Between eye and eye, and mind and mind, there is no distance. Hundreds of millions of years vanish.
I love this land. I guess you know that. I am this land. Other writers might talk about identity and ego and alter ego and personality, but I just want to take you out to the bitterroot, to the old ones, and help you to see what I have learned to see. Look!
Straight out of volcanic ash 55,000,000 years old, way down south in the John Day Hills. This is the land itself. Look at her. I don’t expect you to understand. How could you? But if you want to know why I keep at this, look.
Isn’t my country beautiful? Aren’t I blessed to be a part of her? Isn’t this a great responsibility? I used to think my country was the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada. Now I know it is a collection of tropical volcanic islands that are continuing to collide with North America, stretching from Yellowstone and the Giant Redwoods, north to Alaska. I live in the middle of all that, but way in the south, ah, my heart is there as much as it is here. Others who live in my country, who call themselves Canadians and Americans, as I did before I began these journeys of close attention to the red earth, have their universities and their literatures, their psychologies, their economies, their arts councils and business investment banks. I just have the land now.
Ah, but look at her! Today, it has been 1000 journeys into the grass for us here on Okanaganokanogan. I have learned to read the land’s stories. Look.
That’s an ancient story, in the bed of Dry Falls. Most of the fresh water of the world, when the world still had fresh water, flowed over this stone turtle, and made it in its shape, out of basalt cliffs like the one you can see in behind. Now I get to walk through it at 45 degrees Celsius, which is about the right temperature, if you ask me. I’ve learned to see gravity, too.
And good friends have battled up against it with me, in a kind of dry land surfing. Oh my. I’m still the farmer, though, although I’ll never have a farm. I’m the man with his roots in 10,000 years of a conversation with the land, or is it 20,000 years, or 50,000? Look below. This is the place. It’s on the John Day River. It’s seen better days, sure, and has been replaced now by the industrial farms of the Columbia Basin, but look at her. I could live there, if borders didn’t cut my country into bits. The junipers on the hills, with my grandfather’s spirit in them. The volcanic rock, the only rock for me. The bunchgrass, that drinks the sun and the rain. The willows on the river, that speak the wind, the river running over tumbled stones, that sing, the sagebrush that drinks the heat, the heat, the mountain’s shadow, that is always moving, and the trees, with their peaches and cherries for Portland, all grown in conversation with the land. It could be ancient Persia. It could be Afghanistan. It could be Iceland, but it is here. This is my rock. The reward for working here is just the chance to be here, talking to the earth with my hands and my eyes and the heart in my chest. Go ahead, click on the picture. It’s wide. It might not speak to you of the coming together of forces it speaks of to me, but then, perhaps, you didn’t learn the world first from peach trees, as I did, and only then from books and people, in that order. These are my people. Look at them, thriving there in the sun! Look at them catching it in their arms.
A thousand posts! Look at my people, soaring above Umatilla Ridge.
So what now, eh? Well, there have been efforts to turn me into a salesman, to sell this story. There have been efforts, to take the vision out of me and replace it with arguments of utility, for the building of new agricultural technologies, but, come on. This is my real story. This is why I’m here. This stone raven at Peshastin. Click on it. Look at the head that’s in its eye. Someone has to tell the story of how to live on the land, and how to be it. Someone has to say, we can do this. It’s easy. You just have to give yourself away with a full and open heart.
Oh, I have new crops and new technologies here. I have a history, that starts here, not in London or New York. I have a book about the sun, and about rethinking nuclear fission, using this land and its sun. I have all that, and you soon will, too. The books are in the works, but it’s a huge job. After all, I don’t have the university to do this work, and my brothers and sisters, the writers of this country, they’re largely writing for Canada and the United States.They might not want to be, but we have to walk this path together, step by step, with the bunchgrass brushing at our thighs. We’re getting there. By the end of the year, things should look pretty grand. Look at what I’m working on now…
When I raise my arm to point out a hawk diving on a quail in a field of wild grass, I am plunging my arm into the sun. It’s all sunlight, right down to the surface of the soil. I walk through it. It flows over my skin.
I love that. I love living in the sun. It’s like that here. I can’t explain it. I’ve tried. But, hey … it’s a big job. Look, I can take you there, if you like.
