Voyager, William Least Heat-Moon, with a friend, Pilotis, (ryhmes with lotus), a river pilot, decided to see if they could take a river boat clear across the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Yesterday, I read half way through River Horse, the name of his book which is the definitive name of his boat, Nikawa, the Osage Indian word for river is ni, kawa is horse, (nee-kah-wah).
Heat-Moon previously wrote Blue Highways, about a solo journey. He circled the U.S. on the small highways that are drawn in blue on maps.
Jim and I identify with Blue Highways as we meander in the motor home, keeping to “roads less traveled.” Last year we doodled through 29 states, thousands of miles and laughs. This year our travels are quite low-key, slower paced. One great joy is time to read, read, read.
I happily picked up River Horse. In common with Heat-Moon is a fascination for unusual names; sounding loudly of history and place and poetry and beginnings; of people and creatures. He speaks of poetry in the names of Hudson River fishes.
“How impoverished the river would be without stonerollers, horny-head chubs, comely shiners, margined madtoms, northern hogsuckers, hogchokers, short-head redhorses, slimy sculpins, and-more rarely-oyster toadfish, gags, lookdowns,f our-eye butterfly fish, northern stargazers, freckled blennies, fat sleepers,and whole classes of bowfins, anchoivies, needlefish, pipefish, silversides, jacks,wrasses, puffers, and flounders (left-eyed or right-eyed).”
Of colloquial names for fishes, I have my own story, of sitting on the dock at Nahma , Michigan with a piece of fishing line and a safety-pin while my dad went out on his rowboat to catch real fish. My brother and I would lower the line with a small piece of lead attached to it, a piece of folded grass for bait, and pull up mud rollers, mud suckers and bullheads. All the same fish. More traditionally known in other parts of the country as catfish. When our bucket was full, we got bored with fishing. It was too easy. The rivers and lakes were full of good tasting fish, no one wanted the bony meat, and earthy tasting bullheads. My dad collected our bucket of fish for fertilizer.
Heat-Moon writes: “The river itself has been, to name a few, Cahohatatea, Shattemuck, Muhheakunnuk, Mahicanittuck, Mohegan, Grande Riveie’re, Angoleme, Rio San Antonio, Rio de Gomez, Rio de Montaigne, Norumbega, Manhatan, Maurititus, River of the Prince, Nassau, Groote, Noordt, River of the Mountains, and (even today) the North.”
Oh, the seduction of poetic names.