Saturday, October 24, 2015

McKinley, Denali -- Potato, Potahto

Denali -- formerly Mt. McKinley -- has been in the news lately. Mostly because of its name change. Some people like the new name, and others are upset about it. I prefer to stay out of this disagreement.

Denali, by Derek Ramsey

But I do think that Denali is a fitting name for this magnificent mountain in Alaska, the highest peak in North America. And the reason -- as you might guess -- has something to do with a story. Seeing as how this is a blog about stories. (Mythopath = someone who is receptive to stories.)

Crow near Whittier, Alaska
 photo by lanare Sevi
According to legend, Raven was a shape-shifter and a trickster. Taking the form of a young man, he crossed the sea in his canoe to win the heart of a maiden. When she refused him, he set out on the voyage home. 

The young girl went down to the water’s edge to get some water, and she sank in to her knees. When she cried out in distress, the young man shouted, “It is your own fault.” 

She sank next to her waist and then to her neck. Each time, the young man -- Raven -- taunted her. At last she slipped into the water and drowned. 

 Alaska Brown Bear, by Marshmallow

The girl’s mother, who was furious, had two tame brown bears. She took them to the water’s edge and told them to churn up the water so that the young man would also drown. But he took a white stone and threw it across the water. The water became smooth on the path before him, but all around there raged a roiling storm.

Storm at Sea, Tom Roberts

Exhausted from paddling in the storm, the young man took his harpoon and threw it at a tall wave, just as he fainted in his canoe. When he lifted his head, he found himself in a beautiful spruce forest. The wave he hit had become a great mountain. And the harpoon, passing through the first wave, hit a second wave and formed another mountain. This is the one called Denali, according to the story.

Denali, by Sbork
This is a sad but charming legend from native storytellers in Alaska. Raven's ego and deceit always seem to make trouble for himself and for those around him. And he never seems to learn!


  1. Good story. My understanding is that it was always called Denali until we re-named it. So it's not really a new name so much as the correct name.

  2. You're right, Icarus. I think the US government just finally decided to acknowledge the Alaskan name. I love the Raven stories, and I love the name Denali.