Global Warming is Half the Story

Naomi Klein has written a strong, compassionate article about this summer’s fires and hurricanes, and has illustrated it with stunning and heartbreaking photographs.

Her title suggests that her purpose may have been to answer the question as to why in a summer of wildfires and hurricanes “everything is going wrong.” She talks about global environmental catastrophe and big oil. If she were a Cascadian, she would speak about how land use policy, governmental and business policy towards Indigenous people and earth, American personal mythology, as well as forest policy, and water management policy errors have catastrophically intercepted the effects of Big Oil to create extreme situations. Every fire, and every hurricane, needs breakable conditions to create breakage. Ms. Klein also speaks about the necessity of protest and resistance, which are, without argument, important political tools, yet she doesn’t speak about Henry David Thoreau, who insisted, before and during the American Civil War of 1861-1865 that the issue at hand was slavery and the mechanism at play was industrial land use. To speak so transformatively is the real resistance. Thoreau’s resistance walked hand in hand with the creation of Cascadia out of the struggles of slavery and freedom in industrialized mid-19th century USA and its corollary forces in Britain, and their intersection with Indigenous struggles to maintain the earth within human social relationships. You can’t talk about the place without talking about this intersection. Anything else is to talk about the United States, or Canada. That’s like trying to speak about Mozambique by talking about Slovakia. If Ms. Klein were from the grasslands of Cascadia, she would use the words summer with great care. It’s not a word that fits very well here. I was quite shocked to hear her talk in such an elite way about the fires that are still burning in my country, in an apocalyptic fashion, too. The task of speaking better, and indigenously, gets harder all the time for all the smoke.

Shuswap Lake

The rising sun should just not be this darned red.

Autumn and the Wind

Thoreau called images like the ones below “autumnal”. He described the ripeness of such leaves at great length. He called them fruits. Keats did much the same. He called them mellow fruitfulness, on the edge of death. Dante presented them as ancient etruscan, or perhaps Celtic, echoes. He placed them in hell. Those are all my ancestors. They are old, wise visions, from far away. I lived in those romantic agricultural worlds, too. I used to make the same observations. I learned that culture well. It was mine.dsc00158

Now that culture is foreign. Now I see spirit rising in a hawthorn spirit. I see it holding. I see spirit singing with a different intensity high up, in a height that is another form of spirit. I just don’t see autumn anymore. I no longer get that bittersweet autumnal buzz. The orchards are behind me now and I am growing older and closer to spirit myself. The earth is growing transparent, and the sky is growing opaque. I have lived on this syilx land for a long time now.


I am in the wind.


A Damselfly in the Wilderness

I live in Oregon Territory. My part is owned by the Government of Canada now, but it  started here, in the musings of an American in his last hours. His name was Henry David Thoreau.

The sun sets on some retired meadow, where no house is visible, with all the glory and splendor that it lavishes on cities, and perchance as it has never set before–where there is but a solitary marsh hawk to have his wings gilded by it, or only a musquash looks out from his cabin, and there is some little black-veined brook in the midst of the marsh, just beginning to meander, winding slowly round a decaying stump. We walked in so pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright, I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it. The west side of every wood and rising ground gleamed like the boundary of Elysium, and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman driving us home at evening.


So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.


Henry David Thoreau, Walking, 1862.


Sounds like this wilderness is a pretty beautiful place! There’s only one snag: it was recently cleared of its Indigenous peoples; the wilderness that Thoreau sees to the west of New England, and which the United States will soon populate, is a created object. Thoreau treats it as a refreshment for inbred intellects and a place for re-creating wild life within humans — which he identifies as “Indian” life. What Thoreau doesn’t mention, and likely didn’t know, is that it had to be achieved by killing those “Indians”, because they were in the way of this life-giving wildness. Ironically, they are to be honoured by creating wildness within American souls. And so we get this …


Vernon Rowing and Paddling Centre, Swan Lake

Settler culture re-creation on the shores of a Syilx food lake.

That is the point of North American history. It comes down to that image. For a time, there were dreams of growing food and healthy children on this earth, but, well, a look around the paddling centre (a former farm) will show you just how temporary that idea was …


… and a closer look will show you something amazing…

damselsnailbDamselfly in the Invasive Weeds

Still making a go of it after all these years; still turning the sun into pure spirit; still moving it around.

The earth just doesn’t give up! In contemporary Okanagan culture, the rowers, the weeds and the damselfly live in the same relationship to agriculture and its attempts to find a language halfway between local and distant cultures. They have all gone wild. The only difference between them is that the damselfly has moved from non-wild Syilx earth into wild Syilx-less earth, while the others have moved the other way. It’s the only one not looking for wildness, because it’s the only one already in it. In other words, the wildness was never in Syilx territory. It was in Thoreau’s head, and in those of his countrymen. all along. When you row on Swan Lake today, you are rowing in Thoreau’s head, laid as a map over the water and the land. Beautiful, eh!

