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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

The Language of Landscape

Air Date: Week of March 4, 2011

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

Living on Earth continues its series exploring features of the American landscape, based on the book Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney. In this installment, writer Donna Seaman explains the term "slough."

Transcript

GELLERMAN: By the way - if you're wondering what a "slough” (spelled S-L-O-U-G-H) is, we have a definition for you.

[Daniel Lanois “ O Marie” from Acadie (Red Floor Records 2008).]

The definition comes from the book “Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape,” edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney. Writer Donna Seaman has this explanation of the term "slough."

SEAMEN: Slough. A slough - or a “sloe” - is a narrow stretch of sluggish water in a river channel inlet or pond. A slough can also be a marsh, swamp, bayou or any soft, muddy or waterlogged ground. The great, flat city of Chicago is built on filled sloughs or swampy bottomland. Slough is also a verb, meaning to mire in a slough or swamp. And to be sloughed can mean lost in a swamp.


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

Used as slang - to “slough in” or “slough up” is to arrest or imprison, to be inhibited or bogged down. 19th century travelers reported horses sinking up to their necks in sloughs that look no deeper than a puddle. Prairies, especially those radiating from the Mississippi, are, or were, riddled with sloughs; and sloughs run along the St. Paul, Pacific and Sioux City Railroad tracks, and other elevated rights-of-way, providing ideal homes for muskrats.

GELLERMAN: Writer Donna Seaman calls "the beautiful Hudson Valley in New York State" her home ground. Her definition of slough came from the book “Home Ground,” edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney.

 

Links

The Home Ground Project

 

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