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Entries in Indiana (6)


Blue Highways: New Harmony, Indiana

Unfolding the Map

Making rapid progress to the end of Blue Highways, we stop for a while in New Harmony, Indiana with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM).  What is apparent to all of us, I think, is that a journey into the unknown, one where we don't know the road, might be a journey where we learn the most about the world and about ourselves.  To think that one of our first stops on this Littourati journey was just 10 miles north at Grayville, Indiana.  The circle is almost complete.  I find the Indiana state flag, at right, to be almost symbolic of this completion.  If you want to see where this little result of the attempt to create Utopia in middle America lies, please consult the map.

Book Quote

"Not far from a burial ground of unmarked graves that the old Harmonists share with a millennium of Indians, the mystical Rappites in 1820 planted a circular privet-hedge labyrinth, 'symbolic' (a sign said) 'of the Harmonist concept of the devious and difficult approach to a state of true harmony.'  After the Rappites, the hedges disappeared, but a generation ago, citizens replanted the maze, its contours strikingly like the Hopi map of emergence.  I walked through it to stretch from the long highway.  Even though I avoided the shortcut holes broken in the hedges, I still went down the rungs and curves without a single wrong turn.  The 'right' way was worn so deeply in the earth as to be unmistakable.  But without the errors, wrong turns, and blind alleys, without the doubling back and misdirection and fumbling and chance discoveries, there was not one bit of joy in walking the labyrinth.  And worse, knowing the way made traveling it perfectly meaningless."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 4

Downtown New Harmony, Indiana. Photo by Timothy K. Hamilton and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

New Harmony, Indiana

What is the point to know the way?

I'm sure that anyone reading this can point out a number of reasons why its important to know the way, and can reel off at least five.  Here's mine.  You don't get lost.  You save time.  There's comfort in the familiar.  You'll never have any surprises.  It's safe.  These are good reasons, but I have some good questions about them.

Yes, in knowing the way one doesn't get lost.  For instance, I knew backwards and forwards the roads around my hometown.  I knew how to get here and there.  When I lived in Milwaukee, I had all the best routes to this place and that in my head.  Same for San Antonio and New Orleans.  But what happened?  Once those routes were new.  I paid attention to what was going on around me, because I had to be aware.  Then, one day, I stopped paying attention.  I missed details in the surety of my route.  I ceased to notice little changes, so focused was I on getting from Point A to Point B.  I would never take an alternate route, and therefore I ceased to be surprised, to see new things, and I denied myself new experiences and a chance to grow.

Sure, in knowing the way one saves time.  It's not efficient to be driving or wandering about on streets that you don't know.  After all, if the goal is Point B, why visit Point C, D and E in the interim?  You have places to go, things to do, people to see.  But what happens when you take your time and explore?  You see things, meet people and experience things that you might have never allowed yourself to experience.  In all my life's journey, I have never seen much of a correlation between saving time and growing personally.

Of course, there will always be comfort in the familiar when one knows the way.  But my analogy here relates to bed sores.  When you look at a soft, downy bed, what do you think of?  Comfort!  That "aaahhhh"ness of pushing your head against a soft pillow, the warmth of the blankets surrounding you, that dozing feeling.  But what happens if you spend two or three straight weeks in bed?  That familiar feeling becomes your bane.  Without movement and change you develop bed sores, which are painful and difficult to treat.  Your comfort has suddenly become your curse.  We can always come back to the familiar, but we need change and new things to stimulate us and stave off an existential putrefaction.

