Black Bear on the Roam - Grand Tetons

Ode to the Freedom to Roam, “Allemansratten”, “Every Human’s Rights” and Free Paths of All Beings.

Some understand the power of the freedom to roam so deeply it is embedded in their constitutions as people.  Most have forgotten or been forbidden from the depths of this freedom. Why have we forgotten?  And what gifts do its exercise have for human beings and those we live among?

Northern Foot Path

Northern Foot Path

In the far north – Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden peoples have kept their ancient humanity encoded in law – Freedom to Roam – or Every Human’s Rights – Why have so many forgotten and what can it’s recovery mean for us?

Human’s deep history has evolved with our gift to roam the world as walker’s – as runners. It is fundamental to our power to expand the territory of home. Expanding our known worlds is a hallmark of maturation. Our souls are expanded through engaging with ever-changing landscapes. In wanders of the world we empower the direct experience of our planets rhythms and contours – its ups and downs – the shape of its winds – the fragrance, colour and intimacies of its seasons.  The pulsing of grasslands in late spring winds – the rise and fall of mountains – the wetting of streams and rivers in their crossings, the patterns of rain falling and sun filtering through leaves. This experience liberates our minds and souls from routine and opens us to majesties of existence while strengthening us in body and mind.

Pronghorn Antelope - the fastest mammals on earth .  We once had an elder describe the experience of a herd so large - during a southern winter migration from Canada - that the whole earth as far as he could see was the bodies of antelope - at retirement age he was weeping as he shared the story and his own part in the destruction of such wild roaming - these are antelope at the National Bison Range

Pronghorn Antelope – among the fastest mammals on earth . We once had an elder describe the experience of a herd so large – during a southern winter migration from Canada – that the whole earth as far as he could see was the bodies of antelope – at retirement age he was weeping as he shared the story and his own part in the destruction of such wild roaming – these are antelope at the National Bison Range

To be free is to be capable of expressing this power and ability unique to humans – the capacity to run on two feet, the capacity to wander the worlds of our homelands. To roam is to enlarge the earliest circles of known home. Our powers are legendary. Humans can outrun the fastest species of mammal, the antelope. We cannot win the sprint, but our healthful longevity can outlast any other creature on land. It is in this power of upright movement that we have evolved to take ahold of our place in the landscape.

In the modern era walking has often been replaced with the bubbled insulated environments of cars, planes, steel ships, railroad cars that can create a second degree of separation from the landscape which we move through. As the visceral connection to place has been weakened, so has our capacity to truly see and identify with the landscape.  Landscape has too often moved from alter – mystery – sacred ancestral ground to property, commodity and whole industries of resource extraction are in place with minimal regard for their impacts on the landscape and indigenous living communities.

Free Roaming Elk - Garner River

Free Roaming Elk – Gardner River

Long walking is in our history – it is in my own personal history – thousands of miles run, skied and walked across Turtle Island from the Alaskan Coastline across the Juneau Icefield to Lake Atlin – source waters of the Yukon River, from the Redwoods of California to the Salish Sea in Washington – from the Oil field lawns of Oklahoma’s capital city to the United Nations in NYC – from Chief Sealth’s grave site across the Cascades – through the Dakotas on a walk which friends continued all the way through Europe to Moscow.

As a youth I did not always know what drove me to wander – initially it was curiosity and wonder – occasionally longing to visit a loved one – later a part of it was a sense of displacement – being the son of recent migrations into my birthplace – having elders so pained by their histories they could not even tell me who our peoples have been. A sense of the violence against the peoples and lands that I did not want to be a part of – and yet had grown up dependent on as the child of a colonized landscape – without a community with sovereignty from colonial violence. It became a way of finding community and even speaking truth to power. Ultimately though it was the majesty of the land – the incredible beauty of the mountains, the forests, the grasslands, the coastlines. A longing to find myself at home in this landscape.

Later as a musician I traveled the continent in a rig playing dance music outdoors – freeing wood to sing with marimbas.  On these journey’s we developed a gypsy style of roaming – bathing in the wild waters wherever we could find them each day.

In colonial governed, private property obsessed, USA, we do not always have the legal freedom to our birthright to roam.  A first encounter with this was at the age of 7 or so – I was sailing with my grandfather and uncle in San Francisco Bay.  As mid day hunger hit we anchored the boat and rowed the dingy to a small island beach.  As we opened up our picnic lunch, sitting on driftwood – bullets began to whistle over our heads. We yelled out as we scrambled back into the dingy and retreated from the island.  Never saw a person or heard a voice – just bullets whistling to let us know we were not welcome – despite tidal land being one place still in the commons. Later that year I was held up at gunpoint for the first time – robbed of my lunch on the walk to school.

On the 1980 Longest walk - we went to an ancient mound of the Miami people in Ohio - where the government had defaced the site with a plant in which nuclear bomb triggers were being designed - the peace pipe was brought out and prayers and truths were shared.

On the 1980 Longest Walk for Survival – we made many stops along the way, this day we went to an ancient mound of the Miami people in Ohio – where the government has defaced the site with a plant in which nuclear bomb triggers were being designed – the peace pipe was brought out by Milo Yellowhair (leading here) and prayers and truths were shared.

On the AIM led Longest Walk for Survival in 1980, despite the President of the United States writing a letter to all state governors insisting that they allow us to walk freely through their states, we met armed resistance by the police of Pittsburg Pennsylvania when we walked into the city.  Perhaps the sight of a couple of hundred folks walking for human rights and rights of Mother Earth elicited fear of rebellion rising, or perhaps they thought we would slow commerce  – the god of the city. This was two years into it being legal to practice Native American Religion. The Long Walk of 1978, flown over by hawk and eagle shore to shore – brought the clarity to DC to get the prohibition ended. We, in 1980, were in part praying for an end to the forced sterilization of Indian Women that was the practice at the time.  We took this message across the continent to Washington DC and to the United Nations. The next year the practice of forced sterilizations was banned. On that day in Pittsburg the guns stopped us and four of us were chosen to be runners. I had the honor of being one of those runners. We had four prayer staffs – prepared by elders – that were carried by foot across the continent – and we each ran with one of these staffs in hand. As Leonard Crow Dog and Milo Yellowhair were dialoguing with the police Crow Dog put Peyote medicine into each of our hands and told us to take the medicine. While the walkers were forced into buses and went to a campground – we ran – escorted by police cars through the city. At the end of our run there was confusion about how we were to get to our camp for the night. One of the Police officers offered to give us a ride to camp. Once we were in the car she looked back at us with a wry grin and asked if we would like to have some fun. OK. She turned on her lights and siren and drove like she was on a high-speed chase through the city to our camp in the woods on the edge of town. In the woods she looked back again with another wry smile – “How was that?” Our armed oppressor was being as friendly as she could be.

Tree Shrine to Abandoned Shoes - Oregon

Tree Shrine to Abandoned Shoes – Along the Road –  Oregon

For treaty Indian peoples there was a long period where travel permits were required to travel outside a reservation – and cities like Seattle had long bans on Indians spending the night within their limits.  These repressions of movement are experienced much more dramatically in the early throes of the colonial process.  So how is it that this kind of thinking began? Seems it goes back to feudalism. Seriously.

Ancient traces provide evidence of the freedom to roam as a common norm in our past.  While in much of Europe feudalism developed by enclosing the landscape around private use of elites with the commons largely eliminated – feudalism never took full root in the northern landscapes. (Among the earliest migrations of my European ancestors into North America were the Scottish – just after the Highland Clearings.) The practice of roaming remained a part of identity and so over time this assumed right, arising out of our evolutionary practice has become formalized in law. Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have kept the purest form of these rights. “Jokamiehenoikeus” in Finnish or “Allemansratten” in Swedish can be translated as “Every Human’s Rights”.  In these countries one is free to ski, to walk, to run, to paddle through all open lands be they commons or “private”.  One is free to camp, to harvest wild flowers, berries and mushrooms. There are even weeks when it is traditional for youth to camp out in cities. There are restrictions during bird nesting season, one must not invade the privacy of dwellings or light fires on private land or damage crops. The right to exist on the earth and harvest the gifts, which are offered freely, enshrines a basic dignity and the open paths of connecting to the landscapes of home.