Yes, that’s right. The sun is the earth. The earth is the sun. They complete each other. They were never apart. That’s Mount Hood above there, to give her a traditional name, if that helps. Beautiful, isn’t she. In my country, the earth is within the sun. I can’t explain it. But I can take you there. That’s what I can do. Here’s where I found my heart in the land.
That’s my self portrait. That’s Palouse Falls. Does it look like a man? Of course not. But it’s where I am now, after 1000 posts on Okanaganokanogan. We’re not done yet. We’re still walking. There’s still so much to love here. Thanks so much for walking with me in this grass, and through this rock. I could not have done it without your encouragement. A thousand posts. 30,000 photos. 20,000 hours.That’s just amazing. This, though, just below, is what it’s all about. Look at the goddess of this land, the cicada, shedding her skin.
Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t she worth living for? Isn’t she worth great praise?
… Here’s an image of water, made with light.
Here’s an image of light, made by water:
Nice game, huh. The real story is that both are edges, at which light and water mix. The way they mix leads to life … and other forms of crystallization, such as photography, or thought. The thing about edges is that they are amazingly variable. Here’s one….
… and another …
… and here’s a whole bunch at once …
Same lake (Kalamalka Lake), on the Same Day
In each case, energy transfers across mixed states, part physical, part potential. Art is no different, nor is photosynthesis. Edges: the human habitat. It’s the way of the earth.
…One of the moods of water, I suggested yesterday, is life. Here’s another:
It still looks full of life. Now here is some of it on its way down to the lake…
Still found inside life. Those rocks look like they’ve lost their water long ago. Life holds it. It slows it. The degree to which it does so, even when completely dried from coming through a winter, such as these sumac drupes on the shore of Kalamalka Lake…
… is another measure of the moods of water… in this case, its interface not with light or oxygen, but with time. Just as life can be seen wherever water is present, time can be seen in the organic compounds water crystallizes through the anti-entropy forces we call life. In this case, the berries are dead but the seeds within them are alive. Nonetheless, it is the colour that speaks to us as life. In the lakeshore lichens below, we are drawn to the water pattern that life has solidified and held in time. Same with this oregon grape colony, spreading on a hill.
Okanagan Grassland Above Okanagan Lake
That’s six thousand years or so.
Life is a mood of water, I think we could say.. So is time. In fact, it would be fair to say that life is a mechanism of turning into time the flow of water, and of turning into matter water’s tendency to evaporate. In turn, water gives matter the ability to move, and that, too, is a way of manipulating time and space. So, not only is life a mood of water, and water a mood of life, but our eyes are able to measure these moods of water. We call it light, but it’s not really light we’re measuring.
We are seers of water and time.
The poet Goethe argued that colour is formed by the boundaries between light and darkness. He argued that it was possible to see in the dark — that colour (or light) were not requirements for “seeing”. Two hundred years have passed and these theories have just been proven at the University of Zürich, by the researchers Matthias Rang und Johannes Grebe-Ellis, who demonstrated the multi-colour nature of shadows. They showed the stability of the colours purple, yellow and blue within shadows, even after being passed through two prisms, in a counter-demonstration to Newton’s, which showed the stability of green, red and blue in the same circumstances. Grebe-Ellis and Rang succeeded in a proof where Goethe failed at one (and fell out of favour in physics), because they used three-dimensional shadows, rather than the two-dimensional light which Newton employed in his experiments with light. If you read German, here’s a link for you. What does this mean? Well, it means that our cameras are not recording the world — only the addition of human intention to the photographs made with them can return three-dimensionality to shadow and make each photograph what it is to the human body: a room for light, rather than a record of it. The room is the darkness, which is not a force but a space. The light reflects off the boundaries of the space. And what is the room? Why, what all things in sculpture are: the human body. This is the human body:
So is this, a half hour later:
West Arm, Okanagan Lake, Looking Towards Shorts Creek
In both of these images, the human body has intersected differently with light. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that the universe is modelled after the human body. Rather, the human body is a part of the universe: the universe is revealed through it, as it is in all of its forms, including lettuce leaves and the rings of Saturn. Here are some words that Goethe wrote about this, in his A Theory of Colour:
No longer do we believe (although it does sound a little strange) that the eye sees no shapes at all, in that light and darkness and colour together build up material, which contrary forces separate into distinct parts for the eyes. This is how we build up the visible world from these three principles — it’s even how painting is made possible, which is able to bring forth the real world out of the completely visually-oriented one.
