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Blue Highways: Osso, Goby and Passapatanzy, Virginia

Unfolding the Map

We pass into Virginia as our trip west to the origin starts to gain momentum.  Today, 12/21/2012, is the predicted date of the Mayan apocalypse.  Even though it has little to do with today's passage, I will consider apocalypse and doomsday, and more.  To find out where we are as the Mayan calendar ends, go here for the map.

Book Quote

"I came into Virginia on state 218, an old route now almost forgotten.  The towns, typically, werre a general store and a few dispersed houses around a crossroads: Osso, Goby, Passapatanzy."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 1

View of farmland near Passapatanzy, Virginia. Photo by R.W. Dawson and hosted at Panoramio. Click on photo to go to host site.

Osso, Goby and Passapatanzy, Virginia

Last year, I saw the most depressing movie I can remember seeing in a long time.  Lars von Trier's Melancholia ends with a rogue planet smashing into the Earth, completely annihilating destroying our world.  Just like that, in molten rock and fire, everything is gone and the universe is bereft of human presence.

I bring up apocalypse because today as I write this, 12/21/2012, is the latest in a string of days since the beginning of time that people have been predicting the end of the world.  I think it's instructive that the original meaning of apocalypse is, from the Greek, a "disclosure of knowledge" or "revelation."  Of course, we have since come to identify apocalypse with doomsday scenarios. 

For example, if you go to this page on Wikipedia, you will see a list of of predictions starting with the fear of Romans that the city would be destroyed, through the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment, and into the modern day.  While most of the predictions are biblical in nature, some are based on astrological predictions such as planetary alignment.  More than a few self-described prophets of doom have revised their predictions at least once when the world didn't end.  And while many predictions were made in earnest, more than a few hoaxes were reported.  My favorite is the Prophet Hen of Leeds, in which a hen laid eggs that had "Christ is coming" written on them.  It was later revealed that the apocalyptic phrase was etched in eggs with corrosive ink and reinserted back into the hen.

In the 20th century, as nuclear weapons were developed and improved, apocalyptic predictions of all-out war, often combined with Christian prophecies of the Second Coming of Christ, became de-rigueur as explanation for the end of existence.  As we moved into the 21st century, religious and nuclear apocalyptic predictions began competing with other explanations involving space aliens, planetary alignment once again, space objects colliding with earth, and terrestrial electronic malfunction.  1999 was forecast to be the year that we met our doom, and when we lived past that, the Y2K computer malfunction was forecast to end civilization as we knew it at midnight when the year 2000 commenced.  When the predicted dire consequences didn't happen, various people predicted a similar number of catastrophes.  Not content with our own predictions, we reached back into history to conjure the latest, Mayan calendar prophecy of doom.  A story I heard recently was that even the remaining Mayans didn't take the prophecy of their ancestors that seriously.

I'm beginning to think that humanity is uncomfortable without some kind of impending doom hanging over its head.  Knowing that we each meet our own personal apocalypse in the form of death at some point in our existence, maybe it's comforting to know that there is the possibility that we can all go together.  We know that eventually there will be an apocalypse when the sun eventually burns through its hydrogen and expands and dies.  If humans have survived and manage to be off the planet by then, we know that the universe will eventually end.  It might rip itself apart, or it might lose all of its energy and die a slow, cold death.  Or, perhaps it will reverse and fall in upon itself, creating a new universe in a titanic explosion.

In my estimation, time itself records the end of the universe.  If we crudely imagine the passage of time to resemble the frames of a movie, every brief moment, second, or fraction of a second constitutes the end of the universe in that instance and the beginning of another at the start of another fraction of time.  No matter how small the interval, each new interval brings something slightly changed and new.  If the interval is large, we notice big changes.  A passage of ten years creates alterations in reality that could easily be interpreted as a universal change in this or that.

We still haven't lost our taste for the predicted worldwide apocalypse, and we tend to mostly ignore the little apocalyptic events that happen to people on a small scale every day.  A death of a friend or loved one, a sudden illness that throws a family into financial chaos, the loss of a business, all can cause conditions resembling apocalypse in the lives of one or a few people.  I think of the Newtown children whose lives were snuffed out by a gunman a week ago, and I imagine that the parents of those children are focused on their own personal apocalyptic tragedies, not some Mayan prediction of the end of the world.

