What’s in a Name

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Have you ever happened into a group of hunters, fishermen, or farmers having a conversation? I’m talking about a group of folks who hang together a lot and spin the big yarns of glorious days in the field or on the water! You will find once a group like this is formed new terminology begins to emerge, only to be understood by those who help create it or have spent a lot of time learning it.

This “language” isn’t necessarily a way to speak, but a terminology of landscape. We start calling places or parcels names that only someone with intimate knowledge of the group would understand.

Some are obvious and it’s possible an outsider could figure it out. Names like “Crandell’s pond”. Of course this was the pond on the Crandell’s farm. It stands to reason anyone would pick up on that conversation, except for the fact that Crandell’s have not owned that parcel of land for quite some time. Maybe even generations, but the name has been handed down, father to son, and maybe even on to the grandson. It’s no longer about ownership, but a name that has endured the test of time.

The less obvious would be a parcel we used to call “the knob”. I know of such a place from my younger days. This was a wood lot completely surrounded by hay fields, with a landscape that formed a mountain like peak. I know you’re probably picturing a white cap mountain that reached up into the heavens, but you will need to scale it back a bit. This particular wood lot was a rocky, isolated spot with a mix of scrubby pine trees and common hardwoods such as maple, ash, oak and beech. Some spots were steep enough to make climbing over them doable, but difficult. 

It was a secret hiding place for whitetail deer, coyote, racoon, squirrel and partridge. It was one of my favorite places to hunt. It had an abundance of partridge back when the game bird was common and abundant to this area. They would take their explosive flight as you would pass under their hiding spot, typically higher up in a pine tree.  It took a quick and steady aim with a shotgun, and often made a deer hunter jump out of his shorts from the loud ruckus it made trying to escape directly above. 

Still-hunting such a place for whitetail was somewhat of a challenge. The deer, especially an experience buck would know to circle behind the stalker.  A hunters best chance was to loop back through the fields, hoping to find the buck trying to escape on the opposite side of the knob, bounding over the open field. I managed to take a nice 8 point buck this way along with a few smaller racks over the course of my years hunting it. Some fond memories of a place named such that a few will remember.

Another example was the Cow tree. I believe it’s name originated from the fact that for some unknown reason, a cow ready to give birth would gravitate toward this mammoth of a pine tree. Many new born calves where found resting quietly under the shade of this enormous tree. This tree was easily one of the tallest trees on the 135 acre farm and likely most of the surrounding areas as well. About twenty five feet up it split into two massive towers that could easily be called a larger tree to themselves. 

The swamp. So you think this would be easy, but within the range of our typical hunting spots there where likely a dozen swamps, maybe more. Although most had a more descriptive name (like the cow tree swamp) when a hunt was being planned and we mentioned “the swamp” we knew exactly which of the swamp was in question. It was almost as if we wanted to make sure anyone somehow listening in on our plans, couldn’t decipher the approach. Any guest was typically simply set on a post to watch, because they would surely become lost and wind up heading in the wrong direction other wise. Maybe we thought we were fooling God in case he decided to warn the game we were seeking that day, as if they actually needed any additional advantage. 

The old oak. Do you suppose there was only one old oak within a striking distance of any of these conversations? This huge oak tree, hollow, tall and with lots of character, was defined early on settling into this farming location. Why this particular old oak became “the” old oak is a mystery to me. How it garnered the reputation of being “the one” was never explained, it was just assumed you knew the exact spot that was being discussed.

And if you read Self Bow Hunting Adventure 1 you may remember “the lower gully”. The lower gully is a long stretch of woods, swamp and hilly rocky lands that follows a stream for several hundred yards. It varies in width from thirty to a sixty yards or so. It was a great hunting spot and few people would know it by that name. Those who frequently coon hunted with me would, however. I could never count the number of coon we treed in this “lower gully”. There is talk of the coon hunting adventures in Trapping, Coon Hunting and Fur Trading and the Appalachian Trail but for now the next time you walk through a gully wonder, “what will I call this spot when I tell this story”. Sorry though, “the lower gully” is taken!

This of course is the beginning of a naming process the follows in our history. The Potomac  river is names as such because “Potomac” was one of two Algonquin names for the river forming the northern boundary of Virginia, and it meant “great trading place” or “place where people trade.” So if you were told to go to the place where people trade, and you were an early Indian of course, you would head to what we now call the Potomac River.   

So some of the names have a known history. Some history can be traced and some not so much. I’ll never know how “the old oak” came to be, but how about the Hoosic River? I drive by it every time I leave my house. I’ve pulled trout from the cool dark pools found throughout its flow, but never stopped to think, “why do we call this stretch of flowing water, the Hoosic”. Well some quick research and I find according to Lauren R. Stevens in the Berkshire Eagle, Hoosic, by whatever spelling, was a Mohican word, same root as Housatonic, and thought to mean “beyond place,” that is the Mohicans lived in the Hudson valley but journeyed into our hills, up the Hoosic River, for hunting. How cool is that. I wonder if “the knob” was called “the Knob in the beyond place” by some young Mohican hunter long long ago, before my ancestors even knew about “the new world”.

Another famous trout stream close by is the Battenkill. When I was very young I would swim in the Battenkill. My grandfather had a camp along a dirt road in Salem New York. The Mohicans called the river Tyetilegogtakook, meaning the “country around the river of toads,” which reflects the omnipresent sounds of mating toads that filled the valley each spring. Funny I never noticed the toads. I was probably just to young to pay attention. The European settlers called the river “Battenkill,” which translates as “river of the Dutch.” It’s also interesting to note that the Battenkill is one the largest rivers where brook trout live south of Maine. I didn’t know that either. I think it’s time to break out the fly rod!

It is also interesting to note that the brook trout is the only trout that is actually native to the eastern United States. Rainbow trout are originally native to the North Pacific west of the Rockies and have been stocked throughout the US. Brown trout where imported from Germany and England. That’s just a little off topic interesting fishing information.

So the next time someone says they’ll meet you near the white birch tree, and you find 5 acres of white birch trees, you will know exactly what happened. Although I can’t help you find the right white birch tree, I can tell you someone will likely be along shaking their head and muttering “new guys” to themselves. 

Go ahead and leave a comment of your favorite spot and how that name came about. As with most things interesting, it’s all about the history.



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