Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What’s in a name?

Our friends who are anthropologists and sociologists tell us that language and what people call things are important clues to their culture and lives.  For example, an incredible amount of the vocabulary of native Alaskans is related to salmon which demonstrates the importance of the fish to the different tribes' existences.

We have been laughing for weeks thinking about this as we pass street signs and other landmark signs around Alaska as more recent settlers during the past century had other things on their minds.  A few examples follow. 

As we approached the dip-netting capital of the Alaska world, Chintina, we passed One Mile, Two Mile and Three Mile lakes.  Can you guess how far each lake was from Chintina?  Searching for the swimming pool near Nikiski we encountered the street sign, Poolside  Ave.  Looking for camping in Homer, we found the sign on the left.  While on the phone to her brother in AZ, Jess mentioned we were by 20 mile lake and he correctly guessed we were 20 miles from Anchorage.  Finally, Sally’s favorite is the last sign below that probably gives some insight into Friday night activities in Wasilla, Alaska, for high school students.

Clearly, long before the publication of the Milepost came about, Alaskans were preoccupied with distances and with practical names that told people where things could be found.  As we read narratives and biographies of the first settlers, one can imagine in this challenging landscape that knowing how close you were to civilization might be the most important fact of the day.  Traveling by dog sled, river, or on foot was rough in a place that temperatures are often below -50 F. 

The other funny thing we have noticed is that whenever we are in a city, everyone gives directions by associating all turns with the local gas station as the starting point.  In Virginia, it was always the distance from the Baptist church.  However, that is a whole different story about local culture in the south!

Posted in Seward, Alaska

No comments:

Post a Comment