Current Littourati Map

Neil Gaiman's
American Gods

Click on Image for Current Map

Littourari Cartography
  • On the Road
    On the Road
    by Jack Kerouac
  • Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    by William Least Heat-Moon

Search Littourati
Enjoy Littourati? Recommend it!


Littourati is powered by
Powered by Squarespace


Get a hit of these blue crystal bath salts, created by Albuquerque's Great Face and Body, based on the smash TV series Breaking Bad.  Or learn about other Bathing Bad products.  You'll feel so dirty while you get so clean.  Guaranteed to help you get high...on life.

Go here to get Bathing Bad bath products!

Entries in danger (2)


Blue Highways: Westerly, Rhode Island

Unfolding the Map

Westerly, Rhode Island, brings us to questions of bravery and cowardice.  William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) relates a humorous story of a general in a forgotten American rebellion, but we'll explore the theme a little as he prepares to drive into Connecticut.  To locate Westerly (hint: it's in the west of Rhode Island), click here for the map.

Book Quote

"I started down the coast.  If 'down' means southward, and you think of the Atlantic seaboard strking a longitudinal line, you'll be disoriented in Rhode Island and Connecticut as you follow the ocean.  The coastine runs almost due east and west.  Hence the name Westerly, Rhode Island, a town just off the Atlantic and west of everything in the state.

"It was here, so I read, during the Dorr Rebellion in 1842, that General John B. Stedman was charged with maintaining martial law in the town.  At one point, when he thought an attack imminent, he told his troops, 'Boys, when you see the enemy, fire and then run.  And as I am a little lame, I'll run now.'"

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 6

Downtown Westerly, Rhode Island. Photo by Daniel Case and hosted at Wikipedia. Click on photo to go to host page.

Westerly, Rhode Island

I was going to write a little, based on this quote, about how some place names show the history of US westward expansion.  After all, at one point in our history, it is probable that Westerly, Rhode Island, was not only the westernmost point in that state but also the beginning of the frontier.  At one point, perhaps in the westernmost point of Westerly, the owner of the most westerly house in that city could step out their front door, look west and believe if not truly be the edge of European settlement in North America.  But I believe that I've already made comments to that effect in these posts.

No, today I'm going to get something off my chest.  The second part of this post has to do with bravery and cowardice.  That's where I'm going to go today, even if it embarrasses me.

A little framework is needed for LHM's quote.  He mentions the Dorr Rebellion but does not give any context about it.  I know that all you ever really wanted to do was learn about this little known event in Rhode Island and US history, so I'll enlighten you.  Dorr's Rebellion happened in the 1840s in Rhode Island, and it was about voting rights.  I often teach my political science students that only a small part of the electorate was enfranchised in the early years of the United States. Most states only allowed white male property owners the right to vote.  Blacks, Native Americans, poor whites and women were not allowed to participate in the most fundamental right of our democracy.  In Rhode Island, a white man had to own at least $134 worth of property to qualify to vote in elections.  It was the only state by that time to not allow all white men to vote, so by the early 1840s, only 40 percent of white men could participate in the vote.

Thomas Wilson Dorr started an insurrection whose aim was to change the state constitution to allow a greater number of people to vote.  He initially supported the inclusion of black men, but then reneged on that promise.  As a result, black men fought against his rebellion.  The rebellion was unsuccessful in many ways, and Thomas Wilson Dorr was tried for treason and insurrection, found guilty and sentenced to life.  He did succeed in many ways too.  He only served two years in prison, and in 1849 the right to vote in Rhode Island was expanded to all white men.  However, the ordeal broke his health and he died in 1854.

I want to reflect a moment on the part of the quote that LHM finds a little funny, where General Stedman exhorts his troops even as he prepares to flee.  It reminds me of the old joke where the general is getting dressed, and his aide comes in and says that the enemy is mustering.  Get me my white shirt, the general orders, so that my troops will see me on the field and be rallied by my presence.  Then another aide comes in, and says that the enemy has attacked.  Get me my red shirt, orders the general, so that if I'm hit the troops will not see any blood and be inspired by my strength.  A third aide comes in, and gives the news that the line has broken, and that the enemy is fast closing in on the general's position.  Get me my brown pants, the general orders.