Next: Wildness Moving Back to the City; culture and respect moving back to the land.




What’s the Matter with Fruity Sex?

There are many ways to read gene sequences, but only one way to store them. It entails giving them away. Here, for example, is a functioning spontaneous gene bank:

Plums Gone Wild in an Abandoned Orchard Okanagan Landing

When apple trees tried to go wild in this way, they were cut down in every orchard, field and ditch, so that they didn’t interfere with a 1990s-era government-funded insect control program. No one thought to archive their genetic material. Many physical windows into the area’s fruit growing past were closed down that way. It was like burning down a library.

The exciting thing about this method of genetic manipulation is that it is done by sexual reproduction, which is a living process. Its results create changes in living organisms over time. It is always  putting out something new, so if you don’t like what you see, come back later: an entirely different plum will be there. You can taste that, and compare. You can develop a memory of taste over time — you can remember time by taste, even. All our original agriculture crops came to us by this method. It is still ongoing. One thing this gene bank has over genetic modification in laboratory settings is that in the evenings it provides shelter for deer, who lie down here above the road while the dark settles over the world. The laboratory schtick just gives double talk like this: the Arctic Apple. If those GMO fruits get introduced, the sexual reproduction of all apples will be damaged beyond repair, and a large chunk of what has made us human will go with it. So, I guess I’m asking: what’s the matter with sex? Anyone got an idea on that? Henry David Thoreau did. In 1862, he said that when all apple trees were grafted and planted in rows, democracy would be dead. These aren’t discussions about markets, industries, storage facilities, shipping facilities, or markets. These are discussions about soul.

Eco-Agriculture in a Spring Light

A friend in Wales wrote yesterday that he was glad to see from these screens that spring was on its way to the Okanagan. So am I. Almost twenty years ago, when I published my memoir Out of the Interior,  I showed it to him proudly, with the comment, “I have written a book about our country,” and he said, “Oh, you mean the way it used to be.” Ah, he was so right, and we were both blown away by the wind, chasing the world across the sky, but it’s funny, you know, after twenty years, it sounds like we’re both still eager for that arrow-leafed balsam root spring.  And why not, when it looks like this:

Arrow-Leafed Balsam Root in its Full Glory

120 Metres Above Okanagan Lake

That’s the view from here today. Here’s what I wrote about this country twenty years ago in Out of the Interior, with my head all full of Karen Blixen’s Kenya (which remains the truest literature of this land that was kind of lost in the mountains for awhile … a long while):

The Centre of the World

IN 1953 MY father, a skinny young German with bad teeth, came to Max Kohler’s cattle and fruit ranch at Chopaka for winter work. Going there was like going to Patagonia or up the Amazon. Chopaka is a jagged ridge rising right out of the riverbed half a minute over the Washington border. Against the sky she is a woman, naked, full-breasted, lying on her back, her head thrown back. The Salish of the Lower Okanagan, Indian Territory, called themselves the O Kin O Kane—those who live where they can see the top—of Chopaka. The Fujiyama of the West. The Holy Mountain. Ararat. The Centre of the World. Jerusalem. Delphi.

With Chopaka rising high across the river, and the river cutting the farm loose from it with a great, blue-silver ox-bow of light, and the mosquitoes flooding the shadows between in streams and swarms like squalls of crisp, dry rain, it is a beautiful and sacred site. Huge thunderstorms pour up out of the deserts of the Columbia and collect against the cupped thigh of that mountain with the hail streaming from the black clouds like solid light.

The orchard is planted on a fan of alluvial shale, on the higher ground to drain the frost; the cattle are kept in the subirrigated fields below; the bees range up through the alpine meadows and summer range—each brief flower like a small root fire bursting forth from the soil, giving us some hint of the earth burning below us. The bees feed on the sweet oozings of the flowers, and fertilize them. Out of heavy wax frames and the scent of pine and shavings, we collect their honey—white-suited, with screens over our faces, and each movement slow and measured—but they drink it from the flowers with their whole being, out of the dancing, burning soil.

No kidding.

Strong Medicine

 Arrow-leafed Balsam Root provided spring vegetables, summer starches, and autumn seeds and medicinals for thousands of years. Long-sustained in these parts by fires set by the Syilx, who farmed this land with fire, it has managed to hang on for ninety years after the Government of British Columbia extinguished the fires. It’s still here for us.

