A promontory is a point of high land that juts out into the sea or some other body of water; a headland. It comes from a Latin word, promontorium, meaning a mountain ridge. It’s usually a maritime term. Here is Czeslaw Milosz in Visions from San Francisco Bay, writing in English about Robinson Jeffers: “I even reproached Jeffers for his descriptive passages, too much those of an amateur painter who sets up his easel on a wild promontory.” But the term also refers to freshwater topography. Here is Henry David Thoreau in Walden: “Already, by the first of September, I had seen two or three small maples turned scarlet across the pond, beneath where the white stems of three aspens diverged, at the point of a promontory, next to the water.” And from the West, here is Isabella Bird’s A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains: “This mountain-girdled lake lay before me, with its margin broken up into bays and promontories, most picturesquely clothed by huge sugar pines.” Another instance is Promontory Point on Great Salt Lake.

Robert Hass