cliff

Inland or on coastlines, a cliff rises as a nearly perpendicular rock face. Eight to ten miles of cliffs layer-cake back from the Grand Canyon. Faults and joints crack cliffs. Erosion carves and paints them. Hapless victims of foul play are thrown off them. Prehistoric farmer-hunters in the Southwest—cliff dwellers—tucked their masonry pueblos into the natural alcoves of sandstone cliffs and lived in vertical tan or rose-colored space. From a cliff in New Mexico Mark Helprin, in Refiner’s Fire, looks into a world where golden eagles “returned to cliffside aeries in graceful lines of flight, the sun diminished in a perfect sphere beyond the curve of the horizon, the stars appeared at first mildly then blindingly bright, and violet bands stretched from heaven to the face of a darkened peaceful earth—a planet of cool high desert and ruffling insistent winds.”

Ellen Meloy

Abruptly they were driving between clapboard buildings on a street of sorts, in a kind of town at the base of a sheer cliff that kept half the place in welcome shadow.

— Robert Stone, Dog Soliders

More from Ellen Meloy

» see all 19

Related entries