 This is one of the plants that will form the renewal of ecological agriculture, freed of speculative land ownership and colonial land cultivation practices. The road to that end is not really that long, but it is woven of several threads, including, obviously, agriculture, ecology, writing, and, yes, history. If we can tell the right story, we can create it with the land and live in it. Farming practices, like we have today, are the direct results of cultural stories that are taught in contemporary schools. Practices like this:

Royal Gala Apple Slender Spindle Plantation in First Leaf

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides will come as soon as the blossoms start to show. By the time they bloom, the drift will stink for miles.

This high-tech, high-capital system that no one without a couple million dollars in the bank can contemplate is a result of lessons learned in schools and market places today. It is an image of contemporary culture, a snapshot, so to speak: a monoculture, built on the foundation of human primacy in cultural affairs, and on a political and economic system based upon human social relationships. It has its roots in a time that measured all things by use. So does this:

Landscaping, 2012 Style

The system that saw Duke Franz leave the military traditions of his family and transform the dirt poor Duchy of Anhalt-Dessau into a garden landscape, with the highest degree of economic and cultural prosperity in 18th Century Europe has come to its end now. Its language has left the rich tapestry of science and agriculture, for the simple, artistic gestures and lines of dance, abstract painting, and freeway design.

Without rich languages of materials, processes, colour, words, or spirit, rich solutions cannot be found. Two hundred years after Duke Franz, and after the ravages of Napoleon, revolution, National Socialism, the bombing of the Second World War, Russian occupation, and the poverty of the communist and reunification years, something remains of Franz’s achievement:

The Garden Kingdom of Anhalt-Dessau 

The kingdom remains because the people have chosen to maintain it, and so its artistry lives on, not just in the land, but in the people and their society as well.

It is also possible to maintain this quite different thing…

My Grandfather Bruno Leipe above the Similkameen, c. 1962

You might be able to make out the balsam roots in the meadow in front of him, if you squint or something. Bruno left the brutal, impoverished inner cities of Silesia in 1929, for physical freedom. What he saw was an old European art form: landscape.

It wasn’t landscape, though. There was an older story here, rooted in Similkameen life. Sixteen years after Bruno first started fighting with the land, I left the orchards of the valley one day and walked off into the fields off to the right of Bruno in the above picture. When I came down, the orchards of my childhood were no longer home. It’s rare, I think, to actually have a photograph of a moment of total and almost instant transformation, but here it is, such as it is:

The Golden Fields of Kobau Mountain…

…as seen by really crappy technology faded by time. But maybe you get the idea.

There are many other pieces to the puzzle, that lead towards a combined scientific, educational, and writerly vision, and I’m going to look at them for the next few weeks, leading towards a full curriculum. But, to start, here’s one more for today: Henry David Thoreau, the American philosopher, essayist, and transcendental thinker.

Henry David Thoreau


Before he died of tuberculosis in the spring of 1862, Thoreau was in the process of writing a dozen essays about the wild fruits of New England. Each was to contain history, both social and natural, and pretty much everything else in the world. He finished one, Wild Apples. In it, he contends that as soon as all apples are grown in rows, in dedicated orchards, from grafted stock, democracy will disappear from the world. That time, of course, is long past. The text of his essay is here. It is a masterpiece of the lost tradition of horticulture, a tradition that, like the balsam root, has not yet disappeared. As part of my work to move literature into a reunion with agriculture and horticulture, in cooperation with a wild earth and using its processes, I have written two essays of my own to complete Thoreau’s series, in my own way. One is a history of pear growing, called A Recipe for Perry, and one is a series of stories about the Newtown Apple, called Caraway and Pippins. They are both essays about peace, in place of war. I’m working on a complete series, that will fill a book. But to return to the main idea here today:

Even the Wild Plums are Blooming

That’s a saskatoon stealing pixels from the right.

It’s spring. In its honour, a first note towards an academy of eco-agricultural writing:

1. The earth is the story. We are not separate from this story. We are walking in it. We are eating its words. We are drinking its water. We are breathing its air.

2. Eco-agriculture is worked out in relationship with the land’s processes, not with purified essences derived from them and used for independent ends.

3. Language is part of the process. How we employ it matters. Which leads us to the poet, Goethe, which leads us to tomorrow.

But for today, just a little hello from Leopold III, Fürst Franz, of Anhalt-Dessau, when he began to remake his country by means deemed frivolous by most other princes and state administrators of his age, including Goethe:

Leopold III of Anhalt-Dessau…

…who turned his ancestors’ military legacy (they invented the Prussian military, pretty much on their own) into a model for our time.

We’ll be fine. This is our classroom: