Throughout most of the North American continent, a hollow is a scooped-out place in the land. The term is used to describe many features: a small, sheltered valley, as in Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow, or, in the Catskill Mountains of New York State, a notch or pass in mountains. In A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, Isabella Bird writes of “the blue hollow at the foot of Longs Peak . . . where the hoar frost crisps the grass every night of the year.” Deep within the Appalachian Mountains, however, the word is pronounced “holler” and is used to describe the seam where two mountains join. In a holler, land rises on three sides, up the crease (along which a stream usually flows) and so up the flank of each mountain. The sun shines into a holler only a few hours a day, and the woods within are dark and dense. “Most hollers don’t have no view,” observes Granny Younger in Lee Smith’s novel Oral History. Small hollows are sometimes called cloves, likening them to the space in a goat’s splayed hoof.

Jan DeBlieu