Last week I was watching a hockey game and heard mention that somebody’s back-up goal keeper is from North Pole, Alaska. What struck me was the North Pole part. Obviously because not even a week later do I remember the who or even the team. That North Pole part struck me because I know that Alaska doesn’t make it to the North Pole. So, I just had to look it up, because, after all, – all together now – I have that kind of time. Seems that North Pole isn’t along Alaska’s northern shore, not in the northern counties, not even in the northern half of the state. It’s a suburb of Fairbanks. Now how about that. That’s almost akin to false advertising naming North Pole North Pole when it’s around 1,700 miles south of the North Pole.
I must be going somewhere with this, you muse. And you muse correctly. It got me thinking about some of the names we call our hamlets. And the hamlet I thought of first, because it will be a Mecca for about 100,000 more people than just me this Thursday, is Punxsutawney. Even the most irregular of regular readers know I have a special fondness for Groundhog Day and the festivities that will take place at that Western Pennsylvania village. Punxsutawney Phil is so dear to me that his was the first picture to accompany a post on this blog. (See “Six Weeks,” Feb. 2, 2012.) (If you want, it doesn’t have anything to do with this post but it still makes interesting reading.) (Well, I think it’s interesting but then I think the other 9 or 10 posts that mention Groundhog Day are interesting also.) (Actually I think all of the posts are more than fairly interesting or I wouldn’t have posted them now would have I?) (Or darn, I did it again. Where was I?)
All that thinking about North Pole, Alaska and how names are given to places got me thinking about just what “Punxsutawney” means. So I looked that up too. It means “land of the sandflies.” Punxsutawney was a 1700 era settlement of the Delaware nation and presumably named by them. I’m not really in a place to question their observations and aptitude for naming places, but I don’t understand how a clearing on the edge of the Allegheny Forrest, in the mountains, over 300 miles from any ocean, over 900 miles to any water hot enough to have a sand beach presumably with flies, could be considered the “land of the sandflies.” The “land of” would indicate that whatever comes after “of” is so indigenous to that area that one cannot think of the “land” without automatically thinking of the “of.” I don’t know about you but Punxsutawney Sandflies doesn’t fall from my lips instinctively. Not even the local high school picked the sandfly as its mascot even considering the origin of its town’s moniker. (In fact, they are the Punxsutawney Chucks, as in woodchucks, as in groundhog.)
And there we are, back to the groundhog and Punxsutawney Phil and Groundhog Day. And I am positively thrilled that inhabitants of the “land of the sandflies” got over that as quickly as they did. In time somebody noted that February 2 was midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox and was ideal for predicting the severity of the balance of the season so the spring plantings could be planned. And no animal was better suited to make that prediction than the humble groundhog.
And now I know how Punxsutawney got its name. And so do you. Aren’t you glad you read all the way through? Yes you are.
That’s what I think. Really. How ‘bout you?