In his Dakotah Sioux Indian Dictionary, Paul War Cloud translates drift as oh-kah-poh-dah, suggesting a Native need to define the phenomenon. A drift may be of sand, clay, or topsoil, as along a fence line over a season of drought, or a buildup of wind- or water-borne materials—though in the northern Plains drift commonly defines the depth of snow in its windswept accumulation: a three-foot drift. Snowdrifts depict scaled-down versions of landscape and the effects on it of erosion—cliff faces (some with pocked holes as if dwellers are present), cutbanks, buttes, and the mounded hills shaped by glaciation. Drift is also “the general term for any glacial deposit,” according to Edward J. Tarbuck and Frederick K. Lutgens in Earth Science; the name for material driven or carried by water, thus sandbars and their muddy cousins; the measure of velocity of flow in rivers and sea currents; and the wrack washed up by waves. A word as multiform as the miniature landscapes visible in snowdrifts.

Larry Woiwode