I doubt that LHM was thinking about the literal end of the world when he was driving through Osso, Goby and Passapatanzy, Virginia.  He might have felt, however, that he was at the end of the world and certainly, in the original meaning of the word, his trip in Blue Highways was his apocalypse, often found in quiet, rural and wilderness areas with few people around so that he could reflect and find meaning.

And ultimately, I think that is what the eventual end of humanity will be like.  I don't think we'll go out in a blaze of glory, with missiles or comets or asteroids or rogue planets.  To me, that's not a disclosure of knowledge or a revelation.  I don't think that there will be fire or brimstone, or a glorious Second Coming and celestial battle.

Instead, I picture the eventual end of humanity as a slow progression, but also one in which we've lived out our purpose after having achieved some revelation or some assimilation of important cosmic knowledge.  At that point, our end will consist of no drama, no pyrotechnics, no mess.  Our apocalypse will simply be the last breath of a last someone in a future time in some quiet place with a universal truth now fully understood.  That future someone's last breath will linger for a second on the atmosphere, and then the silence of the universe will fill the space where once were human voices.

Musical Interlude

Tom Lehrer is currently a mathemetician.  But in the 1950s and 60s he had an interesting side line...he played piano and sang humorous songs.  Here is one of his famous ones dealing with apocalypse, We Will All Go Together When We Go.


If you want to know more about Osso, Goby and Passapatanzy

King George County
Wikipedia: Goby
Wikipedia: King George County
Wikipedia: Osso
Wikipedia: Passapatanzy

Next up: Fredericksburg, Virginia


Blue Highways: Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh, Maryland

Unfolding the Map

Our last points of reference in Maryland are so rural that there really isn't any information on them.  The names are quite evocative, especially in the case of Burnt Store, where there probably was once a burnt store.  Have you ever received directions where instead of place names you were given landmarks?  Such directions are fast becoming obsolete in the age of Google Maps and Siri.  If you want to locate Burnt Store or Allens Fresh, I will ask you with a trace of irony to check out the Google map.

Book Quote

"...on through Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh, across the even wider Potomac."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 1

Allens Fresh, Maryland. Photo by RDrayerIII and hosted at Panoramio. Click on photo to go to host page.

Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh, Maryland

Stopping and asking for directions is becoming all but lost to American culture.  The advent of Google Maps and Apple Maps, of Siri and Google Android Map Girl, has rendered asking directions meaningless.  Today, you simply enter an address into your iPhone, iPad, Android or any other device of your choice and then sit back and let the voice tell you how far your destination is, when to turn, and that your destination is coming up on the right or the left.

There was a time when giving directions, especially in rural areas, was a work of art.  Where I grew up, people may not have known the proper addresses (I didn't even know the address of the house I grew up in until I was well into adulthood), but that didn't mean they couldn't tell you how to get there.  Directions were much more descriptive and less dependent on street names and road numbers.

How does this relate to Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh?  The names are descriptive names.  Burnt Store most likely got its name because at sometime in the past, a store or a storehouse burned there, though I can't find any corroboration of this.  Most likely for some time afterward, the store or storehouse stood as a landmark, and when people gave directions they probably said "go down past the burnt store and turn right."  Allens Fresh, I'm guessing, refers to the waterway that runs into the Wicomico River right where the highway passes.  I'm assuming, though again I can find no proof of this, that a family by the name of Allen owned a piece of land along this waterway.

The point is, names and landmarks were that which identified important points of reference.  Before Google Maps, before Siri, when one asked directions one got a sequence of landmarks, whether they still actually physically existed or not but had an existential reality, and that's how places were navigated.  The directions one might have been given would be something on the order of "go about one and a half miles until you see a large oak tree in a field on your right.  Turn along the fenceline and follow it up the hill until you reach a little spring that runs under the road.  That's Compey's Spring.  Keep going past that spring for another little piece until you see a burned stump.  Turn left, go over the bridge and around the bend, cross the railroad tracks at Emile's and you'll be there when you see the red barn on the hill."  Notice, no road or street names, just landmarks.

Nowadays, I get upset when I'm driving and I can't read the street signs.  Someone tells me that to get to their house I have to turn left on Amarillo Street, but as I'm driving through the darkness I pass the street because it is obscured by a tree branch, or it's dirty and doesn't reflect the headlights well.  Or, perhaps the street sign isn't even present.  So I drive and drive and only, after I'm a mile past the street and already late, do I realize my mistake.  How much easier might it have been to tell me to turn left at the street just after the Sonic burger joint?

