Geographers, Pigs, and College Administration

Academic geographers often become college administrators.  We would speculate on the pattern at my national geography meeting every year while missing a friend who has gone over “to the dark side” and thus could no longer get away to attend our geography meetings.  “No time for field trips,” we would say, lamenting their loss.

One theory related to the pattern of geographers becoming administrators was that we worked at the intersections of large areas of learning–science (earth sciences), social sciences–the more obvious, humanities (historical and phenomenological), and the arts (cartography).  We understand different ways of approaching the world and different “ways of knowing.”

Another theory that has been floated is that geographers are both “lumpers,” or big picture people, as well as “splitters,” or detail people.  We move back and forth across scales of analysis, a useful trait for college administrators.

I have recently been reading the book, On Thinking Institutionally by Hugh Heclo. I summarize some of Heclo’s thoughts that have led me to construct a third theory on the relationship between geography and college administration which is related to a desire to construct (we ask questions such as–where would be the best place to put a road?) or take abstract theory and see how it is lived out on the ground.  Of course, geographers become city planners who have the ultimate task of trying to take theories of the good life and turn them into concrete spatial expressions on the ground (in collaboration with real people). But first let me summarize some of Heclo’s thoughts:

1. Thinking about institutions is not the same thing as thinking institutionally.

2. Skepticism involves exercising our critical thinking facilities—a good thing, but our modern inclination to distrust typically goes beyond this for various reasons that range from contemporary history to individualism.

3. A “critical theory” approach, associated with an analysis focused on unmaking and demystifying, can often fail to lead to the goal of actually making a decision, but instead remains at the deconstructive stage. This can illustrate “thinking about” institutions if it goes no further than this stage.

4. “Thinking institutionally,” in contrast to “thinking about” institutions, involves asking yourself, “What should guide my decision?”   An actual concrete expression of theory is thus assumed to be the end result when “thinking institutionally.”

I believe that geographers tend to “think institutionally” because they tend toward studying concrete, on-the-ground expressions of theories.  And they are not constrained to an analysis of what is because it is a discipline that is also free to ask questions about how we want to shape the future. It allows normative thinking about the future.

Now for a disclaimer.  There are totally abstract, theoretical, “thinking about” types of geographers.  But other geographers tend to push back, asking what it means on-the ground.  I was once part of a smaller geography specialty group that had a quarter of its membership made up of those who “thought about.” It also represented a national and class divide with Americans and Canadians being concrete and the British being abstract.  We all met every three years for field trips and research presentations.  At a pig farm in North Carolina, one of these “thinking about”  geographers asked Tommy, the large scale hog producer, about the international flow of capital and economic restructuring.  Tommy’s reply?  “We just get them young.  We feed them well.  And when the time is right, we ship them out.”

OK.  There is something to the international flow of capital in terms of investment in intensive hog farming.  And agriculture in the U.S. has gone through massive restructuring which has led to the movement of hog production from the Midwest to North Carolina and now to other places.  But in the end you still have to make a decision on the local scale.  When and where do you get them?  What kind of experience do they have and how do you build structures that help them grow and mature?  What is the end goal you have for them?  And how do we get them out at the right time?  Sounds like college administration to me.


Language and Communication

My daughter told me about a conversation she had on the commuter train coming back from student teaching in Boston.  It was with a man who was blue collar in background who teased her about the big words she used.

This led us into a conversation about language and how we are all cross-cultural and flexible in language abilities.  We have to switch audiences and contexts all the time.  My daughter loves to talk with teachers because she can quickly start using a vocabulary that assumes a common understanding and leads to more precision in understanding.  Early in my career I was the only geographer at a small college.  When I went to my professional geography meetings I would find comfort and relief in being able to switch to using language that allowed me to easily express things that would take more explanation with other audiences:  “I live on the Kansan till plain just south of the end moraine of the Wisconsinin glacial lobe.”  This one statement tells my geography colleagues a great deal about the age of the landscape, the extent of its being stream-dissected, the type of farming that might be expected there, and its physical location.  I need not say any more.  What a joy to be able to express myself in a language that is rich with meaning for my profession!

