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  • Writer's pictureRyan Watson

Kootenay Community Accounting: the backstory

A bit of oral history and geography from a Kootenay boy

As the glaciers of the ice age retreated, the Northern Rockies began to capture the Pacific moisture that turned these stark peaks and lush valleys into the world’s only landlocked rain forest. Snow-blanketed from December to March, and surrounded by snowcaps from October to May, the valleys can be gloriously warm for much of the year. Glaciers and snow-fed rivers pound the mountains slowly into sand. Some of the surging rivers spew deltas of river rock, bashed round and smooth. Pebble beaches are storm-lined by water-whitened and sun-bleached tree stems, torn in years before from their mountain perches somewhere above.


Some of the rivers produce great sandspits sweeping out into the lakes. The biggest one on Kootenay Lake is maybe a kilometer long, and smaller ones dot the lakeshores of the region. In other places, ridges end in high cliffs that plunge deep below the surface of the lakes. The Kokanee trout thrives and multiplies in the cold waters, while deer, moose, cougars, black bears, and the occasional elk and grizzly roam the mountains.


For thousands of years the Ktunaxa tribes inhabited this bioregion. Canoes, portages and the occasional mountain pass were their primary means of transportation. When they were joined and then assimilated by European states and peoples over the past few hundred years, the first new method of transportation added was the sternwheeler, a lakeboat on which a coal engine turns a huge waterwheel in the stern to push against the water. Railroads were added, then paved roads, electricity, and telecommunications networks.


Many of the greatest rivers are now dammed, generating extremely valuable amounts of electricity that can be sustainably harvested at an extremely low capital cost for as long as snow and rain fall on these mountains. However, the dams have damaged the local ecology, with impacts that are still being fully understood. Spawning salmon used to range across the bioregion, spreading nutrients. This still occurs, but within more limited ranges. A few valleys have been flooded to create completely new hydropower lakes.


With modern economic infrastructure that has now been in place for decades or centuries, life is adapting to the existence of the dams, roads, and population centres. But like almost every other bioregion, natural resource flows are significantly less rich than they were a few generations back. Habitat loss from clearcutting and climate change have weakened the bioregion. But the lush natural world of the Kootenays still very much thrives.


Nelson was founded as a mining town. The area was rich in silver at one time, and in Nelson I lived on Silver King Road, which once led up the mountain to the Silver King Mine. Forestry has always been important to the local economy, but mining in the region ended decades ago. Small scale gardening and micro-farming exists, but the shade and rockiness of the mountains make large-scale agriculture uneconomical in all but a few of the wider valleys.


Nelson is one of a handful of small cities, dozens of villages, and hundreds of communities on the shores of Kootenay Lake, in the surrounding network of rivers and smaller lakes, and a few of the nearby valleys and plateaus with friendly microclimates.


Current context

Nelson is halfway between the global cities of Vancouver and Calgary, which are a full day’s drive either way. Closer are the regional hubs of Kelowna, BC and Spokane, WA, which are each a half day’s drive away. Yet with all this proximity, Nelson is not on the direct routes between any of these major population centres. The nearest serviced airport, with quick 45 minute flights to Vancouver and Calgary, is a 30 minute drive away in Castlegar, but flights are unreliable in the winter due to mountain weather. Nelson is just slightly off the beaten track, with a population of approximately ten thousand within the city limits and that many again in the surrounding metro area who come to town regularly for work, school, shopping, or socializing.


North of Nelson, an hour’s drive along the shores of Kootenay Lake, is Kaslo, where I was born. It’s even a little further off the beaten track, deeper into the heart of the mountains, with a population of around a thousand people. In the picture below, I can see the neighbourhood where I was born and lived the first decade of my life. The tallest peak in the background is Mount Loki, visible from almost everywhere in the town. There’s an old sternwheeler-turned-museum down next to the beach. Most of the low-lying lands you can see were shaped by scraping glaciers, with river deposits extending their own deltas slowly over more recent millennia. The peaks surrounding Kaslo were above most of the glacier flow, so they remain jagged. Directly around Nelson, where I moved just before my tenth birthday, the mountains are slightly lower and so also gentler, having been ground smooth.



