30 May 2008

Place Names and Old Oak Trees

Recently, I had a discussion with a fellow blogger about place names. I won't reveal the blogger (but I'm sure you read her. If not, you should!), nor the name of the town where she lives. I'll just say that it is a great name for a small town, the kind of a name that if it were in a book you'd say "No Way! Not realistic! How cliche!", but then you'd realize that towns with catchy names -- some stupid, some smart, some funny -- are typical of small town America.

Years ago when my son was young, we found a book at the big box bookstore that we couldn't afford at the time, but we spent a long time in the cafe reading the entire book. The book was titled All Over the Map, by David Jouris. The book is a series of maps, each with a theme, identifying only the towns that fit the category: happy-named towns, literary towns, towns with sad and depressing names, towns named after famous people, places with names that would make you snicker and blush. Think you live in Hell? There's a town named that in Michigan. I wonder how far it is from a place named Eden, or Heaven, or Angel's Rest?

There is some debate about the most common place name in the US, but according the the USGS, it isn't Springfield, which may be sad news for some Simpson fans. The USGS site has a query function that will let you see how many populated places match a given name. I just checked Amazon. Looks like All Over the Map might be out of print, but there are used copies available. I may just be tempted to buy a copy.

My discussion about place names was the second time recently that I thought about names of cities, towns, and homesteads. Maggie has been hosting a Name Your Homestead contest at her blog. I'm posting this too late to promote it (contest ends today), but you should check out the links on her post. There are some great names for places that people call home.

I named our home when we first moved here nearly 10 years ago. While I sometimes jokingly refer to living in the Forest Primeval, I officially named our little pleasant slice of earth, Old Oak Hill, for the giant Red Oak on the rise behind our house. Our house sits at the top of a ravine. Old Oak towers over another ravine towards the back of the property. When we moved in, my son & I took a long piece of twine and wrapped it around the trunk to measure it. I know we weren't very accurate, climbing through scrub to get to the tree, but the twine was about 12 feet. That's a big, old tree! Imagine all of the storms and sunny days and changes in the landscape over the decades she's lived. I don't know if it's true, but someone once told me that an Oak that size is about 150 - 200 years old. Whether Old Oak is that old or not, she is magnificent, with branches the size of other trees' trunks. One can see the tree from about 1/2 mile away since it is on a hill. Sometimes, in the autumn, when other trees have lost their leaves and the Oak stands out with its ruddy leaves, I follow an indirect route home so that I can look up and see the tree standing guard over the hillside. When I see the tree, I know that I am home.

Here is a slide show of some photos I've taken of Old Oak Hill.


____Maggie said...

Oh, I'm so sorry you missed the drawing, but glad you chose to participate anyway. BTW Great Post!!!

I love the springtime picture with the Redbud in bloom and the Oak in silhouette. I'll see if I can't travel to our Champion tree and get pics. Thanks Cam! :)

chiefbiscuit said...

We have lots of trees around our house. I have often thought I would like to name our place 'Arbor View' - which is a bit pun-ny really (we live close to the harbour as well.)
As it is a green house, another name I'd like to call our home is 'The Greenhouse' - a bit plain perhaps.
I have heard of some good celtic names for a house on a hill too; but have forgotten them.
A maori name would perhaps be fitting - 'whare' is maori for 'house'. :)

Loved the photos of your place, and a great name too.

litlove said...

What a lovely post! I'm always very open to the poetry of place names, although in the UK they tend towards the funny or the cutesy or the tremendously grand (Kingston Langley) for a very small village. I used to live in a place called Hemingford Grey, which I thought was very pretty.