Families, of course, are cultures.  A friend told me about going to his in-laws for a meal and his father-in-law saying to his mother-in-law that the roast was a bit dry.  My friend was ready for the explosion, but the only response was, “Yes, you may be right!”  This was not the conversation about identity and worth that he anticipated, but simply a conversation about the roast.  My extended family is very playful with language.  If you are teased, it is merely being playful, and perhaps an indication of affection—there is no other point.  It took my younger daughter some time to figure this out until she had the “eureka” moment.  Now she is probably the largest contributor to this playfulness.

Americans exhibit particular traits when it some to language and communication that truly has to make it difficult to cross cultures.  One trait that has been identified is that of being literal and seeing things in black and white terms.  I once heard of a case of an American who was living in Italy.  Her local permit had to be renewed which would require her to travel some distance with small children.  The local police told her to just say that her children were sick, and thus gain exception to the travel and let them renew it.  But she protested that this would be lying.  The response of the Italian local police was to roll their eyes at her lack of pragmatism.  Americans expect what you to say to be the literal truth and look for connections between words and truthfulness underneath.  In China I always got the sense that it was the words that counted and not the truth underneath—everyone knew it wasn’t true but it was the words that mattered.  And words do matter—often more than Americans realize.  Social norms for hospitality exist that precede getting down to business.  Words are often part of this context-setting and not meant to be taken “literally” but are a piece of the process of honoring guests and making them comfortable.

I have come to appreciate the role of guides that help us cross the many cultures of language and understanding.  They help us move beyond the words to the meaning and context underneath.  I had several friends who were my guides in Hong Kong.  After a meeting, they would answer my questions about what was REALLY going on, or even sit by me during the meeting and whisper to me.  Speaking the same language does not mean that we understand each other.

Sometimes I marvel at our ability to communicate with each other at all. It is hard work.

Destination Wedding or Notes from Table 4*

Destination weddings are the newest rage.  I recently attending such a wedding in St. Louis.  St. Louis as a destination wedding site, you ask?  All good stories have to answer particular questions.  This one includes:  Why here? Who was involved? and What happened?

I asked many of the participants to speculate on the choice of St. Louis–the “WHY HERE” question.  The responses ranged from St. Louis being a very humble place, to its being half way between the home towns of the groom and bride (Bloomington, IL and Kansas City) to St. Louis being the gateway to the west (so what, I ask?), to being between the Royals and the Cardinals (actually it wasn’t between but aligned with the Cardinals).  There was much speculation on the deeper meaning of the location–it was a North-South crossroads (breakfast included grits and biscuits and gravy), or an East-West crossroads (was the arch actually leading to the east or to the west and didn’t it depend on which side you were standing on?).  The stronger opinions stated were that it was all about the humble church and was a choice that was meant to be inconvenience to all.

I was actually interested in WHO was going to attend this wedding, given its location.  I came from Boston and my mother came from Grand Rapids, MI but we met in Minneapolis in the airport.

IMG_20141018_124132780The groom’s parents came from Bloomington.  The groom’s grandparents came from Central Illinois along with Beth, the widow of the cousin of the groom;  the groom’s uncle, aunt, cousin and significant other–the first introduction to the family;  Frank and Susie who I believe were related to the groom’s father.  The invisible sister of the groom and her husband and daughter came from Atlanta, truly excited about the idea of a destination wedding in St. Louis and the 10 hour drive with a wonderfully lively ADHD daughter.  They had to choose whether to provide medication for the drive or the rehearsal dinner–calm for them or for the bride and groom?  They chose themselves, as would have I.  Leslie, from Connecticut, was also there and was someone that the groom once kissed but with no sparks.  Brittany, a waitress from a bar, came from Peoria.  GG and Ingo were there from Texas.  Who are GG and Ingo?  I was never really sure who they were but their son, Chris and his girlfriend from Chicago were in attendance as well.  They tried to visit the St. Louis Arch, thinking it was the one tourist site in St. Louis that was available, only to find the site was under high security.  We speculated on why the arch would be such an important site that we were spending federal money to protect it from such humble people as GG and Ingo.  But then, Ingo was German by birth.

360px-St_Louis_night_expblend_croppedAll weddings include drama.  Drama is the “What Happened” part of the story.  If there is no drama, there is no real wedding because it means that nothing happened.  I am glad to say that there was drama.  The beginning of the drama began with the father of the bride failing to clarify with the hotel that several of the bride’s family would not be arriving until Friday rather than Thursday.  Thus two rooms had been cancelled when they failed to show up on Thursday.  I sat with the groom’s extended family at a distance while we watched the drama–tears, gnashing of teeth by bride and her mother.  It finally ended with the arrival of the bride’s father.  After some loud voices, the rooms became available to the bride’s party but would not be available to the two who held the reservations who would come later.  There would be no room in the inn for them.

