A butte is a mesa’s orphan, the freestanding remnant of a larger landform. Protected from the erosional brunt of rain, frost, and wind by its overlay of hard caprock, the butte’s mass stands flat-topped and steep-sided, always taller than it is wide. The parent escarpment may be but a gap of space away: imagine this gap filled with rock and you can picture the entire landform’s sweeping, high-crowned continuity. Or the parent escarpment may be entirely eroded, leaving the outlier butte to evoke a terrestrial loneliness—a marker to help you find your way home in the desert, a gaunt cipher to align with summer stars. In The Man Who Killed the Deer, Frank Waters’s classic novel, he writes: “The moon had risen high above the great, still trees. He could see between them, on one side, a jaundiced vista of the desert sloping up and away past a far, flat-topped butte to the long line of mountains lying like the upturned edge of the horizon.”

Ellen Meloy

A perfectly simple room remains a dream until I step outside, onto the Plains. A tree. A butte. The sunrise. It always makes me wonder: What is enough? Are there enough trees here? As always, it seems that the more I can distinguish my true needs from my wants, it is a shock to realize how little is enough.

— Kathleen Norris, Dreaming of Trees

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