III. Rising strata.
Writing with mittens today. Saw the first snow of the season on the peaks while coming. Two sweaters and going slow. . .mud everywhere. Everything is darkened from the rain—trunks almost black with dampness.
And this poor plate, it’s the most exposed to the elements, but it’s faring well. One red-maple leaf on the edge. Stains of dirt—from flowing earth.
Mouse, the color of these stones, seems to float around rocks and over grass. I wonder if its hovered on my weaved grass.
Knoll- Twenty-five maple leaves, two oak leaves, packed down and browning. A crow circles over the opening, calls twice, and leaves the velvet rasp of shifting wings.
Oak leaves on their edges rusting over.
What happens when land elevates? When it is pressed up?
It creates slopes and summits. It creates canyons, valleys, and ravines.
Not just highlands are created, but lowlands. For the lowlands the horizon lifts, hindering light so that night and shadow lengthen.
Land’s resting face rises and leans, creating angled landscapes that vary from hour to hour, yard to yard. Each angle gathers distinct measures of light and moisture, thus supporting distinct patterns of life.
The tilted land compresses change. Here, change arrives in the ascent of three hundred feet that would take, in the lowlands, sixty miles to simulate. [i]
The heightened land reaches a different sky as the air spreads thin, loosing heat and impurities.
Here, land cleaves clouds. Thus precipitation rates are often higher than below. These raised barriers influence airflow, making surrounding areas warmer or colder, wetter or drier. They can modify passing storms. The highest land affects the streams of air on a global scale.
With their steep slopes and young thin soils we rarely live here. So, often the highlands “stand on the economic margins where resources are extracted for use elsewhere, generally to the advantage of the lowlands.”[ii] Yet, these communities are fragile, despite their association with strength and solidity.
There have been times of antipathy toward elevated land, times when it was feared or seen as nuisance, but most often it has been held in reverence. It offers views and water. Visions not found in lowlands come through exertion. Here, we can stand on land but be with the clouds. It’s an elevated pathway and so metaphor often follows these landforms. They have been the homes of gods, shrines, and inspiration. These are the homes of storms, strong winds, and light. Life-giving water so often begins here. Rivers are born here. The angled land collects and directs descending water as it moves earth to solidify its fluid way. Cold temperatures freeze moisture and preserve it for times when rain in the lowlands is scarce. They are barriers to clouds, barriers to views and barriers to access. These are the bones of the Earth, exposed and jointed, and they obscure land on the other side into mystery. They become walls, marking our political and cultural boundaries.
[i] David Smethurst, “Mountain Geography,” Geographical Review vol. 90, no. 1 (2000): 35-56. Fact from page 38.
[ii] Ibid., 42.