My humble job for the weekend was to transport my mother and the groom’s grandparents to the various venues. Friday night we started for the rehearsal dinner–three elders in their 80s, one aunt of the groom, and me driving them in a van.  I was pleased with the help I received in navigating.  All three elders watched the blue dot on my smart phone.  We got lost once for each of them.

We were organized by fall themed decorations at each table.  For example, there was an acorn table, a buckeye table, a squash table, and corn table.  When I said that we were at the “corn” table, one of my elders thought I said “porn.”  We made sure that all the hearing aids were adjusted before we sat down.

IMG_20141017_185204410  IMG_20141017_191820909 IMG_20141017_184910584The next morning we had our southern boundary breakfast that included grits.  We were also handed quarters for the meters near the church.  I then headed out with my elders in the van to go to the church.  We found a parking place and filled the meter with quarters.  I was surprised to see a scaffolding over the church steeple.  I was told that there was drama when the bride had seen the scaffolding.  Luckily drama is essential to weddings.



The wedding was beautiful.  The humble sister of the groom became visible for a brief moment when she read a prayer.  The only slight drama was the sister’s husband being late for photos–he was outside feeding quarters into all the meters of all the vehicles on the street.


We returned to the hotel before the reception and thankfully a shuttle had been arranged for all of us so that I no longer had to drive the elders. We let someone else navigate to and from the reception–we were the party bus.



The food was good.  The toasts were humble.  We left before the Cardinal’s mascot arrived.  After all, I am a Cubs fan.  It just would have been too much.


St. Louis–Destination wedding site?  A humble choice.

*The people involved played themselves.  But this does not represent the views of all those present.

Solving the World’s Problems before 7 A.M.

My father would often say that he solved the world’s problems before 7 a.m. each weekday.  However, he didn’t do it alone.  An early riser, he would get up at 5 a.m., go exercise, and then afterward, meet a group of local men for breakfast at Brown’s Snappy Service in my hometown.  It was there that he solved the world’s problems.  They probably solved all the local problems as well.










Soon after moving to Massachusetts I found the equivalent to Brown’s Snappy Service in my neighborhood.  It is the Depot Diner.  If you want to see the world’s problems being solved, just show up any weekday morning.  On Thursdays my neighbor is there with retired teacher-friends working through the issues.  On Wednesdays a group of faculty men from my college are mediating the world’s conflicts (and probably institutional ones as well).  I now have a regularly scheduled session every other Friday.

Depot Diner







When I lived in Grand Rapids, my young daughters kept me from solving the world’s problems before 7 a.m.  I did get in the pattern of doing it after church with my mother, my younger daughter, and older members of my congregation at the equivalent location–New Beginnings.  As was typical of Dutch Calvinists, many theological problems and doctrines were solved at the same time.  A friend told me that this is the place that she practiced spelling with her daughter every week–I would guess it was Friday, very early, because Friday seems to be the day for spelling tests across the world.

New Beginnings






My daughter and I were trying to think about whether there was a cafe in Pella, Iowa where we lived.  We struggled to think of one.  She cynically said that no one went out because it was so family oriented that everyone had breakfast at home together.  After much thought I recalled that there was the Central Park Cafe.  I can’t remember going there.

Central Park CafeThe world is better off for having this on-going problem-solving process.  Solving the world’s problems is like the movie Ground Hog Day. It has to be done over and over again, in the many small cafe’s around the world.  However, I do believe that the world would be better off if we did not have spelling tests each Friday morning.

Forgotten Addresses and Phone Numbers

I am bothered by the fact that I cannot remember all my addresses and phone numbers.  Is this a case of losing my memory, of being too mobile, or of simply living too long?