OK, the translation is rough and his sentences are rather convoluted (despite my botched attempts to straighten them out), so let me try to break it down:
1. The eye does not see shapes or things.
2. The interaction of light, dark and colour (and not light, dark or colour in themselves) interact to separate the parts of objects into visible components, which humans can see.
3. Humans intuit the objects that this process has sketched out.
4. Painting, which is colour laid down over shadow or against other colour, replicates this process and creates the real world out of a mere visual representation of it.
This, in other words, is not light:
Old Orchard Fence, Bella Vista
Those are thousand-year-old Old Growth coastal red cedar trees, those are.
It is darkness, which light, interacting with darkness in three dimensional space transforms into visual signals which humans can apprehend and move through. It has also been given to you on a screen of light, after being captured in a two-dimensional light-capturing mechanism (a digital camera). In the absence of a darkness-capturing mechanism, the photographer and the viewer must work in reverse of the original impulse. Instead of viewing the intersection of darkness and light as the world of colour, as I did when I walked out into the snow, we must now view a world of light and colour and imagine moving through it, trusting that the dark is still there. It is a lot like walking in the dark, except this time it is really walking in the light. It means that a photographer must work very hard to put himself or herself into the picture, so that it remains a three-dimensional body, capable of capturing light and leading viewers into the world. In the image above, the body is captured by the way in which the photograph frames the fence. In the one below, it does the same with leaves, colour and texture…
Staghorn Sumac and Filbert Leaves in the Snow
The next step is to walk out of the frame of the photograph into a world that replicates these effects everywhere at once. That is the vision I am working towards. It is not hard to see with the human body. It is impossible to see by any other device. You could thus say that the space outside of the frame of the photograph above is the human body, which stands to the photograph in the same place that darkness stands to light in Goethe’s conception. If you walk out into it you are in the world. It is, as the images above show, unknown, but if you walk into it you will apprehend it. When you do, remember this one thing: the fourth dimension of space is time. Here’s some time:
You could say that it takes 5 minutes to walk the half kilometre along this fence, which separates a field of weeds from another field of weeds, or that it takes a half kilometre to cross 5 minutes of time. It’s the same thing, but you cannot experience either form of it by standing still in front of a view. In a view, there is no time or space at all. Time and space (and thus the earth) are outside of it. Because they do not move, they do not interact. That’s why I include words with these photographs. These words too are representations of human bodily space, but unlike photographs they are rich with time. The combination of time and space that I employ on this blog to illuminate human presence in the earth and earthly presence in humans is like Goethe’s combination of darkness and light to illuminate colour, which serves to lead humans towards the world which cannot be seen but which we all know as intimately as we know the location of our hands in the dark. Goethe called this space God. For the purposes of this blog, I am calling it the earth, because I want to point out that in a world over-saturated with humans the lack of a conception of the human body that includes the earth and all things living on it, the earth will be lost, and with it the human ability to see in the dark. And what’s that? Why, this:
In technical culture, science is a procedure. It’s a way of breaking the world down into tiny pieces, which can be interrogated with single questions that receive a yes-no answer. With enough of these answers, the system of logic on which science is based is able to create stories about the world and the universe, which can be duplicated by others and turned to technical ends. In the scientific world-view, this is called truth. This truth might look like this, for instance:
Photography is a technology that represents the same world view. That brings us, though, to the other definition of science, the popular culture one, in which science is, quite simply, the natural world AND technology. It’s not a method. It’s just everything that is “real”. It can look this:
Waste Concrete With Cheatgrass Chaser
The concrete is left over from pouring a sidewalk in a failed real estate development. In accordance with local cultural practice that values machinery over the earth, it is poured out onto living soil, to harden there, so that it doesn’t present a clean-up problem within the cement truck itself. Cheatgrass, however, has managed to colonize it, nonetheless. (Those stringy little red stalks in the centre of the image.)