The extent to which one finds oneself in danger of having the dogs sent after one, being shot at, having police interrogate one for wandering reveals the living legacy of feudalism which has been established in the American landscape. Thankfully, it has been my experience that most people are friendly and open and curious and for every threatening attack there have been a hundred smiles , invitations to take rest or a sharing of story .  But, unless on government land, or one formally requests and is granted passage, one is bound to the roads in America. Our ancient ways persist despite the narrowed paths of the commons and the feudal ideas of property enshrined by many in the modern “civilized” world.

Black Bear on the Roam - Grand Tetons

Black Bears on the Roam – Grand Tetons

For humans in the modern time we are able to largely meet our biological needs – exchanging resources down the narrowed roads, which connect us at the price of money and taxes. Treaty Indians are the only peoples (in the USA) who have retained their existential right, in the letter of law, to visit and gather and hunt in their traditional homelands – without the use of money – though this has been narrowed and many of the “wild” foods have been poisoned or driven to extinction. We have a lot to learn about true freedom – the freedom to meet our biological needs without coercion into ecological destructions as the price which must be paid.

For our fellow creatures – the winged, the four legged, the swimming nations it is sometimes an even greater existential challenge.  Just as so many have forgotten “Every Humans Rights” we too have forgotten the rights of our fellows.  Here in Cascadia thousands of miles of rivers formerly home to Salmon continue to be blocked by human made dams – migratory corridors for bears, antelope and other animals are blocked by roads without migratory under or overpasses. Indigenous ecosystems are fractured and isolated into refugia without connecting corridors. And so too the paths of butterflies and birds are weakened year by year.  As climate changes it will be essential that we reopen corridors and pathways for the seasonal migrations of all the living and the northward shifts of genetics which has been happening over the last 50 years – and which will only continue to accelerate in the near term.

In surrendering to the violations of feudal privatizations we have lost access to the fullness of what it means to be human beings. We have lost a primary pathway of coming to know the other – and finding friendship among the unknown. As we have lost clear sight of our ancient humanity we in turn have allowed these same existential needs and rights of the living landscape to diminish. These losses are driving exponentially increasing rates of extinction on our dear planet.

As we accept the failure of the experiment of capitalism and the nation state and its laws which prioritize property and commerce over life and community– we must recover memory of “Every Human’s Rights” the Freedom to Roam – and defend that right for all our relatives – be they winged, gilled or four legged! May we free ourselves and all those we share life with!

May the Buffalo Roam Free

May the Buffalo and We – Roam Free

IMG_0216 - Version 2
Elders at Work
orion nebula star nursery

13.798 billion years old and reborn every Breathe * Paradoxes of Origin in the Human Body

Humans 13.798 billion years old! No way! Or then again…

An 11 year old recently inquired how old I was – I joked of having origins beyond memory. I asked him why he wanted to know – and he said “You look like Noah.” His friend argued, “No – he doesn’t look that old.” His friend retorted, “How did you get all that gray hair?” I countered – “I raised a few children!” And we laughed together.

This almost 4000 yr old clay tablet tells the tale of a Mesopotamian God giving instructions for a reed / wood circular boat almost the size of a soccer field – onto which animals were to be led 2 x 2 in order to survive a great flood. It is thought to be the origin of the Noah story. (Found in what is now Iraq – Currently on display in the British Museum in London)

So what about it? Where has the matter we create our selves with emerged? Our form has an age connected to our lines of conception and birth. What about the matter of which we are formed? When has it had its conceptions and births and how does this inform the matter of our beings?

Cosmology’s are like stars – tales that tell origin stories within human communities. They arise and transform as the universe they tell the tale of does. Vancouver Island alone is said to be home of hundreds of Indigenous cosmologies. Star songs with peoples and lineages 7 to 12 thousand years long are sung to this day. The songs of star people’s who do their work deep in the caves. Interestingly, this is in fact where the latest scientific cosmology, astro physics, tells us that stars are creating new matter within the earth. Science’s ability to model and test models for deep history has given a new face to cosmology and this is an effort to share this perspective. A tale of starry origins.

orion nebula star nursery II

The sharpest known image of the closest star nursery M42 – 1500 light years away – fused image from La Silla and Hubble space telescopes. This is a supernova like that which birthed the sun’s solar system. It is located in the sword attached to the belt of the constellation Orion – The Archer. Sun is a part of the Orion arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.


………………….There are contrasting directions for questions of age and origin of the material world. In one direction we are a riverbed in which matter moves through. Quite literally. On average as much as 72% of our mass is water, completing cycles every 16 days in a healthy body. We even are a source of planetary water. Muddied water, but water no less. Whenever we digest sugars or starches we liberate the water from carbo hydrates (empirical formula of the family of compounds is C-H2O) becoming springs flowing into the ground of the world. There are some mammals who extract enough water out of their foods that they never drink.

Here is a list of atomic replacement rates for organs as evidenced by radioisotope studies.

Heavy elements like carbon, sodium and potassium take occupancy far longer perhaps 8 months – 11 months. For example the calcium and phosphorus in bones are replaced in a dynamic crystal growth / dissolving process that will ultimately replace all bones in your body.

Other larger organs’ atomic replacement can be estimated:
• The lining in stomach and intestine every 4 days
• The Gums are replaced every 2 weeks
• The Skin replaced every 4 weeks
• The Liver replaced every 6 weeks
• The Lining of blood vessels replaced every 6 months
• The Heart replaced every 6 months
• The Surface cells of digestion, top layer cells in the digestion process from our mouth through our large bowel are replaced every 5 minutes

This data was first pointed out by Dr. Paul C. Aebersold in 1953 in a landmark paper he presented to the Smithsonian Institute, “Radioisotopes – New keys to knowledge”
It is pretty safe to say that you reform yourself with completely new atoms on an annual basis – and that much of you is replaced several times a season if not an hour!

There is nothing like the quality of water in our lives to influence health. We are fountains of youth from the perspective of our atomic recycling. The quality of our contact with the natures of the world around us is continuously taking root in the form of our bodies.

But what about the deeper question of this matter itself?

Where has the stuff of matter had it’s origin? Einstein broke up the idea that there even is any stuff of existence with his famous E=mc2 equation – which elegantly shows how light’s speed relates pure matter and pure energy. All matter is ultimately stabilized patterned energy. The experience of “stuff” is ultimately the interfacing of contrasting patterned energies.

The term “matter” is used throughout physics in a bewildering variety of contexts: for example, one refers to “condensed matter physics”, “elementary matter”, “partonic” matter, “dark” matter, “anti”-matter, “strange” matter, and “nuclear” matter. In discussions of matter and antimatter, normal matter has been referred to by Alfvén as koinomatter (Gk. common matter). It is fair to say that in physics, there is no broad consensus as to a general definition of matter, and the term “matter” usually is used in conjunction with a specifying modifier.

A Red Star - where metals are beginning  to be made - with an old white dwarf - showing a lens  effect - a nasa artist used keppler data to construct this image

A Red Star – where metals are beginning to be made – with an old white dwarf – showing a lens effect – a nasa artist used keppler data to construct this image.  Most of the elements essential to human life were first made in Red Giants.

…………….To comprehend the history of bodily matter, we have to delve into the original moments of the universe and the creation and death of stars. Most of the mass of a human body has it’s origins in the death of stars as they eject dust in super nova events. Most of the atoms in our body are the very light Hydrogen atoms which have their origins close to the big bang moment of our Universe’s birth. Matter in elemental form finds the preponderance of it’s origins in these processes. Atoms of all flavors are made of the same 3 components – electrons and the nucliides – protons and neutrons. Neutrons are basically a proton that has absorbed an electron. Of these three particles, classified as fermions, only electrons are truly fundamental. They are in a class called leptons while the nucliides are composed of quarks – and the gluons or force fields that hold them together. While atoms as we know them are not thought to have begun forming in any significant quantity until  300 to 500 million years after the big bang, it is believed that most nucliides were formed in the first minutes after the big bang. Current estimates for the big bang moment are 13.798 ± 0.037 billion years. The formation of matter out of energy is called cosmogenesis and most of the nucliides in matter share these original moments. This is not a finished business however. Cosmic rays (high energy electromagnetic particles) come into the earth from outside of our solar system in bursts associated with blasts from supernova. When these rays are absorbed – primarily in soils and stones – new matter is born in a cosmogenic transformation of energy into substance. This is in part why unstable isotopes of matter like C-14 (which has a half-life of just over 5000 years) are in relatively stable concentrations on the planet. We can even read histories of the universe’s activity by variations of cosmogenic associated isotopes in the layers of sediment and stone in the earth’s body. So while a part of matter is continuously being born out of the mysteries of energy and light – the vast majority has its origins in the birth of the universe 13.798 billion years ago. This is the average age of our nucliides. The constructions of the elements themselves have a more nuanced story.

