August 25, 2005
Musings on the word "Laurentian"
By Neal BurdickWhen I was growing up in Plattsburgh, we lived near enough to the Delaware & Hudson railroad tracks that I could easily hear the trains whistling through town. When I was very small, the whistles came from steam locomotives, and they were haunting. I don’t recall the sight of those imposing machines, but their sounds still echo in my mind.
Two of the trains I heard were the daily daytime passenger trains between New York and Montreal, “The Laurentian” – named, I eventually learned, for the mountain range in Quebec. Why these trains shared title with a bunch of mountains they never saw escapes me to this day; they have been supplanted by Amtrak’s much more sensibly designated “Adirondack” trains.
When I left home for college, I became a Laurentian. No, I didn’t magically turn into a train, but I did morph into a student at St. Lawrence University, and thus a Laurentian. (OK, we were also called Larries, but that appellation really belonged to those who partied their way through with C- averages and then went to work for their fathers. We who wanted to apply ourselves and actually get an education were Laurentians.)
I’m still one, since I work at SLU, and I still haven’t figured out how “Lawrence” with a “w” becomes “Laurentian” with a “u”. People affiliated with Lawrence University in Wisconsin (we get each other’s mail all the time) don’t lose sleep over this; with logic of Amtrak proportions, they are “Lawrentians.”
Anyway, upon settling permanently in St. Lawrence County, I also joined the local chapter of ADK, becoming an altogether different kind of Laurentian (there’s that inscrutable “u” again, with its images of those distant Canadian mountains, not our Adirondacks). What is it, I wonder, about this term that has been in my orbit since I was old enough to know that letters when assembled in certain ways create words? Simply this – that a train, an education and an ADK chapter can all take us to places we long to see and know, in our memories, in our dreams, or in fact. And so we go.
In addition to his day job at SLU, Neal Burdick is a freelance writer and editor of ADK’s Adirondac and guidebooks.
Aug 25, 2005: Musings On The Word Laurentian