Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Future of The Puget Sound

"Return to the Land of the Head Hunters" (Edward Curtis)
“The” Puget Sound. Does reading or hearing that make your skin crawl, your ears ring? How about riding “the” Metro? Go to “the” Husky Stadium to watch the Huskies play? Blame those Californians for polluting the Puget Sound stylebook; they should go back to where they came from. Maybe then we can go back to calling this place "Whulge."

When I edited copy at People For Puget Sound, removing the offending “the” before Puget Sound was a simple line indicating deletion. These days, I hear “the Puget Sound” said every once in a while but I hear all sorts of strange pronunciations and syntax from folks who have moved here and from folks who grew up here. Not being a sensitive-eared native but a local resident for only about 45 years, I guess I’m still trying to fit in with the real Northwestern natives.

Mossback Knute Berger at Crosscut [ Did you just say ‘The’ Puget Sound? ] and KUOW’s Bill Radke [ Stop Calling It 'The' Puget Sound ] seem to be some of the sensitive-eared types living and making pronouncements in Mighty Seattle.

Does it matter? “Puget Sound” and “the Puget Sound” are, for practical purposes, abstractions, a name on a map, a verbal description using one’s hands. I sat through years of focus group discussions listening to participants grapple with describing where Puget Sound is. Folks on the Peninsula live on the Juan de Fuca Strait. Folks in Bellingham live on Bellingham Bay or Rosario Strait. People think of themselves as living on Birch Bay and Budd Inlet, on Hood Canal, on Rich Passage, in Eagle Harbor and, even in Seattle, most likely on Elliott Bay instead of Puget Sound. One woman meekly asked whether she was crossing “Puget Sound” when she went to and from work over the I-90 bridge.

Talk to British Columbia neighbors about the waters of the U.S. Northwest Straits that border their Strait of Georgia and they’ll be quick to point out that those are the Southwest Straits as far as they are concerned. And the folks in the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands? They live surrounded by the Sea of Paradise.

The fact that the Puget Sound and Puget Sound are abstractions has been a challenge and an obstacle faced by folks who worked and are working for the future of Puget Sound: The Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, the Puget Sound Action Team, the Puget Sound Partnership, People For Puget Sound. The future that people care for is the future that touches them. Our environments are local.

I honestly don’t care if somebody calls it the Puget Sound or Puget Sound as long as they put their mind and their heart and their hands around doing all they can to protect and restore the lands and waters they care for. Judging how people talk is basically off-putting, especially if you think you’re right and others are not. It’s also arrogant to forget that this place had names for its places long before Captain George Vancouver sailed into these waters.

Before Vancouver, this place was called “WulcH,” ( Anglicized to “Whulge” or “Whulj”) from the Lushootseed name. These days, thanks to the efforts of Bert Webber, I like to call the land and the waters of this great place the Salish Sea. And if we’re not all planning to go  back to where we came from, it might deepen our appreciation for living here if we think about living on the flanks and at the feet of Komo Kulshan, Shuksan and Tahoma.

--Mike Sato


  1. Great letter to your readers. The names can change and morph but we really need them. We need to know where we are, what we're part of, or we lose our identity. It's like anatomy. We can't function and care for ourselves if we can't refer to our parts--our knuckles, fingers, hands, wrist, forearm, elbow, shoulder, neck-- you get what I mean. The whole Salish Sea is a big basin surrounded by mountain ridges from west of Mt Olympus around Hurricane Ridge and south past The Brothers and Mt Skokomish and around the Black Hills, across to Mt Tahoma and north along the Cascades past Glacier Mt, Whitehorse, Mt Baker and up the Coast Range to Desolation Sound and then across to the ridge of the Vancouver Island Insular Mts and south to the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympics again. I like to think of the Salish Sea as the huge estuary fed by 25 tributary rivers wirh their own glaciers. Knowing the rivers helps you understand the anatomy of this huge watershed basin.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Grant provides correction that there are in fact 20 tributary rivers with their own glaciers.

    2. Actually, Captain George Vancouver called it Puget's Sound, after Peter Puget, who did the initial exploration. It remained that way in historical texts for many years. Also, New Yorkers don't say "the Long Island Sound," so putting an article before Puget is just whimsy. Plain old "Puget Sound" is now the traditional useage.

    3. That it was originally named "Puget's Sound" was noted by Knute in his piece and by several readers. You may know that Washington state has a "Puget Island" where my brother-in-law lives and where "the Puget Island" has not, to my knowledge, been uttered. As for "Long Island Sound," local distinction may not be absence of "the" but pronunciation as "Lon-gi-land Sound."

  2. Ha I heard that radio piece with Knute Berger (who apparently was at the same summer camp as me, but he was a big kid and I was a little kid and didn't know him; my sister who knows Knute made the connection) and Bill Radke. I must admit the preponderance of "the" where it didn't used to be in local use bothers me ("the" 405, etc. that is so California!), and Pike Place Market becoming Pike's Market. But I mostly just keep it to myself. But you raise the larger point that it shouldn't really matter as long as we're concerned and engaged in the health of the Salish Sea and its tributaries.

    1. And now we are all grown up and living out our destinies, doing our best to do good work. Puget Sounders might feel besieged by the changes wrought by folks moving here in the last 50 years; I try my best to imagine how native peoples felt and feel the changes they have experienced.


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