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    On the Road
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    Blue Highways: A Journey into America
    by William Least Heat-Moon

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Entries in journey (13)


Blue Highways: Cedar City, Utah

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapCedar City is the place where William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) felt that he got one of his most important interviews in Blue Highways.  In this post, we take another look at the concept of journeys and destinations.  Click on the thumbnail at right to see all our little journeys, wrapped up in a bigger journey, all making up a small part of our biggest journey called life.

Book Quote

"The key seemed to be emergence. Carved in a rock near the village of Shipolovi is the ancient symbol for it:


Hopi emergence symbol.  Photo at Aistear InisCealtra Online.
Click on photo to go to host site.

"With variations, the symbol appears among other Indians of the Americas. Its lines represent the course a person follows on his "road of life" as he passes through birth, death, rebirth. Human existence is essentially a series of journeys, and the emergence symbol is a kind of map of the wandering soul, and image of a process; but it is also, like most Hopi symbols and ceremonies, a reminder of cosmic patterns that all human beings move in."

Blue Highways: Part 5, Chapter 4

Downtown Cedar City, Utah. Photo on Wikipedia. Click on photo to go to site.

Cedar City, Utah

Why am I going back to the Hopi when I spent a good four posts on them?   Why don't I just write about Cedar City?  Unfortunately, LHM doesn't spend much time on the town, and I've never been there - though reading about it I'd like to go see some of the sights in Cedar Breaks National Monument and perhaps see the Shakespeare Festival there.

In Blue Highways, when LHM stops in Cedar City he gets some breakfast at the campus of Southern Utah State College.  While eating, he strikes up a conversation with a Hopi man named Kendrick Fritz who is studying medicine and who wants eventually to go back to the Hopi homeland to help his people.

In an interview with Artful Dodge, LHM says that there were three interviews that were most important to him.  One was at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Georgia with Brother Patrick.  We have already been there on our literary journey.  One  is with a person we have yet to meet.  His interview with Kendrick Fritz was another of the three interviews that he felt most important.  I think that it was because the whole idea of how journeys fit into our lives came into focus for him.

The quote above captures the essence of what LHM is discovering on his trip.  Life is a series of journeys that we make separately for ourselves and together with others.  All of those journeys that we make can be combined to additively make our life's journey.  The Hopi encapsulated all of that into a maze symbol.  We essentially wander around looking for our purposes, or our meanings.  We are sometimes lost, and sometimes we know our way.  Through it all, we continue our journeys until we are called to a new world.

The way I think of it, we are journeying all the time, whether we like it or not.  In my lifetime, I will make a number of journeys on Earth, whether it's to my corner store, or the trip to Turkey that I will be making in about three weeks.  But even as I sitting here on my couch typing on my laptop, I am journeying.  In my lifetime, without really being too aware of it other than watching the years come and go, I will have made a certain as of yet unknown number of rotations around the sun, journeying in circles for the length of my existence.  The sun itself will be traveling along with other stars in the galaxy as the Milky Way continues to move outward and away from its existence.  The universe continues to expand, and we are all taking part in that journey, even though we only see a small piece of it.

The journeys don't have to be physical.  I have taken a number of emotional journeys in the past two years, some of which were not good, some of which were very good.  From all of them I will learn.  I've taken professional journeys recently as well, and will continue to hope that they all mean movement forward toward some kind of goal.  I continue to try to journey spiritually, though I don't feel I'm very successful at it.  This blog is a journey: Not only does it map my reading journeys, but it also is a journey in itself as I don't really know where it will lead me.

As I write, it's Easter Sunday.  I was raised to believe, in the Catholic tradition, that this is the most important holiday, supposedly even more than Christmas though it was hard to convince me because we got presents on Christmas.  Even this day, however, is a celebration of the culmination of one man's journey through a short but incredibly meaningful and important life, and the beginning of a journey for a new faith that would one day become one of the major religions.

We tend to think of journeys as a starting point and ending point with points of interest in between. We make lots of them, even if we aren't aware sometimes what kind of journey we are on.  All of the journeys we make are bracketed by the start and end points of our lives, the ultimate journeys of our existence.  The point of a journey is, to me, accomplishing something and learning from it.  The journey of Kendrick Fritz, the Hopi who gave LHM such an important interview, has brought him back to the Hopi to serve his people as a medical technologist.  The journey of LHM in Blue Highways brought him fame and fueled his desire to write an even more personal and in-depth account, in a book called PrairyErth, of a journey in a small corner of Kansas.  If I can accomplish and learn something on my journeys so that they add up to a well-lived and meaningful life, then I will have made the most of my time on Earth.

