A couple years back, a reader gave me a copy of Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, which explores the rich duff of British language related to place and seasonal change. It’s a remarkable book that I’ve been savoring a few pages at a time, out of sequence – not unlike the hopscotch way some of you describe reading this magazine.
Here are some favorite winter words from Macfarlane’s lists: smored, “smothered in snow”; crool, “to huddle miserably together from cold”; fleeches, “large snowflakes.”
The Northeast has its own trove of evocative words – anyone who has heard an American bittern calling at close range can appreciate its colloquial name, thunder-pumper. But where we really shine as a region, etymologically speaking, is in our place names – all those tangle-tongue Dutch hooks and kills and the names derived from Native American languages – Aroostook, Memphremagog, Housatonic – with translations, one strongly suspects, that lack the nuance of their original meanings.
I’ve always taken pleasure that I live just a town away from Podunk Wildlife Management Area. Podunk is a disparaging term for small and rural and seemed a delightfully defiant name for a small and rural place. But the name appears in an early nineteenth century text by Vermont naturalist Zadock Thompson, well before the negative connotation entered the language, and most likely came from the name of a Connecticut tribe. It also (supposedly) is a word for “boggy place.” How it became connected with upland woods in Vermont is uncertain.
Speaking of names, I encourage you to take a look at pages 74–78. Every winter, we acknowledge all the individuals and organizations who have financially contributed to The Center for Northern Woodlands Education in the past fiscal year. Descoteaux, Skinner, Ojala, Wiley . . . it always feels inadequate saying this, but here I go again: thank you for supporting this magazine and all of the nonprofit’s work to promote forest stewardship.
Thanks also to our advertisers (listed on page 72) and the many generous people – teachers, foresters, organizational leaders, scientists, and other experts of one kind or another – who have freely shared their time and talents this year. We’re so grateful for your help.
And now, onward to 2018. Best wishes for a great winter season, and enjoy the falling fleeches!