I grew up with field guides for fish, shells, seabirds and the hundreds of other denizens of the shallows and the deep. As a boy, I not only wanted to know their names but also their habits and habitats, their food, range, migration and so on.
A correct name more precisely identifies an object, bird, boat or fish. It’s the difference between a shorebird and a semipalmated plover, a sailboat and a yawl, a fishing boat and a gillnetter. One is far richer in detail than the other. And to my ear and my imagination, proper names for seabirds, buoys, boats, crustaceans and topographic features make the seascape come alive.
When I am on or along the water with young people, I try to talk about the natural world unfolding before our eyes in the rich, lyrical language handed down from a time when people were closer to the outdoors and their survival depended on knowing the names and the ways of everything their eyes fell upon.
If you’re looking for a gem in this vein, get your hands on a copy of the Shallow Water Dictionary by John R. Stilgoe (Prince-ton Architectural Press) and learn the difference between a gut, a guzzle and a gutter. It’s a wonderful little book.
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July 2014 issue