Most of us may not have ever faced a situation where we have been in mortal danger from other people.  For those few that have, there is often a split-second decision that has to be made, and the results of that decision could indicate bravery or cowardice depending on what is seen.  Recently, just following the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings, I read a story of one of the survivors.  He and his girlfriend and their small son were at the theater.  When the shooting began, the father jumped over the balcony, leaving behind his small son and girlfriend.  His girlfriend was eventually shot in the leg before the shooter left the scene.  As I read that account, I questioned the father's action.  It appeared from all intents and purposes that he ran instead of defending his family.  I had by that time read of some accounts of heroism.  I had read of another man throwing himself in front of his girlfriend, taking bullets that would have hit her, and who died.  So it was easy for me to condemn the man who ran at first.

But how many of us would have the presence of mind, when the shooting starts, to say "today's my chance to be a hero?"  I ask because I faced situation once, and in my mind at the time my actions were correct, yet in the end I've always felt that I failed.

I was living in Milwaukee in my first year of volunteer service with a group of other volunteers.  We lived in the inner-city, and for a number of months our house had been broken into regularly.  Police finally caught some kids, and my roommate was called to testify in court that he nor any of us had ever granted permission for those individuals to come into our house.

One chilly October evening, a small group of us decided to walk from our house to a bowling alley a few blocks away.  After we had gone a couple of blocks, a car screeched to a stop in front of us and a group of young adult men got out of the car.  One walked right up to my roommate, said "you've been picking on my brother," and hit him across the face.  A melee ensued, as more of our group were attacked.  In the end, my roommate was beaten badly around his face and head, my other roommate suffered a wound to her head which was consistent with a blunt object, another friend was also hit and hurt, and all of us were traumatized.

My initial reaction at this attack was to seek help.  I ran down the street looking for someone.  Around the corner, I knocked on the door where I saw a light.  A woman pulled me in and told me to keep out of sight and they called the police.

Since that time, I have always berated myself because I felt that I abandoned my friends.  Could I have changed the situation by being there?  Maybe or maybe not.  But over time, I've felt more and more like a coward.  Since then, I've always had fantasies of being the guy who knocks the gun out of the potential shooter's hand, or the guy who beats the bully down.  I've never been judged by my friends for my actions that night, at least to my knowledge, and all of my regret is self-imposed.  I know that these fantasies are only my mind hoping to get another chance at redemption.  Yet, in the face of danger, I still live with the fact that I ran at that particular time. 

So, on one level I see the humor in General Stedman's position.  On another level, I've been in his situation, a situation of danger, and I didn't necessarily like the aspect of my nature that came out.  It gives me a little more understanding and compassion for the guy who ran in the theater, even as I still recriminate myself.

Musical Interlude

The tale of "brave" Sir Robin from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.


If you want to know more about Westerly

Genealogy Trails: Westerly
Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce
Town of Westerly
Visit Westerly
The Westerly Sun (newspaper)
Wikipedia: Westerly

Next up: Pawcatuck, Connecticut


Blue Highways: Klickitat, Washington

Unfolding the Map

We join William Least Heat-Moon for a barbecue with the three hang-gliders in Klickitat, Washington.  Hang-gliding is described as an addiction to risk, to put it all on the line, but to not push the envelope too far.  Sound familiarly like keeping things in balance?  I explore a little from my own experience why it seems that people from small towns might take more risks.  To locate Klickitat, fly to the map!

Book Quote

"Alba Bartholomew lived in Klickitat, a company town of seven hundred in the narrow vale of the Klickitat River.  His little frame house was like the others on the street except for the windsock blowing on the roof.  He worked at the St. Regis sawmill, where he ran a stacker.  It wasn't the most interesting of jobs.  The mill got much of its timber from the Yakima Reservation twelve miles north.  St. Regis was the reason for Klickitat, and when the Yakima's big ponderosa were gone, people feared the company would pull out and Klickitat would go the way of Liberty Bond.

"'....I think the real answer to why we fly is because it's addictive.  It's a buzz to put everything on the line.  Whenever we go up, we're subconsciously asking the most important question in the world - asking it real loud - 'Is this the day I die?'"

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 8

Klickitat, Washington welcome sign. Photo by a Klickitat resident and in the public domain on Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to site.

Klickitat, Washington

I'm making a little bit of a correlation in this post.  As I learned in my statistics classes, correlation is not causation.  However, one can make a few intriguing suggestions about how things may work through examining correlations.

My correlation, which I am highlighting with my pairing of the two quotes above, might or might not be apparent.  This chapter of Blue Highways is all about three guys who hang-glide.  LHM sees them, meets them, and is invited to the home of one in Klickitat to talk more about hang-gliding. I find it very interesting that LHM describes the town of Klickitat as small and with nothing much besides a dependency on a lumber mill which, if his words are any indication, may close down in some unknown but not too far off future.  (Note: the lumber mill has been closed since 1994)

Just a few paragraphs down the page, one of the hang-gliding guys talks about flying as an addiction, and the thrill of risking oneself to the point of questioning whether the risk will be the last action one ever takes.

