Trinity University Press

Home Ground

Language for an American Landscape

Debra Gwartney (editor), Barry Lopez (editor), Molly O’Halloran (illustrations)

Hailed as an homage to landscape and language

Have you ever wondered how it came to be called Las Vegas? Or why it was the Natchez Trace, not the Natchez Trail? Or what the difference is between ripples and riffles in a stream? Home Ground brings together, for the first time, the distinctly American vocabulary that people use to characterize the country’s landscape. Forty-five writers, with backgrounds and imaginations as different as journalist Bill McKibben’s and novelist Barbara Kingsolver’s, have crafted more than 850 definitions for words like vega and trace. And flatiron, bayou, milk gap, and looking-glass prairie. What emerges from their work, however, is more than accurate definitions and their individual approaches to each of these words. It’s more than learning that lake is also a color, and that those islands of lush growth in the midst of a new lava flow are called kıpukas. It’s more than learning that Peekskill, New York, probably took its name from the farm the Peek family established on a kill in that area. It’s discovering, in the process, the way this unique landscape has shaped American character. When we speak of things like canyons, waterfalls, and prairies, we are talking about our history. When we use a word like gulch or monadnock, or an expression like Carolina bay or desire path, we are evoking something distinctive in our culture.

Home Ground is an invitation to learn American geography, to read American history, and to celebrate a deeply engaging dimension of American character.


  • Jeffery Renard Allen
  • Kim Barnes
  • Conger Beasley Jr.
  • Franklin Burroughs
  • Lan Samantha Chang
  • Michael Collier
  • Elizabeth Cox
  • John Daniel
  • Jan DeBlieu
  • William deBuys
  • Gretel Ehrlich
  • Charles Frazier
  • Pamela Frierson
  • Patricia Hampl
  • Robert Hass
  • Emily Hiestand
  • Linda Hogan
  • Stephen Graham Jones
  • John Keeble
  • Barbara Kingsolver
  • William Kittredge
  • Jon Krakauer
  • Gretchen Legler
  • Arturo Longoria
  • Bill McKibben
  • Ellen Meloy
  • Robert Morgan
  • Susan Brind Morrow
  • Antonya Nelson
  • Robert Michael Pyle
  • Pattiann Rogers
  • Scott Russell Sanders
  • Eva Saulitis
  • Donna Seaman
  • Carolyn Servid
  • Kim Stafford
  • Mary Swander
  • Arthur Sze
  • Mike Tidwell
  • Luis Alberto Urrea
  • Luis Verano
  • D. J. Waldie
  • Joy Williams
  • Terry Tempest Williams
  • Larry Woiwode


    • Designated as a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
    • Designated as an Amazon Best Book (travel)
    • Winner of Foreword Magazine Best Book Bronze Award (nature)
    • Designated as a Los Angeles Times Bestseller
    • Designated as a Seattle Times Best Book of the Year
    • Designated as a Portland Oregonian Bestseller
    • Designated as a Charleston Gazette 100 Most Notable Books
    • Designated as a Memphis Commercial Appeal 10 Books No Family Can Do Without
    • Designated as a Denver Post Bestseller
    • Designated as a Kansas City Star 100 Noteworthy Books


    “Home Ground is a treasure house of a book, chocked with gems of the American vernacular. To learn these terms for features of the landscape is like putting on a new pair of glasses—the land comes more vividly into focus. But to call this a reference work is to shortchange it—the entries are written by some of our best writers, and the result is an unexpected page turner.”

    Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma

    “Reading hundreds of pages of alphabetized definitions of landscape terms in one sitting may sound as appealing as spending a long hot day in an Arizona malpais—a desert landscape that is, to quote Cormac McCarthy, “all cracked and reddish black like a pan of dried blood”—but it ends up being a lot of fun.”

    New York Times

    More reviews »
    Home Ground cover
    • Price: $19.95
    • Pages: 480
    • Size: 7.5 x 10
    • Published: Mar 2010
    • Status: Out of print
    • ISBN: 9781595340573
    • Illustrations: 97
    • Price: $29.95
    • Pages: 480
    • Size: 8.25 x 10.5
    • Published: Oct 2006
    • Status: Out of print
    • ISBN: 9781595340245
    • Illustrations: 97


    Nature, Anthology, Landscape, Ecology