methow grist 2011-2014 archive

What's in a Name

It made perfect sense to me, but to the friend from out of town who was listening we might as well have been speaking Romulan (it's a Star Trek language, for those of you smart enough to not watch TV. Star Trek is . . . ummmm, nevermind). I had asked another local for directions.

"Just head up the North Fork then out toward Pete Krik and Torchy's old place. The driveway's just after the spot where Ed went in the ditch (name changed to protect, well, myself). If you get to the Rose Miller you're too far.

The listening friend had the same look I got when my parents talked about me in the third person . . . with me in the room. The local (okay, smugly local) exchange was certainly efficient but it was also a little rude.

After that I made it a habit to use public domain names rather than the secret code whenever the uninitiated were around. To my pleasant surprise I realized that those solid old monikers were actually great reminders of our sense of place (I don't really know what "sense of place" means but it's used in a lot of reports and proposals so I'm throwing it in for credibility). Benson, Libby, Cow, Gold, Dibble, Cottonwood, Studhorse, Poorman, Upper Beaver, Lower Bear – they all sound like the beginning of a story. I started giving directions to strangers who didn't ask for them just for the chance to rattle off a few of these old friends. (NOTE: The Native American names are the ones that really deserve mention here but I can't pronounce, much less spell, any of them).

Fast forward to 10 years later. We're back from discovering Southeast Alaska is a little on the moist side and driving around to re-acquaint ourselves with the dryness of the valley. The old friends are still there – Twin Lakes, East and West Chewuch, Cub Creek, Gunn Ranch, Rising Eagle . . .

Rising Eagle? There's a road called Rising Eagle?
I pass it off as an anomaly and continue the homecoming tour.

By the end of the day I've discovered what the rest of you already know – anomaly it's not. Dancing Bear, Waxwing, Doe Haven, Sierra Vista, Bella Vista, Pleasant View, Grouse Hollow, Mertensia, Sirinok, Spring Grass, Nanasu, Dripping Springs, Fawn Meadow, Cedarosa, Snake Dance, Deer Run, Soaring Hawk, Hawks Hill, Doe Haven . . . the list keeps going.

I was left wondering if Hallmark had purchased the valley while we were away.

On top of that, while all the names used to end with "road" (because, well, that's what they are), there are now lanes and drives and ways. Do lanes have higher or lower maintenance standards? Are drives limited in length? Will county maintenance crews even touch a "way"?

I know it's unfair to the perfectly fine people who conjured up these identifiers, but it just didn't make sense - like I missed a turn somewhere. I had to know why we abandoned names like Wilson and Vintin for ones that sound like Disney adventures or yoga retreats.

I started with an old-valley sage. "Probably because nobody could afford the lawsuits", he advised me. "How so", I asked deferentially. "Well", he continued, "try naming a shared road in this valley after yourself and see how far THAT flies."

Thinking the new trend must be some kind of psychological clue I then turned to the great and powerful internet to find a shareware analyst (I share my problem, you share your analysis). Dr. Benjamin "Benny" DiFabio surfaced from the digital mist and graciously offered his perspective (along with a one-time offer for his "Be Who You Are" DVD at a price too low to mention).

"The names are simply a manifestation of an inner yearning for a life sought but not yet found." Dr. Benny paused for a pensive moment. "Don't take them as a challenge, take them as an invitation."

I was trapped. If he was right, I was on the tracks well behind the caboose. If he was wrong, I was just another sucker (the DVD isn't that bad . . . really).

Just when despondency was about to penetrate my defense shields I discovered the glimmer of hope in the situation: Lois Lane, High Way, Shangri Lane, Dirt Road, Wright and Wrong Roads (take a left on Wright and a right on Wrong). Someone even told me there's a Goa Way, but I think that's in another town. Thank the higher powers for wisecrackers – they gave me exactly what I was feeling was forever lost – my sense of place. I mean, how can you not absolutely love someone who is just trying to make you laugh?

posted 10/20/2011 (thank you Roxie and Carl for the addition)