A basin is a large hollow or depression in the earth, either erosional or structural in origin; it is also a region that is drained by a river and its tributaries. The Mississippi River and its tributaries drain a basin that covers approximately two-fifths of the coterminous United States. The term basin also applies to an area of inland drainage where rivers unable to reach the sea either flow into lakes or evaporate in playas. The Great Basin, centered in western Utah and Nevada, is a prime example. A cold desert in the Basin and Range province, the Great Basin encompasses Death Valley, nuclear bomb test sites, and Yucca Mountain, a proposed nuclear-waste storage site. In his book Basin and Range, John McPhee describes the Great Basin as “an ocean of loose sediment with these mountain ranges standing in it as if they were members of a fleet without precedent.” The term is also widely used for many of the land’s bowl-shaped features, such as a ski basin in a single mountain. In her poem “The Matrix,” Amy Lowell writes: “Brown lily-pads lie heavy and supine/Within a granite basin, under one/The bronze-gold glimmer of a carp; and I/Reach out my hand and pluck a nectarine.”

Donna Seaman