Do you never want to be surprised?  Sure, there are bad surprises, and knowing the way will often mitigate the potential to be surprised.  The man with the machete hiding in the back seat of a car is not the kind of surprise any of us could want.  But how often does that happen?  Most often, surprises are the harbingers of change in our lives, and with change comes self-reflection and opportunity.  I've been surprised lately by many things.  A close relative's illness, a house that it appears I will buy, a nomination for an outstanding teacher award, and organizational shake-ups at my office.  Each has it's share of headaches and even heartbreak.  I hate to see my family member have to deal with a serious health issue.  The house has some maintenance issues that will cost money, as well as a major sewage issue that must be solved before I buy it.  To get the outstanding teacher award, I must write a teaching philosophy, track down letters of support, and find the class evaluations I filed away.  The change at my office has left me feeling unsure about my role.  But each change is a window of opportunity.  My relative's illness means that my family will have to change and may or may not provide a new avenue to dealing with our dysfunction.  Owning a house, after a lifetime of renting, will challenge me in ways I've never been challenged before and will be a new rite of passage in my life.  Just being nominated for the outstanding teacher award has given me new confidence in myself - imagine what I'll feel like if I win the award!  The change in my office will allow me to create my role, and maybe even expand it and my influence.  It may offer me a way toward further promotion and advancement.  It's all in how I choose to frame the surprises and the consequences that come with them.

Which brings me to the last reason for knowing the way that I want to question.  It's safe knowing the way.  Being safe is fine.  We all want safety and security.  But safety and security, while prolonging well-being and maybe even life, can become a prison.  People can hide behind safety and security and never allow themselves to see beyond the walls and disarm their personal defenses.  And what good is that?  I've been there, and I've decided that to experience and see things different than what I know, to open myself to other viewpoints and opinions, is the best way for me to grow.  It's earned me a reputation of being eclectic, maybe even a little weird in my tastes, but I like it.

New Harmony symbolizes the end of a journey of Utopians, who thought that they could tame nature and their own shortcomings, and in the strength of togetherness create harmony, unity and a sense of unchanging peace in the middle of a wilderness.  However, to grow we often need disharmony and disunity to provide us with challenges.  As the two utopian experiments at New Harmony prove, drastic and catastrophic change often messes up the best of plans and desires.  The people creating utopias at New Harmony planned their way, they had their philosophy, they created what they thought was safety, and they still couldn't overcome rapid moving challenges.  Had they gone in with flexibility, knowing that there isn't one way but many, and it's when we try to force things to conform to us rather than allowing ourselves to experience and adapt that we get in trouble, they might have survived.  LHM learned that his trip had meaning precisely because it wasn't planned, it wasn't familiar, it wasn't safe, and it sometimes wasn't comfortable.  He even got lost a few times, and found himself afraid, but he traversed the labyrinth of his journey, survived, learned and grew.  May we all allow ourselves, at least once in a while, the opportunities to get lost, make time, be uncomfortable, be surprised, and take risks.

Musical Interlude

I've used this song before, but I had to use it again here.  Youngblood Brass Band, featuring Ike Willis, with Something.

If you want to know more about New Harmony

Historic New Harmony
Indiana State Museum: Historic New Harmony
MaxKade: Historic New Harmony
Posey County News (news site)
Robert Owen and New Harmony
Town of New Harmony
Wikipedia: New Harmony

Next up: The End of the Blue Highways


Blue Highways: Corydon, Indiana

Click on Thumbnail for MapUnfolding the Map

William Least-Heat Moon wants to put the miles between him and his troubles, and we're going along with him like a fly in his van riding shotgun.  For a reference point on our journey, click on the thumbnail to get to the interactive map.

Book Quote

"...through the old statehouse town of Corydon, I drove to get the miles between me and home.  Daniel Boone moved on at the sight of smoke from a new neighbor's chimney; I was moving from the sight of my own.  Although the past may not repeat itself, it does rhyme, Mark Twain said.  As soon as my worries became only the old immediate worries of the road - When's the rain going to stop?  Who can you trust to fix a waterpump around here?  Where's the best pie in town? - then I would slow down."

Blue Highways: Part 1, Chapter 5

Marker commemorating Indiana's first capitol at Corydon. Photo by Kathy and her Buckethead H., on Click on photo to go to site.

