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

The Language of Landscape

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth its series "Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape," based on the book of the same title edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney. In this installment, Oregon writer John Daniel muses on the word "blaze.”


GELLERMAN: Well, Bandelier National Monument gets its name from Adolph Bandelier, a Swiss archeologist who studied ancient Pueblo Indian sites. The language that we use to describe our landscape often has origins and meanings that are lost to us now. The book “Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape” reminds us of where the terms that define our environment come from. The book was compiled by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney and from time to time we’ve been featuring some of those terms on Living on Earth.

Today - writer John Daniel and his description of the term “blaze”.

DANIEL: Blaze. Blaze, meaning a white patch on a horse’s forehead, was applied by English colonists to the marking of a forest route by periodically axing off a piece of tree bark to expose a portion of lighter-colored wood.

The Native Americans they learned from blazed lightly with tomahawks when pursuing wounded prey, to code the way back. For Euro-Americans, the word came to signify both the marking and the making of a path, road, or survey line, and the fact or fancy of “blazing a trail” took on mythic status with the westward expansion. Many hiking trails still bear blazes, made in the traditional fashion or applied as small metal plates instead, usually superfluous in summer but useful to ski-trekkers when snow has buried the trail. There may be woodsmen in some hinterlands of the continent who still of necessity blaze trees, but the last blazers are chiefly foresters who use spray paint and plastic ribbons to mark timber sales. For the rest of us, as we blaze into our future, the term has ascended to pure metaphor.

GELLERMAN: John Daniel is a writer whose Home Ground is the foothills west of Eugene Oregon. His description of ‘blaze’ came from “Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape” compiled by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney.

[MUSIC: Joni Mitchell: “Refuge From The Road” from Hejira (Asylum Records 1975)]

GELLERMAN: For 35 years the Telluride Bluegrass Festival has been going strong.



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