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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Homeground: The Language of Landscape

Air Date: Week of February 11, 2011

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Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney. (Courtesy of Trinity University Press)

In our continuing series on language of the American landscape from the book "Home Ground," editor Barry Lopez defines the term "acre foot."

Transcript

GELLERMAN: Just ahead - a story about mixing oil and water in the California desert. In that story you’ll hear a term not commonly used: acre-foot. For a definition we turn to the book “Home Ground.” It’s an anthology of expressions that describe, explain and illuminate our landscape. The editor is Barry Lopez.

LOPEZ: Acre-foot. In a landscape where porcupines lead undisturbed lives, every attentive resident knows how far you mean when you say something is “two porcupines away.” It’s twice the breadth of what one’s come to know as a single porcupine range. Similarly, we learn to quickly locate a feature on the horizon if someone says, ‘it’s a thumbnail to the left of the highest peak there.’


Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney. (Courtesy of Trinity University Press)

Folk measurements like these - or the stoneÂ’s-throw, the dayÂ’s ride, or the pace, though not precise, are accurate. The acre-foot joins together two once imprecise folk measurements to create a term that, apparently, leaves nothing to interpretation. ItÂ’s exactly 43,560 cubic feet of water - a single acre, one foot deep. Given the behavior of water, however, such a precision is rarely dead accurate, which accounts for the enduring wisdom behind the use of folk measurements.

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GELLERMAN: Nature writer Barry Lopez lives on the McKenzie River in western Oregon. His definition of acre-foot is from the book “Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape,” which he edited with Debra Gwartney.

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Links

The Home Ground Project

 

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