Medicine Bow Peak, Snowy Range, Wyoming. Photo copyright: Wendy Worrall Redal

Medicine Bow Peak, Snowy Range, Wyoming. Photo copyright: Wendy Worrall Redal

This past Labor Day weekend, my family and I were camping in southern Wyoming where we hiked to the top of 12,013’ Medicine Bow Peak. As we climbed on a sunny, windless day beneath immaculate blue skies, I drank in the beauty of the natural features around us and thought about how grateful I am that my kids are growing up with wild country. As I looked around, I mused on the vocabulary that defines our sense of place in the mountains, a distinct set of terms that my kids are learning to understand, which help ground them in the natural environment that’s part of “home.”

As I started to quiz them on some of these special words, I thought about Good Nature readers—whom I suspect love the mountains and altitude and northern climes every bit as much as my family does—and I decided to turn my impromptu quiz into one for you, too.

Take the test, and share your score with fellow readers!


Match each of the numbered terms below with the correct lettered definition from the list below.

1. boreal
2. krummholz
3. lichen
4. montane
5. moraine
6. penstemon
7. talus
8. tarn
9. scree
10. pika

Definitions (match with the terms above):

a. A mountain lake or pool formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier

b. Loose rock and boulders on a steep mountainside or at the base of a cliff, created by physical weathering

c. A small mammal that lives in cold, rocky mountain habitat, related to the rabbit, with rounded ears, a short tail and a shrill call

d. Of or relating to the north, particularly characteristic of the climatic zone just south of the Arctic, dominated by taiga forests of birch, poplar, and conifers

e. Stunted, deformed trees that grow low to the ground amid fierce, freezing winds in subarctic or subalpine treeline landscapes

f. A composite organism consisting of the symbiotic association of a fungus and a photosynthetic partner, found in some of the most extreme environments on earth including arctic tundra

g. A North American flowering plant family whose 280 species include a number of showy alpine wildflowers

h. An accumulation of small broken rock fragments, often with mixed gravel and loose dirt, at the base of crags or mountain cliffs

i. The forested highland area lying below the subalpine zone

j. A glacially formed accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris, generally soil and rock

Now, check your answers below the photograph!

Medicine Bow Peak, Snowy Range, Wyoming. Photo copyright: Wendy Worrall Redal

Medicine Bow Peak, Snowy Range, Wyoming. Photo copyright: Wendy Worrall Redal

Answers to the quiz:

1) D 2)E 3)F 4)I 5)J 6)G 7)B 8)A 9)H 10) C

Want to immerse yourself in more of the language of nature? Check out the lovely book Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape. The volume, edited by renowned nature writer Barry Lopez, features short expositions by writers on natural features from swamps to swales and a whole bunch else from A to Z. The goal of Lopez’s Home Ground Project — which is technically a dictionary of American landscape terms, yet really a collection of short, lyrical essays that value our land through describing its specific features– is an effort to help reconnect people to places that matter to them. Whether it’s Park Slope in Brooklyn or the Wind River Range of Wyoming, Lopez says “Home Ground explores a vocabulary that gives us back a sense of belonging.”

Here’s to all the words that define the places you love,