these horrific fieres are wild, is to say that an abstract notion of fire is fire’s base state, and that fire that escapes the boundaries of the controls of intellectual understanding is “wild”. That’s insulting. In Cascadia, wild fire control began a bit more than a century ago, to protect the nationalized forests made out of depopulated native space for the benefit of industrial and recreational use. This management regime was a replacement for indigenous fire management, in land forcibly removed from indigenous control. The indigenous understanding was based on living within space. The replacement, modern civilization, declared the land wild and foreign to human consciousness. That was a lie. Fire remains far bigger than any human or any collection of humans. Perhaps the image below of when the grassland hill above my house burnt a few years back and the fire turned to life within a few weeks can illustrate the edges of the tsilqhot’in resistance to evacuation. Within a few weeks, this:

Nootka Rose Sprouting from Cooked Rock

Let’s bring the irresistible force of living and destructive and creative fire within our social group and develop strategies to tame it. It’s coming to us anyway, horrifically. Yes, let’s save our homes, our farms, our communities, our forests, and our lives with all the effort we can bring to it, but let’s then move on to build a society that recognizes that fire is the natural state of this place.The failure to create civilized, or artful, fire within organic environments such as grasslands and forests, except at moments of catastrophe when fire sweeps in waves across the land due to being ignored for too long and its potential disrespected, is also a created state, but not one of which we should in any way be proud. And I want to be proud of how we live with fire. This work can wait until the crisis is over, but we can start now in a small way, by throwing away that awful racist term: wild fire. The time for that was 160 years ago, two weeks ago, today, and tomorrow. Fire is here to stay. Let’s hope we are too.




A Short History of Whiteness in Cascadia

It’s not a physical thing.

Apricot in Her White Gown

White is a tricky, racial word. Here’s a small piece of a meditation on it from my book in progress, Commonage: The War for the Okanagan.

In English in these parts between Northern Oregon and Alaska and Western Montana to Haida Gwaii, “White” applies to people of Caucasian background, as long as both of their parents are Caucasian; people whose parents might include a Scots Hudson’s Bay Company trapper and a Cree woman from Manitoba are deemed to have negated all “White” rights, or at least it started out that way. People such as Hudson Bay Company Factor Peter Skene Ogden’s wife Julia, whose parents were Sanpoil and Nez Perce yet who was raised by a French Canadian-Cree trapper after her mother’s second marriage, was accorded civilized rights by the British but not by the Americans. People such as the Oblate missionary Charles Pandosy, who came to love the Yakama and despise the Americans yet betrayed the Yakama to the US Army in 1855 to protect it from a war it could not win, was occasionally accorded “White” status, despite being Catholic, but Father Nobili, who built a mission at the Head of the Lake Village at a) Nk’mp, or Osoyoos Lake, b) Garnet Valley, or Summerland, or c) Head of the Lake on Okanagan Lake, in 1840, wasn’t, probably because he was Italian, and Italians weren’t “White” in those days, although they are now. It was all very complicated. From an indigenous perspective, “White” actually applies to the dried white salmon of Mnassatas Creek, where this story took the form of a fish and saved Pandosy from starvation brought on by his own ignorant notion that he was living in a wilderness. This salmon was white because sockeye salmon harvested far up in their watersheds, when they’ve gone into their red spawning colours and have devoured all the fat in their bodies after a long journey, develop a white crust over their red flesh when split the traditional Yakama way and dried in the wind. So, yeah, if the Yakama were calling a man a “White,” they probably meant the red sunburn he got out in the shrub steppe and the white, peeling scab that followed a few days later.
No doubt, the Yakama knew the Christian symbol, Ichthos the fish, and stories of Christ as the Fisher of Men in the “wilderness” of the desert of Galilee. I’d be surprised if they didn’t. Swapping fish stories would be a good connection for any missionary trying to convert fishermen in the “wilderness” of the Columbia Plateau — a country in which salmon were people, in an age in which the children of salmon fishers were dressed in white to be baptised by priests. Some jokes are too good to pass up.


The Spirit Whale of the Okanagan

Here’s what might sound at first like a fantastical story, but it does end with a deeply practical point. I hope you enjoy it! To start, look at the spirit whale of the Okanagan at the end of a winter day. The first people who came through here 12,000 years ago were ice-edge hunters from the ocean to the West. They would have known about whales moving through leads in the ice. The trees in the foreground would have been underwater then.p1480903

Look at the big fin of the whale’s tale to the south. That’s quite the whale.p1480921

Over time, she has risen from the water. The purple line below was the lake shore 12,000 years ago. The red one, 10,000 or so. The drop was rapid in each case.


