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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Home Ground: Painted Hill

Air Date: Week of

The Painted Hills of Oregon. (Photo: Mark Schindler)

Living on Earth continues its series exploring features of the American landscape. The series is based on the book “Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape,” edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney. In this installment, Oregon writer John Daniel describes “painted hill.”


GELLERMAN: Picture a landscape of a place you love. The image is more than the sum of its parts. There’s an intimacy, a special relationship we have with the land and the forms that are special to us, even as they change. To know a place, to truly know a place is a way of making it our own. Writers Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney asked 45 authors to describe features of landscapes. The definitions are part of a collection called “Home Ground - Language for an American Landscape.” We’ve asked several writers to read from their entries. Today, John Daniel of Oregon has his definition of “painted hill.”

DANIEL: Painted hill. Badlands produce colorful heaps and mounds called painted hills in central Oregon. Striped horizontally in soft interbled hues of red green and pale gold with punctuations of black manganese. The Oregon painted hills embody volcanic ash worked by plants, animals and groundwater into ancient soils now compacted into clay stone layers.

The Painted Hills of Oregon.(Photo: Mark Schindler)

At present, a region of semi arid steppe this geological library of antiquated earth. In the phrase of geologist Ellen Morris Bishop records more than 30 million years of climatic and biotic regimes ranging from subtropical swamp through temperate oaks of annum.

Except for brief skullcaps of bunch grass little vegetation can root in the dense weathered clay of the painted hills. Their life is in their colors which can shift subtly before one’s eyes as the clay takes on the moisture of rain and lets it go. The painted desert of Arizona contains similar formations, called pintaras by early Spanish Americans and by the Navajo land of the sleeping rainbow.

[MUSIC: Laura Veirs “Wrecking” from ‘Saltbreakers’ (Nonesuch Records – 2007)]

GELLERMAN: John Daniel lives and writes in the hills just outside of Eugene, Oregon. His definition of “painted hill” is included in the book, “Home Ground - Language for an American Landscape,” edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney. We’ll bring you more places from “Home Ground” in the weeks ahead.



Home Ground Project


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