Certain Geographies


That subtle ridge is the edge of an exquisite slot canyon, the perfect metaphor for the beauty and enchantment that is hidden from our view

Every time I spend time in the Great Basin desert, I feel an irrepressible sense of resonance. That soil is in me, energetically and literally (my mother being conceived in that landscape implicates me too.) This time my experience was heightened by reading Rebecca Solnit‘s early book about this region, Savage Dreams. Her unique ability to effortlessly blend the personal, political, critical and poetic made it the perfect companion as I explored a landscape of such depth, complexity and power.

And once again I come back to the words of nature writer Ellen Meloy:

Of all the things I wondered about on this land, I wondered the hardest about the seduction of certain geographies that feel like home—not by story or blood but merely by their forms and colors. How our perceptions are our only internal map of the world, how there are places that claim you and places that warn you away. How you can fall in love with the light.
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For a homebody surrounded by the familiar or a traveler exploring the strange, there can be no better guide to a place than the weight of its air, the behavior of its light, the shape of its water, the textures of rock and feather, leaf and fur, and the ways that humans bless, mark or obliterate them. Each of us possesses five fundamental, enthralling maps to the natural world: sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell. As we unravel the threads that bind us to nature, as denizens of data and artifice, amid crowds and clutter, we become miserly with these loyal and exquisite guides, we numb our sensory intelligence. This failure of attention will make orphans of us all.


Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon, near Escalante Utah

10 Comment

  1. Love the Ellen Melloy quote. She leaves out a sense that assaults my core every time I spend time in the heart-stopping beauties of nature. It is spirit. Sometimes I feel the intensities of the struggle just to exist in such places; or simply the grace of the arrangement of creation. Whatever the place, pausing to feel invites this other sense.

    1. deborahbarlow says: Reply

      So well said Ann. Thank you for this.

  2. A rich weaving of words that at first seem to flow with ease and grace, however on re-reading the quote almost every phrase delivers more. Take “How you can fall in love with the light”… Oh my! Is this what happens as one feels sufficiently safe to shake off the dust, soften and unfurls one’s being? And how wonderful is “the weight of it’s air…”?!

    1. We share in the awe Suzanne. Falling in love with light…aha!

  3. wondrous!
    isn’t it extraordinary how (for me, anyway) especially deserts gather you in?… how clear it becomes that sky above, earth below and person in between as what weaves them together are actually all there is…

    1. Geographies choose us, and I am glad to know you have been chosen by the deserts as well. Another point of commonality between us. Thanks for this.

  4. I must have the need for desert dwelling encoded in my genes. The sense of belonging i experience when in an austere place is amazing to me. i love the light, the textures and their attendant sounds when the air moves over the place, the wrinkled terrain, the persistent vegetation, the nearly hidden fauna that requires passive attention to perceive -a totality of marvels.

  5. Tom Litster says: Reply

    Excellent. If you have not read the Barry Lopez essay “The American Geographies,” you might want to give it a look.

    1. deborahbarlow says: Reply

      Tom, thanks for the heads up. I have read a number of Barry Lopez’s excellent books but this is an essay I do not know. I’ll track it down. Your recommendations have been spot on.

  6. An exquisite photo of Peek-a-boo Slot Canyon.

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