As you might just be able to make out above, when the tide was in (so to speak), the whale’s tail would have had three heads. Its fin would have been hidden. Swinging to the left, her head would have looked like this:


She was underwater, that’s what she was. Her body was a canoe full of animals. That would have been intimate knowledge to oceanic ice-edge hunters, and common to a number of indigenous flood stories. Look below for a closer look of the prow. The whale’s head is just a tiny island, leading the way like a porpoise. In this image, the ancestral animals who are the cargo are more clear.


The image below shows the stern of the canoe again, as it would have appeared above the lake, blunt-nosed as we would expect, with two trails of froth. The stern itself is a clown’s head, a motif we see on hundreds of sacred rocks in the Pacific Northwest. Whatever the reasons are is a discussion for another day. For now, let’s just be present on this ancient shore.


There’s no way of knowing if people viewed the whale this way or not 12,000 years ago, but one thing is certain: over the course of half a day she lifted out of the water and left behind a lake in the shape of a snake. Two thousand years later, she did it again. Today, that snake is called, derisively, Ogopogo. With more respect, but in equally colonial terms, she is called a lake. That discrepancy between spiritual and European knowledge is worth keeping in mind, when assessing my story of the mountain that is a whale: whether they are indigenous or scientific, story-tellers bring their knowledge and see it reflected in conversation with the forms of the land. People who come from that land, however, see the spirit first.

p1480907As a man, if that’s what I am and not “tree walking” or something like that, what I see in the image above is my self. I can’t say I understand this, or do not. “Understanding” is the wrong concept to apply to that presence, and can only access deep threads of European knowledge and explanation. Like “lake” or “mountain”, however, such activity comes from somewhere else and does not describe the bond between my body, spirit and mind and those of the land. Even “land” is the wrong word for this stuff. I seem to be evolving past words. What’s next, I wonder.

Ancient Waves Live On

These drainage waves were formed 10,000 years ago when a lake as large as a sea filling the valley below my house drained in half a day. They are still catching sun and water, in the forms of heat and cold..p1480024

In other words, the lake is still alive. It only seems so long ago because of our individual life times and generational change… but it’s still that moment long ago. Wondrous!

The Pacific Northwest is Not the Southwest

Here’s a place. Squeezed in between the United States and Greenland. Canada.canada-relief-map

Best to stand right-way up.

Lately, I’ve heard the strangest thing.  I’ve heard that my part of the country…canada-relief-map

… is called the Southwest. The Canadian Southwest. This was in reference to the name the region often goes by: the Pacific Northwest. Here it is in 1844, just before the 49th Parallel Canadian border (pink and grey on the right) was drawn across it, cutting it in two.


That’s an American view, on an American military map. You can see the remnants of the Canadian Northwest in the following image (note the blue oval). As you can see, it goes right up into the Arctic. In fact, a quarter century ago, it was all of the Canadian Arctic, right up to Greenland.


If you didn’t know the place, you might think this Southwest Canada stuff made sense. Ah, that’s where politics come in. For Instance, in 1752, the best map looked like this:


Note the big sea where there is no sea.


Basically, this part of North America (under that sea that is not a sea but possibly a memory of glacial melt events 12,000 years ago) is un-mapped. Here it is (below) in 1756. As you can see, no map of the region at all, really.


And 1795. By this time the coast is mapped…but nothing else. As I mentioned above, there is a name for this “empty space.” It is the Pacific Northwest.preview

It comes by this name along two routes. First, as the map below shows well, it is Northwest of what was then the centre of European civilization in North America, the Caribbean, which was colonized by the Spanish in 1492.3213606740_9e642903a4_o

Yup, that’s where I live: in Parts Unknown. Note the totally inaccurate Columbia River at the bottom, but, hey, at least it’s there.


This was a continent controlled by Spain (Southwest) and France (Northeast, and the centre of the continent, right down to the Gulf of Mexico), with tiny English colonies on the East Coast (later the United States) and an English trading area in the Far North. Much of Southern New France eventually went to Spain, and from there to the United States, in the Louisiana Purchase. Much of New Spain went to the United States in the American-Mexican War. But that great empty area, the goal of exploration, remained the Northwest.



