Nearly two years ago I visited Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. I walked to the point, where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet and conjoin. I was advised that from there on to the Chesapeake Bay, the Shenandoah loses its identity to be consumed by the Potomac. I studied the dark, murky, foreboding river, with bluffs plummeting down into it. Images of a primeval monster lurking just below the surface, like at Loch Ness, came into my mind. Then I walked over to the Shenandoah, wide but shallow and clear, with welcoming stepping stones which lead you out nearly to its middle. Lovely tree-canopied picnic areas lined its shore. I pictured Huck Finn with Tom Sawyer skipping stones and chewing on sprigs of straw. What gave the deep, dark scary river the right to supersede the friendly, happy frolicky river? That didn’t seem fair to me.
Although the Potomac may carry a larger volume of water than the Shenandoah to their confluence, the Shenandoah’s history and tradition dictate that in all fairness it should not submit in full to the Potomac. It should, instead, take second billing in sharing the name of the merging of the two bodies of water, therefore, this river, upon the meeting of the Potomac and the Shenandoah, would become the Potomadoah. I will support this theory in the paragraphs below.
Lending itself to this equation are the river’s nicknames: the Potomac – “Nation’s River,” and the Shenandoah – “Daughter of the Stars.” Obviously, the stars are in space, which is an infinitely larger area than the Nation, or even the globe on which the nation exists.
The Shenandoah, in fact, was discovered nearly fifty years before the Potomac. The first recorded encounter was in 1669 by John Lederer, a German doctor; and before the Revolutionary War, our future first President George Washington was commissioned to survey parts of the Shenandoah Valley for Lord Thomas Fairfax. Hence, Washington encountered the Shenandoah long before the Potomac, the existence of which wasn’t recorded until 1736 by Colonel William Mayo. So, not only was the Potomac discovered much later, it was uncovered by a man whose name resembles a food high in saturated fat. We all know that mayonnaise is really bad for you. Even light mayonnaise can still clog your arteries. (True, Captain John Smith recorded experiencing the Potomac in 1608, but since he spelled it wrong, it doesn’t count.)
Parks named for the two rivers speak volumes. The Potomac is represented in this corner by the 11,535 acre Potomac State Forest; and in this corner, wearing blue trunks, the tag team of the 197,438.76 acre Shenandoah National Park and the 1,604 acre Shenandoah River State Park, both in Virginia. Enough said.
The Shenandoah River even has a salamander named after it. The closest the Potomac gets to an animal-related honor is Potomac Horse Fever. I’d rather catch a Shenandoah Salamander than Potomac Horse Fever, wouldn’t you?
Skeptics and Potomac supporters I’m sure will reference the watershed sizes, of which the latter boasts 14,670 square miles, nearly five times that of the Shenandoah. That number does not intimidate my findings. Although, of course, size matters, no one really cares about “watershed.” How often do you hear families say “Yay! Today we are going to picnic in the Potomac Watershed!” You don’t. But you do hear people say that about parks, and clearly the Shenandoah has the Potomac pinned to the mat on that one.
The icing on the cake, without doubt, is the John Denver song “Take Me Home Country Roads,” in which he mentions the Shenandoah River. Who can argue with a song on an album that went platinum?
Favoritism of the Potomac is present and clear. But who stands/stood to gain by embellishing such benefits onto this river? The original name wasn’t even Potomac, it was Cohongarooton. Can you honestly tell me if that was still the name, it would be known as our “Nation’s River?”
Meanwhile, the Shenandoah flows along quietly, victimized by an evil scheme to strip it of its identity, so big business, government, and perhaps even organized religion can benefit. This has conspiracy written all over it.
It has taken me years to summon the nerve to write this dissertation, which I have published from the safety of my secret hideout. I knew the controversy it would cause — potentially endangering my life – so, if you do not see any more posts from me in the future, tell Lynda Carter to keep her eyes open for my body floating down the Potomac. I can see nothing more ironic than that.
© K.S. Brooks 2010 All Rights Reserved