Nelson (and to a smaller degree also Kaslo) culturally stand out slightly from the rest of the Kootenays, which as a whole also stand out culturally from similar rural areas in most of North America. I believe this is due to waves of immigration, most notably when a number of refugees fleeing conscription into the Vietnam war settled here. This injected just enough California hippy into the local mix to slightly shift the cultural baseline in interesting ways. Much later, a statue was erected in Nelson celebrating the contributions that these draft dodgers had made to the local community over the decades.


Market energetics

The spending preferences of the communities where I grew up in the eighties and nineties could perhaps be summarized as prefiguring the consumption patterns of hipster culture. It was a time of homemade yogurt and pickles, stoneground bread, backyard kindergarten, and easter parties around massive bonfires on a working biodynamic farm. It was also a time of chainsaws, pickup trucks, logger sports, and hockey, though I was slightly less connected to this part of the culture. It was a time of house parties that brought a quarter of the whole local population together under one roof (and backyard).


Economically these energetic translate into phenomenon such as despite thriving restaurants on literally every Nelson corner and up every alley, McDonalds only gained a foothold there in the late nineties (I recall). On the other hand, A&W was there since before I can remember. So, similar to urban hipster culture now, Nelson is different… yet not fundamentally all that different from the fabric of the western culture around it.


The culture, economy, and lifestyle of Nelson, along with the stunning natural backdrop it offers, attracts wave after wave of young professionals from the surrounding cities and beyond, many of them moving to the Kootenays to raise families. There is also a constant subculture centered on mountain sports, especially in the winter, that attracts a less affluent but more culturally energetic and often more transient immigrant demographic. All this keeps Nelson and many Kootenay cities and towns demographically younger and culturally more urban and lively than most rural areas across the continent.


Many of us born in the Kootenays do leave, and many also later return to raise families of our own. It is a place that many people love. Although elements of Kootenay culture may have in some ways prefigured hipster cultures of today, things developed differently here than in the cities. Here the culture is more grounded and real, but also more spiritually aware.


Economically, the consumption patterns initiated by the refugees in the sixties and seventies attracted people drawn to the atmosphere they created, and who added their own similar and different consumption patterns over these. Today, Nelson is an extremely attractive place for mobile Canadian professionals in any industry. Export revenue from small businesses and consultants funds consumption patterns that are slightly different from the surrounding culture, and rural North American culture in general. The local economy thrives on this, and that in itself continues to attract new long term residents and tourists.


In Kootenay culture, the rednecks and loggers get along pretty well with the treehuggers and activists. Perhaps that’s why the culture wars of western society have made such little sense to me. I never had an issue integrating my more conservative country values with my more progressive and urban worldviews. Maybe what it comes down to is that I was blessed to grow up around lots of people with really good hearts.


But amidst all the pleasant interactions of my childhood were a few of brutally violent intensity, and they also shaped my life.


A twist of fate

On the night of April 30, 1985, in the village of Kaslo, at the edge of the woods, amidst the sleeping houses, someone slipped down the mountain behind our home and quietly planted a stick of dynamite in the engine of our family car. It exploded on the morning of May 1st with my sister and I sitting in the back seat, and my kindergarten classmate just outside. I was four years old.


you can never know

what life is gonna hand you

rising through challenges

that you had never planned to

living through the magic

of the joyful and the tragic

it's the art of being human

what you can do is fantastic


It was the first of five attacks over eighteen months. The only physical human injury in any of them was my friend's eardrums on that first morning. The second and third attacks were fizzles. The last two were bombs of dynamite and shrapnel rock, placed on our car hood and then our shed roof and set off during the night. These did a lot of damage, but we were physically unhurt.


A jagged line of peeling paint around the top right of the cement shed in this picture taken 33 years later tells where the corner chunk of cement was blown off in the fifth attack, then re-poured in the repairs. Those are the stairs the bomber came down to reach the car in the previous four attacks. And that's what a car looks like after a stick of dynamite goes off under the hood, with three kids under five within a 15 foot radius.



There was never a good lead, suspect, motive, or piece of useful evidence. A recorded death threat that my Dad received added to the fear, but provided no leads. The cop who led the case locally had recently moved from a major crimes division in Vancouver. A reward was offered by the community. Nothing. But then a sixth attack never materialized… and it was over.


For the most part, I had a very normal early childhood in a small village in the mountains of British Columbia. But within that reality, I’m also a veteran of a war-zone and a victim of something that seems very like terrorism or a vendetta… but without any discernible agenda. For me, explosive violence is not an abstract or far-off reality. In many ways I have lived a normal semi-privileged life in salary-class Canadian society. But embedded deep in my nervous system is also the reality that bombs of extreme violence can literally go off at any time, for no discernable reason.