In popular science, you see, there is only science. In that culture, this is not an image of an intellectual process of ordering the universe into a kind of map, like the periodic table of the elements, but, simply, an image of the way things are. An intellectual scientist would analyze the length of time it took for the cheatgrass to establish, the amount of soil and water required, what other species followed it, and so forth, to come up with an understanding of the chemistry of concrete, or of the processes of soil formation, or the ability of cheatgrass to handle drought, or something like that. Such scientists are very smart people, and can think of all kinds of really intriguing interrogations, which they call experiments. These experiments all require technical manipulations, out of which principles are logically derived, which, they trust will be recombined later into a picture of the world which can be used for technical and intellectual development. To a popular scientist, however, this is just an understandable pour of concrete onto a dead earth, to save a piece of valuable machinery. Such scientists have inherited not the intellectual tradition of pure science, but the machinery of the experiments. To them, the earth is machinery.
In Popular Science, This is a Flower, a Beetle, and Some Story of Missing Petals
In both Popular and Pure Science, this is beauty (which is not a part of science) and nature (which is wildness; that which is not yet part of science, but which science can move into, should it wish to.)
In the world before science, this moment did not have those parts. It was one complete thing. It wasn’t even in a photograph, which turns it into art of a particularly technical kind. It was just a moment of spirit. Before Science came along, alchemists tried to break that moment down into a language of symbols. If they could just isolate them, the language, they believed, that God spoke when he spoke the world, they could speak it as well and fix the dying Earth. That it was dying seemed obvious to them. Adam and Eve had been driven out of Eden, the world was full of disease and misery, that had once been a paradise, and there was war and pain everywhere you looked. It took a new breed of alchemists, such as Isaac Newton (and he was a deeply spiritual man and an alchemist) to turn this language from one of symbols to one of logical argument. What had previously been seen as the language of God, a very symbolic business involving the spirits of the earth and the air, and this kind of thing …
… became God’s Laws of Nature. It wasn’t a language. It was a mathematics. That was quite a breakthrough, but it did have a presupposition: it was possible to stand outside of the manipulations and put them back together again. Humans, though, are infinitely creative and malleable. They adapt. Back in the day when science was getting established, the dichotomy of scientific views between the-world-as-secret-language-or-laws and the-world-as-dead-ordinary was seen as a struggle between the people (practical) and the aristocracy (poetic and intellectual [hint, not a good thing]) or even the church (in the understanding of practical, individualistic men, dictatorial and dismissive of individuality). Why, the church might have said that something like this, for instance …
… was an angel from God and should be protected from steel mills. That kind of thing drove practical, intellectual men nuts. They couldn’t analyze that. They couldn’t make an experiment to prove it. They could argue a thousand different things in its place, none of which could be proved, either. They gave it to the artists and washed their hands of the affair. As a result, stuff like this …
Yes, it was alchemists who gave us our maps of the world.
… is now “art” and “new age” “spirituality”, and stuff like this, which is its spiritual and alchemical heir, like it or not …
Electrical Post Art Installation and Spiritual Communication Device, Vernon
… is called science and technology. Odd, eh. Today, popular culture uses the techniques of scientific method, without the intellectual, aristocratic and spiritual contexts in which they were developed and on which they relied. A couple observations on that: 1. Humans are a darned clever bunch and incredibly adaptive; 2. Nothing changes. The pre-scientific world, the world before an intellectual enlightenment, the world of practical men focussed on everyday practical affairs, is still here in spirit. It’s just that in terms of popular culture it has moved from a home within spiritual matters, to creating a method of science that replaced those spiritual matters with a practical analogy, to a home within the machinery of scientific method, but without its intellectual or spiritual context. In popular culture, this is called historical development, and it is, but it’s also a method that has lost important parts of itself, and so is always playing with half a deck. By dismantling the world as a place of completeness, it has created powerful tools, but has guaranteed that the completeness is not reachable. It always recedes somewhere into the future. This is a consequence of the method. You could say it is a tragic flaw: the thing that makes the method great, is the thing that prevents it from succeeding. There is, however, a way, and that is exciting. For instance, this …
Two years ago, this spot was dry dust. Now look at it. Not a lacewing, not the colour green, not russian sage in bloom, not the stalks of cheatgrass before I weeded them out, not a fairy, not an angel of God, not a mathematics, not a story of evolution of a species, not a photograph, not beauty, not art: all of them, together, at once, and not just that, but a moment, apprehended humanly, in a way that even this photograph reduces.