Of course, with Siri and Google Maps, it's supposed to be so much easier now.  And in truth, when they work they are a marvel.  However, occasionally coverage drops, and then you're out of luck until you get coverage again.  Sometimes the application doesn't have the most updated maps or routes, especially in areas with new roads or streets.  There have even been reports of such applications putting people in danger and actually leading them to their death.  A couple traveling through Nevada, a couple in Oregon, an article advising people not to trust their GPS devices in Death Valley.  On a recent trip, when my wife and I were trying to drive in San Francisco, she turned on the GPS to help navigate using Google Maps, and sometimes we were led down the wrong path.  I knew San Francisco pretty well since I used to drive there a bit, but it was still disconcerting to know that I was on the wrong street.

I'm not necessarily an advocate of going back to a pre-Siri, Google Maps existence, but I am aware that GPS and phone navigation apps that use it are yet another way in which we become disconnected with the world around us.  When the navigational apps work, I don't have to pay attention to what's outside of the car.  The app tells me when and where to turn.  I don't have to look for the gnarled and bent tree at the side of the road, or the broken old windmill where I make a right at the fork in the road.  I just listen to the computerized voice tell me what to do.

So, here's a challenge for you, Littourati!  The next time you are tempted to get out the navigational app, stop and ask directions instead, especially if you have some time.  You'll meet someone!  The directions may get you where you need to go.  Or you may get fantastically and hopelessly lost, and have to ask directions from someone else you meet.  You'll pay more attention to your surroundings, and most likely see something interesting that may even demand that you stop and investigate.  You may have an adventure.  The navigational app won't go away unless you lose your phone.  But without it, you may just allow yourself to interact with your world in a way that is becoming more and more rare.

Musical Interlude

A terribly cheesy country song by Billy Currington called Good Directions, with a cheesy fan-made video to match.  See, if you ditch the navigation apps, you just might find your true love!

If you want to know more about Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh...

You are out of luck.  There is nothing I can find of substance on these two hamlets.  I guess you'll just have to go there!

Next up: Osso, Goby, and Passapatanzy, Virginia


Blue Highways: Prince Frederick, Maryland

Unfolding the Map

Just beyond Prince Frederick, the Patuxent River yields up amber and orange colored agates called Patuxent River stones.  They are the state gem of Maryland, and are pictured at right.  The various types of stones in rivers leads me to recall my childhood along a river, and the stones that I found both fascinating, useful, and annoying.  To see where Prince Frederick and the Patuxent River are located, throw a stone at the map and see where it ends up.  Actually, since I control the map, you'll find it ends up here.

Book Quote

"I took Maryland 2 over the hills along the bay, turned west at Prince Frederick, crossed the wide Patuxent River..."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 1

Prince Frederick, Maryland. Photo by PeteU and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Prince Frederick, Maryland

River stones were a big part of my life growing up.  My father owned a piece of unimproved land along a small Northern California river.  My first awareness of river stones was how they hurt when I walked over them in my tender bare feet on the way to our "beach" area at our swimming hole.  All I remember is that if I forgot to wear the "clackers" (the term my mom used for beach footwear), my feet were in for a world of hurt and I would be laughed at for being a baby.  I remember my older male cousins walking across those rocks as if they didn't hurt at all, and them telling me that when I grew up my feet would get tough, but they lied - walking over river rocks still hurts my feet.

Our property was also not just next to a river, but it also had a railroad that ran through it.  The railroad was laid on a 12 foot high bed for the rails and ties, and that bed was made of river rock.  The rocks were little pebbles and then larger stone sized rocks.  Many of the rocks were of the ordinary, gray river rock variety.  (You can tell that I'm not a geologist, because I can't really identify the type of rock).  Some of them were very colorful...pinks, reds, yellows, even some that had a greenish tinge.  When I wasn't throwing them at something, usually the glass insulators on the power lines next to the tracks, or hitting them with sticks like I was in batting practice, I would marvel over the various shapes and colors.

My father also made sure that I got close to river stones.  He was always worried about erosion on the property because the river had a tendency, as rivers do, to eat into the banks.  So one chore that we had was to take river rocks and throw them under the bank.  My father thought that doing so would help stem the erosion.  I don't know if it had any effect at all, but my father thought it did and so we spent a lot of time throwing rocks up against the bank.

