Every Mound of Grass is a Greenhouse

I live in an exotic landscape on a planet whirling through solar space, in which every greenhouse has a heating system pointed straight at the sun, to melt water and get things going.

By the time the spring comes, the spring of the grass will have finished its spring thing. Valley warming comes about when you graze off this grass. From a valley perspective, global warming is the anti-greenhouse effect!

Green is the Wrong Colour for a UFO

And now for the backstage view of the Okanagan, that artwork installed in the channel between the basalt seas of the Northeast Pacific Shore.

Colonialism 101

The thing about an alien invasion is that you’d think that blending in with local colour patterns would be the way to pull it off, but that would be so wrong. Just be alien, and celebrate it. Force the locals to adapt, that’s the way.

How to Beat Global Warming By Turning the Grasslands Upside Down

Water has a surface tension. It divides light into bands of energy. It keeps some and sends more away, but not evenly.

So does mullein.

In mullein’s case, it covers its pulpy, absorbent leaves with tiny hairs, which capture the tension of water, like this…

… to create an insulating skin stronger than the pull of the sun to draw the water into the air, kind of a miniature atmosphere, really, like the water spheres on the cattails below …

…and then, when it snows, mullein holds that snow up in the air, where the cold air can cool it through the night. Slowly, the sun warms the mullein, from its vertical surfaces, drawing the water down onto its leaves and from there to its core.

Note how the hairs on the leaves strengthen the surface tension of the water and keep it from spilling off onto the ground. Useful? Sure is. Consider other ways in which the life up the hill is slowing down and channelling the melting of the snow that fell overnight, and channelling it. Look how the sun and the angle of the earth …

… are transforming time (as measured by water), depending upon exposure. The cottonwoods do this trick in the angles of their branches, from which meltwater spreads slowly outwards over their bark…

… hold it in lateral cracks, from which it is slowly released…

… and even twist it through a 90 degree turn by balancing the pull of gravity and the build up of tension on the bark to move it as a film.

Note as well the seam running across the upper side of the limb. In cottonwoods, those hold so much water for so long that they eventually rot the tree out from within. It drops branches because of this action, and then houses owls.

It inspires water collection devices which gather snow in multiple ways and deliver it through systems of cracks into an inner trunk, where it can be held through drought. Still, even rock is playing this game.

This rock pile, formed by centuries of water and frost action on stone, is little different than the plants above: snow held away from the sun melts slowly, feeding an elaborate plant community through a series of cracks, while the bulk of the snow melts quickly, disappears into the warm darkness between the rocks, and from there into deeper soil. Protected from the sun, it flows downhill.

All you need for this is two rocks, really:

What is beautiful about this pair is that the larger rock, with its minerals and its seam of quartz, is facing the warm southern sun. Its snow disappeared quickly, into the plant community at the stone’s base, but look what the smaller stone, of more porous material, has done…

Either it has absorbed the snow (or the run-off) and is releasing it slowly, in a kind of reverse of a heating effect, or it provided a surface that allowed snow to adhere to the larger stone. Either way, it transforms the sun, just as this water does:

It is, after all, the same snow and the same sun making all these transformations. Here’s a man-made slope doing this work, but vertically instead of horizontally:

In this case, bunchgrass, rooted in the terraces of a stepped wire cage, is stopping the water from flowing, although not stopping the snow from melting or twisting it through time, as the cottonwood does. It simply melts it quickly, then holds onto it, creating a slow waterfall weaker than the roots of the grass. The base of this simple system…

… is unused, and unlike this slope…

… there is no opposing cool slope to hold the snow, to allow the sun to heat it and slowly melt it down the draw between the two slopes, as the mullein does, in the balance of heat and cold illustrated by this globe of moss.

Still, we could build water dams on the hill like this, which would slow time, to release water through seepage through the long hot summer, without losing any land at all. Simply, a south-facing slope like this:

… could be faced with a north-facing one (instead of the open space in which we are standing), which would collect snow and shelter it from the sun. It could even be constructed to channel winter wind and gather deep drifts, to extend melting effects for weeks or months. The melting would come from the south-facing slope we see here. The channel between the two would hold water, which could then be put to use, much like this stone below…

If that’s too much engineering, why not just take that stone as a model and reverse it, like this:

You: Harold! What on earth is that?

Harold: Dearest, it’s a vineyard driveway littered with gravel.

You: That’s what I thought it was! Oh now, look, I have muck on my shoes.

Harold: Those are nice shoes.

You: They were nice shoes. Now they’re mucky. I can’t go to town like this.

Harold: Oh. Sorry. (Pause.) You want to go to town when you have all this cool muck?

 

You: Yes!

Harold: Oh.

(Harold blushes and continues.)

