fell fields

Fell is a very old English word for hill or mountain. It also meant a wild, high mountain slope or stretch of pasture, fell-pasture probably having been shortened to fell. In current usage, a fell field refers to a particular alpine habitat, a flat rocky area above tree line with low-growing vegetation that is often related to desert species. As Mary Austin observes in The Land of Little Rain, “Extreme aridity and extreme altitude have the same dwarfing effect, so that we find in the high Sierra and in Death Valley related species in miniature that reach to a comely growth in mean temperatures.” Fell fields occur as low as 9,500 feet in the Sierra Nevada and as high as mountain summits. A recent publication has described the fell fields of the Sierra as nature’s own Zen rock gardens and mentions Donner Pass, Devils Postpile, and Sonora Pass as places where they can be visited. The related term felsenmeer comes from German and means a “rock-sea.” It refers to any large field of angular boulders, of the kind formed by frost or the action of glaciers.

Robert Hass