Corydon, Indiana

The quote above cites one of my favorite authors, Mark Twain.  The idea that the past does not repeat itself, but rhymes, appeals to me on so many levels.  I've faced this in many aspects of my life.  You hear the phrases "the more things change, the more they stay the same," or "we are doomed to repeat our mistakes."  I think that these phrases touch on part of Mark Twain's idea.  For me, when it seems that I finally get a handle on things, especially those situations that really set off negative reactions or times of self-despair or even self-destructiveness, I go through a learning process.  I think to myself okay, I know how to handle these situations in the future and I will never go down that road again.  But other situations come up that bring on the same negative consequences in my life.  The situations seem different, but once you peel through layers of disguise, connections begin to reveal themselves.  Only after I've gone through the whole damn process again do I realize that indeed, I was just relearning what I already learned.  It can be very frustrating and maddening, but after the fact, I realize that Twain's rhymes were there if I'd only recognized them.

I don't know about any of you, but I have some of the spirit of moving on when one has the "sight of the smoke of a neighbor's chimney."  I am an introvert, and am often uncomfortable around large groups of people.  In addition, I grew up in a small town, and it's taken about twenty years for me to get used to living in cities.  My wife despairs of me sometimes, because she loves to take advantage of cities and I, if left to my own devices, usually don't do the things that cities offer best - live music, theater, restaurants and other activities.  Were I living in Daniel Boone's time,  I might have done what he did and moved on when people got too near.  But I'd probably come back from time to time, because I like people.  As did Daniel Boone, who was largely responsible for settling Kentucky and served in the politics of the state in his later life.

Don't we often do that, whether or not we live in a city, or on a remote ranch somewhere?  Humans seem driven by the need for people, and companionship, but also a need for our own space.  This causes some interesting clashes, especially in our society where the old frontiers defined by seemingly limitless geography have given way to the new frontiers defined by how far we can go in the electronic, virtual world.  People immerse themselves in computer activities, such as I do in this blog.  It's a solitary thing that divorces us from the reality around us.  A young man plays World of Warcraft and doesn't talk to another live human for weeks.  A woman builds an avatar and disappears into Second Life.  Yet even as they divorce from reality, they seek community in these places.  Facebook is the most popular social networking site on the internet, with millions of people seeking companionship in their Facebook friends.  World of Warcraft is interactive gaming with others, all solitary, sitting at their computers and connected to each other in the game.  We don't often hear of the Daniel Boone's of this frontier, though some have decided to chuck it all and go "off the grid."  We tend to think of them as a little crazy.

I don't know whether this aspect of our society is bad or good.  I think the lack of real community is a negative, but you can't help but admire the new and innovative ways people are finding each other.  Someone like William Least-Heat Moon, even as he drives to put the miles between him and home and the problems he is running from, can't help but pass through towns like Corydon, reminders that the world exists and that we can always plug back into true reality when and if we must.

Ho about a little information about Corydon?  It was the second capitol of the territory of Indiana, and the first state capitol.  It was also the site of the only Civil War battle in Indiana.  For those of us into 70s television, the town was the birthplace of James Best, better known as Roscoe P. Coltrane, sheriff in the Dukes of Hazzard (the original TV series).  The town is also known for its festivals and town activities.  So, there's a bunch of reasons to stop there!

If you want to know more about Corydon

The Civil War and Corydon
Corydon Democrat (newspaper)
Corydon, Indiana (PDF from Center for Minority Health at University of Pittsburgh)
Historic Cordyon
History of African-Americans in Corydon
Wikipedia: Corydon
Wikipedia:  Images of Corydon

Next up: Louisville, Kentucky


Blue Highways: White Cloud, Indiana

Click on Thumbnail for MapUnfolding the Map

Meandering eastward, we journey with William Least-Heat Moon through the backroads of southern Indiana.  Click on the map to see our journey thus far.



Book Quote

"On through what was left of White Cloud..."

