Conjoined Cultures on the Cascadian Coast

Here’s a glimpse into the nature of ritual, a favourite human way of dressing the naked world in the stuff of the mind. Here’s the world, on Discovery Passage, on the East Coast of Vancouver Island. Note that it’s a horizontal human figure staring at the sky. This is ancient knowledge.
Now, compare the latest knowledge in the culture of the island: two richly decorated welcoming figures displaying family ancestry and cultural wealth from Kwakwaka’wakw culture, greeting visitors from the sea. Perhaps the stone heads above are an early incarnation of these figures, or perhaps they are a late one. Either way, the giant stone heads of Easter Island are similar, as they should be, given that the cultural similarities between Polynesian and Kwakwaka’wakw culture exceed 90%. 

It would be wrong to see a simple colonial story here. Look how the carvers have incorporated some good boat-building aluminum into their sculptures, to keep them out of the rot, and how the colonial culture in behind, has created symbolic structures of its own: a modern view rancher on the ridge to the left, an older faux-tutor one in the centre, and down at road level, a contemporary urban loft-and-garage style house: all, like the figures in the foreground, looking out to sea, all richly-decorated and even tattooed, and all laying claims to power. These are both cultures of display. Oh, and the view? Well, water, waves, gravel, driftwood and wind: the colonial verities, read by island culture as “the natural world of First Nations culture.”

I dunno. Some of those rocks are richly decorated, too.

There are older stories here, in which water is not water, stone is not stone, and display is not meant for the eyes alone. Look more closely. Old and new mixed together, really!

The modern colonial view is no less a ritual incantation. Look at this combination of industrial wreckage and mourning that has recreated this beach, with the same sense of a ritualized body looking out to sea.

And the same thing at the coffee shop a kilometre to the north. While the sea just keeps coming in, with waves cast off by passing barges on their way to Alaska. In which the people still wade.

Note the exquisite detail of colonial tattooing in this place, from the mouldering plaster of the Tudor house in the back, and its half-timbered, military cladding, to the shrink-wrapped, plastic cladding of the new loft-house, with its old growth pillars replacing the industrial driftwood of the shore, and its simultaneous display and privacy.

White culture here might desire to represent continuity with New York and London, and it does, kind of…

… but it has more in common with this:

Colonial and pre-colonial worlds are still speaking with each other. Bodies are still re-creating themselves as ritual objects in the world and are still facing the sea, and that sea, still, speaks back.

This relationship is not reducible, but we can live in it, together.

The Draw of the Salish Sea

Inland from the Pacific, on the west coast of Cascadia, the Salish Sea fills the glacially-carved mountain valley system between Vancouver Island and the older island chains lifted into the sky in which I live. Look how even a glance towards North America at dawn reveals a torrential river of cloud pouring in off the Pacific, and a wall of fog as it rises over the mountains on the eastern edge of the sea. This emptiness is the human habitat. Its draw is our wellspring.

50th Parallel at Dawn

The boulders in the foreground, visible only at very low tides, are left from the glaciers that poured down off the mountains and cut this valley deep enough that it became a negative space that drew the Pacific into its body. The mingling of fresh, glacial water and salt water at that time is repeated here every year. Every spring so many mountain rivers pour down into this sea that in many places it is more an estuary system, blending salt and fresh water much like the bands of light and cloud you see here, than it is an ocean.

Every glacier creates empty space. Trees and water, air, gulls and salmon have moved into the space at the same time that the space drew them in. Without that space, there would be little to draw humans here as well. There would be rock.

Forest Salmon in the Salmon Forest

In a trickle of water among the ferns among the roots of a red cedar tree high above San Josef Bay,

… a tiny salmon lives out its first year, hunting insects in water so dark it feels like air, occasionally shot through with light as the trees high above shift in the sky.

The trees that shade these tiny waters have grown from the bodies of the ancestors of this salmon. Now, this salmon forest is home for the future. This fish is the forest.

This is just one of the spiritual bodies of a salmon. Look at the skin it draws to itself from the water and carries to sea.

Eating farmed salmon is poison for your soul.


The Glacial Sky of Cascadia in the Morning

This is not an image of mountains, not of what rises or mounts, but what held against the ice that cut all else away.

The Coast Mountains

The ice is now air. Humans, bears,  martins,  squirrels, eagles and bobcats, to name a few, pass through it: the people of the ice. Nice.

Salmon On the Way to Sea

While making arrangements for my father’s funeral a week ago, I walked down at dawn to the mouth of Simm’s Creek, on Eastern Vancouver Island. No, this is not rain.

Four years from now, with some incredible luck, this plucky little salmon will be coming home.

Others like it will be returning to the fire forests (note the smoke) over the mountains to the east. Fire, water and fish: it is enough.

The Beaches of Cascadia

If your country started out as a chain of volcanoes …P1790654 …very exotic volcanoes…P1790660 … in the tropical Pacific, very different volcanoes ….P1790674 … in five different island chains over 150 million years …P1790692 … and if they then drifted across the sea and crashed into North America, lifting new volcanoes up into the clouds …P1790700 … and welding the bits together …. aP1790726 … and then if super-cooled, subglacial water had blasted all that away and the sea had a go at it for 10,000 years ….P1790729 … why, then your beaches might look like this, too.P1790764 All beaches are beautiful, of course, but these are the beaches of Cascadia.P1790782 To be more specific, these are the beaches of the newest chain of islands to crash on the shore, Islandia.P1790786 And if you lift your head and look across the last water to the previous chain, now uplifted and ice-carved and creating rain, why it might just look like this…P1790797

…and if you lived there, and if you knew that, you would never see a mountain again. You would see the earth, alive.



Native and Settler Apples on the North West Pacific Shore

Welcome to the fuscas!


 Malus Fusca: Pacific Crab

110% of life size.

Here’s a domestic apple, descended from Caucasian stock, for comparison.


 Liberty (Macoun X Purdue 54-12; Geneva, New York, 1955)

40% of life size.