Friday, March 14, 2008

What's in a Name?

As you may have noted in one of my previous posts, one of the traditions that we have in the canoe building class that I teach is that each boat "earns" a name.

I picked the idea up at a lecture I once heard at a local college. A man (I think it was Keith Nyitray - if it was, the information that f0llows is about him. See the April 1993 issue of "National Geographic") had made the decision to traverse the Brooks Range in Alaska. The Brooks Range itself is above the Arctic Circle and is 700 miles long and the man's trek was about 1500 miles total. When I say "across", I mean "across" - he made the first continuous traverse of the range from Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, Canda, to Kotzebue between 1989-1990. He travelled by dog sled, snowshoes, foot, raft, and canoe. One of his more interesting pictures (other then the ones with bears and caribou) was the one of him hauling a canoe laden with gear over a snow-covered mountain.

At any rate, the dog that he made the trip with was on the stage with him. It was one of the biggest and best behaved dogs I have ever seen: a husky/wolf blend. He got the dog as a puppy at the begining of the trek from an Inuit man (Inuk). When asked what the dog's name was, the Inuk looked at him rather strangely and told him that the dog hadn't earned a name. Apparently it is tradition among the Inuit for babies and animals to go without a name until some momentous event in their life causes the name to "stick".

After a particularly difficult day early on in the trip, he and his dog were sitting around the campfire after dinner. The dog was exhausted and had fallen asleep very close to the fire. Pretty soon it got too hot near the fire for the dog and he sat up. The fur on the top of the dog's head was singed and smoking. The name? Smoke.

During one class a students announced that he had come up with a name for his own boat. I hated to shoot him down, but all of my student's boats have to earn a name (like Smoke) during the class. Over the next few posts I'm going to talk about some of the boats and how they earned their names.

1 comment:

Keith Nyitray said...

I am flattered that you have referenced myself and my travels in the Arctic in your blog... and reading about how I named my four footed companion "Smoke" brought back fond memories of my now departed partner in adventure. I would, however, like to clarify one thing... Smoke was already 6 years old at the time of my Brooks Range traverse. It was on an earlier expedition crossing the Alaska Range, when he was a four month old pup, that he fell asleep and into the fire. It doesn't change the thought behind your posting... one which I am honored that you have chosen to share with others... it just makes the story line more accurate. Thanks. Keith Nyitray