What's in a name?
A friend of mine gave me the book Home Ground edited by Barry Lopez. It’s a dictionary of idiosyncratic American landscape terms. The definitions are written by a who’s-who of nature writers, so its not your run-of-the-mill dictionary. It’s an exploration and celebration of the way language connects us to place. I am enjoying opening the book at random and reading passages about various landscapes and words, such as domer, muskeg, and picacho. This got me to thinking about this place, the Hudson River Valley, and its various appellations. River is a bit of misnomer. It is actually an estuary for nearly half its length. Ocean tides extend over 150 miles upriver as far as the falls at the Federal Lock at Troy, New York. Here at the lighthouse, over 100 miles inland from New York Harbor, we experience average tides of four feet or more. The “salt line” in the estuary migrates upriver as much as 70 miles from the ocean. The estuarine portion of the Hudson River is often a called an Arm-of-the-Sea. Residents refer to the region from riverside to ridgetop as the Hudson River Valley. Geologically speaking, the lower Hudson River is a fjord, partially carved by a southward advancing ice sheet. When the glaciers melted, rising sea level flooded the Hudson River Valley with sea water. The river’s fjord characteristic is especially apparent at the Hudson Highlands. The original Mahican name for the river was Muhheakantuck, which means “great waters in constant motion.” What better term to describe this shifting body of water that is river, fjord, estuary, and extension of the ocean?