April 04, 2006

O to be a particle, now that spring is here

This morning my wife, a native Montanan, told me that she is going to drive "up to Hamilton" to visit a friend. This sounded odd to me, because Hamilton is 40 miles south of Missoula, the place where we live. But it isn't odd in this area, where the geographical directions,"up" and "down," relate to the flow of the rivers. Hamilton is upstream. The Bitterroot River flows north between Hamilton and Missoula and all the natives here seem to know this. They notice such things but I'm a product of the industrial East, where the direction of river flow doesn't often reach any level of consciousness. I love to look at rivers but I don't think about which direction they happen to be going. Furthermore, it seems to me that "up" means north and "down" means south, except of course when "up" refers to a place that is higher in altitude and "down" to a lower.

A few years ago I was confused by a woman riding in my car who told me to turn "up" at the next intersection. Since the topography there was flat, I asked her which was was "up." After a good snicker, she admitted that because she has always had trouble with "left" and "right," she had switched to using "up" and "down" instead--except when there was an obvious topographical condition to clarify things.

To add to my confusion, today's sports section of Akron Beacon Journal contains an article about the opening game between the Chicago and Cleveland. The writer noted, "Sunday's game was moved back one day so ESPN2 could make it the showcase for the start of the season." Which way is "back?" To me, it seems to mean later, not earlier. So I remain perpetually mystified by particles in my native language.

Who knows? Maybe particles go wild in the Spring.

Posted by Roger Shuy at April 4, 2006 12:06 PM