So, gravel. Look at what it’s doing. Little rocks rise above the cold soil to collect the sun, to melt the snow, which runs off of them and pools at their bases, slowly seeping into the soil instead of running off.

As the sun continues to warm the stones, the absorption area spreads…

… and we have stopped time by storing snow, releasing it slowly and storing the resulting water at a rate matched to the capacity of the soil. It will be released as life and slow subsurface flow through the spring, which is great, but what if we just reimagined the process slightly, laid down an absorbent mat covered with tiny hairs, like the mullein, with little heat units, either spikes of grass or blocks of stone, rising at intervals out of the hairs, to catch snow at various depths and melt it slowly down into the mat. If the mat were on a wall surface …

the heat unit could be below, and lined, like this wood, with vertical conduits that could fill with water. A fence made out of gravel in a cage, or simply stacked rock, would do as well. If the mat were on a road surface or a walking surface…

… the pressure of traffic could squeeze it into transport or deeper capture structures. In all cases, the water will follow the pressure exerted on it in such a way that it maintains bonds with itself, like this flock of starlings…

… or these juniper berries, so pungent and yet so sweet.

The transportation of water is only the manipulation of water tension and time, in relation to the sun. For that, the transportation is more across a membrane …

…than from high country dams to low country farms…

In this vineyard, much of this work is already being done, but in a model conducive to machine harvesting and the capitalization of water (huge volumes are required to pay for the huge cash outlays required to support the system.)  It might be, however, that the heating and cooling effects are as simple as turning stones over, so that their white bellies, of solidified soil salts brought to the surface by the sun, send that sun away, to allow the stones to operate as the engines of cold we need them to be at this time.

We could turn them over again when we need heat. In fact, if the stones took the shape of trees…

…they could be both at once. Time to go out and plant some trees.

 

Hole in the Sky, Not Empty

A couple weeks ago, I told you about a hole that frequently appeared in the clouds above the city of Coldstream. Here’s a picture of it taken five days ago…

The image is taken towards the East, but at dusk, with the setting sun down over the mountains to the West. It is directly above the intersection of winds from the West and the North, which are, rather, redirected winds from the West as well, so a kind of eddy, like a little back current in a trout stream. In a way, it’s kind of an illusion created by the intersection of human visual ability and open space that cuts across the prevailing winds. Look how many of these holes appear in the clouds below.

Nonetheless, this intersection is meaningful, as it does lead us, humans, to a particularly fruitful spot and the site of an ancient village site and trail. I find it inspiring, that we are that much the weather of the world.

Vertical Lakes, Subsoil Dams and the Bear’s Cold Storage

There was forty centimetres of snow on this draw a couple weeks ago. Don’t think it’s all gone.

The shade on the south western slope is keeping it damp in the soil, and the bunchgrass on the hot north eastern slope is holding it in its roots. Same thing one cut to the west, below.

Welcome to the vertical lakes of Bella Vista! The saskatoons and choke cherries in the gap between the two regimes thrive on the water gravity draws down from the lee slope and the warmth from the grassy one.

As the winter progresses, the snow will come again, and will be caught in the tangle of bushes, effectively making tiny lakes of cold — artificial glaciers, if you like.

We could, of course, encourage this snow collection, by cutting the land so that the wind deposits the snow in these draws, which can be planted and harvested. Even hot, dry cuts, with inopportune sun exposure, can still delay the drought of August by enough weeks to support a few shrubs. If this were a flat hillside, they would not be here.Even without enough water to host some shrubs, the shade effects create two separate harvesting climates. That’s useful, too.

We could, of course, help out, as the rain erosion in this abandoned housing excavation suggests. Currently, snow is pushed to roadsides, so it can flow through storm sewers into the lake system. We could store it, instead.We don’t have to think small, either.

Look how a natural stone dam in the middle of a draw forces the subsoil water up the slopes and creates a lake of trees, effectively moving the boundaries upslope and using gravity to pump water to the bushes.

The harvesting period of a crop can be extended in this way. Think of it as cold storage, at no cost. Mind you, there are bears. Here’s his tunnel through the hawthorns.

I usually think like the fruit grower I am, but, hey, if it’s more productive to set up these orchards and harvest the game that shelters in them, that would work, too. It beats saying that the land is so weedy and overgrazed that it has no agricultural value any more and should be turned into housing, for which there is no water. It is called “doing something in particular.” I like that.

25% of Fruitgrowing Agricultural Productive Capacity in the Okanagan is Wasted

Here’s an industrial apple plantation after harvest. The trees are in long rain rows to facilitate mechanized farming, using multi-ton tractors and spraying equipment (combined weight of about 5 tonnes). After harvest, the impact of the equipment on the soil is plain to see. Average orchard compaction runs to 120 tonnes per year running alongside the tree rows per year.