My sister Hayley (Dr. Hayley Watson of Open Parachute) shares how she has integrated and grown from these events in her TEDx talk exploring why Youth Mental Health is not as complicated as we make it out to be.


Trauma reactivated

The planes hit the towers in New York on September 11, when I was twenty years old. My heart immediately broke for the victims. It broke at the same time both for the ones I saw leaping from the buildings, and also those I knew would follow as the imperial backlash crushed whoever ended up with the blame in the imagination of the US public. I now see that my reaction to the events of those years of war was amplified a hundredfold by the earlier trauma that was still resonating in my nervous system.


I was so impacted that just before the bombs started falling on Iraq I realized that I wanted to be there, in hopes that I could help stop the madness with my presence. The impulse to oppose violence with my presence then brought me to apply for something called the Non-Violent Peaceforce, which was intended to deploy to Sri Lanka during the civil war there. That kind of intentional physical presence in a war zone no longer feels skillful to me, but the heart impulse that drove me towards these extreme gestures remains a guiding force of my life.


Violence thrives in the quiet shadows and at the margins. It thrives because we are all too afraid to face it. But it’s actually not that we are afraid to face it out there in the world or in others. Far deeper and more damaging is the fear that every human has in the face of our own compliance, complacency, and privilege in the systemic application of violence. All of us participate and benefit to some degree, and all of us are terrified to face that fact. The very idea that we ourselves are violent in any way is triggering to many. In my experience, the more privilege that we have in the current social order, the more likely we are to be sure that violence is something that only our enemies could ever employ, but never ourselves.


But the truth is that the deepest and darkest violence is systemic violence. Facing systemic violence is not about defeating an outer enemy, it’s about defeating a pattern that exists within the system as a whole, and also in some form within each of us as fractals of that system.


I grew up knowing deep down that facing systemic violence was my life’s work. So I took the revolutionary energy that in its most aggressively heroic form wanted me to put my body where the bombs were falling… and I dove into self-education instead. I studied war and history, empire and economy, finance, politics, and social process. Most of all I studied power and its relationship to violence.


In my research I identified two strategic pivots for the systems of global power: energy and money. Energy systems are dense, physical, and can only be manipulated within the realm of material reality. On the other hand, money is a purely social construct. The ghostly binaries of microchip-stored data barely count as physical existence at all. Money is created purely by human imagination, and by human participation in the processes that bring human imagination to life.


And that brings us to magic.


Magic

These days I publicly describe myself as an operative mage. That feels provocative, but not too outlandish. The reality is outlandish though. I actually identify as a combat sorcerer. I am a strategist and warrior who is actively engaging in magical combat with the apparently self-contradictory purpose of achieving victory over war.


Magic is the art, science, and craft of changing consciousness in accordance with will. Changing our consciousness changes our actions, our brain chemistry, our presence in the world, and the ripples that emulate outward from our existence. Therefore, consciousness-changing magic is the process by which humans alter the patterns that we bring into life around us in the material world.


Walk into your nearest grocery store, wave your pocket wand, and walk out with an apple grown on the other side of the world. If you are in the salaried class, that apple probably cost you a few minutes of your salaried time. You did value producing work for others for a few mere minutes, and that energy was transformed into that apple in your hand, sourced from wherever in the world it happens to be harvest season right now.


You can tell me the basic story of how the apple got to you, and you might think that because you can tell me this story, it means that the way that apple materialized in your hand has nothing to do with magic. It’s just economics and technology, right? If we dug deeper into the matter, you could point to millions of data points to prove your story, and you could disprove every alternative. But to a practicing mage, the story that you would tell is itself the very fabric of the spell that you exist within. From where I stand, you are pointing to the spell itself and saying, “Ha! See! It’s not a spell!”


Our consciousness crystalizes in our stories. The stories that we tell ourselves about our own existence have a far greater impact than we often realize. An operative mage is a human who intentionally weaves a story-spell into the fabric of human consciousness. It always starts with the mages themselves, and propagates from there. Mages create resonance to a story-spell within, and if the story finds enough resonance in the world around it, especially in other mages, it can do things like summon apples across space and time into the hands of hungry humans everywhere.


