bluff

A bluff—a high bank above a river, a headland of precipitous cliffs—is created when elements of Earth go to battle. In nearly all Earth’s processes, one element is pitted against another, and the weaker is washed away, swept off, compressed. What is weakly held together breaks down easily. Bluffs come from such processes. Some bluffs were susceptible to prevailing winds, others to movements within the Earth, others to scouring ice. Some are layered up with the sand of a long-ago sea or the pebbles of a former stream or with the fossils of animals. Many bluffs come to life when water cuts down through the seams of Earth layers, creating slippage and collapse. The ocean, the ever-ongoing movement of waves against the shore, carves other bluffs, as at the edge of Puget Sound and along the California coast. Rattlesnake Mountain in Nebraska was shaped by upward sweeping winds. Nana Wyah, the sacred Chickasaw Bluffs in Oklahoma, were renamed after the Trail of Tears. Mount Rushmore, carved into Lakota sacred land, is a granite bluff. And Bluff is a little town on the banks of the San Juan River in Utah, ringed by its namesake landform. In Islands in the Stream, Hemingway writes: “The house was built on the highest part of the narrow tongue of land between the harbor and the open sea. It has lasted through three hurricanes and it was built solid as a ship. It was shaded by tall coconut palms that were bent by the trade wind and on the ocean side you could walk out of the door and down the bluff across the white sand and into the Gulf Stream.”

Linda Hogan