"Place is the first of all beings, since everything that exists is in a place and cannot exist without a place."
— Archytas, Commentary on Aristotle's Categories
Keith H. Basso is a rancher and professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico. He contends that a place appeals to ordinary people as familiar ground and as having a bearing on prior events. A basic creative process he calls "place-making" is "a universal tool of the historical imagination" and a form of cultural activity.
Basso decides to visit a Western Apache Tribe and learn more about how they connected place-names in the Cibecue region with geographical referents. The author listens as Apaches speak of their love and reverence for a place called "Juniper Tree Stands Alone," telling stories about how the corn grew well there, giving them enough to eat and helping them survive. In gratitude, they call themselves "Juniper Tree Stands Alone People." Charles, one of the Apaches, explains: "Their names for themselves are really the names of their places. . . . That is how they are still known, even though they have scattered and live now in many different states."
"American Indians hold their lands-places — as having the highest possible meaning, and all their statements are made with this reference point in mind."
— Vine DeLoria, Jr. in God Is Red
The link between land and humans is made by Annie Peaches, a 77 year old who says of Apache tribal members: "The land is always stalking people. The land makes people live right. The land looks after us." Since the land is a repository of distilled wisdom, it is a catastrophe when it is taken over by others and lost forever.
"What we call the landscape is generally considered to be something 'out there.' But, while some aspects of the landscape are clearly external to both our bodies and our minds, what each of us actually experiences is selected, shaped, and colored by what we know."
— Barrie Greenbie in Spaces: Dimensions of the Human Landscape
Basso hits high stride when he praises the versatility of Western Apache place-names. Over the years they have helped people to survive, to live with versatility, and to cope. The author concludes: "And because helping people to cope is regarded by Apaches as a gesture of compassion. the use of place-names for this purpose serves as well to communicate solitude, reassurance, and personal solidarity."