So, that’s the first Northwest. The second has to do with the English and French colonies on the east coast. Here’s a later map (below) of New France. In my part of the country, this is called the East, although there it is called the Centre. The English colonies are on the far right. Everything else is French.


In other words, everything is the West, except for a narrow strip along the Atlantic. That’s the English view. The French view was that everything was the West that was West of Montreal. Here’s Montreal (below), the trading city of New France. The wealth of a continent, north, west and south, flowed through here:


No surprise that the trading company out of Montreal was called the Northwest Company, since it traded in those regions of New France that were north of old French territory on the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s a Northwest map.


There are many others. Here’s one from 1810 that shows the Northwest interests in today’s United States. Note that Oregon Territory (today’s Pacific Northwest) is the territory of Great Britain, the United States and Spain. Below it is Mexico. In the centre of the continent is Lousiana (now Spanish). To the right is the expanded United States, with British Territory to the North. France is out of the picture. The red arrow is St. Louis.



St. Louis was the American fur trade headquarters, for all fur trading into Louisiana and Mexico. Canadian trade was still coming West from Montreal, in what is now known as Lower Canada (in the upper right.)  By this time, the eastern part of the Northwest is now called the West (today’s Mid-West) and Louisiana is still largely French-speaking. Please note that those families did not go anywhere. They are still there, but had a new culture, and a new language, given to them by colonization from the United States. The only area unexplored at this point was that area claimed by three countries in the upper left. It was politically dangerous to explore it. It was only when Spain was knocked out of contention, and it was just a disputed region between Britain and the USA, that it was given a Name: Oregon. Or the Pacific Northwest, to distinguish it from the other Northwest, which was now in the middle of the continent. Here is my Northwest, in a satellite view. Isn’t she beautiful? We call her Cascadia now.


She has an old history, rooted in the French people who moved across the continent and intermarried with indigenous families, and took on their cultures. The arrow shows where I am living as I talk to you about this.pacnw_satellite_cropped-copy-2

To call this the Southwest of Canada is a complete erasure of a long French history, over three centuries older than the nation state of Canada and of the history of this place. The people of this history are Canadians, with more right to the term than most citizens of the nation state. Our heritage here is primarily with people in Quebec (Lower Canada), Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Northern California and Wyoming, and secondarily with the North and with the French culture on the Prairies. Canada, the 1867 British nation state, comes a long, long, long way down the list. It’s not that we’re not proud to belong to Canada here, but our history does not live within these borders:


We’re proud of that, too, because it is that old history that makes us who we are, not the new history of a country still trying to reshape it. So, the Pacific Northwest, or Cascadia, please. We are citizens of the continent out this way.




The Okanagan in the Year 11,748

This is pretty cool. It’s the Carte Des Nouvelles Decouvertes Au Nord de la Mer de Sud, Tant a l’Est de la Siberie et du Kamtchatcka, Qu’a l’Ouest de la Nouvelle France, drawn by Joseph Nicholas De L’Isle and Philippe Buache in Paris in 1752.


There is no record of Europeans having been here to draw a map, but what the heck, here it is. This map is centred on the North Pacific.


Here’s the North American half of it.


See that? That inland sea, the Mer (ou Baye) de l’Ouest?


Whatever information the map-makers were working from, they have the rudiments of Vancouver Island, bits and pieces of the Columbia and Fraser Rivers, broken and not always in the right place, and this mysterious sea. Here’s the country today.


The Pacific Northwest and the Western North

Red Circle: Chilcotin Basalt; Blue Circle: Columbia Basalt; Green Arrow: Home Sweet Home

The Mer de l’Ouest precisely lies on top of the Chilcotin Basalt, a plateau of flood basalts in the centre of British Columbia, matched by the larger Columbia Basalt in today’s Washington State. Both are related to the arcs of volcanoes along the coast. Here’s the map of the Sea of the West again.


Now, much of this land was covered in water at the end of the last ice age, 12,000 years ago, in large meltwater seas following and spilling over the valleys. The four islands on the map could very well have been prominent orientation points. Intriguingly, they correspond very closely to secwepemc territory, centred on today’s city of Kamloops.


