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Learn A River’s Name Before It’s Gone


The following is an excerpt from AKIKO BUSCH | April 8, 2017 | Nytimes.com |

Once, on a road trip with friends from New York to California, I kept a list of every river and stream we crossed, starting with the Hudson.

After the Delaware and the Susquehanna, we found ourselves crossing the Cowpasture River and Salt Sulphur Springs, Clinch River and Bog Swan Creek, Poor Hollow, Rio Puerco, Cottonwood Wash and Moore Gulch. Though I probably dozed off and missed a few, and many remained unidentified by signs, by the end of the trip there were 113 on my list. If we couldn’t hear the sound of the water itself, the syllables of the names became a new way for me to chart this country.

I thought of this list recently, and the curious way we have of naming the features and events of the natural world. Maybe it’s a result of extreme weather patterns, but meteorologists seem to have developed a mania for naming storms — it is no longer simply hurricanes to which we assign names, but snowstorms and even ferocious rainstorms. Winter 2017 wasn’t especially severe, but here in the Northeast the craze for naming gave us Niko, Orson, Pluto and Stella. As well as the promise by the Weather Channel to name a storm next year after Stephen Colbert after he questioned the logic of this practice.

While it is hard not to admire the inventiveness of the meteorologists coming up with these names, it would likely be of greater benefit if we could find a similar pleasure in learning a few of the names that identify those features of the natural world we live with all the time. Which is to say, instead of making up new names, we might consider learning the names that already exist.

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