A name is power. Of family, history, place. And the right to name is one of the great firsts of life, of endowed gravity. Find the good things, you’re told, the virtues, and pull them out—never-ending like ribbon through a magic-man’s mouth. You don’t name a boy Beelzebub and you don’t name a gelding Stormy. Like peas to a trellis, we live up to our names, to expectations. So thread those eyelets high.
Sometimes though, things come to us already named: adopted dogs, a sister’s car, a mother’s disease. Towns, roads, rivers and ponds. Things inherited through time, genes, an old farmer’s first love or early explorers’ maps.
A name is control. To say You’re Mine. Or not. Not anymore. We change ours and take another’s—historically, a way to own property, to join households—cleaving lineage in hopes its forked lines won’t have too many dead ends. Sometime our names are used to belittle and insult—slurring, separating into silos of ignorance.
They are remembrance of place. Gothenburg, Nebraska, for example, where your grandparents grew tall like corn in fields aside the South Platte, named for its older cosmopolitan Swedish sister sitting on the Göta älv. New Worlds and Old, we’re reminded from where we’ve come, even having never been there before.
A name is also, selfishly, used to mislead. As a fly fisher, you’re guilty. Like the Old Testament’s G-d, your lakes and streams have many names, rarely uttered and never spelled fully. It’s protection. And like other forms, some folks don’t approve. Like other forms, it’s not fool proof—there are lapses in judgment and also, sometimes regret. It’s reaction, from seeing ripped lips on native cutthroats and buckets of bass and bluegill headed for a grill or freezer. Guts left for magpies. Heads carried away in the mouths of dogs.
Perhaps this is your maternal instinct kicking in, wings hovering protection of something you see as smaller, more vulnerable than yourself. You don’t know. But you’ve noticed heavily pressured fisheries are often not healthy ones. Thus you vet your friends well. And with pacts akin to gradeschool blood-brother handshakes, make promises to keep and hold secrets close. Cross your heart and hope to die.
On public land and busy trails, the lake sits relatively near vehicle parking. Yet even then, tourists barely make it up and back the few short miles in their flip-flopped feet, with their waterless hands. Liabilities, search and rescue folks would say. Beautiful, it nestles into a low cirque and spills over an outcrop into a lazy small stream you hear for miles through the canyon. Someone long ago called this place “Lost.” Perhaps they were in such a state themselves, or maybe they just didn’t want anyone else ever finding it again. The fishing was that good; the mines that rich. You wonder how many Losts there are in this world. And where they are. And if anyone finds themselves wandering anymore.
A heavily used path runs across the dam, along the pond’s eastside, where midday workweek Stepford Wives, trustafarians and retirees—in other words, Those With Time—walk dogs and exercise mouths. Sometimes their legs move faster than their gossip. You’ve never seen anyone else fishing here, although there’s evidence they do. A bobber here. Lure there. Line you pick off the ground and put in your pack. You name it “Blue Sunshine,” although now you can’t remember why—you were hot and tired and a few drinks in at christening time. It sounds like code and isn’t on a map. And that’s the main thing.
A fork in a creek, falling down a mountain valley like so many hairs on your head. Backward braiding to split ends, roots lie under a glacier. You only spend a few months here each year, after runoff and before snows begin again like a familiar chorus, an annual affair of wet feet. You can predict her moods, finish her sentences, trace her bends and curves. She gives up brookies and cutthroats in pockets carved from ice and fallen Engelmann spruce. This one, she has no name. Or rather, she has too many to count.
It should hold pike, this pond. That’s the rumor. And should have bass bunked in the tumbleweeds, too. That’s the theory. But theories are debunked and Pluto isn’t a planet. And this water just holds carp (which suits your fancy just fine). This water, rimmed with cattails and scattered with spent shotgun shells (pressed to your ear, you can still hear the bang). Here, they take you into backing, every time. You call it “The Zoo”; there is no admission fee.
There are Hells Canyons and Deadman’s Runs; Dismal and Snake Rivers; Bitch and Old Woman Creeks. You wonder how many beautiful places are hidden by word associations, by assumptions, by places we’re led to believe we’d rather not go. Is it intentional, you wonder? This naming away the crowds.
You don’t bother for large, recognizable waters. But for small, public waters, yes… a little something special at dinnertime for the runt. This is not the lake you’re looking for, you convince with widening, desperate eyes. You look to the power of persuasion; the power of names to take care.
Sometimes you feel silly and over-protective, the miserly-mouthed opposite of stereotypical angler aggrandizements. Slow fishing; Might be some winter-kill; Only a few bluegill at best. These answers you have stocked like the ponds down your road, the ones for which no one bothers to change names.
Just like sweet spots for wild chanterelles and porcini, you may tell the elevation but never, ever, the trail. Selfishly, you need these secrets, these places. Craving the illusion that you’re special, that you’re the only one. And so as humans always have, you name domains to rule, even for a kingdom in your head.