As the universe cooled in its first millions of years the first stars coalesced out of the simplest element – Hydrogen – fusing the protons and associated electrons into Helium (first element to be stable with neutrons) the second lightest element. During the first generation of stars in the universe there was pretty much just 2 of the 92 known naturally occurring elements.

We humans are much more complex than this these days.

Elements essential to human life

Elements essential to human life

“Almost 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of the six elements oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Only about 0.85% is composed of another five elements: potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. All are necessary to life. The remaining elements are trace elements, of which more than a dozen are thought to be necessary for life, or play a role in good health (e.g., fluorine, which hardens dental enamel but seems to have no other function).
The average 70 kg adult human body contains approximately 3 x 10 to the 27th atoms and contains at least detectable traces of 60 chemical elements. About 25 of these elements are thought to play an active positive role in life and health in humans.
elementsThe relative amounts of each element vary by individual, with the largest contributor due to fat/muscle/bone body composition ratio differences from person to person. The numbers in the table are averages of different numbers reported by different references.
The adult human body averages ~53% water – though it can be as high as 75% when younger. This varies substantially by age, sex, and adiposity. In a large sample of adults of all ages and both sexes, the figure for water fraction by weight was found to be 48 ±6% for females and 58 ±8% water for males. Water is ~11% hydrogen by mass but ~67% hydrogen by atomic percent, and these numbers along with the complementary % numbers for oxygen in water, are the largest contributors to overall mass and atomic composition figures. Because of water content, the human body contains more oxygen by mass than any other element, but more hydrogen by atom-fraction than any element.”

orion nebula star nursery

orion nebula star nursery – nasa – fusion of images from spitzer and hubble space telescopes

……………………….What is the concept of body that finally emerged?… The answer is that there is no clear and definite conception of body…. Rather, the material world is whatever we discover it to be, with whatever properties it must be assumed to have for the purposes of explanatory theory. Any intelligible theory that offers genuine explanations and that can be assimilated to the core notions of physics becomes part of the theory of the material world, part of our account of body. If we have such a theory in some domain, we seek to assimilate it to the core notions of physics, perhaps modifying these notions as we carry out this enterprise.
— Noam Chomsky, ‘Language and problems of knowledge: the Managua lectures, p. 144

So it was not until the first generation of stars in our universe began to lose their vitality than there was creation of the larger elements. As stars age into Red Giants they experience more intense heat and pressure which allows fusion of nucliides into elements as large as Iron (Fe).

At the final stage in the life of a star there is a collapse and formation of nebula – these spew out dense clouds of high temperature high neutron density particles that can undergo nuclear fusion (iron 56 and lighter elements) and the nucleosynthesis which creates elements heavier than iron 56. Most elements larger than Oxygen are created in this way. Nebula are the universes primary forges in the transformation of energy into matter.


Our solar system is a third generation star system. Second generation systems begin existence with a diversity of elements created in their parent nebula star nursery. Nebula are where new stars and their solar systems arise. At the death of the second generation star system the density of heavier elements is increased again. And so it is that our home solar system was born out of a nebula about 4.54 billion years ago. Elements heavier than Helium, all called metals in astronomy, make up under 2% of the sun. Oddly the heaviest more complex (and also less stable) elements which we are made of are the youngest elements at just over 4 ½ billion years. We are concentrating younger aspects of the universe in ourselves as contrasted to the sun.

Star systems form in the whirling of a molecular cloud slowly densifying into a solar disc. This usually happens in a nursery nebula of a super nova. The outer portions of the disc become planets and asteroids.The presence of Iron 60 in the oldest known meteorites indicates that our solar system did in fact form out of a supernova event as Fe-60 is only produced in such events.

Planet garden

Planet garden – drawing by nasa artist using data from hubble to illustrate the disc formation out of which a fresh star developed its planets.

……….Planets continuously grow as they collect material from asteroids and meteorites. In the early history of the earth, as we know it, the planet had a series of large bombardments of asteroidal material. Interestingly, much of the material included water and one theory has modeled the planet being almost a complete “snowball”. Life’s diversities grew exponentially in the fossil record after each of these events.

What we can say is that we are made almost entirely of matter that had its origins in the first minutes of our universe. About 10% of an individual human mass has an age in the 13 ½ billion year range. The other 90% of our mass is star born. We truly are mostly the dust of stars constellated well over the 4 ½ billion year age of our third generation sun. Cosmic rays from near and distant star nurseries continue this cosmogenesis into the present.All this while keeping it fresh with a stream of continuously recycling atoms in the riverbed of our bodies breathing with the universe. Ancient babes we be.

Dark Sky Stars in the Idaho Rockies

Stars above Rocky Mountain Wilderness

In the edges of douglas fir's territory it has evolved into sky islands - high mountains which were onces surrounded by contiguous fir forests now hold the last of the trees from a cooler time on earth

A Story of Doug Fir or… Sky Islands – Ancient memory lines in Phylogeography, Holarctic evolutionary pathways and creative divergences of Douglas Fir within Cascadia and connected Bioregions

cacadian flag

Cascadia –  the Bioregion whose watersheds pass through maritime rainforests unique to the Pacific Northwest region of Turtle Island on their way to the Pacific ocean. She ranges from SE Alaska to Northern California to the Rocky Mts centering around the Cascade Mts.  She is also an imagination of a new sovereignty, which respects the rights of nature, has aligned itself with indigenous values and a commitment to emergent sustainable culture. Douglas Fir is a tree which connects much of the region and has become a symbol for the ecological experience that unifies the humanity within it’s bounds. Who is the tree? What is it’s ancient history? How is it connected to surrounding bioregions? What kind of stresses and migrations will it experience with accelerating climate change? These are some of the questions explored in this piece.

Bald Eagle singing with Doug Fir on Haro Strait is the Salish Sea

Bald Eagle singing with Doug Fir on Haro Strait in the Salish Sea

Ancient Northwest Cascadian forests illuminate majesties unique to the planet. The tallest trees living on earth make their home here.  On the southern edge of Cascadia, Sequoia Redwoods include the tallest known living tree on earth. As recently as a century ago the runner up species – Coastal Douglas Fir had specimens taller than the tallest living Sequoia. The tallest living Doug Fir tree is located on the central Oregon Coast – while the oldest – estimated to be over 1300 yrs old is on Vancouver Island in British Columbia – the northern edge of its current native range. Interestingly the primary range of Turtle Island’s Douglas Fir – one of the largest habitats of any tree – stretches a distance 3000 miles long and 1500 miles wide. The heart of this range is Cascadia – the lands whose waters find their ways to the Ocean passing through temperate rainforests at the heart of our coastline and mountains. The tree, together with Salmon, have become central symbols of Cascadia.

The Northern Spotted Owl is among those who are Ancient Forest dependent in Cascadia - wholesale destruction of ancient forests has led to it's endangered status - during the 1980's some logging towns emerged into an almost civil war with environmentalists as logging was slowed on federal lands.

The Northern Spotted Owl is among those who are Ancient Forest dependent in Cascadia – wholesale destruction of ancient forests has led to it’s endangered status – during the 1980′s some logging towns emerged into an almost civil war with environmentalists as logging was slowed on federal lands.

There is a legend about the owl's who live in the old doug fir trees - and how when she flies - the mice all run for shelter - to this day you can see their hind legs and tails as they hide inside her cones...