It all makes me wonder whether there is truly a correlation between two things exemplified in these paragraphs.  Might living in a small, out of the way, dependent town, lead one to be more open to risk?

Now wait a minute, you might say.  Small towns are often a bastion of conservative values.  People in small towns may live there because there is less risk.  There is often less crime, for instance, and the closeness of small communities often shield its members from other types of risk.  I wouldn't disagree.  After all, I lived in a small town that was remarkably free of issues that plagued more populated areas.

But I wouldn't necessarily agree either.  In my small town, there was little crime, but there also were people who we considered "characters" who might have been locked up in other places.  We didn't have gangs, but we did have families with reputations as fighters who'd just as soon hit you as look at you.

I've argued before, however, that as peaceful, friendly, folksy and pastoral small towns can seem and feel, they often have a dark and sometimes violent undercurrent that is less apparent than it might be in cities.  Small towns can be dark, dysfunctional places, where alcoholism, drugs, and abuse of the emotional, physical and sexual varieties are revealed if someone cares to pull back the curtains hiding them.  I wouldn't trade my small town childhood for anything, because it taught me about the best and the worst that humanity offered.

In isolated small communities, is it any wonder that someone might find risk and danger compelling?  One interesting fact that may support my argument is that small towns and rural areas are overrepresented in the US military.  In 2005, the Heritage Foundation examined U.S. Census data and found that rural areas are overrepresented in the military as compared to urban areas.  While there are most likely many factors that contribute to this statistic, including that rural areas tend to be poorer with less opportunities for employment of young people than urban areas and that there is a higher percentage of conservative-minded people who may view military service in a patriotic sense, I also think that a desire to undertake risk as a way to break free of convention might serve as an additional motivating factor.  The desires that drive young people in cities to gather at Occupy protests currently around the country, to assert themselves in a cause that they can rally around and believe in with like minded people in a structured way, may also come from the same psychological place that encourages young people in rural areas to join the military and do service.  Both choices offer a set of risks and rewards.

When I lived in a rural area, there always seemed to be a number of young people who were always willing to risk.  You probably find the same thing in cities but in small towns it stands out a lot more.  These were kids who were on the forefront of experimenting with drugs, alcohol and sex.  Of course, a lot of us did those things, but small town kids always seemed to take it one step farther.  Some of them paid dearly for their risk-taking.  Alcohol maimed and took the lives of more than one young man and woman when it was mixed with driving.  Somehow, rural areas the loss of someone young is extremely tragic because it is so noticeable, so out in the open, and the grief of parents is on display and not lost or buried in a newspaper column in the back page - it is most likely going to be on the front page of the local paper.

Despite the tragedies, we teens in small towns still too risks.  Why?  Because there was little to do in a small town on the Northern California coast, just as there was little to do after hours in a midwestern plains town, or a town in the South, or a small mountain town.  We took risks because we were young, we wanted to impress the girls/boys, and we wanted to feel like we were in control of our own destinies.  We wanted to feel like we were making our own decisions, even if they were bad decisions.

Today, as an adult of 47, I understand better the idea of risk and reward.  I could, if I wanted to, take hang-gliding lessons which would be a somewhat dangerous but understandable way of taking a risk.  I could do a parachute jump.  I could get a motorcycle to ride the open road or devote my time to mountain climbing or spelunking.  All of these are dangerous but they are considered hobbies that involve an adult's choice.  In those activities, I might still catch a little of the thrill I got by stepping outside the boundaries imposed on me as a teenager.  After all, when all is said and done, humans don't really belong in the sky any more than they belong on a speeding piece of open machinery on an asphalt road or rapelling down into the bowels of the earth.  We do it to push the envelope, to test our limits.  No matter what, we are always like children in that very few of us can ever leave anything just as it is and be content.

Musical Interlude

What's the opposite of taking risks?  Why, it's never doing anything.  As is usual, we find in LHM's travels and quotes that life is a balance, this time between risk and safety.  It's neither good to be a total risk taker.  But, as the Barenaked Ladies point out in their song Never Do Anything, neither is it healthy to never risk nor accomplish anything.

If you want to know more about Klickitat

Klickitat Horizons Community Blog
Klickitat Mineral Springs
Wikipedia: Klickitat

Next up: Dallesport, Washington