Tag Archives: Osoyoos

The Haynes Count

I stand in a tiny, pathetic remnant of Canada’s hottest, driest ecosystem, surrounded by two excellent wineries. The loose, sandy soil of the Haynes Lease Ecological Reserve moves easily underfoot. There are patches of Antelopbrush here and there, and cactus is everywhere. I am seeing the usual invasive suspects: Bulbous Bluegrass, Alfalfa, Baby’s Breath. A thoroughly nasty Puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris) in the dirt parking lot, which I destroyed with my boot. Fortunately the scattered Dalmatian Toadflax is under attack by our biocontrol beetles. 

Still, this one-hundred hectare Reserve provides a “moment,” so to speak, despite the traffic noise coming from Black Sage Road down below. (Black Sage is a common misnomer for Antelopebrush; it is not in the Sage family.) Talk about hot and dry. Here I am, at less than 300 meters above sea level, 0.04 minutes north of the 49th Parallel, on a southwest facing slope (the driest of the eight compass aspects), on sandy soil. No wonder there is a patch of cactus every meter or so. 

Nestled amongst these ecological extremes and ironies is the historical irony of the Haynes family, the original purchasers of this land that once belonged to the Osoyoos Indian Band. This was another example of a common practice of the Dominion Government of the time; putting traditional Indigenous lands up for sale or long-term lease to white settlers.

As I walk further on to the Ecological Reserve, I notice a tall, narrow forb with branching leaves that had me stumped. I collect a specimen and upon returning home, I scan through various floras and narrowed it down to either a Mugwort, a Salvia, a Wormwood or a Sage. But this would not be the conventional grey, shrubby, long-lived Sage: it was obviously an annual or biennial. So I knew I was in a world of hurt. There are literally dozens of species belonging to these four families, some introduced, some native, and some native “ruderals” that mimic the invasive characteristics of introduced species. 

Searching further, I discovered iNaturalist, an online wallow for plant junkies, birdnerds, spider freaks and several other categories of mildly obsessive naturalists. Instantly I felt right at home. As I surfed about, I found an entire online folder dedicated to the Haynes Lease itself. Stunning: 582 species have been found in that hundred hectares. The Marbled Purple Jumping Spider, the Nashville Warbler, the Columbia Plateau Pocket Mouse, the Cat-Faced Orb Weaver, the Columbia Moonglow Lichen, the Western Skink, plus 577 others, each with an accompanying photograph.   True, Haynes Lease does include several distinct habitats, starting at the riparian oxbows of Osoyoos Lake, and then proceeding uphill to 600 meters asl, near the top of Throne Mountain. But still, the number of identified species is a remarkable indicator of the biodiversity of the Haynes Lease, as well as a tribute to local naturalists.

After an extended period of iNaturalist organism-surfing, I returned to my original quest, and found my mystery plant: Northern Wormwood (Artemisia campestris) a wide-ranging—and somewhat weedy—native biennial.  One of the five hundred and eighty-two. I did look for one of my favorites from my California childhood: the Pygmy Short-Horned Lizard, but no luck. The last reliable sighting of this delightful little reptile in the Osoyoos area was in 1957. 

I finally closed Inaturalist but it did prompt a speculation: now that we have counted all the individual species, what if we reversed that reductionist focus? What if we could identify, map out and count all the myriad relationships between these five hundred and eighty-two species? To go beyond a mere population census, and begin thinking of the Haynes Lease as a hundred-hectare organism? 

Now there is a job for us mildly obsessive naturalists, and our computer-nerd kinfolk.

A Mountain and a Digital Departure

I find joy in unexpected connections. Call them daisy chains, serendipities, Vulcan mindmelds or whatever, they offer momentary celebrations of life’s connectedness. 

I had one of these random events while searching for the Indigenous name of a mountain in the Chopaka country, west of Osoyoos in southern BC. “Black Mountain” is it’s settler appelation, which is totally unsatisfactory since there are several other Black Mountains in British Columbia. It is also known as “Crying Peak” and “Kruger Mountain West,” but these are no more evocative than the Black Mountain name. This modest 1300 meter peak stands by itself, overlooking the Nighthawk border crossing and the adjacent Similkameen River Valley. 

I went on the hunt for the mountain’s name in Nsyilxcen, the language of the Syilx people of this region, and that led me to a linguistic website based in eastern Washington. I didn’t find the mountain’s name, but in browsing through the website, I found some early photographs of the construction of Grand Coulee Dam. This massive dam was built in the 1930’s, and displaced large numbers of Syilx as it flooded a massive expanse of the Columbia River Valley. As I scrolled through photos of the workmen, I was reminded that my father was one of those thousands of workmen during the Great Depression. 

So I decided to follow that daisy chain, to see if I could find a picture of Dad, fresh out of highschool, as he worked as a laborer on the dam in 1935. Using “Gayton” and “Grand Coulee Dam” as internet search words, I scrolled through the first few Google pages without success, but at the bottom of each succeeding page was that enticing “next page” button. By page five or so, I knew I was getting further and further afield, but then suddenly the name Anna Hadwick Gayton popped up. 

One of the attributes of an unusual surname, like mine, means there is some statistical chance you might be related. So I dove into that webpage, and soon discovered a family connection. I have always been weak on family lexicological terms, so I can best describe the connection this way: Anna Gayton (1899-1977) was the daughter of my paternal great-grandfather’s brother.  

Digging further, I found that Anna grew up in southern California, and was the fourth woman in the US to obtain a Ph.D in Anthropology. The title of her 1928 dissertation was “The Narcotic Plant Datura in Aboriginal American Culture.” She did fieldwork with the Yokut and Western Mono Indians, curated Peruvian textiles and pottery, and studied the religious festivals of the Azorean Portuguese community in California. She was also the Chair of the American Folklore Society, back when folklore study was a recognized discipline. Her extensive list of research publications spans five decades. 

I am humbled by this woman’s grit and determination, finding success in the male-dominated discipline of anthropology. I am also intrigued by the great breadth of her research interests. Could some of her fierce and wide-ranging genes have been passed down to me, but they simply haven’t expressed themselves yet?  A comforting but illusory thought. I will settle for the momentary joy of unexpected connection.