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Entries in journey (13)


Blue Highways: Cuckoo, Virginia

Unfolding the Map

You may think we are cuckoo, but we are only passing through Cuckoo, Virginia.  As unlikely as the name might make it seem, Cuckoo was the start of an unheralded but important ride that may have saved Thomas Jefferson and other founders of the new American democracy during the Revolutionary War.  Read on to find out about it, and the importance of what I call "journeys of warning." At right is an illustration of the flower of the flowering dogwood, Virginia's state tree.  It is by N.L. Britton and A. Brown, and is hosted at Wikimedia Commons.

Book Quote

"Captain Jack Jouett probably didn't have a chance against the fame of Paul Revere, yet Jouett's deed was comparable: on June 4, 1781, Captain Jack rode his bay mare, Sallie, forty miles from Cuckoo Tavern to Charlottesville to warn Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and that nest of sedition, the Virginia General Assembly, that Bloody Tarleton's Green Dragons were coming.  Jouett rode without stopping, while the British raiders stopped three times - once to burn a wagontrain - and thereby lost both the rebels' capture and a chance at dramatic incident.  A good thing for American history.  And for Henry Wadsworth Longellow.  Jouett is a devilish name to rhyme.

"When I saw Cuckoo, Virginia, it was a historical marker and a few houses at an intersection."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 2

Cuckoo, Virginia. Photo by "Idawriter" and hosted at Panoramio. Click on photo to go to host page.

Cuckoo, Virginia

LHM's account of Jack Jouett's ride, as well as others I've read, leads me to think about what I'm going to call "journeys of warning."  Usually, one can find a lot of material on the internet, but so far, I've been unlucky in my search to see if anyone has compiled a list of these types of journeys of warning.

There's a fascinating story about Jouett and what he did to save the Virginia Assembly, including Thomas Jefferson.  You may think that a forty-mile ride on a steed is no big deal, but if you do, like I did, then you are forgetting the time.  There were roads, but they were far cries from our modern superhighways.  They were often dirt or grass pathways, worn with the ruts of wagons and difficult to traverse in the best of seasons.  When the British came past Cuckoo Tavern on what has been described as their version of an eighteenth century blitzkrieg to surprise and take a number of notable rebel politicians, they were using the main highway.  So Jouett was forced to take back routes that were even more dangerous.  He was doing it on a full moon evening, but there is no way of knowing what the weather was like.  Chances are that regardless, he wouldn't have been able to see well and he risked serious injury or death to himself and his horse.  The success of his ride also depended on a bit of luck.  If the British hadn't have stopped to rest for three hours, then to burn a wagon train of supplies, and finally to commandeer some breakfast, they might have achieved their objectives.  Even then, when Jouett rode up to Monticello to warn Thomas Jefferson, at that time Governor of Virginia, Jefferson waited until the last possible moment despite several hours of warning to have breakfast and settle up some affairs.  He only fled when he saw that the British were about to swarm over his property.  As history and Longfellow record, Paul Revere's warning ride was very important, but Jouett may have saved the American independence effort a mortal blow which would have been dealt had the British captured the founding father who wrote the Declaration of Independence.

I've tried to think of other similar treks of warning, but my history is not that good.  I can think of the Grecian runner, Pheidippides, who ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to announce the victory over the Persian army, then collapsed and died.  Certainly running twenty-six miles is a worthy achievement - I failed in my one attempt - but not unheard of.  What's not known about this story, and there are doubts about its veracity, is that Pheidippides was considered Athens greatest long-distance runner and had been called upon to run about 150 miles round trip over two days to ask for help from Sparta to repel the Persians and to bring back their answer (evidently "sorry, we'd love to help, but we need to wait for the full moon according to our law") to the Athenians.  He fought the battle at Marathon, and then ran his famous run to Athens to announce the victory.  No wonder he collapsed and died!  However, we only have the account by the author Lucian to tell us this story.  Herodotus, a possibly more trustworthy historian in some ways, only tells of Pheidippides run to Sparta and back.  as Herodotus relates, on the way back from Sparta Pheidippides meets the god Pan (possibly because he was delirious from the running?) who promises his help to the Athenians.

I've heard some modern amazing stories of journeys to warn and bring help.  A woman that I used to work with related the story of her birth.  She was born in a snowstorm in rural New Mexico, in the cabin that her mother lived in.  Her mother had been affected mentally by a childhood bout with a type of fever, perhaps scarlet fever, and at the time she was only assisted by her sister at the birth.  After the baby was born, the sister mounted upon a bicycle and rode through the snowstorm to the nearest town, a distance of over twenty miles, I think, to get a doctor to come check on the mother and baby.