It was also along that river that I learned what stones could do.  It was there that someone taught me that flat stones could skip across the water, and I spent many hours learning how to sidearm the disc-like stones I found so that they would skip once, twice, three, four or five times across the water.  With a friend I used buckets to construct whole cities out of sand on some boulders just off our swimming hole, and then we'd use river rocks to launch projectiles and see just how we could destroy our painstakingly constructed buildings.

I'm sure that if I had spent some time learning about stones and geology, I might have found some interesting stones.  I might have found agates, quartzes, maybe even some of the gold which is present in California rivers.  But I never spent any time studying geology so I never knew the story, the history, or any of the geology of those things that I was throwing around.

I guess that is the luxury of being a child.  When the world is your playground, all of the things within it are objects of wonder one minute, and the next minute is a tool, or a projectile or forgotten in the wonder of something else.  That was certainly my world then.  Now, my world is something a little different.  I'm the person who might look up the type of stone that I find on the ground, and think twice before I toss it at something.

I actually look forward now to researching some of the things I find.  When I found out, for instance, that the state gem of Maryland is the Patuxent River stone, I was intrigued enough to look up what that was.  The fact that LHM crossed the Patuxent River just after passing through Prince Frederick also fueled my interest, and because of that I discovered that it is an agate, which is a form of quartz.  Agates are formed by volcanism, specifically by deposits left in lava.  If you cut an agate in half, you'll find that they have layers of lines which indicates the process in which they have been a buildup of deposits in the cavity over time.  They are often used for carving in arts and crafts.

As a child, though, you don't need academics and books to wonder at a stone.  Its color, hardness, and shape can all be a source of intense interest.  I used to wonder, for example, how most river stones in the riverbed got so smooth and round.  I would have believed anything that anyone told me at the time.  If they would have said that some woodland ogre made the stones smooth and round, I would have believed it.  If they had said a pixie had picked the stones she liked and painted them with bright colors, I would have imagined it.  Now I know that river stones have been subjected to constant polishing by water and being tumbled over eons against other stones.  As an adult, I have a different sense of wonder at how that happens over time.  As a child, I would have preferred the pixie and the ogre because that would have made more sense to me, as well as given me something to thrill about and to see out of the corner of my eye in the woods.

What do I think about now when I pick up a river stone, or maybe any stone?  I think about the ageless forces that have moved that stone to where it now sits.  It may have been thrown there yesterday by some kid, like my past self, throwing a rock.  Or, it may have been moved by wind, water or geological upheavals to its current place, where it has sat for a hundred-thousand years.  When I pick up a stone, I realize that if I toss it, or put it back, I am touching something older and more permanent than myself.  I can put it where I want, but it will outlast me, and I am nothing other than one more force that has affected its slow progression over time.  As a child, I wonder at the stone.  As an adult, I wonder at how the stone makes me feel influential and meaningless all at once.

Musical Interlude

Here's a song by Carrie Newcomer called Stones in the River.

Special Musical Interlude

The past weekend before I wrote this post, the news was filled with images of frightened children being led out of their elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.  Twenty children, ages six to seven years old, and six elementary school personnel were shot to death by a young, apparently mentally disturbed man who killed his mother before going on his terror spree at the school.  He then turned the gun on himself.  Here are the names of those killed:

Charlotte Bacon - 6
Daniel Barden - 7
Rachel D'Avino - 29
Olivia Engel - 6
Josephine Gay - 7
Dylan Hockley - 6
Madeleine Hsu - 6
Catherine Hubbard - 6
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung - 47
Chase Kowalski - 7
Jesse Lewis - 6
Anna Marquez-Greene - 6
James Mattioli - 6
Grace McDonnell - 7
Anne Marie Murphy - 52
Emily Parker - 6
Jack Pinto - 6
Noah Posner - 6
Caroline Previdi - 6
Jessica Rekos - 6
Avielle Richman - 6
Lauren Rousseau - 30
Mary Sherlach - 56
Victoria Soto - 27
Benjamin Wheeler - 6
Allison Wyatt - 6

I wrote above that about how children view the world, and simple wonders such as rocks, trees, rivers, and pretty much everything can be just fascinating to a child.  These children will no more experience those wonders, and the adults who experienced wonder just by teaching and watching them will never help open the minds and hearts of children again.  Please observe a moment for these children, their educators, the killer and his slain mother.  Eric Clapton, on the death of his own child, wrote a beautiful eulogy in the form of a song called Tears in Heaven (below).