Modern magical combat is a multi-polar struggle to establish the stories of a common social reality amidst a war-torn and fracturing spiritual landscape. The stories of past centuries, and now even past decades, have lost their power to unite and compel us. They no longer shape our consciousness as they once did. At the margins, mostly outside the consciousness of the salaried classes, these stories and the systems that embody them can no longer deliver apples to everyone… and the people are getting very hungry. For some of us, magical combat is a struggle for survival.


Successful modern mages tell modern stories that thrive in the ecology of modern social consciousness. The story-spells of global empire that once filled our social ecology have lost their power, opening up magical resources and ecological niches for new stories to evolve. These stories are laid over the same raw mythic constructs that mages have always accessed and employed, but successful modern stories help humans make sense of the spiritual and material landscape that we occupy today. We need these stories because we need a way to orient ourselves and our actions in the world. Without stories, our actions are random and powerless. But when the stories in our consciousness resonate in harmony with social, spiritual, and material reality, they enable us to effortlessly align our actions with what is true today, and we become immensely powerful.


The global flows of energy that do our economic work may appear to be the bedrock of global power. Yet these flows of physical power are intrinsically bound to specific human purposes and actions. Actions are defined by individual human stories, which are in turn shaped by our common reality. Mages battle to shape common reality, because common reality in turn shapes the stories that we tell ourselves about what is possible, and about what is impossible. Modern mages battle for survival to wrest back control of the social construct itself, because we see it crumbling around us.


The magical constructs of our stories are far more primal and powerful than the global flows of energy and all the economic value that these flows create. Our stories are more powerful than the awesome militaries that uphold empire. In this moment, story-spells that resonate in harmony with modern spiritual reality and the spiritual needs of modern humans are quietly at work at the margins. So many of us are experimenting with new social constructs, and as we work we are shaping the common reality of tomorrow in ways we do not yet fully know.


But we do know that no human is an innocent bystanders to the magical combat of our time and place. We are all active participants, and the landscape of our consciousness is the strategic context in which battle is waged. Our actions and decisions matter. We ourselves cocreate common reality in every moment. The only difference between a mage and a muggle is that a mage realizes that they are part of this process and can observe at least traces of it within themselves, whereas a muggle is certain that the processes that form society are happening somewhere “out there” beyond their own consciousness and beyond their power to change.


But the social construct and the common reality are not something imposed upon us, they are something we actively cocreate. We have the magic of agency, and we each have our human sovereignty.


Choose your weapon

Like all of us, you were raised within the story of empire. When we look down, the tools that we see before us are the tools of empire. The magic wand you wave at the grocery store is a weapon of empire.


Whether your wand is a card or a phone, or whether you prefer the more ancient spellform of runes on paper or even the timeless spell of pure gold, the magic that coordinates humans across economic time and space is the magic of the spell-story of money. But like so many of the spell-stories of empire, the story of money has lost its resonance with common reality, and the mages who control money are at the helm of a social construct that is careening out of their control. They hope for a soft landing, while darker forces also gathering in the margins prepare to thrive amidst the human suffering of a harder landing, should they fail.


On the other hand, the crypto-warriors and mages who fight to wrest control of money from the powers that be are under the same story-spell. They truly believe that money is the only possibility, blinded by a subtle paradigm that lies deeper than they can yet observe in themselves. Should these rebel mages and warriors succeed against all odds, one day they will look up from their victory to see that they own the social construct of money... and they shall see that the ground they have gained is quicksand surrounded by cliffs topped by angry mobs.


The systemic patterns of empire simply cannot be defeated by weapons that propagate the systemic patterns of empire. Energy spent in this way is a strategic blunder that leaves its victims on the wrong side of some very important realities.


Credex

Twenty years ago, in the spring of 2003, on the shores of Kootenay Lake at Six Mile, a different pattern arose, and somehow I started to vibrate with a different frequency. I’ve spent my life nurturing and testing this resonance, and at every step it has become stronger and clearer. I know know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this is potent magic.


This story-spell is named credex. Credex is not an alternative currency, credex is an alternative TO currency.


I've spent the last 18 years raising my own family in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I'll be returning to the Kootenays this summer, and I sincerely hope you’ll join me and a growing group of inspiring humans in Nelson on August 18th at 4:30 for the launch of Kootenay Community Accounting, the first locally-based hub of the credex ecosystem, and the next step in testing the resonance of this spell of credex, the social construct it helps us create, and its power to shape the common reality of tomorrow.

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