Dust and Mud - Photography by Dana Thomas

Writers and songwriters must love words. The spoken word and especially the written word. Although I struggle with the idea that I qualify as a writer, I too love words. Soft spoken and slow speaking I am not a master of verbal storytelling, so my love of language manifests itself in the enjoyment of telling a tale or painting a picture on a blank page. I search for evocative words, sentences and paragraphs to put down on paper, but I also value a well-crafted story or song told by others.

The beauty of words is usually tied directly to how they are used within a sentence and what they contribute to a story, but single words or combination of words can resonate based on their own merits. These words invoke powerful images and occupy a special place in my mind's eye.

When I write the word fertile, I see deep, dark soil full of organic matter, standing ready to produce bumper crops. Soil that is rare, a gift or blessing, but also a responsibility. Whether this soil results from periodic floods or wind-blown silt, it requires a commitment to cherish and protect.

The word cougar produces images of strong graceful cats moving through the desert or high up on a slope paralleling a creek, silently hunting, dangerous, but beautiful. My personal experience limited, a lion disappearing into a riparian tree line with a flip of its tail leaving me excited and questioning my eyesight.

The phrase wind-swept conjures up cold autumn afternoons weaving through the sage covered mesas in Eastern Oregon, shoulders hunched against a cutting wind. No destination in mind and no place to go, enjoying the simple act of walking across an expansive landscape.

Ask me about hawks and I return to Boulder Mountain of southern Utah, snow lightly falling on a Red Tail perched in the bare winter branches of an aspen. Silently watching and waiting he decides that I am not leaving, drops from tree top, gathers speed, pivots and with effortless wingbeats is gone, gliding above a downslope headed for a private hunting spot to wait out the storm.

Barranca brings-to-mind winding through shoulder deep gulches walking on alluvial sand peering over the sides at the flat expanses of a loess plain. The erosion caused by infrequent storms exposing layers of soil, providing a chronicle of the past and suggesting the future.

Write the phrase native grasses and I see not only knee-high expanses of golden stalks illuminated by a rising or setting sun, but also conquistadors working their way north through the rolling hills, through bunch grass along the California coast. Explorers, colonizers, evangelists, invaders watched closely by Gabrileños, Luiseños and Chumash, unaware of the changes to come.

The list of words and phrases that produce vivid images in my mind is exhaustive. Images imprinted in my imagination by personal experiences, taken from books read or passages written. Regardless of the source, they keep me exploring, reading and writing, hoping to create or find new pictures, that are detailed and clear, words that challenge, comfort and inspire.