I once lived with some friends in an apartment for a year.  While we lived there, we would get phone calls for “Fred Johnson” who we did not know–this became something of a joke amongst us, especially because we would get repeat and insistent callers.  We had to explain that in fact this was Fred’s published phone number but he was not there.  (We had looked in the printed phone book and saw that our number was under his name.)  At the end of the year, I left for Louisiana, only to return after 15 months.  By the time I returned, these friends had moved into a house in another part of St. Paul where I joined them.  The first phone call I got at that house was for “Fred Johnson.”  I was totally confused.  Where was I?  How had “Fred Johnson’s” number now become our new number at a new location, after my being gone for 15 months?  I was in time warp.

Once in awhile I try to recall all the places I have lived in order.  I don’t remember phone numbers or exact addresses at all.  But just being able to visualize and list the places in order makes me feel more secure.  I think it has to do with the fear that I might return from a trip abroad and the immigration officer at the airport may ask me for this list, and I won’t be able to recite it. So here it is:

#1 Iowa parsonage; a second Iowa parsonage; a North Carolina apartment ; house in MN; house in town in llinois; another house in another town in Illinois; college dormitory in Missouri (2 different dorms); manor house in England; dormitory in MN; house in MN;  apartment in MN; apartment in LA; house in MN; apartment in MN;  another apartment in MN;  apartment on Seminary campus; house in IA–what street?; duplex in same town in IA near West Market Park; house in IA; house in MI (with 3 times abroad); apartment in MA; house in MA.

I have not had callers looking for “Fred Johnson” since moving out of that house in St. Paul.  And I am forever thankful that you can keep your cell phone numbers forever.

My Daughter is a Child of the Forest

Mt. Bruce-7My daughter is a child of the forest.  She told me this over the weekend as we hiked through the woods in Northern Maine.  She stopped and photographed fungi along the way, and collected leaves for identification.  At one point she exclaimed:  “Look!  It is a nursery tree!”  (A nursery tree is a dead log.)  She made comparisons to the Michigan forest where she had lived and studied last summer.


I did feel a little bit like Hansel and Gretel as she lagged behind, exploring the forest floor while I had a goal of reaching the top of the mountain.  Her  red hair and decision to go barefoot along the path might have contributed to the feeling of living a fairytale, most of which take place in forests.  But I did manage to slow down and engage in a discussion about types of trees we saw and asked how much she recalled about the New Zealand forests that we had visited when she was 10 years old.

I knew this might happen some day when I moved from Iowa to Michigan at the time she was four years old.  But now the reality has sunk in.  About that time I visited Chinese friends who had immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong.  They talked about how their sons would not be Hong Kong Chinese.  They would lose a part of their identity.  At the time I thought about this in reference to my daughters who would inevitably not identify with the same place and culture that I had, and wondered about how I felt about this.  It was unsettling.

My daughter is a child of the forest.  It has happened.  She has declared it to be so.  I remain a child of the prairie.

IMG_20140816_130620982 IMG_20140816_131150340


I Live on Ledge


I don’t live and work on a ledge, but on ledge.  In an early conversation when I first moved to Cape Ann someone said:  “We ran into ledge.”

I had to scramble to use the context of the conversation to interpret what they were referring to–a granite batholith that forms the bedrock of Cape Ann.  The formerly molten material cooled deep under the earth and is now exposed due to erosion by glaciers, wind, and water.  It is part of a terrane–a piece of the earth that is a fragment that originated elsewhere–but became attached (or accreted) through tectonic forces.  John McPhee, one of the best nonfiction writers of our time, has a book titled “Suspect Terrains” where he talks about the accretion of terranes that led to the geologic mixture of the American west.  In my mind, terranes are clearly more suspect than terrains.  The suspect terrane, composed of the granite ledge on which I live, broke off from Africa and attached itself to North America when the two continents collided, prior to the formation of the North Atlantic Ocean.

The granite ledge around me creates both challenges and opportunities. Building can be a challenge when you are at a place where the ledge is right at the surface.  I hear stories of pieces of ledge in basements–where it was easier to build around it.  From my observation, it appears that towns that originated as fishing villages are build right on the ledge–Manchester, Gloucester, and Rockport.  Towns like Ipswich and Newburyport  are located in areas where rivers empty into the ocean, leading to deposition and better soil.

DSCN0826This past Saturday my daughter and I went to Halibut Point State Park, one of the best places to get a good view of the geology of the area.  At Halibut Point you can also see the opportunity that came from ledge–the quarrying of the granite, most of which ended by the 1930s.  One of the characteristics of granite is that as it is exposed, and the pressure of the weight of material that was on top is reduced, it breaks off in layers, much like an onion.  This process is called exfoliation, and it makes is easier to quarry.

