Sometimes I like to look up words just to make sure someone agrees with me about their meanings. The use of the word ‘pristine’ usually makes me writhe with exasperation, since too often I hear it applied to Appalachian landscapes that may be beautiful but are anything but pristine. Logging and mining companies of the early 20th century left very little untouched in the central Appalachian Mountains of the United States, so the word ‘pristine’ must be used advisedly in this region–unless you just like to see me writhe.
But, much to my delight, Doug Chadwick captured the textbook definition of ‘pristine’ from a Greenbrier County, West Virginia, cliff. My favorite online dictionary, www.onelook.com, quotes the McMillion dictionary definition of ‘pristine’ as “completely free from dirt or contamination–‘pristine mountain snow,’ or, ‘immaculately clean and unused.’
Onelook tells me that the word dates from the 1530s when in Middle French it described something primitive, ancient, pertaining to the earliest period, and drew from Old Latin, meaning ‘before.’ Meanings of ‘unspoiled, untouched, pure’ date only to 1899, but, according to McMillion, ‘are regarded in some circles as ignorant.’ They said it, not me.
2012 lies before us, as pristine as this Appalachian mountain snow. Soon we’ll have to march out into it, tracking it up, leaving muddy footprints as we travel along. But for now, it’s marvelous to catch a glimpse of a pure and timeless world, one we can pretend for a moment is pristine.
Find more of Doug Chadwick’s photography at www.theartstorewv.com