Blue Highways:  Part 1, Chapter 5

White Cloud, Indiana. Photo by Robert Powell and featured in Panoramio. Click on photo to go to host page.White Cloud, Indiana

There really isn't much to say about White Cloud.  In one way, White Cloud is a symbol of the forward march of life and time.  White Cloud was once a town, and now it really isn't.  It sits, unincorporated, in Harrison County, Indiana.  Harrison County was named for the ninth president of the United States, William Henry Harrison, who once owned much of the land in the area.

Even in a country as young as the United States, there are remnants of life and evidence of time's passage all over.  In New Mexico, where I live, there are many ghost towns littering the landscape, products of booms then busts in precious minerals.  You can find evidence of such places all over the West.  Perhaps the price of the mineral being mined suddenly dropped, the mines closed, and the people drifted away to other more profitable ventures.  Perhaps a promised rail line didn't materialize, and the life blood of the town was cut off. 

My wife and I recently stayed in a bed and breakfast in Chloride, New Mexico. It was an amazing place, now populated by only about a dozen families, but around 1900 had 5,000 people.  The town was built around silver mines.  It had a newspaper, saloons, a general store.  But by the 1920s, the people had drifted away, the paper had closed down and the general store was boarded up and left, with all its merchandise still inside.  It is now a fascinating museum stocked with most of the merchandise that was left.

I co-own some property with my sisters near what isn't even a ghost town anymore, but around 1900 there was a thriving community built around a lumber mill in Northern California.  The town, Irmulco, was named for the Irvine and Muir Lumber Company.  Old pictures show a sawmill with a small train to carry logs from the logging areas into the mill.  However, the mill was built to be portable.  When the area was logged out, the mill moved, and the town disappeared.  All that are left are some very old and crumbling wood buildings, the foundation of the sawmill (with indentations still in the grass where the sawmill once sat, a crumbled dam used to back up Olds Creek where the logs were floated until ready to cut, and an old roadbed and track bed.  One can still find artifacts from the times - a huge steel circular saw, old beer, soda and occasionally, medicinal bottles.  Once, I even found a penny from the 1900s stuck on a horizontal support beam in the shelter that served as a railway station.

Everywhere you go, there are remnants of humanity that have gone by and disappeared, from the pueblo ruins in the Southwest to the forgotten and buried subway stations in New York City.  I'm fascinated by these remnants of the past.  They are the true time capsules that, when we discover them, give us a glimpse of what life was like.  William Least-Heat Moon only gives a passing mention to White Cloud, but even a mention of a forgotten place contains whispers of what it once was, if we bother to listen.

If you want to know more about White Cloud

This is all I could find, folks.  White Cloud continues to hold its secrets.

Wikipedia: White Cloud

But here's some info on ghost towns around the world:

10 Most Amazing Ghost Towns
Ghost Towns
Ghost Town Gallery
Ghost Towns of the American West
Ghost Town USA
Wikipedia: Ghost Town

You can also find information individual region's ghost towns on Google, Bing or your search engine of choice.

Next up: Corydon, Indiana


Blue Highways: Cannelton, Indiana

Click on Thumbnail for MapUnfolding the Map

Moving across southern Indiana, we follow William Least-Heat Moon in the initial stages of his journey around America.  Click on the thumbnail of the map for visual reference of our location.  It's also interactive, if you click on the points.  Feel free to follow along the tours on Google Earth, accessible by the link on your left.  I have fixed the link problem with the Kerouac Google Earth tour, so check that out as well.  As always comments welcome, via the link at the end of this post.

In case you're wondering why sometimes my posts deal with the place, and sometimes not, here is the explanation.  I am sharing with you my thoughts as I read, not simply providing information about the places that I am listing.  I always give links to learn more about the place, but the posts are simply what comes to my mind after reading the passages.  That's what the "tour" in Littourati is about.  The words take me on a tour of someplace in my memories or experience, and I share them with you.  I hope that through all of these elements, the literature, the maps, and my reflections, the readers of this blog will find something of value.

