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.

 

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.

The Teachings of Water

When I look into the water I see blurred shapes. Or do I?

Are they not, rather, revealed ones?

Is this not a message from my body?
Is it not the intersection between opening through movement and movement through opening?

Is it not the lesson of the water that they are the same? Is this not the blood speaking?

Is it not saying that life and the body each have their languages? and that they touch?

and that this is the mystery?

Qanats for the Okanagan

Late afternoon in the grasslands. November. Light’s almost gone. Cloud everywhere. Nothing much to look at here. Zzzz.

Or, maybe there is. Have a look just down the trail. The guys building a new townhouse kind of, well, absented themselves for a couple months, but they’re back at work, hurrah, and look what the grass thought of that, eh.

So, rather yellow, yes, and shy on proteins, yes, but coming in nicely at the edges before they tilted that heat-absorbing shield back up. With that in mind, let’s look at our hillside again.

See that scree running down from the head of the hill there? It forms an underground river, a kind of qanat, such as the watercourses of ancient Arabia, the Gobi Desert, North Africa and the Roman Rhine, with water, slight as it is, protected from evaporation by a cover. And there’s more! Look how the grasses and sage are moving in from the side, soaking up the heat stored in the rock and harvesting it, just as this grass…

… did with its metal shield. And what have the construction boys been up to? Ah, very important high tech environmentally conserving work, all according to regulations, and, dagnabit, the seeded grass cover washed away, the dust fencing collapsed, and water wreaking its havoc, as it will, and all blamed on, you know it, yes you do, global warming and a shift in weather patterns to try the patience of St. Francis and all foundation forms contractors.

Ah, but is it terribly wrong? Is that not the first step towards building a qanat? Don’t you have to wash the soft soils downhill, to make a seedbed down there for the coming water? And don’t you have to dig a channel to collect rocks — in this case, from side erosion — to form the qanat? Why, yes! And would not plants, over time, fill in the sides of the channel, bulking up on the sand they’ve caught as it drifted across the hill, and slowly building the soil up, as they have in the image below?

Perhaps trying to do it on the fly, all at once …

… is a good effort, but, you know, this one …

… with grass instead of poly cloth and rocks instead of tiny little grass seeds in a pap of recycled newspaper, is going to cost less in the end? I mean, it doesn’t need maintenance, or but thickens over time. Besides, it has room for snakes, and you like snakes, right?

Hmmm… maybe not ants. Well, I’m sure they’ll sort it out. And as you walk up the hill harvesting this side growth, what is there for you, to make it easy? Why, a staircase of stones! Beats slogging up the muck.

You’re just going to find ants on the muck, and they’re not half so fun as snakes, or what washes down from the muck and can feed you.

!

 

Defying Gravity

Water can pool on near vertical surfaces. If it has a little help.

Moss transforming a vertical surface into a series of horizontal ones

Bella Vista Hills

A lake doesn’t have to be continuous to fulfill its function of being a læk, a watering held so it can be used. I am fascinated at how moss allows itself to stretch and flow, taking on some of the characteristics of water, in order to hold it in the air, right in the sun. That’s pretty close to the magnificent manipulations of photosynthesis itself. Perhaps the two gestures arose from the same power.

Hidden Water in a Year of Drought

In a year of stress, everyone, from those ants to the right to the leaf miner that left its trail in this cottonwood leaf, is mining the last pools of spring water for life. Deciduous tree behaviour doesn’t just benefit trees. It stores large amounts of water, builds protected environments, and maintains them with deep, underground water through the heat. Without this so-called inefficiency, the land would burn to a crisp, even the fire-adapted grasses, native and feral together, below.

Of Butterflies and Ethics

If I had done the ethical thing and turned the land surrounding my house into a desert of rocks to conserve water, this butterfly would not have come today to feed.

All water flows through human piping systems now, unless we resist. Predation is not the only way to be human.

Crazy Okanagan Water

Today, I’d like to show you some water in its living environment and some crazy water. First, living water:

That’s mock orange, doing its thing. Home to deer, porcupines, bears, lazuli buntings, people, American goldfinches, chickadees, finches, quail, crows, pheasants, fritillary butterflies, swallowtails, yellow-bellied marmots, meadow voles, coyotes, wolves, magpies, northern flickers and everyone else who still manages to survive on this ruined grassland. Now for some crazy water:

I showed you this image of the bear I spooked out of the mock orange the other day, but it bears (ha ha) repeating in this context, because that’s not a natural landscape it is walking through. It is, actually, something much like this:

Syrian government officials walk on a road, back dropped, by damaged buildings from fighting with Free Syrian Army fighters in the old city of Homs, Syria, Thursday, May 8, 2014. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government in the north prepared to regain control of the central city of Homs following last week’s cease-fire agreement after a fierce, two-year battle with the rebels trying to oust him. (AP Photo)

Source.