What fascinates me about such journeys is that they were taken in pursuit of a single goal, whether that goal be warning or bringing help, or both.  The people undertaking the journey not only had a single goal in mind, but were firmly bound by a cause or, at least in my last case, family ties and love that gave the journey a meaning beyond the simple act of getting from point A to point B.  In the minds of those undertaking such journeys, whole endeavors such as the America Revolution may have depended on their journeys and upon themselves.  They believed that lives were at stake.  Those making the journey didn't know if they would be celebrated in history or be a simple footnote.  At the time they performed their heroism, it seemed as if the world depended on whether they succeeded.

We can contrast such journeys with those of the type that are chronicled in Blue Highways.  Journeys of discovery, reflection and healing are those that begin without a goal, or at least a single goal, in mind.  They aren't focused on anything specific.  In the end, however, they achieve similarities: a message to self or others, an achievement, often after a path of difficulty that tries endurance and capabilities.  Sometimes, the acts of heroism are in service to self, the changes wrought are in one's own life and the lives saved might even be one's own.

I'm sure that there are many acts of heroic journeys done daily, throughout history, that have been lost in time.  However, we celebrate these journeys and those that are lost to us when we celebrate them in literature, song and art.  For that reason, I'm glad I learned about Jack Jouett's ride through the Virginia night from Cuckoo Tavern to Charlottesville over treacherous paths to warn Jefferson and others.  As we prepare to close another year, let's celebrate all journeys, great and small, that we all take daily.

Musical Interlude

I was noodling around and actually found a song celebrating Jack Jouett's ride.  Jack Jouett's Ride was written by Tim Sparling and Allen Werneken, but I'm not sure who performs the version here.

Here is Jack Jouett's Ride.

If you want to know more about Cuckoo

TBD TV: What's in a Name?
Wikipedia: Cuckoo
Wikipedia: Cuckoo (house)

Next up: Stanardsville, Virginia


Blue Highways: Staten Island, New York

Unfolding the Map

I've never been to Staten Island except for a quick stop at the ferry slip after a ride across the water from Manhattan.  In this post, I make a quick stop to reflect while William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) gets lost a little in the Staten Island neighborhoods.   I devote this post to a friend who lived for a time in Staten Island, had a tragedy there, and who has overcome that and other obstacles on her way to happiness and achievement.  If life is a journey, hers is now traversing some good roads.  To see where Staten Island is located, ferry yourself to the map.

Book Quote

"The lanes descended and shot me across Staten Island; just before it was too late, I pulled out of the oppression of traffic and drove down Richmond Avenue to find the bridge across the Arthur Kill into Perth Amboy, the city (if you follow your nose) that gets to you before you get to it.  I don't know how I lost my way on a thoroughfare as big as Richmond, but I did.  I could smell Perth Amboy, but I coudn't find it.  Instead, I found Great Kills, Eltingville, Huguenot Park, Princess Bay, and Tottenville."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 7


One of the most well-known symbols of Staten Island, and of New York, the Staten Island Ferry. Photo by Norbert Nagel and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Staten Island, New York

I have a friend who once lived on Staten Island.

She's a petite, just-about-to-turn-30-if-she-already-hasn't, somewhat quirky, redhead who has a ready laugh and an endearing mixture of little girl and adult thrown together.

She and I weren't always very close.  We met each other when I was in graduate school, studying for my PhD in New Orleans, and she was assigned to share an office with me.  To say that our relationship was strained was putting it mildly.  I was in my late 30s at the time, she was in her early 20s, and it was like we were from two different worlds.  While we had moments of very good sharing and a realization that we were probably more alike than not, we also had moments of anger, frustration and misunderstanding that occasionally made for a tense office situation.  She was working out her early 20s anger, finding her way and her voice and I, well, I was working out my late 30s anger and trying to find my way and my voice.

I think that it was after she left that we both realized that we really, truly liked and respected each other.  She stayed long enough to get her Masters, inquired into and was recruited by a federal agency, and went to work for the national government helping to protect our country and our leaders from security threats.  I couldn't believe that this little waif of a woman would do this type of work, but my impression was that she loved the job.  Perhaps the agency she worked for was not the greatest - after all, it's hard for any woman to make it in what has traditionally been a redoubt for men.  But she made it through her boot camp and was given important assignments.  When she eventually left they worked very hard to persuade her to stay.