There is a legend about the owl who lives in the old doug fir trees –  when she flies –  mice all run for shelter – to this day you can see their hind legs and tails as they hide inside her cones…

Complex story lines of the earth underlie each species of life. Regional watershed geography shapes and informs the evolutions of ecosystem communities. Phylogeography (the geographic history of species evolutions over time) is revealing that more ancient watershed topographies inform the genetics in a landscapes living communities.  Ancient watershed landscapes genomic (DNA) legacies can overlap speciations driven by more modern landscape and subsequent climatic realities.  Interestingly it is being discovered that two separate gene sets can often comingle with phenotypes (the varieties of physical expressions responding to different environments) that look the same to the casual observer – and yet under closer genetic analysis multiple species with completely separated strategies can coexist within the shared landscape. Ancients and moderns living together. There may be more diversity within Douglas Fir Communities than we have yet comprehended.

Last Glacial Maximum refuges

Doug Fir was isolated in small refugias during the Pleistocene Ice Ages – it has established itself throughout most of it’s current range over the last 9 to 12 thousand years.

The structure and make up of Cascadian forests has been dynamic forever – it has not ever been static from a geologic timeframe. The most significant modern version of Doug Fir is the Coastal variety Pseudotsuga menziesii. Though Coastal Doug fir can become one of the tallest and most elderly of trees it’s opportunities to do so have been severely diminished since industrial logging has passed through the landscape – reducing protected ancient forest habitats to less than 7 % of the area that had developed since the last major glaciation 12,000 years ago. Interestingly it is not the climax tree in many of our forest systems – and diminishes in density when forests are relatively free from catastrophic disturbance. As recently as 1200 years ago much of the Olympic Peninsula went through a 4000-year period with no Douglas Fir.  Douglas Fir cannot propagate in shade – Hemlock, Red Cedar and Spruce can propagate in shade and rise up through Douglas Fir eventually replacing it in the most stable coastal ancient forests.  Doug Fir tends to come in after catastrophes such as hurricane blowdowns or fires, opening the way for its more modest climax elders. It is believed that it returned to the Peninsula followed a dry climatic period in which fire reopened sun exposed landscapes. Its adaptations to fire and the dry heat of summer have kept it in the mix making it the dominant coastal tree from southern BC to Northern California.  Coastal Doug Fir can grow up to 5500 feet elevation in its southern range but can be limited to as low as 2000 ft on the northern edge of it’s range. In contrast – the Rocky Mt. Doug Fir grows at over 10,000 feet on Mt. Graham in Arizona.

This outlines what is driving change in ancient forests  - trends of late-successional old-growth forest over the monitoring periods 1994 to 2007 in California and 1996 to 2006 in Washington and Oregon - Federal lands went from 65 to 67 % of ancient forest during this monitoring period

This outlines what is driving change in ancient forests – trends of late-successional old-growth forest over the monitoring periods 1994 to 2007 in California and 1996 to 2006 in Washington and Oregon – Federal lands went from 65 to 67 % of ancient forest during this monitoring period

A note on this concept of ancient forest.   Historically the forest industry has attempted to marginalize old growth by describing it as past maximal growth or decadent. Don’t believe it in the literature – read it as slowing of the wood used to make lumber. Numerous recent studies have contradicted this industrial bias showing that growth, carbon sequestration, hydrology and ecological services are all increased with the age of trees and systems.  Over a 1000 species (that is the ones big enough for humans to notice easily) are ancient forest dependent in the Cascade portion of the region alone. Doug fir stands acquire old growth characteristics at between 150 to 200 yrs while some other regional trees require as long as 360 years to acquire ancient forest characteristics. In the Pacific Coastal states of the region it is estimated in a 2006 Conservation Biology published study using land sat analysis that 72% of historic ancient forests have been destroyed since colonization of the region began (under 7% protected). This may underrepresent the actual loss, as it tends to be the steepest, highest altitude and least productive areas, which have been preserved.

Rocky Mt. Fir at 9000'

Rocky Mt. Fir at 9000′ in the Sky Islands of the Wasatch

On a recent trip to the Wasatch Range – a western front of the Rocky Mountains, which drain into the Great Basin, an adjacent bioregion to Cascadia, we found ourselves travelling among Doug fir at over 9000 feet. Doug Fir exists in Sky Islands – isolated by discontinuous forest – a refuge of plants and animals from ancient times alive in the high mountains. The same tree as we know in the Cascades expresses a completely different lifestyle adaptation in the Rockies – capable of withstanding much greater cold and altitude.  This got me asking a lot of questions: Who is Doug Fir? It’s Origins? What are its speciation’s and relatives?  What kind of journeys has it taken as the earth has changed?  How does this story inform its future in light of global warming and ongoing climate change?

Pangea and the formation for the continents

Pangea and the formation for the continents – Doug Fir while having roots that emerged in the Pinacea family in Pangaea it has it’s species origins in the Jurassic when the Holarctic land areas were all still connected.

Here is a roughed out story – as well as I have been able to gather – from a few weeks of reviewing research into the fossil, paleontological and genomic records. Pseudotsuga is a member of the Pinacea family, which is one of the most ancient families of trees.  The Gingko which is often considered as the most ancient seed producing tree diverges with the Pine family about 225 Ma (million years ago) during the time that all of the continents were unified in the super continent Pangaea. (This is about the time it takes our solar system to make one spin around the milky way galaxy.) It is thought that Pseudotsuga and Larix (the deciduous conifer Larch) differentiated at about 135 Ma, which was when Laurasia (A twin daughter of Pangaea) was just beginning its separations into the present continents of North America, Asia and Europe.  This unified origin of landmasses in the Northern Hemisphere explains in part the Holarctic phenomenon of species, which pervade all of the northern latitudes.  Grey Wolf, Brown Bear, Red Fox, Moose, Caribou, Elk, Salmon, Golden Eagle, Raven and Wolverine are among the Holarctic species.  Communication between Asia and North America during the lowered sea levels of Pleistocene glaciations (the last 2 ½ million years) has facilitated more incidences of homology between Siberia, Alaska and Cascadia than in other cross continental regions. Pinacea is the dominant genera of Holarctic tree. A challenge in finding accurate paleontological evidence for ancient samples is that Larix and Pseudostuga pollen look exactly the same under a microscope – requiring an electron microscope to differentiate the two.  Fossil evidence is usually needed to corroborate pollen evidence in the oldest samples.  This has not been a problem in Asia and North America but has been more challenging in Europe.  The primary bottleneck in recent history for the survival of the species has been the maximum glaciations of the Pleistocene, which were as recent as 18,000 years ago. In North America it is thought that the tree was reduced to 3 refuges in the southern Rocky Mountains and along the coast 3 refuges, which were in the Salish Sea lowlands, Willamette Valley and the California Bay Area. Mexican populations are thought to have origins, which go back to the early Pleistocene (2 Ma) though today these populations are much reduced in Sky Islands, which are not able to communicate genetically. In Europe it is thought that during the Mindel glaciation it was not able to find refuge and became extinct about 450,000 years ago.   The common name of the tree refers to the Scottish Botanist who was an early European botanical collector, David Douglas, who reintroduced the tree to Europe where it now grows again in forest plantations.

Pseudotsuga in Europe today

Pseudotsuga in Europe today – after being extinct in the landscape for almost 1/2 a million years after it was unable to survive major glaciations.

4 species of the tree exist in the America’s – another 4 are indigenous to Pacific Asia. There is ongoing debate and a lot of variety in naming subspecies and negotiating boundaries between species and subspecies so don’t take this in too fixed of an imagination. Pseudotsuga menziesii is the Coastal Doug Fir and it has a close relative with whom it easily interbreeds var. glauca also known as Rocky Mountain Douglas Fir – It is also sometimes referred to as Blue fir as it is less green and bluer green in color. Coastal fir is found from mid British Columbia down to Yosemite in the Sierras. It is the most economically significant forest product tree on the planet. It is not usually a climax tree in temperate old growth forests – as its seedlings are shade intolerant. That changes in areas where fire occurs more often. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a part of old growth forests however – the oldest known tree is over 1300 years old!  Hemlock, Red Cedar and Spruce grow up through Douglas Fir eventually replacing it in coastal forests. There are many variations of forest types it is a part of varying from a seral (successional) to climax species.  Disturbed sites keep Douglas Fir active within old growth systems – and human disturbances and forestry practices have increased the proportion of Douglas Fir in forests over the last 200 years. The richest and most developed forest ecologies have developed over 12 to 14,000 years since the last glaciations of the Pleistocene in the transition into the Holocene. It has only reached into it’s most northern zones in the last 9000 years.  There has been some Holocene (the last 10,000 years) retraction to the south now being reversed by climate change.

