Rock loosened from cliff or mountain buttresses falls around the base in a scree slope. The fallen debris cones against its parent mass in a sloping bed, a process as slow as weathering, as sure as gravity: a rockfall in edgy stasis. (The Norse root word is skritha, a landslide.) In the sense that both compose landforms, scree and talus are synonymous. However, mountaineers are more likely to use scree to describe the loose gravel spread across thin-air slopes above timberline—an altitude, in John Muir’s words, of “storm-beaten desolation.”

Ellen Meloy