She was stationed for a while in the New York City area, and lived in Staten Island.  She found a boyfriend, a quiet state police cop.  She liked where she lived, which if I remember was a little apartment owned by a retired cop who looked after her like a father might his daughter or grandaughter.  Life seemed to be going well.  She and her boyfriend came out and visited us on their way through New Mexico to visit her parents in Colorado.

The boyfriend became a fiance, but there were signs of trouble.  He was moody, and had been dealing with depression through medication for years.  By then she had left her job.  I hadn't heard from her in a while and then one day she called me up.  She was going to be passing through New Mexico to Colorado again and wanted to visit me.  I asked about her fiance.  She was unusually quiet, told me that he had committed suicide, and that she would tell me more when she saw me.

When she arrived, she looked terrible - flat, and like all the life had drained out of her.  She told me that she had an argument with her fiance.  Before she knew it, he had shot himself in the head with a revolver right in front of her.  She spent some time in an institution where they gave her medications.  She had racked up a horrible set of bills because of her hospitalization and care that she could never hope to pay off.  We talked, I listened.  I couldn't do much consoling, because she was never one who wanted to be consoled.  But I couldn't get out of my head the image of pain and shock, anger and betrayal that I sensed behind the eyes of this young woman who once drove me crazy in the office and who carried a gun and put herself potentially in harm's way because of her job but who now seemed so human and so fragile.  She really seemed like the little waif I sometimes saw her as,  but this time very lost, very lonely, and very afraid.

She moved away from Staten Island.  She went back to New Orleans to finish her PhD.  I'm not sure if that is what she wanted or if it was because she didn't know what else to do.  But finish it she did, despite the usual academic obstacles that are thrown in the way of graduate students.  Once she received her PhD, she got a job at a small southern Alabama university.

She has become one of the most popular teachers on her campus, bringing a new life to her department and inserting some feminism into criminal justice studies on campus.  She threw herself into a stuffy academic program and brought her talents and best features to bear.  She found herself, somehow and somewhere, in the depths of her tragedy.  She pulled on her vast resources of inner strength to grasp at the opportunities presented her.  I don't know if she has any post-traumatic stress disorder from what she went through, but I do know that she has succeeded in spite of them.

I have been proud of her and her accomplishments, and I care for her very much.  Recently, she got married.  Though I wasn't able to attend her wedding, she and her new husband visited us recently.  It was great to see her happy after all these years, and wonderful to hear about her accomplishments.

If life is a continuous series of journeys, and if one can map lives, I can imagine what her life map would look like.  There would be roads and pathways through forests of indecision, dangerous passages through mountains of hardship, drops into the darkest and deepest valleys of relationship and loss.  There would be forks in the road where choices must be made and dead ends where the choices didn't work out.  But, there would also be, especially lately, flat roads along the ocean shore of happiness or the endless plains of contentment.  On these roads, she can look toward where the sun sets and know that wherever her life leads from now on, she has the capability and the wherewithal to meet any challenge ahead of her.

So, using a nickname that is a remainder from our contentious office days, I'll give her a shout-out: "You've done so well, shithead!  It makes me happy that you are happy, it makes me proud that you've come so far despite the hardship and tragedy, and I will be in your corner for as long as you need me."  She'll blow off my kudos, but inside, she'll appreciate it.

Musical Interlude

The band that I most associate with the woman I wrote of above is a band that she really enjoyed, Garbage.  This song, Push It, has lyrics that I think probably best embody my friend.  It helps that she and Shirley Manson have a slight resemblance in build, hair color, and style.


If you want to know more about Staten Island

SILive (Staten Island Advance) (newspaper)
Staten Island Borough President
Staten Island Ferry
Staten Island History
Staten Island Museum
Visit Staten Island
Wikipedia: Staten Island
Wikipedia: Staten Island Ferry

Next up: Lakewood, New Jersey


Littourati News: Interactive Map of Great Journeys

A website called GOOD has mapped out some famous journeys in an interactive fashion.  Here you can find maps of historical and literary journeys with descriptions of pivotal places along the way.  It's a cool way to occupy a few minutes in your spare time, as well as give you a sense of the scope of these journeys.  Check out their Wanderlust map here.

Michael Hess


Blue Highways: Philomath and Burnt Woods, Oregon

Unfolding the Map

Well, you almost didn't get this post.  I had already completed the Newport post, when I realized that I had missed William Least Heat-Moon's (LHM) mention of Philomath and Burnt Woods.  But this actually works, because LHM has been going through a tough time by this point in the book, and turns a corner.  I actually changed the map marker on Corvallis to red to signify that there was something to his time spent there, and now, he has a new purpose.  Read on to learn what, at least in my estimation.  And check the map if you want to place Philomath and Burnt Woods on your mental geography!