I live on ledge, which is part of a suspect terrane that originated in Africa.  I have always wanted to visit or live in Africa.  Does this count?

DSCN0830DSCN0828  DSCN0827




Who Am I? Reflections on Religious Pluralism

The Gordon College community, where I work, has been traumatized in the last few weeks.  My personal silence has come from the need to reflect in order to speak from my heart in a way that builds understanding rather than fuels more misunderstanding, anger, and mistrust.  I’ve been struck by the rhetoric that fails to engage the real issue facing our country, which is the issue of religious pluralism and how we are going to develop the skills of listening, of understanding, and of working together toward the common good.

Religious pluralism is a reality in the United States.  We have communities of faith that are Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and even New Age.  Native Americans are increasingly drawing on their spiritual roots.  Out of that plurality of religious traditions, my faith tradition, inherited from generations before me, is evangelical pietism.  My religious tradition goes back centuries, has its roots in Northern Europe, and found a strong home in the Midwestern U.S.  But increasing number of immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa come from the Evangelical Pietist tradition as well.  Congregations are springing up across New England and urban America that reflect the Evangelical Pietist tradition among these new immigrants.  Are we going to figure out how to engage with them?

One of my daughters was newly arrived in New England on July 1.  She came from a month of doing educational programming in a rural community in Appalachia (with a Catholic organization).  She has followed my family’s faith tradition.  And she says her world has shifted this month.  She has never seen such a lack of understanding of the plurality of religious faith traditions in our country, nor has she ever seen them so stereotyped as she has since arriving in New England.

In many ways, our Christian tradition is most akin to Catholic monasticism.  The tradition can be characterized by the practice of spiritual disciplines within the support of a faith community in order for us to deepen our relationship with God and conform our lives to the image of Christ.  It has a central element of sacrifice of self and individual desires for the good of others—modeled after Christ.  In my family it looked something like this:  I come from generations of pietists who practiced prayer and the reading of scripture, along with other pietistic practices (choosing not to smoke or drink alcohol for example) with the support of a faith community in order to better listen for what God might be asking of them.  For my grandfather, this meant he visited the local jail every Sunday morning and quietly gave away most of his wealth to those in need.  My grandmother and my parents were always taking in people to live with their family for extended periods of time, and my daughters and I did similarly.  My father, a Baptist minister, initiated the development of the Headstart program and community mental health center in my home town, and reached across the racial divide to the African American Baptist pastor during the civil rights era.  Today, the last congregation he served is led by an African-American pastor, something that he would have celebrated as the result of God’s spirit working in the hearts of that congregation.  In their retirement my parents volunteered for organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Love, Inc.  My family’s religious tradition was the fuel out of which service for the common good arose.  This is the same religious tradition that led the entire French village of Le Chambon to take in their Jewish neighbors during WWII.

Another way to see this tradition is an emphasis on holiness—the choice to subsume your own desires in the context of a faith community, for the good of others.  So for example, the evangelical pietistic Christian tradition has traditionally honored the choice of someone remaining single in order to be free to better serve others.  This is why evangelical pietism has commonalities with the Catholic tradition where monastic practices of chastity, spiritual disciplines, and the choice to live within boundaries develops virtues that enable the greater service to others. My mother would often say that my father could have easily been a Franciscan monk who spent his life in prayer and service.

This comes out of a central tenant of the tradition—that our central identity is our faith identity.  Our community is made up of people of different ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and social classes.  What holds us together is our central faith identity.  Do we struggle to understand how to incorporate the diversity of backgrounds into a central faith identity?  Daily for 125 years.  Gordon, which has its 125th Anniversary this fall, welcomed women, people of all colors, and all social classes into its community from its beginning.  One of our early deans of the faculty was a woman.  What keeps us working at community within this diversity is our faith identity—it provides our center and calls us to keep learning and listening respectfully to each other.  Finally, this tradition sees every human being made in the image of God.  Thus the tradition asks that we develop the self-control, and virtue needed to make every encounter with another person worthy of our faith commitment.  It is a tradition that is focused on transforming ourselves—not imposing on others—our choice to conform ourselves to particular spiritual disciplines and practices is that—our choice for ourselves.  It is not about imposing on others—all are welcome to partner with us in working for the common good, or to come and enjoy programs that any campus provides—whether it is to enjoy the beauty of nature in our natural areas on campus, to challenge yourself through our outdoor recreation programs, to explore the richness of the human experience through the arts, or to come join us for lectures that encourage respectful conversations, a phrase that shapes the culture of our campus.