The poet Goethe pointed out 200 years ago that it was possible to have other forms of Enlightenment than Newton’s, that it was possible to create a science that included all of the world that came before science, that it was possible to do it in individual ways, that many such ways were possible, and that anyone could do it. The results of his scientific efforts were not provable using Newtonian physics, and so were scoffed at. Nonetheless, they led to the colour wheel used by artists and large pieces of the science of colour, the modern European art tradition and the German chemical industry, as well as to Waldorf schools. It’s not that one needs to adhere to Goethe’s developments to find value in what practical men scoffed at. One needs only draw a simple conclusion: the way is open for a reunion of art, spirit, and science; the technicians do not own the world; what science describes becomes the world and the methods it uses replace the world that was there before with themselves. Goethe warned that a science based upon technical experimentation would lead to a dead world without humans. Sadly, it appears to be becoming the case. The exciting thing is that it is reversible. Rather than, for example, a theory of evolution based upon the evolution of European individually-minded scientists, as was Darwin’s, a theory can be built based upon the evolution of complete moments and of social groups. Yes, it was shattered once.
A practically understood science is put to to its ultimately logical end: chemistry and mechanical logic are dedicated to removing humans from the earth. It was all fought on the rhetoric of Christian faith and artistic purity, in the sense that before these battles, art was considered to be a force that ennobled mankind and helped mankind evolve spiritually. When it led to this, civilization ended. We’re still picking up the pieces.
Well, let’s pick them up. The flaws in the method are plain to see. More of the method won’t ensure human safety or the survival of the planet. The method needs to change. In the late 20th century, the sciences of ecology and earth science made great leaps in this direction. In the early 21st century, the intellectual dominance of the social scientific method called deconstruction, which attempts to break down the normalization pattern which allows for intellectual understanding to become technical normalcy and leads to such things as the Battle of the Somme, has begun to be normalized itself. Its method has become reality. Meanwhile,
grasslands such as this, with all their ability to create food, energy and to move and store water in an atmosphere that attempts to remove it, continues to be deconstructed and to erode. Deconstruction, like science as a whole, is a powerful tool, but it is not the world. This grassland is where we should bring our children and young adults. It’s not deconstruction that is needed, or the reconstruction of conservative artistic disciplines, that hold that if the values of the past (art, literature, Tennyson, sestinas and so forth) can be maintained as classical models, culture will remain stable, or even the construction of worlds that leads to this …
What is needed is co-construction. In the Syilx world that preceded the disaster of that landscaping above, this was called respect. One doesn’t have to subscribe to any notion of noble savages and the sanctity of Syilx and other indigenous land relationships to recognize the power of the reciprocal notion of respect. It’s what Goethe was talking about. It’s possible to bring the world along with you. It’s possible to see this all at once …
Bella Vista, Okanagan Landing and the Commonage
This is a view, nature, history, ethics, tragedy, greed, devotion, work, agriculture, sport, society, individualism, ruin and none of them. It is all of them together.