I estimate that 25% of the soil above is heavily compacted, which means, effectively, it carries less than enough oxygen to adequately support life, reduces tree growth by up to 75%, dramatically reduces photosynthesis due to narrowing of leaf stomata, and increases production of ethylene gasses (hastening ripening in storage). Compensation will have to be made through increased fertilization, leading to decreased fruit flavour and increased orchard nitrate run-off, compounded by the inability of the soil to hold water or water-based nutrients Think about it. There are 35,000 acres of vineyard and orchard in the Okanagan. For the benefit of mechanized production, about 25% of the soil surface is lost due to heavy equipment uses, or 8,500 acres, and the ability of the trees and vines to prosper on the other 26,500 acres is reduced by up to 75%. Is that a fair trade?  We could effectively eliminate heavy equipment and free up 8500 acres for new production, which would be enough land for between 850 and 1700 young farmers. While you’re wondering about that, here is that orchard two years ago. Have another look…

See the leaves that the frost has dropped below the trees Those brown strips are lying on weed-sprayed land. As you can see, another quarter of the land has been sprayed with weed-killers.  Between compaction and weed-killing, in other words, only 50% of the land is reacting naturally to the atmosphere, and the land is potentially carrying only 50% of the microbes needed to feed these trees, requiring yet more artificial nutrients. Presumably, a system of managing the trees and the removal of the crop without the heavy equipment would be subsidized by decreased nutrient use, increased tree health and productivity, and decreased capital dependency, all offset by an increased entrepreneurial pool. Ah, why not have a look in the winter, before you make up your mind:

This expensive system of posts and wires is designed to eliminate labour, allowing for this land to be farmed with a minimum of employment and a maximum of capital investment. In other words, those 850 farmers would be working on this land if it weren’t for this mechanized system that has replaced them. Not only would the land be healthier, but so would the community. If you think of it, though, apples are shipped to packing facilities in 800 pound containers. There they are loaded into 32 pound containers, or even 20 pound ones, before being shipped to market. It would take a lot to convince me that we couldn’t eliminate the weight load on orchards by moving the fruit out of the orchard on lightweight fruit-bearing systems (they exist), even ones that made use of the pole systems. At  $25,000 -$75,000 per orchard/vineyard acre, a 30 acre orchard revitalizing its 25% lost land would have an instant land investment of between approximately $250,000 and $750,000. I am sure a system could be worked out for a tiny fraction of that benefit. Mind you, we could also talk about the 25% of fruit-growing land that is currently idle in the Greater Kelowna area, due to land speculation and gentrification issues. If that number holds for the entire value, then we need to revise our figures: 50% of Okanagan fruitgrowing land, or enough for 1700 full time orchard owners and their families, is being wasted, right now, today, every day. Do you want to chop it up another way? Sure: something between 25% and 50% of the horticultural water in the Okanagan is being wasted, without even taking into account the need for increased irrigation to make up for poor plant vigour. And here’s the thing: we ran out of water in 1992. That was, again (what’s with these numbers?) 25 years ago.

 

Imagine the Technological Possibilities!

Imagine if you could regulate heat loss and roof melting simply by switching from a flat roof to a roof covered in river rock, or a lightweight approximation of it. The insulating properties of the rock would keep the cold of the snow away from the roof, while the relative warmth of the snow would insulate the rock. Temperate change be gradual. What’s more, air flowing around the rounded forms of the rock would draw off the heat they give off while cooling under the effects of the snow, which would draw off the snow in channels, while allowing the insulating processes of snow and rock to continue. The rounded rocks are essential to make the process work. 

One Day After the Snow

Such a construction technique applied to even greater open spaces would allow for the gradual melting of snow, preventing sudden run-off events and allowing for a steady pumping of water through an environment. Notice how cheat grass uses thatch (below) to incubate seed in warmth, along a similar principle…

… while using the thatch to keep a warm layer of air next to the soil. By the time freezing happens, the soil will be drenched with melted snow. At that point, melting will add heat to the soil.

Three dimensional roofs with channels, that manipulate freezing and thawing processes to maintain steady states or gain an advantage on climate, that’s the way. Of course, you could farm like this, too. Then again, is that not the general form of Cascade, with an uneven surface generating warm valley floors?

The Big Bar Esker Against the Marble Range

And again?

My Grandfather Bruno Leipe and His Dog Pootzie Above the Similkameen, c. 1963

photo Hugo Redivo

In the case of the Similkameen, the warm valley floor is a sea of infilled river gravel in a deep glacial trench, which takes us back to where we began…

 

Cascadia is a dynamic land, isn’t it! By reducing run-off, and spreading out growing seasons, much of the work of industrial agricultural systems can be done at no cost, after original set-up. And we’re still talking about systems of depreciation and extraction, why?