Book Quote

"The wind came in over the Coastal Range in the night and blew the sky so clean it looked distilled.  As the sun cast long morning shadows, I went west into the mountains toward Philomath and Burnt Woods.  Either the return of sun or a piece of cornpone etiology from a California cafe gave the feeling I'd begun the journey again."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 4

Welcome sign in Philomath, Oregon. Photo from the Oregon MacPioneers Users Group. Click on photo to go to host page.

Philomath and Burnt Woods, Oregon

This is a short post.  Why?  Because I f***ed up!  I jumped ahead to Newport, Oregon and totally missed that LHM passed through Philomath and Burnt Woods.  So I'm essentially pulling this post out of my a** after working on Newport's.  However, I think there's a couple of things that are important to understand about Blue Highways and LHM's journey at this point.

LHM, by the time he gets to Corvallis, is going through a hard time.  All through California and into Oregon he has been questioning himself and the purpose of his journey.  When he gets to Corvallis, it rains for two days and he stays there, in a sad and morose mood.  He calls his girlfriend, the "Cherokee," only to be rebuffed.  It is in Corvallis, the "heart of the valley," that he seriously thinks about giving up the trip.  He says in Part 6, Chapter 3:

"In darkness and rain I left the library.  I began fighting the fear that I was about to lose heart utterly and head back.  Oh, god, I could feel it coming.  The old Navajos, praying for renewal of mental strength, chant, 'In the ways of the past, may I walk,' but my chant went the other way around." 

He's questioning everything.  He is trying to decide what he hopes to accomplish - why he is even making the trip at all when it seems so difficult:

"'Nothing,' Homer sings, 'is harder on mortal man than wandering.'  That's why the words travel and travail have a common origin."

But, as the quote says above, he has a change of heart.  He finds a purpose in the trip, and takes inspiration from Whitman's lines:

"What I needed was to continue, to have another go at reading the hieroglyphics, to examine (as Whitman says) the 'objects that call from diffusion my meanings and give them shape.'"

I find it interesting that when he resumes his journey, along the way he passes through Philomath and Burnt Woods.  There is some symbolism here, yes.  A philomath is a person who loves learning.  We know that LHM is an academic and a writer, and as such, I would assume a lover of learning.  So the symbolism I see here is that LHM, to find purpose in his trip, has to go back to that love of learning, that excitement about seeing what comes around the next bend, and putting it all into the context of the America he lives in, the life he inhabits and the sum of his knowledge of self and others.

Of course, what's around the bend but Burnt Woods.  Again, I see symbolism.  Burnt Woods was named after the scars of a number of forest fires that can be seen in the area.  A forest fire is destructive.  It kills trees, plants and animals.  But it is also regenerative.  In many conifer forests, a cone can only properly germinate if it is opened in the intense heat of a fire.  It takes a forest fire to clear out the dead underbrush, allowing the newly germinated seeds to take root and grow.  In a sense, LHM's trip is about clearing out the brush in the forest of his life, and germinating something new in his ideas, his outlook, and his life.

LHM states it best:

"I had been a man who walks into a strange dark room, turns on the light, sees himself in an unexpected mirror, and jumps back.  Now it was time to get on, time to see WHAT THE HELL IS NEXT."

Musical Interlude

I can't think of a better song for this post than Alanis Morissette's You Learn.  Because we do.

If you want to know more about Philomath and Burnt Woods

Benton County Historical Society and Museum
Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon
Philomath Chamber of Commerce: About Philomath
Wikipedia: Burnt Woods
Wikipedia: Philomath

Next up: Newport, Oregon


Motherhood is a Journey - Enjoy Your Mother's Day!

I am constantly amazed at the journeys we take in life, and none is more amazing to me than the journey that mothers take.  They willingly take on the job of hosting a new being inside their bodies, give birth to that new creation, knowing that joy will emerge from the pain of birth, and then give of themselves over and over throughout their child's emergence from infant to adult, and even beyond.  Not to diss fathers, but mothers are very special.

Whatever journeys you travel - if you are a mother, a wanna-be mother, a wished-you-could-have-been-a-mother - or anything that involves mother in the title, Littourati is in awe of you.  You have made, or shown the courage to want to make (even if it didn't work out), one of life's greatest journeys.

Here's a poem set to video, inspired by the mother-teenage daughter relationship, that I wrote.  If you're the mother of a boy, or a mother-at-heart, I haven't written one for you yet, but it doesn't mean you're not important.  They're different journeys, but all share the goal of wanting to shape the next generation of responsible adults.

Michael Hess