A type of low brush thicket, the shinnery takes its name from the shin oak (Quercus havardii), but nothing is simple here. American English deploys a wide range of words to designate landscapes difficult to impossible to cross on foot or horseback. Thickets of switch cane, sugarcane, and other woody grasses (canebrakes), of heathlike plants (briar patches), of blackberry and other entwined, thorny wands (brambles), and of manzanita, ceanothus, chamise, and similar stiff-branched, leather-leaved scrub (chaparral) all qualify. The term shinnery is used in eastern New Mexico and panhandle Texas for brush thickets where shin oak, sometimes called Havard oak; a variety of the sandpaper oak (Q. pungens) called Vassey oak; and Mohr oak (Q. mohriana) grow in close ranks. Where a single shin oak develops a massive root system over hundreds of years, sending up numerous stems (which look like separate plants) over a wide area, it creates a thicket called a motte. The oaks in a shinnery vary in height according to the soils they take root in, but much of the brush is only waist high. To cut through a shinnery on foot means to get cracked repeatedly across the shins by the stout limbs of this shrub. Thus the shin oak, and thus is a shinnery any thicket of scrubby oaks that so marks the trespasser. By a very different line of reckoning, the shinnery takes its name from chênière, Cajun French for a hummock in a swamp with a dense growth of any of several species of oak (chêne in French).

Barry Lopez