Friday, 5 July 2013

shuttle 19: naming

‘The desert could not be claimed or owned – it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names long before’ 

(Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient, London: Picador, 1992) 
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North American deserts  (north to south)
Carcross, Fraser, Thompson Country, Nk’mip; Channeled Scablands, Snake River, Craters of the Moon, Red, Owyhee, Yp, Alvord, Oregon High; Great Basin (Black Rock, Forty Mile, Smoke Creek, Great Salt, San Raphael, Sevier, Escalante, Bisti Badlands, Painted); Mojave (Death Valley, Amargosa); Sonoran (Colorado, Yuha, Yuma, Lechuguilla, Tule, Gran Desertio de Altar, Baja, Vizcaino); Chihuahuan (Trans-Pecos, White Sands)

Some American winds 
Auger (dust devil, sometimes stationary, in California), Black Roller (dust storm), Cat’s Paw (strong enough to ripple a pool), Chinook (a foehn wind also known as 'the snow eater'), Chocolatero, Chubasco, Collada, Cordonazo (‘the lash of St Francis’), Coromell, Diablo, Duster, Kabeyun (‘the father of winds’, Algonquin), Kibibonokka (‘the fierce one’, Algonquin), Maria (fictional), Mato Wamniyomni (‘whirlwind’, Dakota), Mono, Norte, Norther, Papagayos, Pruga, Santa Ana, Shawondasee (‘the lazy wind’, Algonquin), Sonora, Stikine, Sundowner, Surazo, Taku, Tapayagua, Ta Te Kata (chinook, Sioux), Tehuantepecer, Tezcatlipoca (‘the divine wind’, Aztec), Tornado, Virazon, Wabun (‘the morning bringer', Algonquin), Williwaw, Witch, Zonda 

Aeolian processes
- abrasion: the process of physical weathering
- deflation: a process in which the finer grained material is removed, and the level of the land surface is lowered
- desert pavement: forms when wind removes all of the fine-grained sand from a system, leaving only the coarser gravel behind
- desert varnish: the patina of iron and manganese oxides left on rocks after they have undergone long periods of chemical weathering in the desert
- ventifacts - stones that have been sculpted by the wind 

Sonoran Desert plants & animals
Flora: cave primrose, desert Christmas cactus, desert lupine, desert willow, devil’s claw, fairy duster, ghost flower, hedgehog cactus, jimson weed, night blooming cereus, prickly pear cactus, saguaro cactus, showy four o’ clock (Mirabilis multiflora), tumble weed, western wildflower

Fauna: Allen’s big-eared bat, Arizona pocket mouse, Bezy’s night lizard, black-tailed jackrabbit, cactus mouse, California leaf-nosed bat, Chihuahuan striped whiptail lizard, Chuckwalla lizard, common desert centipede, desert bighorn sheep, desert box turtle, desert pupfish, desert recluse spider, desert spiny lizard, desert tortoise, desert woodrat, flat-tail horned lizard, fringe-toed lizard, Gila monster, golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), horned lizard, kangaroo rat, lesser long-nosed bat, little striped whiptail, long-tailed brush lizard, Mearns coyote, Merriam’s kangaroo rat, Mesquite mouse, Mexican grey wolf (el lobo), mountain king snake, mountain lion (cougar or puma), Mexican big-eared bat, Mexican black king snake, Mexican long-tongued bat, Mexican jumping beans (frijoles saltarines), Mexican tree frog, Pacific burrowing wasp, pallid bat, Pinacate beetle, rattlesnakes (genus Crotalus), ring-tailed cat, round-tailed ground squirrel, Sonoran desert toad, Sonoran shovelnose snake, Sonoran sidewinder, spotted bat, tiger centipede, Trans-Pecos striped whiptail lizard, western pipistrelle, white-throated woodrat, Yuma myotis vesper bat, zebra-tailed lizard
Birds: Abert’s towhee, Anna’s hummingbird, Bell’s vireo, Bendire’s thrasher, black-chinned hummingbird, black-chinned sparrow, black rail, black-tailed gnatcatcher, black-throated sparrow, brown-crested flycatcher, burrowing owl, canyon wren, Cassin’s vireo, Chihuahuan raven, collared peccary, Costa’s hummingbird, Crissal thrasher, curve-billd thrasher, desert cardinal, Ferruginous pygmy owl, Gambel’s quail, Gila woodpecker, gilded flicker, greater roadrunner, great horned owl (Bubo virinus), lark bunting, Lawrence’s goldfinch, Le Conte’s thrasher, Lucy’s warbler, mountain plover, mourning dove, phainopepla, Plumbeous vireo, sage sparrow, spotted owl, vermilion flycatcher, yellow-headed blackbird
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Rebecca Solnit: - 