Secwepemc Nation

 What’s more, this sea pretty much fits to the ancient span of the grasslands at the north of the Columbia Plateau and the eastern half of the Chilcotin Basalt. This is the traditional home of the plateau peoples.


Is that not our Sea of the West?


A sea of ice that became a sea of grass, with four peaks, islands on the map, marking the boundaries of Secwepemc territory? Who talked to these mapmakers? How old do these memories go? 12,000 years?

Land of Beautiful Water Without Name

Lake, right?P1050165

Big lake, big fun!P1050170

Pshaw. 150 metres above that lake.

P1150539 Rocks! Not just any rocks, either.P1150538 Lake rocks, river rocks, and rocks that have fallen off a cliff, all together. We’re talking shores.

Glacial lakes the size of seas, rivers flowing beside glacial arms, and debris carried by the glacier and dropped here when it melted, on the ancient floor of the sea…


… which the ice rounded off nicely into waves. The image below would have been deep underwater 11,000 years ago.


The land looks dry. With red-tailed hawks doing lovely fly-bys.

P1140386 But it’s water.

P2240611 P2240602 P2250624

On the Coast, water flows.



P2280228 P2290243Here it causes flowing.

bloom p1010342 P2310454

red toe kal

Same thing. Same water. Same presence, just falling there as rain and lifting into the air here and carrying you with it.


Some call this land Cascadia. That’s only the half of it.


I left names off of the images here in the hope that it would help you see them all as one.


Cascadia: the Braided Land

It’s great to look out to sea.P2250980

It weaves.


Then it strikes the land.


The land weaves, too.


Any way you look at it, it weaves.P2260520

The beach, too. Here the sun gets woven into the basket.


You get to walk on the sun.P2290519

Or through it.


Heart mysteries here.


Even the pebbles of the strand are woven.


You can pick them up, carry them for awhile, and then lay them down and make a wish. Then you are woven in there, too.


There is no end to the ways in which you can be woven into deep time.

P2260007Such stories.P2260654All within one story!

P2260658 It is the story of your blood.

redstone It is not the sea. It is also the land carrying the sea back out at the same time the sea carries the land back out at the same time the land stays behind at the same time the sea uses the land as an anchor.

P2260666In this way, the floors of ancient beaches become the ground of new ones.swirlingstoneThey dive deep under the earth and then rise up.


Look how the deep earth has broken old sands apart and then bound them together with hardened glass created by seawater heated 100 kilometres below you, and now touching your feet.P2260293Look at the pebbles, worked loose from petrified beaches, roll again in the light.


Look how the tides, created by the moon …

P2270934… use a tiny piece of solidified gas, heated by water and earth, to remake the moon in the ancient shore that is new again.P2260332 It does it a billion times at once, in a billion different ways.P2260373 It is a language.P2260377 Your body knows how to read it.P2260379You know how to flow with it.


You know how to braid …


… to cord …


… to rope …


… to knot …


… to twine …


and to twist.


You know how to enter the weaving and walk within the moon and cast for the spirit of the river.


You moon creature, you.P2260388 You stone person.P2260535 You are walking through the weave.P2260570You are stone being made in the shape of the water being made by the earth in the shape of the moon.


You are very close to your voice.P2260157 You are speaking now.P2260167

You aren’t going anywhere.


Where would you go that wasn’t a place you had already arrived.P2280519

You who are woven with the sun.P2280630 You who are the water the sun and the earth braid into channels.P2280566

You who are facing the moon.


Then swimming out into it.


You who are already flying back in.


Come, we have made a place for you among us.


In the flow.P2280230

In all its pools.P2260550

All of us together.P2280578

All of us.