Book Quote

"On past the old stone riverfront houses in Cannelton, on up along the Ohio, the muddy banks sometimes not ten feet from the road.  The brown water rolled and roiled.  Under wooded bluffs I stopped to stretch among the periwinkle.  At the edge of a field, Sulphur Spring bubbled up beneath a cover of dead leaves.  Shawnees once believed in the curative power of the water, and settlers even bottled it.  I cleared the small spring for a taste.  Bad enough to cure something."

Blue Highways: Part 1, Chapter 5

Cotton mill, built circa 1854, in Cannelton, IndianaCannelton, Indiana

When I was young, I wondered where the Noyo River came from.  It flowed in the summer along the eastern edge of our property with a deep greenish color that made the rocks in its bed look different underneath the water than when I pulled them out.  It made little splashes as it rushed over a large pile of buried rocks and emptied into what we called our swimming hole.  That section of the river was only half of the piece I knew about about it.  It came from somewhere and it went somewhere.  I knew where it went, but I didn't know where it came from.

Where did it go?  It went on about another 23 miles to its mouth in my hometown.  There, the river was wider, deeper, and the greenish tint had a little of the blue about it.  It was filled with fishing boats which used it as a safe harbor.  Somewhere underneath the masts were the fishing boats of my uncles, the Norcoaster and the Kristy.  Just about at the breakwater, the river met the ocean, and green gradually faded into the blue of the Pacific.

Where did it come from?  That, I didn't know.  I knew that in the winter, the river could be a raging torrent.  In the summer, it was a serene placid creek.  My father said that it came from springs farther upriver, but I never saw those springs, and I never understood how so much water could originate from what sounded so small: "springs."

I can't remember when I saw my first real spring.  Perhaps it was along the Mule Ears Trail in Big Bend National Park, where suddenly in the middle of the desert a blooming oasis appeared, complete with the sounds of numerous insects buzzing around.  Perhaps it was on my many hikes in my native Northern California, but I didn't take the time or register what I was seeing.

Yesterday, my wife and I and some friends made a hike in the Sandias, the mountains against which Albuquerque is nestled.  We chose to hike on the Armijo Trail because Toro Spring could be found at the end of the trail.  Unfortunately, some of my friends weren't in prime hiking shape, and the trail to the spring from the end of the Armijo Trail was a bit rough.  I had seen the spring before, basically a hole in the ground, surrounded by some rocks, where water bubbled out of the ground and became a small creek rushing down into the little Armijo Valley.  It is a serene placid place.  It still amazes me that water just appears out of nowhere, just some hole in the ground, and within a few yards becomes a stream that eventually becomes a river that eventually ends up in one ocean or another.

Springs are awfully symbolic.  A life-giving substance, so elemental to existence, welling up from the earth like a gift, quenching our thirst or curing us of maladies, before rushing off to others farther down the line.  We drink, we expel it, it goes back into the earth or evaporates into the atmosphere, and becomes once again the water we gratefully drink on a hot day.  William Least-Heat Moon, despite the awful taste of the sulphur spring, touches the circle of life even as he starts his circular journey, rushing off down the road like the rivers and streams rush on through life.

A little about Cannelton, a small city of less than 1500 people.  The cotton mill in Cannelton was once the largest industrial building west of the Alleghennies.  In 1960, a Northwest Orient flight crashed near Cannelton and Tell City, and a memorial has been placed eight miles from Cannelton.  While a lot of theories, including a bomb, were looked at, it was eventually determined to be caused by an in-air detachment of the wing due to a flutter. 

If you would like more information on Cannelton

Blue Heron Vineyards
Cannelton Foundation
Lafayette Spring
Northwest Orient Airlines Crash Memorial Site
St. Michael Catholic Church
Wikipedia: Cannelton
Wikipedia: Cannelton Cotton Mill
Wikipedia: Cannelton Locks and Dam
Wikipedia: Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 710

Next up: White Cloud, Indiana


Blue Highways: Tell City, Indiana

Click on Thumbnail for MapUnfolding the Map

I just saw a comic strip the other day with William Tell as its subject.  He seems to come up a lot in the comics as I've seen a few strips with him as the subject.  The reason I mention this?  William Least-Heat Moon drives through his namesake Tell City along blue highways.  Follow us by clicking on the map.

