Lay of the land

  • Independence Pass, Colorado.

    William Wyckoff courtesy University of Washington Press
 

How to Read the American West: A Field Guide
William Wyckoff
384 pages, paperback: 
$44.95.
University of Washington Press, 2014.

Too hefty to be carried in a hip pocket or even a daypack, William Wyckoff's How To Read The American West is a field guide unlike any other, with a focus on patterns, variations and the distribution of landscape features. Inspired by Peterson's glorious bird books, it draws attention to eco-tones, watersheds, settlement patterns and corridors of connection (such as interstates or historic trails), and to questions of use, scale and control. Ultimately, it considers our grip on the land and the land's grip on us.

Cross-referenced and studded with photos and maps, this guide invites us to browse, linking waypoints by topic more often than by region. It capably leads the reader through 100 entries arranged by theme. Much as birders learn to distinguish dozens of sparrows, we learn to read the nuances of the West.

Wyckoff teaches earth sciences at Montana State University and, for a cultural geographer, has a rather poetic voice. "Much of the West's appeal remains connected to its physical musculature, its sheer material, visceral presence," he writes. The Big Country's sky is "wedded to the land beneath it by the interplay of atmosphere and terrain." Chapters on cloudscapes and cacti, on Mormon architecture and vineyards, on military spaces and bungalow burbs form entwined strands in a narrative bolstered by facts and statistics.

The past pervades each page, and to a degree, still shapes the present. Folk-style "worm fences" made of dovetailed logs zigzag across Rocky Mountain pastures but are gradually disappearing. Similarly, roulade-like hay bales extruded from automatic balers are replacing traditional "bread loaf" haystacks. Numerous cultures have endowed Western landscapes with their legacies, whether symbolic, such as Navajo lore about four mythical mountains, or material – the Bureau of Reclamation's barrage of dams. "Landscapes tell great stories," Wyckoff states in his introduction. "But we need to know where to look for them and how to make sense of what we find." This guidebook shows us where and how, with a raptor's acuity and broadness of vision.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS & DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT Compensation: $42,000 - $47,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k, PTO, flexible...
  • PARTNERSHIP & COLLABORATION DIRECTOR
    WEST REGION WILDFIRE COUNCIL- RIDGWAY, CO The partnership & collaboration director will provide leadership and/or assistance with all initiatives that create and enhance connections between...
  • 2 FIELD PROJECT SPECIALISTS (POSITION FORMERLY TITLED TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISOR)
    Are you passionate about environmental conservation and connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with outdoor leadership...
  • WATER STEWARD
    The Blackfoot Challenge is seeking a full-time Water Steward to coordinate and deliver a variety of partnerships and projects aimed at conserving and enhancing water...
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm in the mountain town of Mount Shasta. Small home, 2 barns (one with apartment), and more. Famously pure air and water.
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • POLICY & PLANNING SPECIALIST
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT highly preferred, remote negotiable Compensation: $50,000-54,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Illinois Valley SWCD is offering an incredible career opportunity in beautiful SW Oregon. .8+ FTE, plus benefits. Visit our website for full details.
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Formed in 1980, Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action brings people together to build grassroots power through community organizing and leadership development. The Alliance works...
  • LITIGATION ASSISTANT, NORTHERN ROCKIES OFFICE - FULL-TIME BOZEMAN | REMOTE OPTION
    Visit our website to apply: earthjustice.org/about/jobs
  • BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE SEEKING AN ASSESSMENT CONSULTANT
    ASSESSMENT OF THE SCOPE OF CONSERVATION PLANNING AND ACTIVITIES IN NATIVE NATIONS IN THE NORTHERN GREAT PLAINS Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Rural Community Assistance Corporation seeks experienced CFO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, the official philanthropic non-profit partner with the National Park Service Southeast Utah Group, is seeking an Executive Director....
  • GRAND CANYON MANAGER
    Application deadline: May 9, 2022 Anticipated start date: June 15, 2022 About the position Are you passionate about building authentic relationships, supporting tribally led initiatives,...
  • LAND CONSERVATION PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) is seeking a Land Conservation Program Director to join our nationally accredited land trust. This is a full-time position based...
  • OUTREACH AND COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Reports to: Communications and Outreach Director Location: Ashton, Idaho (partial remote schedule possible) Status: Full-time, 40 hours per week Timing and Duration: Position open until...
  • CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
    The Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) was founded in 2012 by landowners and managers to increase the wellbeing of working lands in the American West and...
  • WILDERNESS STEWARDSHIP CREW MEMBER
    The San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA) wilderness crew members work in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service to monitor wilderness characteristics, conduct trail work, and...
  • OUTDOOR PROGRAM - ASSISTANT DIRECTOR (TEMPORARY, FULL-TIME POSITION)
    St. Lawrence University seeks to fill a temporary, full time, Assistant Director position in the Outdoor Program. The Outdoor Program provides professional outdoor recreational and...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    We find groundwater, reduce excavation costs and determine your IBC site class for a fraction of drilling costs.