Gardens of Water

I left the garden today, and all its lettuces, kale, spinach and dill, and went up to the water, where the birches rise out of the cedars and the wild roses.

The ducks were feeding on the blue damselflies and shrimp as clear and white as clouds.

The water showed the directionality of the sun, the coloured space that was blue from one angle, green from another, and from another all gravity and tension.

To my ancestors, there were languages: the language of birch, the language of cedar and the language of water, and sometimes they joined together and then there was song, or consciousness. My ancestors began there in that offering.

Being together with these languages, at the point of their meeting, was like reading cloud or reading the sea room for the weather coming from the north.

I am learning this language again. Poetry was once the tool for speaking it in human form. I learned this art in an old age of the world from a man who had gone to the old ages of the north of the world to find it.

It still is this art. It still is this age of the world. It is still this old earth. It is still this new.

It should not, however, be confused with literature or “communication,” as beautiful as they are. It can be spoken of alongside beauty, if by beauty we mean balance or organic or earthly form.

Speaking it as a garden is not a confusion. From high lakes like this, water leaves the sky and enters the streams and pipes that take it to my red orach, my oregano and my egyptian onions. They drink this. I feed on this, and not just physically.

From high lakes like this, light leaves the sky and enters my garden, too, in a form fitting of these heights. As I am this land, I am this water. It is not, you can see, what is normally called human. Of course it isn’t. This is the old knowledge. It is not humanism. That is a beautiful but far different thing.

To my ancestors, the cupped hands, or the skull, were raised in thanks and blessing. Skold! they said. They didn’t mean the skull, but the bowl it made that held the mind. They didn’t mean the hands, but the bowl — the old world was scale, or Schale, as they said (and say) in German — that held, that was the power of holding, lifting up and offering and that created them through this offering or lifting up.


This is the holding up and the offering, this language of birch and cedar and water. This is where mind becomes.

This is the garden.

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?

Light and Shadow Weaving the Land

Isn’t it fine to climb out of the sedges of the wetlands … … and the bunchgrasses of the drylands just above them…

… into the pine grass high up …. P1170933

… among the trees again?


Interior Douglas Fir and Pine Grass on the Enderby Cliffs


The Great Divide and the Great Gift

Here’s where the grasslands divide in two. The river in the foreground is the Shuswap. That water flows into the Thompson, which flows into the Fraser, which flows into the Salish Sea and the Ish River country, and out to the Pacific through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.P1170957

The lake in the distance is 135-kilometre-long Okanagan Lake. I live above it behind the distant hill on the mid left. Okanagan Lake gathers water from the green space below the hills of the mid-left, flows into the Okanogan River, and from there into the Columbia and out to the Pacific over the Columbia Bar. These waters only meet again when waters from the Columbia drift north for hundreds of miles along the Pacific shore, in through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and into the Ish River country, where they mingle at last. The grass, however, is continuous, and is the true ocean here. I’m sharing this photo, because how often do you see the world dividing yet remaining the same, and coming together, although it was never separate? Okanagan Lake thrusts deep into this country and provides a passage between the two great grasslands of the Pacific Northwest. In return, the country gives it water.


Head of the Lake

Okanagan Okanogan is written from a spot just behind the intersection of the ridge in the middle of the image and the image’s left.

This is a gift never to be taken for granted. Thanks is always to be given. It is given here.

Ending the Fraser War

This is the fifth in a series of archived posts on building a sustainable Okanagan together. This one is about water. And fish. And property rights. Today we’re at Mud Lake. It’s also called Rosemond Lake. Mud Lake came first, I bet. At any rate, this is the view looking to the North shore of the lake. Mud Lake is closed to power boats. It’s pretty quiet.P1160938

Mara Lake is in behind that shore, just a few feet away.


It is noisy with power boats and is pretty much fished out. Maybe we can do something about that. You see, that gravel berm is not a natural shoreline. It’s the bed for a railway that no longer runs. In fact, before there was a railway there was no Mud Lake. There was just Mara Lake, pooling in a big wetland where the Shuswap River flows in. That wetland is now Mud Lake. It is the amputated lung of Mara Lake.


It’s connected by a narrow passage. You can go through it.

P1160953You can come out where you should have been in the first place, and where the lake’s nutrients should flow but only kind of seep, a bit.


The fish need to live in cold water. Mud Lake doesn’t provide it, but fish need to eat, too, and Mud Lake provides that. It just needs to be flushed into Mara. What’s more, if the Shuswap River flowed there again, its cooler water would aid fish reproduction, while the wetlands would help clean the river. At the moment, it spills its muddy runoff for a couple kilometres out into the lake. That’s bad for fish. So, look again:

Mara Lake was amputated from its lungs to build a railway, but the railway no longer runs. This is easy to fix.  Here are the ripples from my kayak passing over the life-giving organs of Mud Lake.