In the edges of douglas fir's territory it has evolved into sky islands - high mountains which were onces surrounded by contiguous fir forests now hold the last of the trees from a cooler time on earth

In the edges of douglas fir’s territory it has evolved into sky islands – high mountains which were onces surrounded by contiguous fir forests now hold the last of the trees from a cooler time on earth. (This is Wy’East from the north with douglas fir forests below)

Rocky Mt. Fir grows from Alberta all the way into central Mexico.  Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca exists in contiguous forest communities where the Rockies receive maritime influenced weather but becomes isolated to sky islands in Utah and farther south into the Southwest and Mexico. The oldest known tree is just under a 1000 yrs which is rare – this tree is an isolate that is in a lava bed where it has not been exposed to fire.

Downy Woodpecker feeding on Rocky Mt. Doug Fir

Downy Woodpecker feeding on Rocky Mt. Doug Fir

A third species exists in southern Mexico and is found as far south as Oaxaca. Four subgroups are sometimes recognized in Mexico  – Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca in Mexico: P. macrolepis, P. rehderi, P. guinieri, and P. flahaultii. Mexican Douglas Fir has also been referred to as (P. lindleyana) And even P oaxacan.  This diversity of subspecies is under debate and there is a similar set of diversities in naming regarding the Asian species.  All of these divergent species tend to be smaller, exist is relatively isolated islands and are less economically significant in comparison to the Coastal Douglas Fir.

Mexican Psuedotsuga locactions - in danger of extinciton within the century despite a nearly 2 million year run

Mexican Psuedotsuga locactions – in danger of extinciton within the century despite a nearly 2 million year run

“Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) ranks as the second tallest tree species in the world behind coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), and contains the largest trees in the entire Pinacea family. The tallest known Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is the Brummit Fir (located in Coos County, Oregon), which reaches the height 328 feet. In terms of thickness the Queets Fir, located in Olympic National Park, has a diameter at breast height of 14.3 feet. Most old growth Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) range in height from 200 to 250 feet, and have a diameter of 5 to 8 feet. The oldest known Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) can be found on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and is estimated to be between 1300 to 1400 years old (Earle 1999).”

    from the Biogeography of  Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) by Jordin A. Williams

A fourth North American species, Pseudotsuga macrocarpa, is an isolated species endemic to chaparral, live oak landscapes in southern California. . It does not hybridize with menziesii in nature though the University of Oregon has artificially created a hybrid, which is being planted widely because of its hardiness in stressed niches. It is a climax species that is prime habitat for black bears in the spring.

In Asia the forms of the tree are smaller and in relatively isolated small stands occurring in Japan, Taiwan and China. Japanese and Chinese varieties are distinct with multiple intergrades. Most of these asian species are threatened or endangered by agriculture, industrial forestry and isolated populations with few individuals. Here are some maps.


Psuedostsuga japonica”This is a very rare species, with only small and scattered subpopulations of very slow growing trees. The total population is not larger than 2500 trees, there are no subpopulations exceeding 250 mature trees and there is a continuing decline.” International Union for Conservation of Nature

Pseudotsuga_sinensis_brevifolia is endangered

Pseudotsuga_sinensis_brevifolia is endangered. This variety occurs in a limited area within the extensive eroded limestone massifs of SW China; its true extent and rarity remains unknown. Trees are often inaccessible on mountain summits but those on easier sites have often already been logged. Grazing is also a problem in some areas.

Pseudostuga sinensis is marginalized and threatened in China by agricultural clearing

Pseudostuga sinensis is marginalized and threatened in China by agricultural clearing

In most of the literature when questions of geographic origin for Doug fir are explored it is assumed that the origins are post Laurasian and are either Asian or Cascadian.   There does not seem to be conclusive evidence for a definitive origin of existent species. Gene clocks are evidenced through genomic analysis and as more work is done analyzing differentiations this question may find resolution. One of the oldest fossil sites is a Pseudotsuga macrocarpa found in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, which has led some theorists to believe that the isolated southern California species is the parent of menziesii and that the Asian species evolved through Pacific crossings (live seed has floated from the west coast to Hawaii). Pseudotsuga menziesii does have two extra genes representing an ancient divergence. Originally the coastline of Cascadia would be in what is now Idaho. The continental geography of North American was 15 degrees south of where it is now, which corresponds to the current latitude difference between the centers of menziesii vs. macrocarpa range.

Coastal Doug Fir Monoculture in the mist

Coastal Doug Fir Monoculture in the mist

Divergence of Coastal, Rocky Mountain and Mexican Doug fir consistently tracks in genomic studies to the early Pleistocene.  At that time climate tended to be milder and more consistent between the coastline and the Rockies and was inhabited more uniformly with forest (and much richer diversities of megafauna).  It was during this time that the volcanic Cascade Range began to develop and cast its shadow into the Columbia Plateau.  The drying effect of the rain shadow created a disappearance of the connective forest between the two populations. At the same time a cycling of glaciations running southward destroyed existing forest and pushed the species south arriving in Southern Mexico almost 2 Ma ago.

Doug Fir being creative with phenotype

Doug Fir being creative with phenotype

Those areas in the Rockies in which Psuedotsuga is found in the largest contiguous forests are the Columbian forest of Southern BC, Alberta, Northern Idaho and Western Montana, which are heavily influenced by maritime storm tracks. Today this area intergrades with coastal Doug Fir in the North Cascades of Washington State and Southern BC.

Doug Fir is wind pollinated and so can communicate genetically over large areas.  Despite free movement of genetic material it does type itself genetically to aspect (solar orientation), elevation and rainfall.  In studies on single mountains it has been found that there is a consistency in the genetics found with southern solar exposure as distinct from northern exposures showing that it has developed distinct genetic as well as phenotypic strategies of adaptation to place. It is thought that this sorting is done through sapling survival rates of the diversity of available genetics.

Rates of historic migration of the genetics during glaciations and the subsequent recolonizations have been calculated.  These rates of migration are slower than current projected rates of climate change to occur in this century.  It is estimated that the Mexican species – which have been in place for almost 2 Ma will be extinct by 2050 to 2080. This is because of the sky island isolation of populations and the distances of discontinuity – together with projected drying of the climate in Mexico. It’s our hope that average rates do not reflect possible rates and that existing conservation efforts will collaborate with the trees survival in its southern range. 135 million plus years of experience is in the genetic record and there may be a trick or two the trees have we have not imagined. That said extinction records are increasing exponentially on the planet in what is the 6th great extinction of life on the planet. It is credibly estimated that we are currently losing 10,000 to 100,000 species a year on the planet in the current year of 2014. Protection of existing habitats in the southern margins and interconnecting corridors for genetic migration are needed.

Doug Fir Dancing

Doug Fir Dancing in the maritime mists…

Several seeds of Coastal Douglas Fir were taken around the moon and have subsequently been planted out – in Oregon these are on the State Capital grounds and on the campus of the University of Oregon. Who knows what the moon has put into the mix.

Over a thousand mycorrhizal associate mushrooms – both endo and ecto – have been documented for the tree. It has lots of network associates!

Doug Fir is a deep and wondrous community being that towers into the heavens as it softens the extremes of weather and makes the air we breathe and the homes and food of millions of beings. She connects us, to ancient unities that transcend the separations of time.  She has proven herself capable of navigating fire, ice, long dry summers, long wet winters over millions of years.  She softens the winds and heat and cold of time and offers us the air we breathe, she has been a part of making the climates in which we can thrive. That we now are endangering her existence in places she has been generously offering herself for millions of years is astonishing.  May we awaken to her richness and do our part to extend her generosities. Long live Doug Fir!

Ancient Doug Fir

Ancient Doug Fir

Dancing at Celilo

Ecopoetics – Druidic / Shamanic Geomancy – Resonance, Power and Ethics of Artistic Mediumship in the Work of Edward Sheriff Curtis

Edward Sheriff Curtis - circa  1889

Edward Sheriff Curtis – circa 1889

In the mythic past of our Celtic ancestors – a sovereign was one whose spirit was so united with the soul of the land that the very stones sing with the raising of the crown. This is the tale of the Tara or Earth Stone in Ireland. Druid wisdom includes the wisdom of the rhythms and tones of such life resonance. Stones are associated in different ways with the thrones of many human kingship dynasties. In the tales and poetry is the power to excite not only the human spirit but to invoke a conscious array of resonance through ceremonial positioning with the ancient energetic leys of the land. This is an understanding of earth and spirit that has connected the Celts and Native America over time.