Book Quote

"At the Huntingburg exit, I turned off and headed for the Ohio River.  Indiana 66, a road so crooked it could run for the legislature, took me into the hilly fields of CHEW MAIL POUCH barns, past Christ-of-the-Ohio Catholic Church, through the Swiss town of Tell City with its statue of William and his crossbow and nervous son."

Blue Highways: Part 1, Chapter 5

Barn advertising Mail Pouch tobacco in Ohio

Tell City, Indiana

I never chewed.  While friends around me would pull out their cans of chew, grab a pinch, and stuff it their cheeks until it looked like they had some kind of growth on their face, I would simply watch.  We'd talk, and they'd take a second to hold up a can or a bottle near their lips, spit the juice into the the can, and then put the can down to continue talking.  This was especially dangerous at parties, where if a person put his or her can of beer down, momentarily forgot where it was, and reached for the can at hand, an unpleasant surprise might await with a healthy swig.  Speaking of that, here's a good song by Robert Earl Keen titled Copenhagen.  It extolls the pleasures and pain of chewing that particular brand.

Of course, most of my friends weren't chewing Mail Pouch tobacco.  I think I would have actually thought that was pretty cool if they did.  That would have been way too retro for my friends.  Instead they were chewing the cheap and popular stuff.  The lightweights were chewing Skoal, which I remember had a minty smell to it.  The harder core kids chewed Copenhagen.  You were a real wimp if you used the packets that looked like little teabags with the pre-measured amounts of tobacco.  The only guys I saw chewing tobacco from a pouch were older men, and the tobacco looked a lot different, more stringy and leafy.

One of the great pleasures of traveling back roads of America, which Least-Heat Moon (LHM) captures in this quote, is driving through small towns and through pastoral settings where you can still find gliimpses of old highway advertisements painted on the sides of buildings, like the Mail Pouch ads on the sides of barns.  It brings to life old time advertising, before television and radio were big, and in a more picturesque way than the lines of billboards that we have lining the interstates today.  The old ads conveyed a simpler time, when people and life traveled much more slowly.  There was even room for creativity, as the old Burma-Shave signs on the side of the road that spelled out complete ads a few words at a time as you traveled down the road.

And then, the towns, where ads were strategically painted on the sides of buildings, and often outlived the companies whose products they advertised.  Occasionally, on a walk through my hometown, or in the city where I now live, I'll come upon one of those ads and be momentarily transported back to the time when the ad truly meant something to the people who saw it.

The other thing that LHM, in his eye for detail, focuses briefly on is the statue.  Every town has a statue or a monument to something, and these are often interesting to look at especially if they are a little out of the ordinary.  In Tell City's case, as it was named for William Tell, it has a statue depicting the legend of William Tell shooting the apple off of his son's head with an arrow.  In my hometown it was a section cut out of a huge redwood log with markers at rings representing significant years in human history.

My wife and I were once traveling in Florida, and stopped off in Kissimmee to see the Monument of States.  Basically, this was a pylon of rocks cemented together.  Each rock was contributed by a state in the United States, and therefore it represented the geologic variety of the whole country.  It sat forlornly, off on a side street near the water, and I had the distinct feeling that not many people went there.

Just before the passage I quote above, LHM writes:  "Life doesn't happen along interstates.  It's against the law."  If you are going to see some of these relics of earlier times, you have to cut down your speed and drive the smaller roads.

If you want to know more about Tell City

City of Tell City
Flood Wall Mural
Perry County (Tell City) News (newspaper)
Tell City Historical Museum
Tell City Pretzel Company
Wikipedia: Tell City
William Tell and son statue

Next up:  Cannelton, Indiana