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Okanagan writer shares his story and photos

For the past year, Okanagan horticulturalist and writer Harold Rhenisch has explored the Okanagan and its sister valleys in Washington to find its secrets and to build from them a vision of a new integrated environmental, social and political future.

Next Thursday Okanagan Institute Express community discussion series continues with The Spirit of Place: The Explorations of Harold Rhenisch. He will show and tell about his discoveries of and vision for the Okanagan.

Rhenisch has blogged his discoveries daily, following social, scientific, historical, artistic and agricultural threads through the land, on his blog okanaganokanogan.com.

This journey has taken him throughout the Okanagan, the Kootenays, Washington, Oregon, Germany, England and Switzerland. He has researched ancient vineyard irrigation and fertilization methods, cutting edge science, the unknown history of Father Pandosy and cutting edge scientific discoveries, in an approach continually driven by the beauty of the region he explores with his camera.

This is the Okanagan seen through future eyes, with the deep roots behind it of four generations on this land, infused by the joy of discovery and deep love for the land and its creatures.

The project is financed by both the British Columbia Arts Council and the Canada Council, on the grounds that Rhenisch find a way to unite literature and science into one unified exploration, to provide practical social and energy solutions for the future.

Rhenisch has done just that. The steadily growing number of people from around the world who have followed his blog for the past year have shared in his journey, day by day.

Rhenisch was born three months early, in a blizzard, on Jan. 5, 1958 and grew up on an orchard in Cawston, in the Similkameen Valley, the second son of German immigrant Hans Rhenisch and second generation Canadian Dorothy Leipe.

He started writing poetry when he was 15, under dramatist Bill Greenland. From 1976-80 he studied creative writing at the University of Victoria. From 1981-92 Rhenisch worked in the vineyards and orchards of the Okanagan and the Similkameen, eventually running his own pruning, grafting and nursery business.

In 1992 he moved to the Cariboo plateau and in 2007 to Campbell River on Northern Vancouver Island. He currently lives in Vernon.

Rhenisch’s poetry explores the land on which he lives and where he grew up in an immigrant culture developing orchards and vineyards in the fertile Okanagan Valley. In the juxtaposition of new European cultures and an ancient land, Rhenisch sees again the Kenya of the 1920s as portrayed by Karen Blixen in Out of Africa.

After waiting in vain for a V.S. Naipaul to write of the colonial plantation cultures of the Okanagan, Rhenisch turned his sense of the land into a vehicle capable of speaking for a complex contemporary world: the autobiographical fiction of Out of the Interior: The Lost Country.

For over 30 years, Rhenisch has striven to create an authentic literature for the silent rural parts of Canada, to place their images and dialects on an equal footing with those of the modern urban world.

At the same time, he has been a student of Ezra Pound, post-modern German literature and trickster mythology. For Rhenisch, the work of starting a new literature is paramount, centred in the workings of consciousness and mythology.

Come for the best of Rhenisch’s photos and hear him set out his program for the future.

Rhenisch is at the Bohemian Cafe, 524 Bernard Ave. on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 5 p.m.

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