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The Literal Landscape
by Simmons B. Buntin, Editor/Publisher, Terrain.org

The Best is Still to Come

Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments has now been publishing for four years, yielding ten issues packed with literary, technical, and artistic contributions from across the globe on a wide variety of themes. Recently heralded as a "Best of the Alternative Web" by Utne Reader Online, Terrain.org was the first online publication to celebrate the symbiosis between the built and natural environments where it exists, and examine and discuss where it does not, through both literary and technical perspectives. We've grown from about 4,000 "hits" on our first issue to over half a million for our tenth. We've expanded our Editorial Board, formed familial bonds with outstanding organizations like Terra Nova: Nature & Culture, and have received awards while our authors' and artists' contributions have been widely recognized, as well.

It seems only fitting, then, to take a moment not only to recognize what we've accomplished but also to provide some detail on how we've gotten this far, and where we think we're going.

Terrain.org came out of an off-and-on discussion between fellow editor Todd Ziebarth and I while we were in graduate school, studying urban and regional planning. We both worked in fields peripherally related to urban and environmental planning and wanted to continue our educational planning pursuits in a new field: publishing. Our hope was to create a literary and technical magazine, quarterly or perhaps semiannual, with high quality graphics and outspending contributions which would have a national audience and could be stocked in adventure sporting stores, bookstores, and grocery stores alike. Then we realize we had neither the funding nor the experience necessary to start such an ambitious print journal.

We turned as fledglings to the Web, where color is unlimited (once we got past the 256-color limitations, that is) and the cost of production is minimal. Terrain.org still exists because costs are very low, completely absorbed by myself, Todd, and co-editor Cathy Cunningham. While there seems to be even less time than money—Terrain.org is managed completely outside of our "real" 8-to-5 jobs—Terrain.org really is the old cliché: a labor of love.

Terrain.org's name, which has changed ever-so-slightly to incorporate the .org*, comes from the poem "Terrain" by A.R. Ammons:

The soul is a region without definite boundaries:
   it is not certain a prairie
can exhaust it
          or a range enclose it:

Terrain.org likewise tries to be a region without definite boundaries, like our built and natural environments, like our souls. Yet we've chosen to mold each issue around a theme, which is determined well ahead of publication by the editors and members of our national Editorial Board. We really enjoy coming up with the themes, and hope our readers and contributors have fun with them, as well.

After our second issue, we formed a partnership with Terra Nova: Nature & Culture, then a quarterly print journal from MIT Press on behalf of the New Jersey Institute of Technology and now an annual book series under direction of David Rothenberg, who joined our Editorial Board when the partnership was created. David and I had been communicating since the inclusion of his work in our first two issues, and the partnership seemed both logical and lyrical. Terrain.org has been able to include many of Terra Nova's superb contributions in our issues while we have provided an online presence for Terra Nova. Perhaps more importantly, David provides key editorial guidance. The relationship seems especially fitting since, well before we considered joining, e-design Online noted that "The newest online voice of quality for sustainable design..., Terrain is a quarterly that seems likely to position itself on the Internet somewhere near the high ground held by Terra Nova in the world of print."

We've created other partnerships to expand the quantity and quality of our offerings, as well. Our partnership with Green Earth Journal allows us to include theme-related environmental news, while partnerships with Amazon.com allow us to offer books, music, and other items to our readers while "profiting" just a wee bit from sales referred by our site. And officially, Terrain.org is published by Ocotillo Design, a small Web design firm (mine) that is "Crafting your virtual sense of place."

All said, however, Terrain.org is only as good as its contributions, and we feel very fortunate to have included both new and experienced writers, artists, and professionals alike. Essays and poetry first published in Terrain.org have been nominated for Pushcart and other distinguished awards, and contributors themselves have won a wide variety of honors, including Pulitzer Prize nomination.

Yet to truly get a feel for what Terrain.org is about, you have to really feel it by viewing and reading. This "Best of Terrain.org" issue is the culmination of all of our outstanding contributions, and we could easily have included much more.

The beauty of it all is that we believe the best is yet to come. As our audience expands, our marketing efforts are enhanced (especially once we receive 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt status, which is in the works), and Terrain.org garners more recognition, we will continue to bring you editorials, poetry, essays, fiction, reviews, artwork, case studies, and more that searches out the interface—the integration—among the built and natural environments, that might be called the soul of place.

The next issue, No. 12 - "Ocean's Edge," will not only include outstanding contributions, but will deliver them in a completely new Terrain.org Website design, one that builds from the current layout, incorporates more interactivity, and brings our extensive archives into the new design and navigation system.

We're interested in what you think about where we're at and where we're going, as well as from where we've come. If you have any input, please let us know.

As we've said since Issue No. 1, "Brew up a pot of cybertea, rest your feet upon that favorite desk, and enjoy...."


* We've changed from Terrain to Terrain.org for two reasons: 1) Even though we thought we thoroughly researched names, we learned about three issues into our run that there is another environmental magazine, Terrain out of Berkeley, California. Even though that Terrain is regional while we are international in scope, we're still concerned about infringing on that publication's title rights. 2) As we move forward and incorporate as a non-profit entity both in the state of Colorado and federally, the new title Terrain.org allows us to distinguish ourselves from the myriad of other companies and organizations called Terrain.


Simmons B. Buntin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built & Natural Environments. With Ken Pirie, he is the author of the new book Unsprawl: Remixing Spaces as Places (Planetizen Press, 2013). His books of poetry are Riverfall (2005) and Bloom (2010), both published by Ireland's Salmon Poetry. Recent work has appeared in North American Review, ISLE, Versal, Orion, Hawk & Handsaw, High Desert Journal, and Kyoto Journal. Catch up with him at www.SimmonsBuntin.com.
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