Thousand Names

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Summer solstice by the sea

For most of us sea is a wet desert, a liquid emptiness. On land there are mountains and valleys, forests and meadows, rivers and roads, cities and villages and we give names to each and every one of them.

North American Indians, who lived on Northwest Coast, had a beautiful looking-glass worldview. Jonathan Raban in his travelogue Passage to Juneau, where he documents his own sailing in Alaska from Seattle to Juneau, writes that for Northwest Coast Indians

“the forest is the realm of danger, darkness, exile, solitude, and self-extinction, while the sea and its beaches represent safety, light, home, society and continuation of life.”

Jonathan Raban. Passage to Juneau

To understand, we just have to substitute “sea” for “land” and vice-versa, and now we see, how they lived. In tales of these tribes the term “inland”, when used by storytellers, signaled a dangerous adventure in a scary territory, while “seaward” meant the return to safety and home.

“The water’s surface was a broad public arena on which most of daily life took place,” writes Raban. Indians were moving in sea as we do on dry land.

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I love to live on the coastline, which is not really a line, rather – relationship between land and sea

How beautiful it is to start to see the sea, not only to look at it as a large body of salt water that you cross to get to other dry lands. There is salty idiom “the scales have fallen from my eyes”. I love this process of starting to see the sea.

“The mountain peaks, in all their meaningless variety, were unnameable. But the Tlingits had a thousand names for the sea.”

Jonathan Raban. Passage to Juneau
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33 Comments

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  1. Harold Rhenisch January 22, 2017 — 15:06

    Welcome to my corner of the Pacific Ocean! Did you notice in that description that humans are intertidal creatures, like clams and sand flies and ravens? If you explore the ancestral stories of this coast, you will soon find that many families trace their ancestry to underwater worlds. In European terms, the water is the world of the subconscious, but that’s only a loose translation. When you travel inland from the ocean, along the salmon rivers, this world is found in riverbeds, riverbanks, and salmon. In European terms, the whole effect is similar to the water men of Masurian folk tale. That’s just an example. Merlin wrestling with salmon is another; as well as his counterpart, Po-Re-To, the ancient god of the Mediterranean, wrestled like an octopus to give prophecy to Agammemnon. Do you know the Haida story of raven creating humans out of a sexual joke played on two clams? Funny guy! It happened on North Beach. You can walk there and pick up stranded clams at low tide, and wonder, while a raven flies laughing overhead. The Haida have laid a land claim to the seafloor around their archipelago, rightfully as they are the seafloor as much as the land. Let me know if you’d like that story. If you google it up, you’ll find it, and Bill Reid’s beautiful sculpture, but it will likely be very sanitized, and, like most stories collected by anthropologists, stripped of its sexual humour. There are, however, unexpurgated versions.

    Liked by 3 people

    • This is the most wonderful comment I’ve had on this blog 🙂 I’m in the middle of Raban’s book, and if I peek a few pages further, there is something about ravens as culture heroes… Let’s see how honest his rendering will be 🙂 But he had a wonderful passage about anthropologists. He quotes a Skokomish elder, who was interviewed in 1930s and who remembers “that awful man” – one anthropologist, who visited them in 1880s. “People didn’t like him very well. He was collecting Klallam words from some Klallam Indians who were visiting here one time. I had to translate for him. So he would ask them for words like “father”, “mother”, “house”, “dog”, and so on. And those people didn’t think much of Eells, so they would give him all sorts of dirty, nasty words, and he would write them down in a book. Then he would try and use some of those words, thinking he was talking Indian, and people would just about bust trying to keep from laughing.”

      That sculpture is lovely!!! And if you have an “unexpurgated version” of Haida story, I’m here 🙂 & do you have low tide photos on your blog?

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  2. Amazing posts and amazing pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very well spoken!!!! I enjoyed this read.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gorgeous photographs, and a well-written post! So many people have used the sea to travel, both past and present, but it boggles my mind to know that we still haven’t learnt everything there is to know about it.

    On a more practical note: what camera do you use for your photographs?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, isn’t that amazing! As I wrote in my “Mona Lisa” post: it sometimes feels like the underwater world is looking at us with Mona Lisa smile, because we don’t know a damn thing about it! Only a little bit 🙂 That inspires me. And I have Olympus Pen Lite E-PL3. I love the retro feel of it in my hands, and the quality is great.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You are a very good writer. Are you exploring other types of writing besides blogs?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this blog post ! I’m an aspiring writer and thus is so inspiring ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This post is amazing!!!
    As a person new in the world of writing and blogging, I need a lot of inspiration to write one single peice. But this post, I guess is going to be my new source of inspiration for a lot of stories and poems. Thank you for that. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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