… and to have that as a tool as well. In the aristocratic world that science helped dismantle, the most successful states were organized as poems; that’s why poetry was studied. That this was degraded into the Battle of the Somme (etc.) and other abuses, is a function of normalcy, not poetry, and not aristocratic thinking. The intellectual development of alternatives has been beneficial, but now that they have become normal and the material they left out is lacking in their world views, social and ethical opportunities are becoming narrower and narrower, at the same time that the physical world is becoming more and more compromised. That’s not an accident. We have to step up to the plate and come up with new concepts. Over the last 22 months I have set out on a journey to try to understand some of these things and to come up with practical proposals. If you’ve been following this conversation, even sporadically, you may have noticed some of these things cropping up:
1. new crops, that work within the context of the land,
Alfalfa Blossom Tea
2. new agricultural methods, that improve the health of the earth and society,
3. new visions of how water moves in the landscape, which can lead to increased social wealth, increased productivity of the land, new urban design, and decreased taxation,
4. new technologies for water and energy capture, based upon natural observations …
5. new integrations of soil communities and soil atmospheres with agricultural development,
6. new educational strategies,
7. new artistic strategies, connected to integration of social development and urban renewal,
8. a renewal of beauty as an important scientific and artistic tool,
9. an integration of science and art and literature, which uses the strength of all to a common goal,
10. integration of indigenous and settler cultures, with the social and land-based wealth that comes from that,
and many more. One could build an entire university around these ideas. Just as Goethe built the first botanical department at a university, and an important model that contributed greatly to the universities of today, around a garden …
Botanical Garden, Jena
… so is it possible today to provide new structures which enable new understandings, new solutions, and new opportunity for the young to truly create. I undertook this journey in order to write a book. It took me across the Pacific Northwest, deep into history, to Germany and Switzerland, to Iceland, and back home, here, in the grasslands between the mountains. I started as a poet, working in the tradition of literature. I stand now as that, of course, but in a literature that has been returned to a world that is whole. As for the university, well, in an ideal world I would be teaching this stuff there. The good fortune and good sense of devoting 22 years of my life to raising my children, and doing so on the edge of the last surviving grassland on temperate earth, a humanly created space that exists in the same form now as 4000 years ago, saved me from the fate of teaching only the literary tradition. What a walkabout this has been. What worlds poetry has taken me to. What science it has inspired. What a new form of literature, moving with images and words at the same time. Now it’s time, though, to pull the book together out of these nearly 500 posts. I’ve done much of that work, actually, but much remains to be done. I have six weeks in which to be done. I’m going to keep on at this blog, of course, but if you the posts meandering through the book now, don’t be surprised. I can only do so much at one time, but I do do it with delight.
The First Mock Oranges of the Season Are Now In Bloom
Now, that’s news! And what is in the news? Ah, this …
This is an image of what “Canada” looks like right now. It comes complete with a Put-the-Plastic-Picnic-Cooler-in-the-Sport-Utility-Vehicle Game. It is what that mock orange or this …
Every day I rise 15 minutes earlier with the earlier sun. Today that was around 4:30 a.m. It’s not the light, but a different pull. When I draw the curtains, the sun is not even a knife blade yet, prying up the sky’s lid. When the light comes, it comes from all points in the valley at once, not from the sun. It’s not light, exactly, but a vision. Yes, a vision. It just is, without source. In other words, after 3 weeks in Iceland and a week here in the Fljótsdalur, I have become the valley. I am astounded at how little time that took, and at how complete the union.
A rett is a sheepfold, used to sort sheep driven down from the highlands in the fall. Reykjavik empties as farms call their kin home to fulfill their obligations. They gladly come. Each fall, every inch of the country is combed on foot, and it’s not a small country.
Sheep like this…
Now, this kind of place-based identity I know well from my home in the dry valleys east of western North America, but it’s a little different here, because here the words are right. Icelanders speak Old Norse, and continue the culture that birthed it. English is a variation of Old Norse, that travelled through many conquests and much history to arrive on the Pacific shore. It is a global language now, in which words have ‘meanings’ and ‘histories’ and ‘subtexts’ and ‘meta-meanings’, and much more, but here, in this valley that is just here, the words are just here. They are nothing else than the valley, and all the history of philosophy, science, theology and literature that has been built up around words is just talk.
Swans Walking Across the Lagarfljót
Here’s the old story:
Indigenous peoples lived for thousands of years in the West, surviving by hunting and gathering, often in abject poverty, until settlers came from the United States, Canada, and Europe; through the application of sophisticated technologies these new peoples were able to harness the natural resources of the land to build strong communities on foundations of industry and fruitfulness. One of the most dramatic inventions of this new culture was an elaborate system of water works, through which water was pumped from underground streams and lakes or delivered from the high country through vast flume, canal, and piping networks to towns, cities, and farms, where it has brought fruitfulness to the desert.
Last night in Kelowna, I sketched out my journeys over the last year and proposed that we need a new story.
My Green Sweat Bee Sharing the Stage with the warm up acts, Eric Clapton and U2
Five minutes to show time.