If you want to know more about Prince Frederick

Wikipedia: Prince Frederick

Next up: Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh, Maryland


Blue Highways: Annapolis, Maryland

Unfolding the Map

We don't cross a state boundary yet, but we do cross another important boundary.  We have entered Part 10 of Blue Highways, the last part of the book.  So let's celebrate by hoisting a beer together with William Least Heat-Moon in Annapolis.  We won't be able to drink the Black Horse Ale he is drinking, since that beer has ceased being produced, but we can find myriads of other brews to appeal to all palates in this, the age of the microbrew.  Maryland has about 20 breweries, so we shouldn't have any trouble.  To find Annapolis, go to the map while you wait for your pour.  The little guy at the right is the Maryland state reptile, the diamondback terrapin.  The photo is by LTShears and is released into the public domain on Wikimedia Commons.

Book Quote

"I went north, crossed Chesapeake Bay, and stopped at the city market down among the eighteenth-century streets of Annapolis to eat a dozen fresh clams at Hannon's stone counter; for the road I bought a cut of smoked chub, a quart of slaw, and six bottles of Black Horse Ale."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 1

The dock in downtown Annapolis. Photo by Smallbones and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Annapolis, Maryland

I don't know much about Annapolis except that it's the home of the United States Naval Academy.  I was reminded about that because about three days before this post was written, Navy beat Army to win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy in college football.

However, one thing stands out to me in LHM's quote: beer.  He buys six bottles of Black Horse Ale to take with him as he starts heading west again toward home.

Black Horse Ale apparently does not exist anymore.  In looking for Black Horse Ale on the internet, I first found a brew pub in Tennessee that I'm pretty sure was not the maker of the beer that LHM bought in Annapolis.  I also found a small brew pub in New York state.  Then, after a little more looking, I discovered that Black Horse Ale was an American brew by the Fred Koch Brewery that was introduced in the early 1960s.  The Fred Koch brands were eventually acquired by Genesee, which makes the popular Genesee Creme Ale, but they have retired the Fred Koch brands and are not making any beer under those labels anymore.

At one time, the Fred Koch Brewery was the second smallest brewer in the United States.  Yet today, there has been a renaissance in brewing.  If you are a beer connoissieur, you have to be happy to live in this day and age.  When I was growing up, my father and uncles drank cheap, widely distributed beers such as Miller, Pabst, Coors, Schlitz and Falstaff.  I believe that my first taste of a beer was a Falstaff beer back when I was not even into my early teens (I didn't like it).

Today, a trip to the supermarket beer aisle reveals a whole host of regional and micro-brews.  Everywhere you go, there are local, handcrafted beers to try.  When I lived in Milwaukee, Sprecher Brewing had started up in the home city of the "beer that made Milwaukee famous," as well as numerous other large brewing companies.  Sprecher was very popular.  My girlfriend lived around the corner from Lakefront Brewing, which every Saturday hosted three brewery tours - you wanted to go to the late tour because by then the owners of the brewery were suitably buzzed and often opened the taps.

When we moved to San Antonio, we learned that the cheap, mass produced beer was Lone Star ("the national beer of Texas) and Pearl.  But we also discovered the joys of having a cold Shiner Bock, brewed in Shiner, Texas by a Czech family brewing company, on a hot summer evening.

When we began living in New Orleans, we lamented that we never got to taste New Orleans' own Jax Beer (it went out of business in the 1970s), but we were more than happy enjoying an Abita Amber in the French Quarter at Molly's at the Market.

The number of breweries is exploding all over the country.  California, despite its reputation as a wine-producing state, has the most breweries of any state at 268, according to the Brewers Association.  However, the state with the most breweries per capita is Vermont, which has one brewery for every 26,000 people (as compared to California's one brewery per 139,000 people). If you're curious about how many breweries your state has, take a look at the PDF you can access from this page.

