Racism and Noise in Canada

My neighbours above eat sour weeds because of racism in Canada, which created weedlands for them at the same time it created Indian reserves for their people. Right now, the country’s writing community is tearing itself to pieces over racial issues, between loosely (and poorly)-defined indigenous and non-indigenous communities. It is even lecturing itself on the tragedy of indigenous voices being silenced by uproars about race. I don’t think voices like this are meant:

They should be. Other recent writings on race circulating in the writing community assume that earth experience is all about race, when humans get involved with it. That’s rather self-absorbed. It’s called looking into a mirror. It would be more helpful to say that human experience of a certain kind is that. It can also, however, be described as dehumanization, dispossession, silence, rape, enslavement, genocide, murder, love,

wariness, respect and noise. None of those are solely human. All are powerful. Let’s remember that in the indigenous game of s’lahal, noise is meant to distract players and their spirit guides from the game. Let’s remember the silent ones, the animal peoples, and that it’s not about us. The earth is dying. Let’s stop that form of human self-absorption, because that’s the critical outcome of this whole horrible story.

It’s caring for the other peoples of this earth, including but not limited to other great apes, including the mis-named homo sapiens, that makes us human, not some frightful story of skin colour, evolution and human brotherhood or the lack of it. That’s predator talk with an old patch that is just, simply, exhausted. Let’s make something better together.


The alternative is continued silence and noise.

Poetry and Water

Does anything that touches water bend it?

Or does the water bend to receive it?

Is water subject to gravity?p1410974

Or does it make an empty space under a willow tree, for the leaves to fill?p1410973 Is that what we drink? The emptiness that is fullness?p1410964

If water fills what is empty, might it not simultaneously empty what is full? This tide flat in Borgarfjörður, Iceland, at dusk (2:30 pm in November), for example?


Does it have a double spirit?


Hraunfosser, Iceland

Is that what we bring to it, or is it the gift it gave to us and which we give back?


What if looking into water really is looking into the mind?


Are not words only pools, cupped mouths, that can fill with it, or empty with it?



Yes, this is a choice, to place before words, or after, or, like water, between: where they simultaneously are and are not.


There are also rushes.

The Future of Okanagan Okanogan

We have been on a journey together for three-and-a-half years. In that time, I finished up this blog as a book (twice!), but then I was reading up on a lynching in Conconully, Washington in 1891. Things just didn’t seem to add up, and as I snooped around and dug into things they didn’t add up some more, and finally I rewrote the book almost entirely. It found its shape on Easter, when I printed up its pixels, laid it out on the floor in a long line, dated each paragraph, moved the things that were out of place, and found its natural chapters, as a history of an agricultural valley in the west of Canada, rooted in the American Civil War. It concludes with a way forward from unresolved conflict through a very specific resolution of the outstanding Indigenous land claims of British Columbia — especially the pivotal ones, in the Syilx Illahie, this gambling and travelling space, the S-Ookanhkchinx, this place in which I am home. Here’s a picture of the excitement.ms1



A Book is Born!

I have been calling it “Okanagan Okanogan: One Country Without Borders”, but on Easter I scribbled down this: “Commonage: The War for the Okanagan.” Hmmm, Hmmm, Hmmm. The first is better, I think. Titles are always the hardest darned thing! Note: don’t you try to read my hand-writing now. You’ll hurt your eyes. Why do you think I need those reading glasses!

I will follow up my book with a companion book of images, a book that retells this history as a Coyote tale, and, before both of those, a practical handbook on new crops, new energy regimes, new agricultural strategies, and new water technologies and ethics that support, strengthen and sustain the land that this blog has helped me find more deeply for all of its 960 posts. But first, the blog has another child! I have received a grant to spend 16 months to write about this:

P1730506The Beautiful Steam Punk Urban Core of Post-Industrial Vernon

On Wednesday I hold my first interview with one of the street people who has offered to help me. He is excited and has many plans for me. I’m excited, too. And to think, it all started with a thought: would it help to write a book (another grant) if I used a camera to record what I see, to act as a form of empirical proof in a series of environmental arguments. Might as well try, I thought. Give it a couple months. Look at the gifts that moment of curiosity and that willingness to be led by it has given me! Not the least is  sense of writing and poetry that has expanded beyond literature into the world. Amazing. I am so grateful.

Okanagan Okanogan: The View From Here

Friends, it’s a happy day. Today, just over 35 months since I began with an image of the grassland (6 hits that day), and a gut feeling that a blog might prove a useful writing process, and 47 months since I had a vision of a new way of living on the earth, I have a manuscript. It’s about this land I love and all its stories and surprising histories, and it’s about the salmon coming home and my coming home with them and getting down to the real work, of remaking the land. I’ll finish it up in the next few days. I have a surprise, too: a second manuscript, which I thought was just going to be a short blog post today. I thought it was going to lead into another three years of writing. To my delight, it is largely written, scattered (and I mean scattered) throughout the posts on this blog. It’s rough, and stretched to encyclopaedic length with photographs, but I can feel its body scattered in space around me. It’s not far off. So, on this 800th post, on this journey of discovery from the Fraser River to the sea, from the Okanagan Valley to the Columbia Plateau, from Palouse Falls to the John Day River and East Iceland to the Mosel, the Rhine and the Rhone, deep into East Germany and back again, following the thread of a story like a salmon following a thread of scent up its birth river, in a sea of over 17,000 images (and another 200,000 in reserve) and about a half million words, it’s with excitement that I can show you a bit of my desktop today while the canning pot burbles on the stove and the scent of peaches fills the house:



