Post-Racial Geography, an Introduction

This is not indigenous land.
This is one of the main spiritual centres of my country, the Similkameen Valley. To call it indigenous, or native, land, is to adopt the words that make it into a silt bluff and Chopaka (below), another major spiritual story, into a mountain.

Land is a racial term. So is any separation between people and the stories it suppresses, including systems of law and governance.

Of Apricots and Organic Time

She’s a lovely one, Apricot.

She lures me. I have a body that is eager to be lured.

The blossoms are so pretty and smell so sweet. Finding fruit, and caring for it, is a task not done all at once.

 

It’s not that I am the domesticated one, or that Apricot is. We are in this together.

 

Well, plus Mme. Robin.

Yes.

Wooden People in the Similkameen

After forty-five years, a change of flavour!

It was the only sunny day forecast for a week, so today was the day. Up at dawn, and a two hour drive, to be greeted by apricots in full bloom.
There’ll be apples here in 3 years.

I cut the scion wood in March, wrapped it in cloth, and buried it in my onion garden. Today, eight hours making the world new, then two hours back home.

That’s a new sunrise in the foreground, and a new fuji in behind.

Fourteen in all! Six last year, and six the year before that (two varieties are going to have their first apples this year). Spring is fun! How did you celebrate it today?

 

Puddinhead Mountain Wakes

In the valley that raised me and gave me my children, the old volcanic country of the Similkameen, filled with the gravel glaciers gouged out of the Okanagan to the east, the mountains are the sky, and a form of weather.

This is the crest of Puddinhead Mountain at sunbreak this morning. If you’re from the prairies, you might be forgiven for wondering what all this rock is doing in the way of the sky, but if you’re from here you know: this is the sky. And it is breathing.

To watch it, you stand on a river of stones some 350 metres deep.

To climb the mountain is to enter the sky country, the Seeahpoo, the country of sight.

I met a badger on this mountain when I was twelve years old. This is not my spirit mountain, though. That’s a little to the south, but this is close, and she is waking with the year…

…and me with her. Who on earth mis-named her Puddinhead, and why? Does anyone know?

 

Reviewing David Pitt-Brooke’s Walk Through the Grasslands

I spent the early winter reading a beautiful and, unfortunately, incomplete book: Crossing Home Ground, by David Pitt-Brooke. It records an epic walk through the grasslands of Southern British Columbia: my own home ground. My detailed review was just published today in The Ormsby Review. You can read my review here (with beautiful photos by Pitt-Brooke): http://bcbooklook.com/2017/01/26/in-praise-of-grass/#more-30105. I’m thrilled that it is out. My goal in writing the review was to honour the book and the conversation of which it is a part. I’d like to show you a few images from that context. They are beyond the scope of the book, but help to anchor its discussions, I think. Here’s the mouth of the Okanagan River, as it enters the inundated Columbia. It is here that the private armies that invaded the Okanagan in 1858 crossed the big river on their way north, and it is here that scouts tagged invaders for later skirmishes in the Okanagan and Similkameen.

mouth

This is The Forks, a major stopping point on the ancient trail to the deep north and the Hudson’s Bay company brigade trail that followed it. It is here that the route forked, to the Similkameen Valley to the distant left (the trail is a county road now, as you can perhaps make out), and to the Okanagan to the right. The image shows the Similkameen River joining the Okanogan.Tforks2

This is some of the Similkameen Grassland, above the Similkameen Gorge and looking towards Hurley Peak in the Pasayten Wilderness. Pitt-Brooke camped high above this country, just over the Canadian Border behind you as you view this grassland, and looked down on it at dusk.hurley

High up on Kruger Mountain to the left in the image below. This is Richter Pass. That green hayfield in the bottom is lost Richter Lake, drained to grow sileage corn. This is British Columbia. The Washington side (above) is in better shape.

He saw farms down there in Washington. Well, mines.mine2 The grass in this country, as Pitt-Brooke accurately points out, is damaged, but not irretrievably. Here is some grass and sagebrush above Nighthawk, Washington.  chopaka3

Areas directly on the Hudson’s Bay Company Trail, such as Garnet Valley below, have suffered the worst — grassland ruins that have not created a lot of prosperity, either.garnet

Here’s one of the culprits at work in Priest Valley, above my house in the North Okanagan. She is being grazed on a landscape of invasive weeds. That’s dalmation toadflax around her. You can see she doesn’t like it. Rush skeleton weed, though, well, she likes that. Almost all the bunchgrass is gone. That looks like a stalk of needle-and-thread grass in her mouth.

That missing grass is the original human habitat, and almost none is left on earth. Our bodies were made for this landscape. This is who we are. Luckily, there is some left. Here’s some bunchgrass that is grazed responsibly in Farwell Canyon, in the Chilcotin.

This is the grass that Pitt-Brooke loves. So do I. Please read David’s book, and then go out yourself to see what you can see. You might see wonders, like the virtually pristine grassland in the bed of Dry Falls, a waterfall that was once 30 miles long, falling 300 feet over these basalt flood lavas, from a river 300 feet above them. The only weed here is one stalk of toadflax in the foreground.

Before this became a Washington State Park, it was a ranch. The grass came back. We can do this.

 

Spirit Mountains and Ice Rivers of the Similkameen

The Similkameen River makes a big bend to the east at the foot of Chopaka and Hurley Peak (the left and right peaks below)

A few ridges and fifty miles to the south, the spectacularly mis-named Starvation Mountain is their twin.

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After 12,000 years, this is still the spirit zone of the ice. We are the creatures who dwell in this energy zone. We call it the sky. Below is an image of their brother, K-Mountain, twenty miles upriver from Chopaka, in a spring dawn.

Isn’t that Sen’klip, Coyote, dressed all in white, playing his tricks on the mountain’s face? To live in the Similkameen is to live in a poem, with a refrain.

 

Chopaka: the Holy Mountain

At the height of the Cascade Mountains, at the lip of the North Pacific Rainforest, two rivers rise: the Skagit, which flows on through a dam system to provide water for Seattle and seeps on through its delta to overwinter the snow geese of Russia; and the Smlqmx, or the Similkameen, which turns off the other side of the source pebble shared by these two flows and snakes east, down into the dry country and past the sacred mountain at the centre of the world. This is the sacred mountain of the Syilx, the Smlqmx and the Sinlahekin, and all their brothers and sisters in this winding valley. This is the centre of the world, on the ancient Obsidian Road to the shield volcanoes.chopaka

That’s where I’m coming from. Those are my bones. That river is my blood. That air is my breath. My ancestors come from the foothills between the Polish plains and the mountains of Bohemia, and fill me with joy in northern and eastern Europe, but they’re awfully happy to have found the centre of the world, too. Ancestry, spirit and place. Why should those essentials be in conflict?