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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

The Language of Landscape

Air Date: Week of August 21, 2009

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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, Barry Lopez explains the term “soil.”


CURWOOD: Our land – our Home Ground is soil. And soil – that humble, vital basis of all the greenery we depend on - is the subject of this excerpt from the book “Home Ground, Language for an American Landscape”.

Nature writer Barry Lopez and fellow author Debra Gwartney gathered lyrical descriptions of landscape features in this book. Today Barry Lopez explains – soil.

LOPEZ: Soil. Erosion, volcanic eruption, earthquakes, floods, tectonic grinding, landslides, and other natural forces act continuously on the earth's crustal rock, creating various types of debris—gravel deposits, mudflats and the tidal estuaries of creeks, cobble terraces, and beaches of black lava sand. When chemical agents, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, infuse this debris, and biological entities including microbes and earthworms work material into it organic enough to support plants, it becomes soil. A soil that is chemically or organically exhausted, that's been pulverized or become deeply parched, that has been invaded by decomposing rock, or that's been fowled by sewage or industrial pollution to the point where it no longer can support plant life, is called dirt.

[MUSIC: Tom Verlaine “Spiritual from Warm And Cool (Thrill records 2006)]

CURWOOD: That's writer Barry Lopez, who together with Debra Gwartney, created "Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape."



Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape


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