You yourself may have had the experience of sharing music on the landscape with festival, celebration, ceremony or your own musical devotions. Medicine music invokes spiritual forces of the living landscape. The birds, insects and animals will come into polyphonic agreements of music that join up symphonically. Each species in a thriving ecosystem occupies distinct territories of tone and rhythm. Medicine music enters this conversation with a listening that amplifies and contributes to synergies of this music. Acoustic biologists recognize centers of this kind of wild polyphony as one of the signs of healthy vibrant ecosystems. Artists and lovers recognize it as an expansive bliss, a healing moment, or active peace.

We now know in truth that our whole gains strength and in deception our very muscles lose strength. This insight centered the old Nordic hazel circle justice of the duel in which two who were in unsuccessfully mediated dispute – under the witness of the elders- encircled with elder planted hazel rods – engaged in physical combat to settle what dispute was theirs – by the bodily strength of truth and the weakness of deception. A brutal path it might seem but one based on this sense of the power of spirit that has integrity of resonance with the elemental powers of the creation. NW Coast Bone games are a more playful dance with this tension between truth, deception and power.

Wishram / Celilo Woman

An ecological, economic and spiritual center of the pacific Northwest over the last 12,000 years + has been Celilo Falls (Wishram is the village on the North Side of the historic Falls) – Women have always been at the core of the work done and the cultural / spiritual power centered there.

In the work of Edward Sheriff Curtis there is a profound and epic striving to represent native spirits with a poetics of resonance that invokes the spiritual power of the land and its people – that it might have a path forward through the rapacious onslaught of capitalistic greed, deception and destruction. He very consciously avoided moralizing political voices and relied on the power of Art. His driving faith was in representing the authentic truth of this beauty and power through great art opening a possibility to invoke the triumph of integrity. Curtis became possessed with the task and it is an enduring visual poetry that holds itself as a bridge across time. His commitment went beyond art to an encyclopedic cultural documentation of a continents peoples. His work ended lives and it furthered lives. The work is still controversial and it is both appreciated, expanded upon and there are those who believe it should be in part destroyed. It is a thorny rose of a thing.

Live in Indian country and there will be a time where you hear tales of those who choose to break a taboo, stumble upon a site, ritual artifact, or ceremony that is to be left alone and instead pry and then pay the cost with life disturbance or even a shortened life. You will hear the tales of ones who have a clear path, a path that those who know and respect will leave clear, and you will hear of the ignorant newcomers who engage before listening and may have paid with life itself for blocking the path. No hand of violence need be raised – these are stories of the shattering of resonances necessary to life – shattering’s, which emerge out of an arrogance that refuses to listen. Misunderstandings and willful ignorance bearing tragic fruits litter the landscape of initial and ongoing intercultural contacts.


The survival wisdom of internalizing the values of the oppressor during genocidal violence has contributed to echoing confusions around respect for the ancient, and respect for the sacred present, leading to dispersing disarray in many lineages of earth wisdom. Those who have carried these insights forward often find themselves in new landscapes foreign to their own lineages as an alternate path of survival in response to the rapacious violence of genocidal capitalistic colonialism. A close look at many of the migrations into North America will expose such roots.

In my own life as an American, Curtis has served as an ongoing ambassador between deeply disparate worlds. Revisiting his work has brought pause for reflection on the mediumship of his striving and the mystery of the way it has found forward movement through time and place. Curtis is an enigma in that he refused rest in an outsider role and was initiated deeply into the heart of ceremonial life as a part of his striving to represent Native America through the shadows and light of image, audio recording, text, film as well as multimedia symphonic lightshow stage performances. He did this without shifting out of his identity but rather out of a desire for personable humanity. He made himself a ley line emanating out of the spiritual elders of the landscape that went straight into the hearts of power in the colonial landscape – obtaining funding from the wealthiest capitalist of the time, J P Morgan, and a foreword to his great work written by no less than the President of the United States – Theodore Roosevelt. Presence on the land gave him access to both of these divergent realities, which he united by infusing glass and film, and ultimately text in the arguably most artful books ever made in America with poetic constellations of light. It was in his work as a mountain guide on Tahoma that he initiated his connections with the power elite rescuing a climbing party of East Coast aristocrats that went astray in blinding alpine white out conditions.

Sun Dance Encampment - Piegan - Curtis's participation in this Sun Dance was the initiatory experience that kept him at work producing the 20 volume North American Indian

Sun Dance Encampment – Piegan – Curtis’s participation in this Sun Dance was among the initiatory experience that kept him at work producing the 20 volume North American Indian

From the modern perspective the concepts of earth geomancy and the leyline and the kinesiology of integrity may not be as strong of a reality as it once was for humanity. The experience of resonance has been constricted despite mediated globalization. The visionary Goethean scientist and founder of Anthroposophy, Rudolph Steiner, made observations of this almost a century ago on a visit to the landscapes of the British Isles which are full of these kind of ancient ceremonial human / landscape constellations. He spoke of the earth’s imaginations which meditative clairsentient practice can so readily experience in the ceremonial leys of the megalithic landscape there. He spoke of the impact of modern technologies – the combustion engine and electricity as shattering the subtleties of these imaginations and our capacity to experience them. He spoke of the importance of granite in this kind of experience – often associated with the spirituality of landscapes such as Cornwall (A primary landscape in this authors ancestral history), which is densely megalithic in its constructed forms. The cosmic forces of the stars are absorbed by the crystal structures of the slow cooled igneous rock and are then reradiated as a part of the nutritional energetics that underlies the doctrine of signatures imbedded in the morphology of plants and animals. He led the development of biodynamic agriculture as a way of retaining this cosmic vitality that is absorbed into plants, which grow in humus / biotic rich soils. The ability of our will to take action upon spiritual insight he saw as connected to the quality of this flow of cosmic nutrition into our bodies through food (In research at Washington State University Biodynamically Grown foods have the highest nutritional content compared to other organic / non organic methods).

Morphological form serves as a kind of etheric antennae in which form allies itself to cosmic resonance. Amazingly the Glastonbury Tor, one of the most famous of such megalithic sites, was discovered to be surrounded by a full set of zodiacal constellations – in the very shape of the landscape and still imbedded in the landscape are geographic place names which refer to the land sculptures zodiacal aspects. It is a mystery how the land and visualization of the land came into being – Katharine Maltwood (who later immigrated to Cascadia and has an archive at the U of BC in Victoria), after meditation and overflights of the Tor in the 1920’s photographed the landscape forms and made the geographic place name connections. Have there been ancient flight traditions? Are the seeing / flying ointments based around mugwort that are still in use among those in the Wicca life tradition a source of this kind of landscape experience and knowledge? Is the meditative practice of walking with the landscape an opening? Are the cosmic strengths of the landscape of the British Isles connected to the emergence of English as a world language? Her insights remain controversial yet illustrate a deep sense of continuity and connectedness through the mediumship of the earth.

Druidic tradition, which is carried forward in the once outlawed Gorsedd’s of the Celts, and the until recently outlawed Shamanic traditions of Native America, share cultural primacy of Orality in communication. Sound is one of the most easily experienced forms of resonance. Modern intoxication with the engine has fundamentally challenged our human aural experience of the landscape. Acoustic biologists have documented the continuing diminishment of the size of biological acoustic space. As air traffic and highways and shipping and rail traffic has increased there are now only a handful of sites in existence which regularly have 15 minutes or longer before being polluted by the sound of engines. Biologists in Crater Lake National Park have documented that sound in the 45 dB range interferes with amphibian mating (walking on a path is about 60 dB). Most cities have background levels of 80-90 dB – and it is a logarithmic scale! In the pre combustion world, acoustic space commonly expanded to as great as 17 miles in radius. That space has grown smaller and smaller until it has been reduced by headphones to the size of our own head.