Harold at Work


Writing for the Future: An Ecology of the English Language

I wrote this for my writing blog, Witual, today, and thought that while I compile a post about new vegetables for the Okanagan, you might like to have a look about how the English language is itself an ecology, and the ways it is used change the earth. You can see Witual, and snoop through its past posts (all mostly very short), here: Click. You can read the post below. First, an image of the edge of a line a man cut across the living earth, thinking it was dead …

P1060621Holes, Occupied

“Hole” is an English word, but it is not a thing. The language is older than “things”. At the root of English, a hole is the trace left by one of the powers of the universe. In the case of the image below, it is the process of hole-ing.

P1060623Bumble Bee Hole, Life-Sized

Similarly, rain is not a thing. It is the trace left by one of the processes of the universe. In the case of the image below, it is the process of raining. But don’t mistake it. This raining is not the falling of rain. It is the materialization of an eternal force. It is its presence. This makes water form out of air.

skahaRain in the Grasslands, Skaha Lake

That is the root of the language. All of the elaborations laid on top of that Old Norse foundation don’t erase that. They merely move through it and recombine it, but when the words are used, that’s what they mean. It goes without saying that a story or a poem is also a force of the universe. You did not make it. In the image below, a novel is making itself known in the wind and the rain, as water beads on the needle brushes of a young ponderosa pine at dusk.

P1140217Think of yourself, writer, as the flash that was present for a moment in the story before it blew on in the wind and the water. It is time, I think, to leave the books behind. Novels were a new thing once, a kind of story that could live totally within social space. They forgot, however, that this is also social and ethical space:

P1140127The Mathematics of the Physics of the Big Bang Dancing on a Saskatoon Bush

The mistake was that human identity is separate from the world. It is, in part, but not always. Humans have homes because they do need to go home. The mistake was based on a faith in the magic of words, and the loss of the knowledge of what those words were doing, or what they were for. The words, however, have not died. They are still doing their magic in the world, moving with energy as it manifests itself, moves matter, and then dissipates again in the wind and the light.

balsam21Arrow-Leafed Balsam Root in Bloom

The bloom does not come from the flower. The flower and the bloom, a force of the universe, intersect for a moment. Then the bloom passes on. It’s like a wind.

There are hundreds of verb-noun pairs in the language that come from this Old Norse source. If you’re going to write a poem in this age, you should know the paths you have. You are aboriginal. You are indigenous. You carry deep knowledge and deep magic. Whoever you are. If you speak English, you have this. If you turn from it, well, you are turning from it. You are turning from the power of the earth and a language that can touch it effortlessly. If your intent is to write about the earth, or to live in it, it’s simply leading you into a maze. Yes, a maze is an art form, that also focusses the energies of the universe. It will not, however, lead you to this other manifestation of the same energy …


Green Sweat Bee

It follows lines of energy in the air.  This too is what the Big Bang looks like today, as it begins to still.

… until you walk out of it again. It is the same with modern English, and your novels, and your poems. They are not your home. Don’t try to live there. All that can live there are characters. What can’t live there is life. If you try to live there, you will find you have no words for the earth. At first you will look like this …


Yellow-Bellied Marmot

Reclaiming a subdivision of the land.

… but slowly you will see the Big Bang in a smoke bush …


… and human stories in the earth …

P1060088This is Not a Human Story. It is Not a Novel. It is Not Science. It is Not Competition.

No one was hurt in this encounter, that saw the stink bug pushed off to the side of the flower amount later when the wild bee touched it. Only a habit of language tells you that it is so.

If you find yourself writing about the earth and the forces of the universe as if there was competition there, or as if it were a novel, with characters, remember, somewhere, deep inside yourself that you are talking about yourself. If it was your intent to talk about the earth, you will have to deal with your language. It got you there. It can get you back. You can chose to live. The language allows you that. You are one among many, existing in time and space.


You can make a line through that, but it goes through it. And then what? You’ve left the story? Fine enough. But what about your readers? What about your children? Will you give them this, if they want to look outside your book (And what is a book, but a representation of the language and your use of it to see the world?)

P1060248Young Yellow-Bellied Marmot in the Wasteland

… or will you give them this?

 P1050953 Mock Orange

You can’t give them both. I suggest you adjust the form of your novels and poems to make a suitable home for your readers and descendants in time. The language connects your body to the earth and the earth to your body. If you leave it, you will end up here, sooner than you like:


This didn’t happen out of the blue. This is what the English language looks like. Notice the green, Old Norse words there at the right, making air. Notice the graffiti from a young person who wanted out, but had no words for it other than a statement of presence and identity. It’s a start. Human bodies aren’t easily written out. Shouldn’t we be writing them back in?