Hole is a term with at least two meanings. To a river runner, it designates a dynamic feature in flowing water, suggesting a potential for trouble and the need for deft maneuvers to avoid catastrophe. When the term refers to a feature of the land, it has the opposite meaning—it promises refuge, a safe harbor. A mountain hole is a sizable valley, often rich with wildlife, which offers good grazing and protection from the harshest kind of winter weather. A river hole identifies a spot in the (usually) swift and voluminous flow of water where the current spirals down so strongly it can trap a boat or a person, offering no timely escape to either. Holes appear and disappear in a river according to the volume of water moving through, though some holes are more or less permanent features. In Westwater Canyon on the upper Colorado River, near the Colorado-Utah border, water forced under at Skull Rapids surfaces violently in a whirlpool of a hole called the Room of Doom. Many people have lost their lives here, unable to fight free of the current. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, protected against heavy weather coming in from the west by the Teton Mountains and composing a winter range for thousands of wapiti on the National Elk Refuge, is the archetypal sheltered mountain valley, first designated a “hole” by trans-Mississippi fur trappers. Hole can also be used to mean an isolated corner in unfrequented country, a lair where someone might reasonably expect to see few other humans. Edward Abbey evoked such a sense of self-protecting isolation when he suggested in Abbey’s Road that it was “best [for him] to stay in Wolf Hole, behind the Virgin Mountains, near Dutchman Draw and Pakoon Springs, the kind of place where an anarchist belongs.”

Terry Tempest Williams