Klamath Chief - Crater Lake - with Mazama Island in Background

Klamath Chief – Crater Lake – with Mazama Island in Background

The elliptical ball courts of the Mayan (such as found on the San Francisco Peaks of Arizona near one of the four sacred earth breathing openings) are interesting in that when one is in one of the two elliptical centers of the court – the aural experience of the world is reflected so perfectly the world sound feels like it is internal. Sensitivity to this aural experience of the earth is part of the work of ritual use of “hallucinogenic” earth medicines. Peyote experience has been described as opening the sound of the earth’s spin through space to the ears of the soul.

A fundamental insight in communications studies has been that when the primacy of existential experience is mediated – the message of the medium has primacy over the actual content of the medium. Image or text on stone is a message across time – often associated with memorial & burial sites reinforcing in the landscape a social dynamic of power. Image or text on paper is message across distance – often associated with temporalities of empire and commerce across space. The modern global digital mediation is message in simultaneity – time and space are unified. Will this association with simultaneity deepen a hardening and complete shrinking of existentially authentic experience or will it enable a fundamental restructuring of the locus of power and the territory of existential experience? The history of shifts in mediumship is a cautionary tale.

She Who Watches

She Who Watches

Historically there are observable patterns in the transformations of mediumship. New mediums are often introduced with sympathetic references to a previous mediums resonance. This eases transitions with familiarity. For example movies initially often used the opening of curtains invoking the live dramatic space of theatre. The Kindle digital reader replicates the look of paper. As a medium develops it goes through a period of innovative diversity and then moves into a period of monopolistic consolidation. Unless there are conscious structural agreements in the body politic these natural forces of monopolistic consolidation overtake access to the medium. This is reflected in the privatization of medium and narrowed ownership of publishing / distribution for books, corporate consolidation / domination of radio and newspapers in the modern moment. Most current peer reviewed research is locked behind excessive pay walls of elite journals. In my city of Portland there are currently only two choices to gain access to the Internet as opposed to the dozens of choices that existed 20 years ago. Both of these companies have lobbied to break net neutrality, which has driven the egalitarian openness that has enabled the creative explosiveness in the digital age. The surveillance / data mining power of those with the biggest computers is now actively being used to screen what information each of us are given access to. Google searches deliver very different results depending on who you are perceived to be by Google. PRISM allows the military to target anyone on the planet based on their digital medium behavior that represents a threat to the values of consolidated US military power and its monopolies of violence.

How does all this connect with Curtis? He is in an unusual cultural position as he was working at the forefront of new transformations of mediumship of cultural communication – within the vibrant edge territory between multiple cultural ecologies and mediumship transitions. His photography work through its artistry seeded revisions in humanizing First Nations people. He actually created the first Mythic Documentary Native Drama on film, which preceded Nanook of the North (it’s producer received direct inspiration and guidance from Curtis). The film was tied up in distribution litigation and never was released nationally – being almost unknown until an old copy was found in a museum archive. The first attempt at viewing resulted in a fire but about ¾’s of the original has been restored. He commissioned symphonic representations of First Nation song, which were performed in Carnegie Hall, and other premiere venues in the country well before other such efforts.

This canoe was commissioned and filmed during the film project.

One might argue with the analysis that Curtis was seeking to communicate a spiritual integrity that could empower the native spirit in its interactions with capitalistic violence. Many of his photographic images were to a certain extent staged. For example men from differing tribes are imaged in the same beaded deerskin shirt, which Curtis carried. In working with the nature of photography of his time much of what he documented was to varying degrees staged. He was attempting to convey forward across time – place based resonances of culture – that were not yet transformed by interactions with the invasions of industrialism. I would argue that he was striving for a visual poetics of archetypal truth – which in his manipulations he was striving to invoke through creative mediumship. His was a cinematic rather than a literalist approach. He succeeded to varying degrees, which from our perspective in time and cultural experience, we may be unable to fully judge.

Piegan Lodge

The original photograph included an alarm clock between the 2 men – which was washed out in development by Curtis

He also contributed to a commodification of culture and could be viewed as mining cultural treasures. His work was only possible through the production possibilities of industrial culture and the funding of a powerful and often ruthless capitalistic banker. He himself never took payment for his work and by its completion was forced to surrender all ownership and copyrights to his lifetime of work to the Morgan family in exchange for the partial funding to complete the work. The Morgan family sold these rights for little during the depression and the work was almost completely lost until it was discovered in the basement of a bookseller in the 1970’s. His primary scholarly work was limited in it’s production by a hefty subscription price of thousands of dollars that could only be afforded by the most wealthy and powerful individuals and institutions.

When he completed his last and what he considered perhaps most significant volume it was at the time following the 1929 crash and was received with a stunning silence. His life ended with the struggles of ill health, depression, poverty and relative isolation.

Today his work is continuing its rise in value. A complete 20-volume copy of his North American Indian recently sold at Christie’s for over $900,000. (Here is a million dollar link to your copy of the North American Indian care of the Library of Congress and Northwestern University)

WillowPerception itself is a highly selective creative act – and often requires cultural initiation in order to be brought to consciousness. The work of scientists reading emotional micro expressions – and the linguistics work of Noam Chomsky and others has provided evidence that deep internal structures of body and aural communication transcends cultural and linguistic differentiations and represent an essentiality of human biological experience that enables resonate cross cultural communication. The very structure of matter in its encoding of memory in the resonances of fundamental particles retains memory and resonential potentials with all that exists in the fields of light and matter. On the other hand shared experience of a landscape and a people becomes encoded in densifying sympathetic resonances of word and symbol that can take a lifetime to comprehend. This is part of the power of mythological storytelling, song and poetic invocation, which has in its imagery and tonal contours encoded condensations of cultural experience that transcend time and place. While each moment contains infinite directions of consciousness potential we are usually only able to hold 5 to 6 foci of attention at a time. Those foci align with the resonate structures of our initiatory experience which aural and expressive language communicates to us out of the lineages of those in our social and experiential environments. When the predictive patterning aligns or defies predictions of our neurally imbedded predictive consciousness patterns we bring waking consciousness up through the infinite possibilities of consciousness. Changes in the predictive harmonic resonances are awakening and initiate the birth of new consciousness. Good Art combines predictive resonance with the unpredicted and ambiguity to court, free and open consciousness.

Time and space is encoded not only in the content of language and symbol but the space and tone, which surrounds and indwells its invocations. The sharing of music attunes a fundamental biological resonance that initiates cross body communications in packs and communities of biological organisms. Bees and ants are examples of individuals who become what biologists call super organisms because of the integration of individual action into a whole system. Early chimeric life forms in the evolutionary history of the planet may have relied much more on the unifying powers of such communication to inform community dynamics – much as we are discovering prokaryotic microorganisms do to this day. Much as we are discovering eukaryotic plant and animal communities do through the mediation of mycelium & pheremonal networks. The simultaneity potential of digital communication underlies a realization of super organism moments in human experience. We could simultaneously make sudden and significant collective changes in our evolutionary expression. This may be prelude to a historic moment whose resonate memory leys are embedded in the languages of mythic symbology.

The Drummer

While Curtis is most known for his work as a photographer it is little known that he took the power of song and language seriously and made over 10,000 recordings of story, song and language. (While this number occurs in multiple texts there are surviving it seems just under a 1000 recordings housed at the University of Indiana in Bloomington – they are curated with sensitivity to the wishes of the First Nations who own the songs.) For much of his career he assembled crews of translators, scholars and artists each winter in remote sites where they worked 18-hour days 7 days a week with outside communications limited to one day a week. He oversaw attempts at crossing the cultural / medium divides out of orality into literacy for over 75 distinct cosmologies and languages. At the outset of his career he participated in the ceremonial life of the communities he encountered beginning with the Sundance. He was over time initiated as a Hopi Snake Priest – though he chose not to participate in the then public ceremonies because of the potential political consequences for his artistic work. These initiatory experiences opened for him an internal experiential access to the generativity of 1000’s of generations of experience in the American landscape. This created an experiential valuation that exceeded the imaginative potential of uninitiated colonists to comprehend – a divide he sought to mediate. He set out to do what he could to awaken through art, new organs of perception that could create a bridge between these worlds.