The story I presented was:
Settlers came to a land dry to the eye but rich in food, maintained by a casual but nonetheless long-lived form of gardening by fire and succession, which ensured a bounty of food in a natural system that saw water passed naturally down the hills through long chains of organic life. With certain nineteenth century ideas about the relative worth of European and non-European societies, coupled with low populations of indigenous peoples, due to disease, warfare and resettlement, early settlers, although heirs to a tradition in which Europeans developed wine and agricultural industries and cultures out of wild plants growing on their valleys, plains and hills, were blinded to the real lesson of their ancestors and, instead of developing industries out of the native plants of the areas and the ways in which water moved through these exotic, rain shadow landscapes, simply planted European plants and solved the problem of their unsuitability in the perfect Victoria way, technologically. The results were astonishing and allowed areas such as the Wenatchee Valley in Washington and the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia to become fruit baskets of the world.
This work has been going on for over a century and a half now, however, and has drawn such a large draft on the natural, organic capital of the region that the natural landscapes are largely bankrupt, while at the same time the wealth that was produced by these new societies flowed into the the larger societies of which these valleys were a part, as well as into the world at large. The story of bounty in the desert continues, and is a driving force behind the vibrant wine and food culture of the contemporary Okanagan, and drives a strong real estate and tourism economy in the region, but it comes at a great price: sustainability.
Last night, I suggested that the race-driven fears of early settlers, which were intimately bound up with the rather inaccurate founding myth of bringing bounty to the desert, are understandable, given the societies and conditions of the time, but that these concerns, or pressures, or systems of belief, no longer press upon us and that, correspondingly, it is time to return to the plateau peoples, grant them the respect that has been their due for a long time now, and integrate their food systems, the natural food plants of the hillsides, and natural water flow systems into contemporary social infrastructures.
As a vision to this end, I suggested that the story that could unite all peoples here, indigenous and settler, is the story of our salmon, who cross the Pacific to Siberia and back and breach nine main stem dams on the Columbia River, to come home to us.
If we can maintain the salmon, we will know that we can maintain ourselves, because to maintain the salmon is to maintain the earth.
As a first step, I proposed that we take a large part of the strain off of natural water systems by growing wild crops on our dry but in no way barren hillsides, build new industries around our very intriguing native food plants, and free up water in our high country lakes, which can be used to maintain water levels in our stream beds, so that our salmon can be released into Skaha and perhaps Okanagan Lake again instead of dying in the nearly toxic, overly-warm, shallow, and oxygen poor water of Osoyoos Lake. This is a project that shows respect to Sylix, Plateau, and settler cultures on all levels, has the potential to create new industries capable of supporting and nurturing our young people, and building sustainable, resilient wealth that need not be compromised or destroyed by climate change or social or political catastrophe.
A second step would be to work on forest policy, to bring forests to natural levels, and to maintain productive snow pack and spring melt levels that can drive the system to its fullest potential.
A third step would be to return fire, or at the very least elaborate replacements of fire technology, as a tool for crop succession and renewal.
A fourth step would be to develop other methods of landscape enhancement, to support rich natural processes.
A fifth step would be to develop elaborate technologies to support energy and water collection and distribution in ways which contribute to the project of created wealth and innovation here.
The second through fifth steps could happen simultaneously, or in any order, but, I suggest, will not occur without a system of education built on creating knowledge.
It is time to build a future on the best foundations of the past and the present, rather than on the myth of progress. Instead, it’s time to make progress at getting things right at last.
It is time to write, time to plant seeds, and it is time to teach. It is time to pass the past on to the future. I am very grateful to Robert MacDonald at the Okanagan Institute for giving me the opportunity to force myself to clarify my work over the last year and to put it into one vision, in front of such a supportive and enthusiastic group.
As my next step in this project, I will be working hard at an organized and detailed inventory of new agricultural crops and community based farming methods. Then I want to tell this story and to teach other people to tell this story far and wide, in this new (and ancient) form of literature and philosophy that leads to a practical aesthetic model.
We are making a new world here, for our children and our green sweat bees. It matters. It might not lead in a straight line, but it’s flowing. As they say at the Bohemian Cafe …