My American Landscape I


The Western Edge of the Palouse, East of Cheney, WA

Stories, pictures, history and oral descriptions do little to prepare you for the Palouse.

I have seen images of the Washington, Idaho Palouse. I have seen documentaries. I have even substituted for an adjunct photographer at Western Washington University whos’ photography of the Palouse is still on display at the University of Montana. All of this did not prepare me for the sheer emotional response to the contrasting colors between sky and earth. The undulating waves of land. A land more like the ocean. An ocean after the storm has passed and only the swells, smooth as glass and tall as an ocean liner swell and repeat. I have been on this ocean. I had never before floated the Palouse.

Some may think it strange that dry-land farming of wheat can prosper so well in what, to a North-westerner might think dry arid land. Before the European settlers invaded this land. It was covered with native bluebunch wheatgrass well adapted to the Palouse ecosystem. This was wheat country long before the 125 year history of modern wheat farming began. Hybridizing wheat has cultivated varieties of the plants designed to produce larger seed pods, shorter stalks and improved production for Fall and Spring plantings.

Like the ocean, there are no hills with soil on them that a tractor can not climb or navigate. Old caterpillars have been replaced with larger, faster caterpillars. Designed to keep from compacting the soil. The old ones with no purpose become mineral enhancements to select plots of soil. Occasionally becoming Icons of a bygone era.

Imagine water flowing over these hills that the land is actually sculpted. Sculpted into the bottom of a flowing river. There is a reason why these hill resemble the ocean. Fertle ariable land that is farmed for it’s ability to provide for the world. Wheat. The staple of all baking.  It is farming on a scale designed to feed the world.

The golden stubble of the wheat harvest stand erect waiting. Waiting. Waiting for the return of the Spring seed. Seed using the over wintered stubble as part of it’s nourishment. Like the winds that create the waves of an ocean. The spring green wheat will ripple in the wind the illusions of waves upon waves. This land, the Palouse, moves to fills the eyes and the heart.

Leave a Reply