Coming out of an evangelical, pietistic faith tradition, contrary to popular belief, does not lead to intolerance, but quite the opposite.  Our students are able to engage deeply with other traditions because they understand and appreciate the depth at which beliefs are held.  We take belief seriously.  This has meant that we have always welcomed people of other faiths, or no faith, to dialogue with us at Gordon College.  This has included LGBT community members.  We are a place that desires and wishes for difficult conversations because it requires us to think more deeply about our faith.

Furthermore, our faith asks us to focus on the transformation of ourselves into the image of Christ in order to love and serve all others without prejudice since each person is made in the image of God without exception.  This gives us the ground on which to demand high standards for the Gordon community in its interaction with our geographic neighbors, and other faith communities.  And we know and recognize that we fail daily.  But in spite of our failings, we continue to reflect and offer welcome to any who would engage with our particular faith community in a mutual journey of understanding.

Every religious community has documents and practices that call its members or people back to faithfulness to their tradition.  Each has a rich history and tradition behind it that resonates with those from within the community.  When we in the Gordon community affirm our statement of faith, we are reminded of what is at the center of our identity and our life together as a community—an evangelical faith.  And we read this with a particular history in mind, a context.  The statement itself has a history and context to it—we are coming up on our institution’s 125th Anniversary, meaning that our history and understanding of ourselves precedes the terms Christian fundamentalism (which arose in the 1930s), the religious right and the moral majority (which came about in the 1970s and 80s). When we affirm our life and conduct statement, we are reading the context of our tradition—going back hundreds of years—into the document as well.  It is a document written by us and for us.  It is a document that governs our life together.  It asks us to daily choose to love our neighbor, to seek holiness, to sacrifice our individual needs and desires for the common good, to serve the poor, and reminds us that we fail in all these areas daily, and we need forgiveness to begin anew.  It creates a context in which we have the ability to be consistent across our curriculum and co-curriculum to challenge (not punish) our students to go deeper and to demand higher standards for themselves, in a context of giving each other grace along with mutual accountability.  And they in turn demand much from us.

If we are going to learn to live together—Evangelical Pietists, Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, “nons”, we are going to need to stop throwing words, and begin listening.  We at Gordon are waiting and open.  In the meantime, I have been praying for my Muslim and Mormon neighbors, who each may have different belief systems that mine, that they may feel safe in the midst of this firestorm.

From Wainui to Woonsocket

Capture I love place names that just roll off your tongue like “Woonsocket.”  Every time I drove to Rhode Island I found myself repeating “Woonsocket” over and over again.  Then I moved on to the other “–ets” like Pawtucket, Muskeget, Nantucket, Narragansett…

Wait a minute!  What does this “–et” mean that is spread across the landscape in New England?

Patterns in place names should cause us to stop and ask questions about the indigenous language all around us.  I searched for some meaning to the “–et” and found that it seems to generally mean “place of.”

The indigenous place names of New Zealand don’t roll off your tongue as much as sound like the even beat of a drum:  Whangarai (fang gore I), Whanganui (fang ga new ee), Tauranga (tow rung gah).  Te Puke (Tee Pook Ee).  Whakatane (Fahk A Tahn Ee).  You get the idea.  They sound like a Maori war dance when you read them off.  I have a New Zealand friend who lived in the inner city of a U.S. city and would just start saying New Zealand place names when she felt threatened.  She figured it sounded like she was putting curses on people.  I did find one New Zealand place name that did seem to roll off your tongue and on for a distance:  Wainuiomata (Wah New Ee Oh Maht A)–Wainui for short.


And then there are the place names that are totally indecipherable.  At the top of my list if Natchitoches, Louisiana which is not far from Nagadoches, TX.  Natchitoches (nack a dish) took some time for me to learn to pronounce as well as spell (spelling not being one of my strengths).  Nagodoches (nack a doe chez) makes much more sense to my phonetic approach to spelling.  Both of these are not far from Baton Rouge (Bah’ toh RRRooozh).