Some years ago, while I was in college, I discovered my first micro-brew.  Henry Weinhard's, an Oregon-made lager, became a popular beer at my college and it was the first time I drank a beer that wasn't one of the big labels.  I liked it because it was something new.  Then, one day while I was driving home from college during the holidays, I discovered that Hopland, a little town at the edge of my county named for the crop that was cultivated in the area (and which is one of the four essential ingredients of beer), had a brewery.  I soon began to see Mendocino Brewing Company's Red Tail Ale hit the shelves and for a while it became my favorite beer.  One year, when I was living out of state in Wisconsin and enjoying micro-brews and beers I had never heard of, I came home to find that my hometown of Fort Bragg had a new brewery.  North Coast Brewing, in the wake of the closure of our giant lumber mill, is now the biggest employer in my hometown and makes award winning beers such as Red Seal Ale, Scrimshaw Pilsner, Old No. 38 Stout, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Pranqster Belgian Golden Ale, and my favorite name, Brother Thelonious Belgian Abbey Ale.  It has bought the brand of an old California beer line called Acme and is turning out brews under that name as well.  Over in Boonville, a little town famous for creating its own language in the late 1800s, the Anderson Valley Brewing Company has been in operation since 1986 and making beers such as Boont Amber and Hop Ottin' IPA.  And the great thing is that now I can find these beers even in New Mexico where I live, as well as enjoy local favorites such as Marble Brewing, La Cumbre Brewing, Nexxus Brewing and others.

If you ask me why I like beer, especially the hoppy ones, I really don't have an answer for you.  There is something about it that fills one up, yet can cool one down on a hot day, is a social aid because it tends to be drunk with others, and with the number of breweries and selections seems to offer a limitless variety of flavors and styles.  The alcohol doesn't hurt either.  To me, a perfect beer has a smooth and seamless blending of ingredients both material and social.  I never thought, after having that Falstaff when I was young, that I would ever like beer.  Yet now it has become a regular part of my life as well as offering me new things to explore.  Whenever I go to a different place, I try to sample a local brew if there is one.  It doesn't matter if it is in the country or out.  Two years ago, I sat and drank Efes in Istanbul and watched people socialize in one of civilization's cradles.  It reminded me that beer is one of our oldest beverages, and has been one of the things that have brought people together (and served as one of the evil vices that have destroyed people and relationships) for millenia.  As I drink a beer, that hoppy, golden or dark liquid connects me in one unbroken stream to the dawn of civilization, and perhaps even before that.  Isn't it amazing how something I enjoy, but take for granted, can be so good and so signficant?

Musical Interlude

One of my favorite bands in Texas was Brave Combo, a radical polka-oriented band.  In this song that someone set to a video montage of their Europe trip, they lament that In Heaven There Is No Beer.


If you want to know more about Annapolis

Annapolis Convention and Visitors Bureau
Baydreaming: Annapolis
Capital Gazette (newspaper)
City of Annapolis
St. John's College
United States Naval Academy
Visitors Guide to Annapolis
Wikipedia: Annapolis

Next up: Prince Frederick, Maryland


Blue Highways: Tilghman Island, Maryland

Unfolding the Map

Here, on Tilghman Island at the very end of Part 9 in Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) appears to have hit on an important truth.  Coincidentally, it also appears to be an important truth that by different ways and in different time periods, I have discovered also.  To see where Tilghman Island, which led to LHM's understanding of his journey and transformation, is located...make your way to the map.  The graphic at right, by Timothy Knepp, is of Maryland's state fish, the striped bass.  It is hosted at Wikimedia Commons.

Book Quote

"A human being is not a waxen rubbing, a lifeless imprint taken from some great stony face.  Rather he is a Minuteman or a dog soldier at liberty to use the inclinations of the past as he sees fit.  He is free to perceive the matrix, and, within his limits, change from it.  By seeing both the futility in trying to relive the old life and the danger in trying to obliterate it, man can gain the capacity to make anew.  His very form depends not on repetition but upon variation from old patterns.  In response to stress, biological survival requires genetic change; it necessitates a turning away from doomed replication.  And what of history?  Was it different?

"Etymology: educate, from the Latin educare, 'lead out.'"

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 15

A skipjack on Tilghman Island. Skipjacks are a traditional boat used for oyster dredging. Photo by Acroterion and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Tilghman Island, Maryland

At this moment I feel incredibly close to William Least Heat-Moon, despite the fact that his quote was uttered thirty years ago and I "hear" it in my mind as I interpret it from the page.  However, in most of the particulars, I am reaching, at the cusp of my 49th year, the same place that took him approximately 12,000 miles and possibly a year or so of traveling.

