President Obama officially reinstated Denali as the primary name for the highest peak in North America. In several Native Alaskan dialects, Denali means “the tall one” or “big mountain.”
The people who have lived in its shadow for thousands of years call the mountain Denali, and it is just to restore the traditional name. And what a perfect name it is. The beauty of the word is universal; the gentle consonants and friendly vowels, arranged in the consummate consonant – vowel – consonant – vowel pattern, are a melody to the ear. The name is humble, with a softer tonality reflective of the majesty of the mountain rather than the dangers or its slopes, and yet an admiration for those dangers is there, subtly, in the meaning.
Words are imperfect, and they fail us perhaps more often than they succeed. In the face of tragedy or majesty, horror or bliss, we often lose our words, or get caught up trying to capture the power of a feeling with complicated or contrived or artificially elevated adjectives that simply fall flat. In these instances, the more elemental the words, the more elegantly simple the language, the closer we can get, perhaps, to capturing a feeling.
The highest peak on the continent is the epitome of majesty and power, and Denali, “the tall one,” is perhaps as close as one can get to encapsulating its beauty in a word.