Princes Angeline - Chief Sealths Daughter - The first Native Portrait by Curtis

Kikisoblu known to English speakers as Princess Angeline – Chief Sealths Daughter – The first Native Portrait by Curtis

A recording exists of Princess Angeline singing two of her father Chief Sealth’s Spirit Power songs. After revisiting the work of Curtis I suspect that it was very likely he who made these recordings – though they were made before he owned a recorder. She was his first bridge into the world of Native America. The recordings of these songs were brought out by medicine leaders during a reemergence of old family spirit healing ceremonies that had been resting during the period of intensive cultural genocide which included the banning of spiritual practice of community ceremony in much of Native America.

Later Taqʷšəblu, the late Vi Hilbert, took these recordings to a regional composer and invited a symphonic piece which was performed by the Seattle Symphony in a concert that brought together First Nations from all around the Salish Sea to experience the transformation of these Spirit Power Songs of the North Wind and the Thunderbird through symphonic musical resonance that can live in a modern form – The Healing Heart of our First Nations.

Curtis’s documentation of canoes and paddles and hats… has served as a significant cultural reference from which First Nations in the Paddle culture of the Salish Sea have now reemerged.

His work in our lifetime has been experienced as a path that spirit powers have been communicated across time with. Mediumship that has gone back into fundamentals of living culture through representations of the pattern languages of artifact and the live music being shared at community gatherings.

Similar stories can be found across Indian Country. There is a powerful gift, which he led into a crossing through the mediumship divide.

Ultimately this kind of mediumship can serve as distraction and can endanger what it attempts to support. The full ethical implications are not yet in. This is where some of the controversy lives with his work.

For example, in many of the Spirit Power song traditions here in the Northwest Coast songs are not taught – they are owned by those who they gift themselves to – and for some songs there are lineages of them being received across generations of time – skipping generations in rhythms of their own choosing.

Or there is the story of a people on the Klamath who lost one of their last fluent speakers of language – and a young man who fasted in prayer buried in the earth – and received the language spirit.

Or there is the story of Leonard Crowdog during his time in prison when the government figured out he has a doubled nervous system and was preparing to do experiments on him. He gave his attorneys ceremonial instruction and in two weeks they received the language spirit so he could fully communicate – and successfully got out of the prison within 2 months.

Spirit memory and knowledge is embedded in the landscape and with authentic alignments continues its communications directly without human initiatory mediations. The earth itself can serve as source. All of the living carries the deep resonances imbedded in the languages of cultural experience and place. The presence of electronic and documentary technologies can weaken the single heart minded unity that empowers ceremonial resonance. It is for this reason that it is often excluded from such work.

This photo of Princess Angeline brought him his first early success.

This photo of Princess Angeline brought him his first early success.

A personal question lies in this territory of digital mediation. To what extent is this a bridge across violence that interrupts the mediation of life wisdoms? To what extent is this a force, which is shattering the delicacies of the rich continuities of earth’s imaginations? Will we have the spiritual will to release ourselves from the bridge across the water – before it becomes the chain and ball that sink us into a destruction of the last tracks of a free spirit. We of the Anthropocene are enduring a great time of loss and perhaps the choice to encode what we know through digital mediation is a bridge for our future generations. Perhaps this is a meditation that prepares us to go back into direct contact, singing, dancing and ceremony with each other on the earth in a softer less violent post industrial / capitalistic age. Scientists might call it the post Anthropocene. Lovers and Artists will likely call it – Heaven on Earth.




Much of Curtis’s work is now made available to all of us through digital mediation and we can each choose to experience what he strived to communicate – take what is there for us and go forward in our own living. For those in America who are in denial about the dignities and creativities and diversities of culture and humanity, which have sustained 500 plus years of attack, his work is a strong counterweight. For those who are recovering culture that was has been banned, forbidden and dispersed his work has had incredible validating and informing value. As our landscapes ecologies are weakened his work has potentials in informing all peoples of the traditions that exist which have been informed by 1000’s of generations with the landscape, and which can inform a more sustainable coexistence with place. These are living traditions, which we can be inspired to connect to through his work. Attention to and with the spiritual elders of the American landscape can give inspiration to the healing potentials, which lie before us. Curtis is a powerful model of the fusion of human warmth and its ability to nourish connection and communication through resonate art making across space and time.


In thinking about this writing’s themes – integrity, leadership and the wisdom of humility have come to mind.

Leadership often arises out of a polar tension between devotion and violence. Those leaders whose spirits are devotional have a spirit of listening and service which inspires those around them to lift them up socially – to push them into leadership. It is out of a pure resonant listening and fidelity of character that they come to be able to articulate and inspire what is at the heart of a people and a landscape. Devotion becomes blessing power. It is through this kind of leader that a peace in the landscape may be nourished and fortified. The integrity of spirit with the earth is represented in the Celtic traditions of the singing stone at Tara when the proper one is crowned there. Or the story of Arthur who by spirit is the one who can withdraw the sword held in the clasp of stone.

Here in Turtle Island imaginations of devotional leadership resonate in the story of the Hopi peoples. As I have heard it, the people followed a path out of the north and chose to pray in a migration that took them to the four corners of Turtle Island. They then chose to center their existence in the dry southwest between 4 sacred mountains. One of the reasons for choosing their homeland was the difficulty of existence there. They chose a place in which their fidelity to spirit and land would be required in order to survive. (They are one of the few First Nations in North America to never be forcibly relocated from their ancestral villages.) Their food grows out of the rain, which largely falls in concert with their rainmaking ceremonies. People today still say you can tell where the ceremonies are by where the rain is falling.

I have had this experience myself. On a visit to White House in Mesa Verde our National Park Service guide was a Hopi man. When I inquired if it was possible to hear people singing the old songs he invited us to join a basket dance on 2nd Mesa. All of the people were gathering in the plaza area where Katchina Spirits were watching over piles of goods to be given away by the families dancing. Women from elders to youth adorned in hand made ceremonials, each dancing barefoot with a unique spirit design basket sang ancient first world songs together as they danced invoking spirit. Snow began to fall and continued to fall as each family brought out new gifts and the praying and singing and celebrating continued. In all of my life I have never been witness to a group of women who moved with such a combination of grounded power, togetherness and gentle artistic humility. Theirs was a message echoing across ages, across the narrowed boundaries between humanity and the majesty of creation. Their artistic fidelity of spirit will humble me all the days of my existence.

Antelopes and Snakes at OraibiThere are other reasons for the place that they have chosen as home. I cannot pretend to represent these but there is a story, which reveals a bit of it. There are 4 sacred mountains that center much of creation in the Hopi world. A group of scientists became aware of interesting phenomena that are a part of these mountains. Each mountain has an opening into caves. It was noticed that the air flowing at the mouths of these caves followed a rhythm that corresponds to the lunar tidal rhythms. Air begins to be pulled into the caves until it is rushing in at almost hurricane speeds of 60 mph and then it slows until it comes to a rest. It then slowly begins to flow out of the mountains until it is flowing out at almost hurricane speeds of 60 mph – then slows until it comes back to rest. This is a daily cycle that seems to follow the lunar cycles and is a great breathing between the heart of the earth and the sky. The scientists were curious and decided to tag air going in one of these lung entries and discovered that air coming into one mountain was exhaling from another mountain. These mountains are sharing breathing not only in the sky but deep in the earth as well. This 4 Corners region of Turtle Island is one of the largest high altitude areas and because of that is also a place where the breathing in of stardust, which happens primarily at the poles, extends down into the heart of the continent. The people see themselves as guardians of a breathing of the earth. It is no surprise to me that as Edward Curtis strove to comprehend and represent Native America to the world he became most closely aligned with the Hopi whom he spent the most time with and was initiated into priesthood with. An initiation that required he be wrapped in live rattlesnakes guaranteeing his fidelity to spirit.

Chief Joseph

Chief Joseph – Hinmuuttu-yalatlat (alternatively Hinmaton-Yalaktit or Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, Nez Perce: “Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain” or ‘,Hinmatóoyalahtq’it – “Thunder traveling to higher areas”)




Addendum II

The influence of Curtis work has held back the capacity of many people to see modern Native American’s as both traditional people and modern people. The Swinomish / Tulalip artist Matika Wilbur is entering the 2nd year of a 4 year project to photo document 562 First Nations in the USA as both modern and traditional people. Here is her blog with links to her TED talk and her Kickstarter. A very powerful response to the legacy of Curtis and the modern moment.

Opal Waters