I have written in these posts about my family history: the dysfunction, the alcoholism, the sexual abuse, and other various things that served as one big traumatic wound on my childhood.  The large malignant stone that was thrown into my family pond sent ripples out through time and space that still reverberate through my life today.  Like actual ripples from a stone, as I move farther away from the origin the disturbances come farther apart.  Yet the way I have dealt with life disturbances has remained constant.

I began therapy at my university when I was nineteen years old, and have continued it through my life.  For the most part my various therapies had a pattern to them.  I would have a crisis in my life for some reason.  I would seek out a therapist and tell him/her my story.  Weekly, I would spend time rehashing my childhood traumas in some way until there was nothing more left to say, and then I would stop therapy until the next crisis came along.  That has been my response to crisis for 25 years.

And the crises would continue to come.  What I did not understand was that I had developed certain ways of dealing with crisis - patterns that were based on old traumas and information and not really in tune with the present.  These patterns often were just as destructive to my self-esteem as the original trauma.  I would react to things with anger, guilt and shame, which would often send me into spirals of destructive thinking.  The various attempts at therapy were bandages, dressing the wound when something ripped off the scab, but they weren't helping me grow.  By allowing me to dwell in my past trauma I was not moving forward and healing.

As LHM writes, and I'm repeating it because it has become important to me: "By seeing both the futility in trying to relive the old life and the danger in trying to obliterate it, man can gain the capacity to make anew.  His very form depends not on repetition but upon variation from old patterns.  In response to stress, biological survival requires genetic change; it necessitates a turning away from doomed replication."  It took a number of years and a new type of therapy for me to learn what LHM learned on his Blue Highways trip.  Isn't it amazing how different people get to the same place?

I finally began to change my patterns when I began seeing a therapist trained in a technique called "somatic transformation."  It was maddening to see her sometimes because she did not allow me to relive my trauma.  I wanted to tell my stories, and think through problems, and she would stop me.  My response to crisis, she explained, was buried in my neural pathways and to change them I would have to retrain myself.  The key was to recognize what my body, not my brain, was communicating with me and to trust my instincts.  Instead of reliving trauma, I could become aware of the negative emotions triggered and with practice train myself to keep emotionally regulated rather than head down a self-destructive thought spiral.

The patterns that have triggered those spirals have been harder to address, because they are deep-seated and they have become part of my relationships.  My wife and I, for example, have been working on patterns that we have established that take us into emotionally unregulated states.  Sometimes a tone of voice, action, word, or assumption will lead to a series of events that leave us both angry and upset.  These patterns disrupt our communication and leave lingering resentments.  However, we have made great strides in our relationship brought about by awareness of our patterns and some new tools that we can use to maintain our emotional composure.  If one or the other of us is having a bad emotional time that is unrelated to the other, we have learned that we don't have to take responsibility for the other's feelings and emotions all the time, which was a key stumbling block.

And what of LHM's question about history?  I've written in a previous post that a favorite Mark Twain quote of mine is "history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."  Oh, how I've learned that!   Present crises are never the same as past crises, but the present does recall the past.  But I'm also aware of another old trope attributed to Albert Einstein but probably from the Narcotics Anonymous "Basic Text" circa 1980:  "Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results."  In the microcosm of my life, if the present rhymes with the past maybe I can be forgiven for not recognizing the patterns for a while and repeating my mistakes.  My journey is now one of new self-discovery that is in some fundamental ways reshaping my life.  My history is still there, but it doesn't need to determine my future.  In the macrocosm of humanity, perhaps we should remember that we are not slaves of history.  Humans can rewrite the patterns in how we deal with crises.  We can learn from the past, but only we determine our futures.

Musical Interlude

I had always associated this song, Shout by Tears for Fears, with therapy.  I had trouble finding a suitable song about transformation so I thought this would do.  After all, Tears for Fears was known for writing songs about primal scream therapy.  While their first album was conceptually about that type of therapy, this song off their second album was actually about protest, so I was wrong.  But, I put it here anyway because I guess I still have work to do on my sticking to outmoded patterns!  By the way, primal scream therapy is based in reliving trauma and so it's exactly the opposite of what I am now doing in my therapy.

If you want to know more about Tilghman Island

Baydreaming: Tilghman Island
Tilghman Island
Tilghman Island: The Pearl of the Chesapeake Bay
Wikipedia: Tilghman Island

Next up: Annapolis, Maryland