The Ethics of Living on the Earth

Canada administrates half of my land as a nation state. The United States administrates the other half. Within Canada, the region called British Columbia administrates half of my land in terms of regional issues. Within the United States, the region called Washington administrates half of my land in terms of a separate set of regional issues. The national border lying between British Columbia and Washington ensures that most citizens of my country are unaware that their country extends south or north of an imaginary line. It gets more bizarre. The regional government of British Columbia serves the city of Vancouver, which lies in British Columbia but not within my land. The regional government of Washington serves the city of Seattle, which lies in Washington but not within my land. Both Vancouver and Seattle are important port cities in their nation states (Canada and the United States), and are their respective links to the nation states of Eastern Asia. These two cities manage my country for the purpose of maintaining their power as city states within separate nation states. What’s more, the national governments of Canada and the United States manage British Columbia and Washington, including my country, for the purposes of maintaining their identities as nation states. The cultural identity these constructs were created to support lie on the Eastern half of North America. This is done deliberately. Truth is, my country is an ancient volcanic region east of the stratovolcanoes of the Cascade and Coast Mountains of Western North America, which, bizarrely enough, are the same range. As for politics, the southern half of my country is divided  into several voting regions, represented by different politicians. If they are to discuss the affairs of my country, or at least of their half of it, they have to meet independently of the governments of which they are a part, as there is no mechanism for their meeting together. The same happens in the northern half of my country. In both cases, the affairs of my country become through this process subordinated to the affairs of distant cities, with foreign cultures, and must be conducted through the desires of those cities and the states they serve, if they are conducted at all. It is remarkably inefficient. Negotiations are cumbersome and involve large-scale national and international negotiations and treaties. A huge amount of energy goes into this work, which is work conducted not to support my country and its ability to bring forth life and to sustain it, but to control (or foster, it all depends) the aggressive tendencies of humans. These are the practicalities of human life, which is social, complex, and rather mad. The only thing is, my country is poor, where it was once rich. More people live here now, but the land produces less and sustains fewer species in fewer numbers. You could say that in the main the people who live here do not live here. That is an ethical definition I would like to place on the table. If one lives on one’s land, one works to sustain it, not to rebuild it in the form of a distant place. You have to plant something. You have to support something. You have to make something more connected to the earth. You have to enrich the physical country and its people, or you are only living in a nation state, in a state, in a province, in a city state and its hinterland, or some other combination of human social networks. They are vital and important things to humans, but they are killing the earth. Something is missing, and that is as obvious as anything in the world. The earth is missing. It has to be given a seat at the table. When we sit down to talk, as we must, because we are humans, we need to sit down with the people with whom we share common interest, and we need to have a place at the table for the earth and its other creatures. Without that, the earth will continue to die. Every view of land or landscape is an ethical act. This is ethics:

P1310905 This is ethics:

P1310402Meyer Family Vineyard, McClean Creek Road, Okanagan Falls

It is not a business. This is ethics: P1300361Rail Line, Kalamalka Lake

It is not a transportation link for industry. This is ethics:

P1300323 Redroot Pigweed, Bella Vista Hills

It is not a weed. This is ethics:

noducksWetland, The Commonage near Predator Ridge

The turtles who live here must sit at the political table, or if they can’t we must change the table. If we don’t, we don’t live here, and we won’t, and the lake will continue to die, and this place, here, won’t be hospitable to human life. Thing is, though, I am from this place. I am this place. This is my country. My family did not come from here, but they came here, with the intent of becoming a part of this place — not a part of its social dynamic, but a part of the place itself. And it worked, and here I am, watching the citizens of distance countries and city states move in and transform the place in their own image. It is a profound forgetting. The work of Okanagan Okanogan has been a profound remembering. As humans, our place in the world is small but our effect is large. It is large because people forget, because people often choose to remain only within their social affairs. The very forms with which contemporary society is organized in this place, right down to its political divisions, ensure this outcome. All people are responsible. All landscape is ethics.  This is ethics:


This is not a bee. It is an image of a bee. It is human social act. That means it has an ethical dimension. Is it beautiful? Yes. That is an ethical judgement. Art is not aesthetic. Its purpose is not to beautify. Its purpose is negotiate ethical relations between human social networks and the planet, or God, if you will. It has always been that way. That it is not seen that way, is an issue of ethics and memory. What does it mean to remember? It means to put back together what has been broken by passing time. That is an unusual thing to say in a society that measures itself by a present that is never here, a past that has ceased to exist, and a future that will never arrive. “The moment is all,” is the slogan of contemporary times. Well, yes. It is. But it is not an insubstantial moment of time. It is all time and space in the world. It is all here. Look at it:


Swan Lake

This notion of time moving, that’s a human artwork. It is opening into itself, which is already here. It is a story. For the past two years, Okanagan Okanogan has been about learning to read it again. A pleasant task in front of me for this winter is to lay down the grammar of that reading and to lead to practical, ethical conversations and acts, ones which include the world. Much of this has passed through these nearly 700 posts. When it comes together, I think it will be astounding. It will be a country, and a map to that country, and a way of being in the world. Onward!