Look at it again, if you please:

This is a ruin from a war over the land fought unevenly over the last 160 years between the valley’s syilx people and various industrial farmers. By 1871, the land was trashed by overgrazing born of ignorance. What you see here, a chokehold of big sage interspersed with invasive cheatgrass, both of them useless in these numbers for supporting complex nets of  life, are replacements for a rich grassland that flowed with life through the year. The rich grassland was a creation of a partnership between the earth and the syilx. Its trashing was an act of aggression: ignorant, for the most part, but aggression nonetheless. Still, a small amount of life survives in the ruins: voles, and the coyotes, bears and hawks who hunt them, all dependent on the lighter-coloured plants you see above, the arrow-leafed balsam root, a kind of wild sunflower that has adapted to the ruins and is recolonizing them. That is a vision of hope: a ruin, sure, but hope nonetheless. Note how much water these flowers represent, and how much of it flows through a renewable web.

Below is some more water from the war. This is Chief Emmitt Liquatum of Yale in1881.


Photo: BC Archives.

Note the top hat, a symbol of power from the fur trade days (or at least of a ritual belief in power). It is a beaver turned to felt.

Beaver Keeping the Water in the Sinlahekin Valley

Beavers ensure a balanced distribution of water in dry country but were trapped and traded, often before the first European colonists showed up, for war surplus Napoleonic rifles, in an attempt to stave off genocide. It worked, but barely, and more because of the top hats and pre-Canadian relationships than the rifles. The image of Liquatam was taken shortly after the salmon fishing on the Fraser River, the main food source of his people for 6,000 years, was rendered illegal by the new Canadian government (of 1871 in these parts), to support White salmon fishermen on the coast. I have another image (a bit farther down), which shows the crazy water that comes from this nonsense. It is an image of the north end of 350-square-kilometre-135-kilometre-long Okanagan Lake in this year’s high water. It has been poisoned. This has come about in part because of those dead beavers and the industrial agriculture made possible by their absence, and the private, industrial property aesthetic that presumes prominence for industrial uses of water and land over health of water and land for people and all creatures, and a lack of run-off. All these workings-out of old errors and privatization is now showing itself in this form:

Source

You are looking here at a toxic algal bloom on the Okanagan Indian Reserve at Head of the Lake — more specifically at the water off a recreational property leased by a band member to a White family. No-one wants to swim in industrial sludge, but that’s what this is. Here’s the story: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/algae-bloom-okanagan-lake-1.4178423. Here is, incredibly, what the story says:

The Okanagan Indian Band released a warning on Sunday to residents and visitors to stay out of the north arm of B.C.’s Okanagan Lake until further notice due to a toxic algae bloom.

 

The band says the bloom in waters off its land was first thought to be a sewage leak, but testing showed it was caused by a high level of organic material in the lake.

 

High temperatures over the weekend helped the algae flourish in a soupy mixture that the band says includes everything from burlap and sand debris to sewage, grass, leaves and dead animals.

They are being kind. Here’s some crazy water — in the old lake bed to the north of the lake by the looks of it but perhaps in the old lake bed to the east of the lake:

Source.

This is about privilege, even though it seems to be about work and economy and making a country. The thing is, before that country set the industrial terms for water use, water was a common good, shared by all. After 160 years of an uneasy balance between sharing and industrial water rights, filtering water through industrial crops before it flows into the lake, and the old syilx water system it represents, continues the original violence. There’s no way of covering that up, because ignorance is no longer an excuse. Sure, there appears to be a belief that if contaminated water is passed through soil, which is viewed as part of the de-indigenized cultural space called land, which has the other names of earth and nature, it will be again as pristine as the original White impression of indigenous/earth cultural creation in 1858, when all this began. That is crazy. First, because this so-called “nature” was a humanly-maintained cultural space, which gave the earth cultural autonomy, and secondly because the following image isn’t pristine:

It’s the lake bottom in the west arm of the lake, that’s what it is, just south of the algal bloom on Okanagan Indian Band shores which I showed you above, and right beside one of the Okanagan’s major swimming beaches, to which thousands of people come with their children every summer to enjoy what is, hopefully, “the good life,” and why not, family is really important. Here are some images of this arm of the lake…

 

So is the image of pristine water poisoned by industrialization below. It connects to beach culture, and the recreation use of Okanagan Indian Band lands, through a direct colonial desire to physically enjoy nature. In this case, it is through industrially-management of land, draining water down off the hills, to produce pumpkins for a European harvest festival. This work is done with a mixture of herbicides, fertilizers, cultivated weeds (the things are attempting to heal the soil, yet they are tilled under as they don’t fit the imposed industrial model) and water and sun managed by plastic, thrown away at the end of the season. This is an image from last year This year, this land is empty, except for a trial plot of genetically-modified canola under scientific trial. That the land was removed from life to produce this hyper-industrial product is, I’m sorry, in it context there’s no other word for it, an act of pure aggression and violence. That syilx water flows through it.


