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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

True Names

Family and friends have names for places that never show up on a map. Sometimes there's something about a place that sticks out. Mosquito Island is one such place. It's a really beautiful island on a large isolated lake. We camp there either right after the ice out, or in the fall after a hard frost. During the warm months, it's a mosquito breeding zone. We made the mistake of camping there in the summer. The blood loss was terrible.

Then there's the Comfy Swamp. The moss is so thick it's like walking on mattresses.

Brown Mountain isn't called that on the maps. A small group of people maintain a secret trail to the top of the mountain. One guy even packed up plywood and 2x4s to build a tent platform. None of us use the real name when talking about the mountain. It's out little secret. It's a fairly short hike with killer views -and almost no one but our group goes there.

Then there are places named after things that no longer exist: The Red Barn (gone for at least 50 years,) The Horse Hovel, (40 years ago there were a few timbers remaining on the location,) Desolation Hollow (both the name of an old hunting camp and the land around it.) Most of the people who remember those things are gone. Their kids still use the place names. When they are gone, the names will most likely disappear too.

Primitive people believed there was power in names. I think they might have been right.



  1. "Coyote Hill", "Rattlesnake Canyon", "Wilson's House", and "The Udy Place" are family names for places in our area. The first two are named after memorable meetings with animals in those spots, the second two are named after people that lived there 30+ years ago.

    Names do have power.

  2. Love your post today. It brings back a lot great memories of places I have known by names other than the formal ones. Thanks.

  3. We have a lot of spots like that, on and off the water. "Redeye", "the flats", "sulfer road", "the boat hole", "9 mile hole", "dead man's hole", and one of my favorites which is a towering black offshore oil rig known as "Darth Vader".

  4. We used to live in a semi-rural spot with only two exits out, both of which could flood. We called one the Kessel Run (with a mud whump in it) and the other was Death Blossom (lots of serious nearly u-turn spots). The tiny stream by our house was Blitz Creek.

    We also have a family tradition that is several generations old. All the children of our family have had their bare feet dipped in a particular freshwater spring at a young age. This is a very serious tradition that we think was begun by a Native American ancestor. However, this spring is - as most are anymore - a fragile site. So, we never speak its name to outsiders.