Land and water alienated for a public purpose should not become private property when that purposes passes. This is a principle that occurs again and again throughout the Okanagan, as railroads, roads and irrigation systems are decommissioned. Mud Lake, just off the Okanagan’s northern tip, is a clear example of how much we could achieve. The privatization of water has led to one kind of investment … a kind we no longer need nor use anymore. The system of privatizing water and land solely on a first-industrial-user basis was a compromise laid onto common law by the Fraser War of 1858, when a couple dozen Englishmen stared down 40,000 armed American miners who had just slaughtered a few thousand British Columbians and were eager to kill more without an excuse not to. One of the consequences was Mud Lake. Fortunately, we no longer need corridors for transportation. The system was successful — so successful that no we have too many. What we need now are planes, for staying. We need Mara Lake to be reborn. We need the war to be over.

Teaching Children the (Hard) Way

When water systems are used as reservoirs …

N0000295.RAWRosemund Lake, Flooded

… people move between the trees, and are dwarfed by them.N0000303.RAWHere’s how we teach our children that…


Children’s Playground, Chief Joseph Dam, Washington

The plastic is the way a petroleum culture can talk about natural forces. Here, children get to be the water flowing over the dam (at least in their minds). Then they land on the artificial volcanic cinders (in a  land of volcanic cinders) made out of petroleum-based rubber and bounce. That is what they experience. Children learn this lesson well. When they are adults, they are likely going to have to find a way to undo the damage.Maybe, if they’re lucky, they’ll get in a kayak and pass among the trees and be small…

N0000299.RAW… and suddenly realize that they are approaching something they have no words for, and for which symbolic representations don’t exist. They might choose to keep moving into that realization. I hope so



The Birth of Language on Mara Lake

Two fish stare from deep in the subconscious, in rocks that naturally wear into patterns humanly recognizable as faces.P1230723

Mara Lake

It’s a good place for some magic. Here’s a couple other fish, with their staring days done.

alsoinupperrightShaman With Two Stripped Fir Branches for Drying Fish, Mara Lake

After all, this is rock with many lines of power running through it.

P1230537Not just regular bands of cloud, either. Here’s a flowing of a more watery kind.

P1230546If you’re going to speak your thoughts to the world, this is the place to do it. Might as well get it all down.

belowthesticksYour audience? The lake and the fish and the rock. This is all on a sheer cliff high above the water. Originally, these power drawings would have been allowed to weather and fade, until their power had passed into the lake, as does the rock itself.


It draws the power of the sky down as rain.


This is the shadow rain makes. It contains its energy.


Now, though, these pictographs are all carefully retouched, to preserve them as museum images…

sticks… by people who no longer speak this language of power. My guess is that that’s a botched turtle on the right. Make no mistake, though, the power still remains. For anyone with eyes to see, it’s clear that people read the rock long before they started leaving their own marks on it.


There’s much to read.


Skull in the Rock

Or is that much to write?


Another Skull

At any rate, power is so deeply ingrained in this rock that when it breaks up, its power is not less.


In fact, because it is portable, perhaps it is more.

P1230957Traditional pigments for writing on rock were salmon oil, which was locally sourced, and red ochre, which was traded from Tulameen in the south. Originally, the Tulameen people were Tsilqh’otin traders, carrying over half the continent from the obsidian streambeds of Anahim Peak, which is an outlier of the Rainbow Shield Volcano. Seemingly, the magic of ochre proved stronger than hi-tech weapons flaking in the end, because they gave up the obsidian trade 2000 years ago, but kept the ochre … well, up to the present, actually, at least here in Secwepemc territory. The thing about red ochre, or a power cliff reduced to a small stone on the beach …

P1230963 … is that you can pick it up and carry it and set it down somewhere else.P1230932 You can be, in other words, the rain, or the glacier. That’s powerful.

P1230969Does the magic work? Of course it does. It makes you pay attention and make the earth into a pattern that your consciousness then fills. The earth becomes an art form. Before long you can read your subconscious mind in this…

P1230543 … and carry around the power of the sea in a piece of old seabed like this …P1230966… among these volcanic islands that have drifted in from the middle of the Pacific so long ago. Scientific understanding is like the museum-artefact impulse: it freezes a process. Much practical power is gained. Much human power is lost. Humans came to consciousness here by making a language out of the earth. Reading this cliff would have been like reading the weather.

P1230855Or like reading this:

P1230112Things that stay in one place are, perhaps, not the things that endure. Language isn’t all for human ears, because humans didn’t invent it. They just paid attention to it. Ask the mountains about that. Or ask this person, floating above mountains far along on their slow journey back to the sea.