Yes, I really did live on Tufted Moss

February 11, 2002|By Myron Beckenstein

MANY MILE MEWS. Tinted Hill. Oven Bird Green. Pressed Gentian.

What do these phrases have in common? The answer is easy, if you live in Columbia. They're local street names.

There's a reason for Columbia's unusual names, of course. And it wasn't that the city's planners got roaring drunk one night and tried to outdo one another in outlandishness.

The reason was an agreement with postal officials that Columbia wouldn't repeat names already in use in Baltimore City and in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. That narrowed the field a bit: Goodbye to Oak, Main and 42nd. And hello to Loveknot Place, Ascending Moon Path and Enchanted Solitude Place.

Columbia solved the problem by going literary, having various authors inspire many of Columbia's older villages and neighborhoods and then stretching the references to come up with Paul Revere Ride, The Mending Wall and Long Look Lane.

The first Columbia street I lived on was Pamplona Road (Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises), which was quite normal-sounding. Then came Tufted Moss (a twisting of something Whittier once wrote), and now it is Feathered Head. I don't know where this one comes from, but physically it falls between Crazy Quilt Court and Moon Fire Place.

Residents get used to the reaction of clerks and officials who innocently inquire after an address. There are three basic responses:

Someone new to the area doesn't quite understand, and you have to repeat the address and add, "Columbia."

After the clerk has heard this enough times, he asks, after hearing a strange street name, "Columbia?"

There's the clerk who has heard it so many times that he doesn't pay any attention anymore, anything is acceptable, no questions asked.

Which I guess is why one clerk misheard the name of my street and without batting an eye, wrinkling a brow or gasping, typed in "Severed Head."

Now that is pretty far out, even for Columbia.

Myron Beckenstein is an editor on The Sun's Foreign Desk.

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