I recently rediscovered the book Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape edited by Barry Lopez.
It’s an encyclopedia of geological, ecological and folk terms contributed by authors known for their ties to certain regions of the U.S. Here’s an alphabet sampler, with postcard examples!
Ait “or eyot as it is sometimes spelled, is a small island, especially one found in a river, but also in a lake.”
Despoblado “suggests an area that is not just empty but has been depopulated, abandoned, or sacked.”
Escarpment White House Ruin, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, photography by William Clift
Flatiron “Flat-lying sedimentary rock is pushed upward by geological uplift…the triangular slabs resemble the irons used to press clothes…Some of the best-known flatirons are found near Boulder, Colorado…Others are found in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado.”
Garden of the Gods
Hoodoos “are fantastically shaped stone pillars in deserts and badlands of the North American West. Classic hoodoo groupings, such as those in Bryce Canyon National Park and Goblin Valley State Park in southern Utah, form by sporadic, intensive rainfall erosion of steeply sloped but horizontally layered sedimentary rock, leaving freestanding pinnacles, each with an overhanging cap of resistant stone…Walt Whitman, in Specimen Days, regrets that he never saw “the ‘hoodoo’ or goblin land”…”
view from Rim Drive, Bryce Point, Bryce Canyon National Park
Jaral “The root of the word is the jara, a rockrose that grows in tangles; indeed, jaral can also be used as slang for a tangled, confused situation. It is a landscape, like a cactus field, where the vegetation makes progress difficult: it’s hell on horses.” (Jaral is more commonly used in reference to the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico and Texas, rather than in Arizona.)
I don’t have any postcard examples for K! None from the Catskills, no Florida Keys, knobs, or knolls…
Monument Rock “According to some, a castle rock differs from a monument rock in that it stands more obviously within or upon the structure of its parent rock, not in isolation in an otherwise open landscape.”The Mittens
Nickpoint “A stream flowing along on its way may encounter a broken gradient that drops gradually or abruptly–if gradually, the stream flows faster and creates rapids; if abruptly, the stream changes its flow drastically, falling over the edge of the break and becoming a waterfall. The spot at which this sudden change in stream elevation occurs is called a nickpoint, sometimes spelled knickpoint. Over time, the force of falling water gradually erodes a nickpoint, causing it to retreat.”Crystal Mill, Crystal City, Colorado
Palisade “a tall, inaccessible cliff of column-shaped basalt…often found bordering a lake or river.”
Quebrada “Literally, a break (from the verb quebrar). It implies the breaking up of the ground…In the United States, it is most often taken to mean “a mountain stream” (derived either from the way it breaks out of canyons and gullies, or for the kind of country it breaks from).” Lower Falls
Revetment “protects an embankment against erosion. Revetment materials range from stone, concrete, and mixed rubble to dead trees and specialty fabrics known as revetment mattresses.”
VWXYZ! Happy Earth Day!