Unfolding the Map
You get four for the price of one in this post, as long as you're willing to let me ramble a little bit on my love for maps of all kinds. You can't get everything for free! Click on the thumbnail of the map at right to see the physical representation of all the reflections we are getting from William Least Heat-Moon's (LHM) trip around the U.S.
"U.S. 171 was traffic, fumes, heat, grim faces. I became a grim face and drove. Rosepine, Anacoco, Hornbeck, and Zwolle - alphabetically, the last town in the Rand-McNally Road Atlas (Abbeville, just south, is the first)."
Blue Highways: Chapter 3, Part 14
Rosepine, Anacoco, Hornbeck and Zwolle, Louisiana
Since we're hitting a number of Louisiana places in LHM's Blue Highways in this post, and since I know nothing about these places, and since he mentions the Rand-McNally Road Atlas, I am going to write about my lifelong love of maps. I guess you would have never thought that I love maps, since this site is at least 50 percent about maps, but yes, it is true, I do.
I'm not sure where I got this fascination with maps, but I know that if I look at a map of, let's say Louisiana, and see a name like Anacoco or Zwolle I really start to wonder about that place. Why is the name so different or interesting? That might make me look something up to find out more about the place. So, for example, I look up Zwolle and find out that it was named after the Dutch hometown of a rich coffee merchant who gave money to help the completion of a railroad between Port Arthur, Texas and Kansas City. Unfortunately, I can't find anything on Anacoco...yet.
But just answering, or attempting to answer, those questions and looking at Zwolle's and Anacoco's locations on the map really does something for me. Once I've looked into them, I start wondering what is around them that's interesting. What does the map tell me? Both are very near the Toledo Bend Reservoir, which sits astride the border of Louisiana and Texas. I wonder about the natural scenery along the reservoir, especially since the Sabine National Forest nestles along the reservoir on the Texas side. The name "Sabine" is interesting. Does it refer to the mythological Rape of the Sabine Women, who in Roman legend were taken forcibly by early Romans looking for wives in the neighboring town? What does the country look like? Knowing a little bit about that part of Texas, I assume that it's flat. But, I've also traveled enough to know that looks can be deceiving. In New Mexico, where I now live, up north near Taos is high, relatively flat desert between mountain ranges. But in the middle of that desert, sneaking up on you before you even know it, is the magnificent Rio Grande Gorge with the fifth highest bridge in the United States spanning it. Here, imagination can't even begin to describe the reality.
When I was in junior high school, about seventh and eighth grade, I was very much into science fiction and fantasy, and like many of those authors I could imagine whole worlds in my head. Some of that fantasy coming out involved making maps of my own. I built my own kind of Risk games with lands that I created. Sometimes they were modeled on the four acres that I grew up on, or the thirteen acres of property we owned along a river. Our driveway became a river, and I set up old parts of mechanical things I found in the barn to be the rudiments of capital cities or factories. I imagined kingdoms either in the far past or in a post-apocalyptic future, even before I knew what post-apocalyptic meant. I kept them in my head, but occasionally, to give them life, I would draw a map and flesh out those aspects of the countries and cities I had created, giving them new life.
To me, like a book, a map tells stories. It doesn't necessarily matter whether the stories are true or not. The map is a representation of physical features, but as a representation it can be populated with whatever I desire. It may guide how I look at the world, but it cannot truly represent everything in the world, especially those things I don't have direct experience with. In fact, sometimes, actually visiting a place can take the fun and wonder out of imagining it on a map. When the world wasn't just a mouseclick away, a map fuzzily defined the borders between the real and the fantastical. Look at how many maps were drawn in eras past by cartographers who, only based on what they heard or imagined, blurred the lines between what was real and what wasn't! "Here be dragons!" Ultima Thule. Prester John's mythic kingdom in the Far East. Atlantis. The fact that none of these were truly known to exist in those times didn't stop the cartographers from imagining them and representing them on a map based on speculation and hearsay.
To this day, and I'm 47 years old, if I come upon a map I will often stop and study it in detail. Maps capture and captivate me, much as a good book will lure me in, except that with a map, I use the map's represented space to fill in my own fantasies about the real place. Sometimes, my musings are better than the reality, but sometimes the reality represented on the map puts my fantasies to shame. That's the beauty, and the mystery, of the map.
If you want to know more about Rosepine, Anacoco, Hornbeck and Zwolle
Leesville Daily Leader (newspaper serving Rosepine, Anacoco and Hornbeck)
The Sabine Index (countywide newspaper serving Zwolle)
Town of Hornbeck
Town of Zwolle
Next up: Shreveport, Louisiana