Okanagan Basin Water Board, are not absolved of blame just by saying good things.

“Our vision is to have a fully-integrated water system, meeting the needs of residents and agriculture while supporting wildlife and natural areas.”

Here’s their image of that:

 

It’s weird to have one’s valley turned into a cartoon, but note some important things: first, the 10,000-year-old lake of fossil water from the Ice Age is labelled “waste water”, and the river systems are labelled “municipal water” and “water supply” completes a cycle with “waste water.” That’s disrespectful of the bear I met the other day, the syilx, and anything else that comes from this land. In this conception, there is only urban infrastructure, based on colonial water use models. You can see the contrast between desert and lushness in the image of my city, Vernon, below:

This elite blindness is omnipresent and is a sign of ecological poverty. It comes from an intellectual culture that views, without question, this spring’s problems with water in the valley  as problems of extreme high water. Seemingly, if the land had just soaked it up a bit better, like we were used to last year, it would not get nuts like this. Well, it’s not the first flood. Blaming water run-off on weather, when the land’s ability to use water or hold it has been removed, is intellectual nonsense. Worse, when a cause is given, it is global warming. Global warming is serious stuff, but this is the result of the abuse of human-earth water systems, based on an ignorant or dismissive rejection of syilx cultural values, people and knowledge, over anything else. To say otherwise is crazy. The history is very clear.  I wish the craziness stopped there, but here’s some more crazy water, and once again it is crazy with the best of intentions and the worst of blissful ignorance and disrespect:

Source.

This is an image of vineyards, formerly the orchards of my youth, in Naramata, looking towards the southern shores of Okanagan Lake, where any muck from the north will eventually flow, before co out through the Okanagan River, in the middle distance of the image, and joining in that dredged, diked channel…

Source.

…with the outflow from the Penticton Waste Water treatment plant, before continuing south. It is the poster image of an article on a new water study being conducted at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna, at the approximate mid-point of the lake. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/could-soil-be-the-next-carbon-sink-ubc-okanagan-to-lead-study-1.4152301

The study, worth $1,400,000, is to determine some pretty useful stuff around the role irrigation water plays, including the rates at which dirt, in a hot climate, builds up carbon — not to protect the atmosphere from industrial pollution but to become soil, which is carbon=based life and dead life on which it feeds and which holds its water — under the effects of irrigation. The difference between the agricultural capacity of the soil before and after irrigation would be useful to know, especially since the early irrigated desert cultures of Mesopotamia poisoned their soils with the salt that comes from evaporation during irrigation and turned their gardens into deserts, which are now battlefields in hopeless and helpless wars, not to mention contemporary experience with the same issue in the American Southwest, in order to modify irrigation, but that’s not how the story is told. The media tells it like this:

“When we talk about climate change, we often discuss the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But actually a huge amount of carbon is stored in the soil,” Kirsten Hannam, a research associate on the project, told CBC’s Chris Walker on Daybreak South.

 

The buildup happens when carbon dioxide in the air is fixed by plants during photosynthesis and converted into leaves and roots. The carbon is deposited into the soil and accumulates over time.

That, unbelievably, is a description of life on earth: carbon, deposited and accumulating over time. How disrespectful. How obscene. But it’s not just the media. Here’s how the government sees it:

“These new investments are part of the government’s commitment to addressing climate change and ensuring our farmers are world leaders in the use and development of clean and sustainable technology and processes,” said

Lawrence MacAulay, minister of agriculture and agri-food in a statement.

Got that? The government is going to address global climate change by using scarce and incredibly precious water, already over-committed by overpopulation of humans, in the Okanagan Valley, and is selling this as a way for farmers to develop clean and sustainable processes. I think this means is that farmers will be using our water to sequester industry’s carbon, and will be paid to do that, instead of producing food, or learning to work with beavers, or respecting the syilx. Really, this has to stop. The spring has been rife with young Indigenous writers demanding that the violence stop, and calling out the White community on their sense of entitlement. Well, it’s not about statements of social inclusiveness. It’s about changing the story so that the story is a syilx, or a secweopemc, or a cree story, and that’s going to mean that the earth and her creatures, and non-industrialized, non-privatized water are going to have to be at the centre of law and ethics. Anything else is absolutely stark raving mad.

We either stand with the earth and her people or we shoot it in the temple. The problem is: we are her people. The solution, which is easy, is that we are of her water, and we need to go home.