'Naming is a form of claiming. Parents name their children, priests baptise their flock, husbands confer their names upon their wives, explorers name what they come across - whether it's Fremont naming the Humboldt River after another explorer or Martin Heinrich Klaproth naming the element uranium after the god of the underworld. To name a thing is to assert that a new identity has begun ...

In Genesis, Adam wants a helpmeet, but God instead brings forth all the animals for him to name, and only after the fowl of the air and the beasts of the field are named does his Creator get around to making woman out of his rib. According to Robert Graves and Raphael Patai's Hebrew Myths, naming is a euphemism or substitute activity. In the original version Adam couples with all the creatures in quest of a satisfactory mate, and when his experiments with the animals prove unsatisfying Eve arrives for his use ...

The scattering of names across the land is a cipher of its history. As Utah is sprinkled with the Old Testament names that gave resonance to the Mormon emigration there, so California is overlaid with the sanctifying names of the Spanish missionaries, from the sacrament itself in the state's capital to the list of saints trailing down the coast. Other Spanish names are descriptive: Mariposa for the butterflies that menaced Moraga's expedition, the Sierra Nevada for their snow ... The names of the peaks in a western mountain range often sound like the roster of a board of directors. Josiah Whitney, director of the state's Geological Survey, named the tallest peak yet found by his men in the Sierra after himself, then hastened to transfer his name to the taller mountain that turned up afterward, the current Mount Whitney ...

Had the old names been kept, the newcomers would have been emigrants, not discoverers. The great charm of the Belgian gold miner Jean-Nicholas Perlot is that he came to the Sierra foothills as to a foreign country rather than a manifest destiny, came to it as a place in the middle of a story rather than waiting for one to begin, without the sense of himself as a new Adam or the Indians as obstacles to a new Eden. As befits an immigrant, he learned the languages, English, Spanish, and Miwok. Changing the names is a symbolic substitute for wiping out the people, and in looking at the language of the newcomers, particularly in Yosemite, the constant conjunction of the words extermination and aboriginal captures this. Exterminate comes from terminate, to end, ab-original means from the beginning, and so the phrase means to terminate the originals, end the beginning, and begin again in the middle, making Adams out of Europeans in an Eden wrested from some people who didn't fit into the new story'.

Extract from Rebecca Solnit, 'The Name of the Snake', in Savage Dreams: A Journey into the Landscape Wars of the American West, Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999
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Photos (from top): Jan Janssonius, anemographic chart, 1650; USA wind map; Steve Evans - desert cactus flower, Arizona; rattlesnake rattle; Matt - Saguaro cactus; desert cacti, Chelsea Flower Show, London, 2013

For driving music,  'I've been everywhere', performed by Willie Nelson & Hank Snow, listen here
 
For further details of Jean-Nicholas Perlot (and his canine companion Miraud), see his Gold Seeker: Adventures of a Belgian Argonaut during the Gold Rush Years, ed. Howard R Lamar, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985

For a wonderful book about winds - with chapters on wind and earth, time, life, body and mind, and a 'dictionary of winds' - see Lyall Watson, Heaven's Breath: A Natural History of the Wind, London: Hodder & Staughton, 1984 

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