In geographical terms, a boss is a rounded rise of volcanic rock. Storm King Mountain in the Hudson Valley is a well-known American example. The word itself as a historical concept is worth noting. Boss is undoubtedly a variation on the many p/b sounds that denote a rise or hollow rise or a rounded thing hollowed out, such as bosom, bubble, hub, cup/cap, caput (head, Latin) and kube (head, Greek), Cybelle from Kubebe (goddess of the mountain caves); the Arabic (q)uba, dome, muqabr, tomb, and ka’aba, the sacred domed meteoric rock in Mecca. The boss is the omphalos, a word that means center, eye, or “navel boss,” the rounded thing that rises up at the center of the world. The ritual circling around a raised dome-shaped structure representing the omphalos, natural or man-made (such as Mount Kailas, or the universal domed saint’s tomb or stupa), represents one of the primal features of the human connection with landscape. It may relate to the simple animal nature of a human being: an animal with eyes in the front of the head can only fully take in an object by circling around it. Emerson wrote, “The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world.”

Susan Brind Morrow