Zia has it right. The journey IS the destination!Even as I think of all these journeys, however, I am tempted to want to journey like my wonderful little dog.  Zia jumps into a journey at a moment's notice, whether we are just going for a walk, or if we are getting in a car.  She doesn't know where we're going - it really doesn't matter.  For her, every journey is the best journey.  My good friend Vickie, who is a very wise person, told me recently of her revelation that the journey is the destination.  I was trying to figure out what she meant by that, but watching Zia's happiness and contentment when we are going somewhere, I think I understand.  For Zia, the journey is the joy.  It is her destination, and where she's at peace.  I wish I could look at all my journeys that way, instead of being so caught up in where I think I need to be.  Yes, I want to reach goals, but my journeys are also best when I just enjoy the experience of the movement.

Musical Interlude

Today's musical interlude is Light Enough to Travel by the Be Good Tanyas.  I picked this song not so much because of the lyrics but because of the title.  I think sometimes the things that makes our life's journeys more difficult is the baggage we carry along with us.  All the should haves and would haves and unmet expectations and perceptions of failure.  When I go on a trip, I spend time thinking about what to pack - what do I need and want etc.  I plan and plan.  And like I said above, my dog just gets into the car, ready to go.  We all need to keep it light enough so that we can travel with as few burdens on us as possible and enjoy our journeys in life to the fullest.


If you want to know more about Cedar City

Cedar City Daily News (newspaper)
Cedar City Official Website
Southern Utah University Cedar City
Wikipedia: Cedar City

Next up:  Pioche, Nevada


Blue Highways: Navajo Bridge, Arizona

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapAs we blaze new frontiers with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM), in this post I reflect upon the idea of frontiers and how they are disappearing in a world growing smaller.  Perhaps this blog is another manifestation of a frontier - a literary, geographical, reflective frontier.  I'll let all of you Littourati out there be the judge of that.  Click on the thumbnail of the map to learn where on the frontier the Navajo Bridge sits.

Book Quote

"Somewhere out there was the Colorado River perfectly hidden in the openness....

"The highway made an unexpected jog toward Navajo Bridge, a melding of silvery girders and rock cliffs.  Suddenly, there it was, far below in the deep and scary canyon of sides so sheer they might have been cut with a stone saw...

"In 1776...a Spanish expedition led by missionaries...wandered dispiritedly along the Vermilion Cliffs as they tried to find in the maze of the Colorado a point to cross the river chasm.  They looked for ten days and were forced to eat boiled cactus and two of their horses before finding a place to ford; even then, they had to chop out steps to get down and back up the four-hundred-foot perpendicular walls.  My crossing, accomplished sitting down, took twenty seconds.  What I saw as a remarkable sight, the Spaniards saw as a terror that nearly did them in."

Blue Highways: Part 5, Chapter 3

Navajo Bridge from inside Marble Canyon. Photo at the site of the Federal Highway Administration. Click on photo to go to site.Navajo Bridge, Arizona

How amazing it is when one comes across a piece of grandeur that strikes one suddenly because it is unexpected!  I wrote in an earlier post about this theme, and now is as good a time as ever to expand upon it.  I've never been to this area where the Grand Canyon begins, but I've had just this sort of experience in New Mexico when, driving across what appears to be a limitless expanse of desert west of Taos, a thin dark line suddenly turned into the gaping Rio Grande Gorge with its majestic, soaring and terrifying bridge, all steel girders and archways, seeming yet so flimsy as it tremored ever so slightly in the wind and as cars drove over it.  As I looked over the edge to the Rio Grande's waters flowing toward the Gulf of Mexico far below, I literally felt weak-kneed and had to back away from that abyss.

LHM doesn't stop to look over the side of the Navajo Bridge and writes that it took him all of 20 seconds to cross sitting down.  How he contrasts it to what the conquistadores faced upon gazing at the 400 foot sheer cliffs of the Marble Canyon in that desolate area of Arizona is what's interesting to me.

I've often, in times of deeper thought about this subject, lamented that I was born in a time when the physical frontier seems to have receded.  What do I mean by frontier?  I think of frontiers as a kind of limit that is also an invitation.  The frontiers of my experience are where I can find something new that excites me or causes wonder.  In finding that limit, I can explore it, and push my frontiers to new limits somewhere just beyond my perceived horizon.  Frontiers are not barriers.  If one cannot go around, above, under or through an obstacle, then the obstacle stops one from exploring further.  It is not an invitation, and if one sees a barrier then by necessity the frontier ends there.  If one initially perceives a barrier, but after exploration finds a way past it, then the barrier represents what was once the limit of one's frontier but was just another obstacle to overcome.

I realize that frontiers are what we make of them, and that often the places that we think of as frontiers have most likely been explored before.  Yet what makes a frontier, to me, are those places where we can at least think that we are the first or one of the few people to have forayed there.  Those places seem now to be few and far between.  Wherever we go, someone who has been there has put a sign up of their passing, hoping that it will mark their achievement for eternity.  West of where I live is the Petroglyph National Monument, where natives of the area inscribed their signs and symbols on the ancient lava rocks to inform and warn others.  Over some of those inscriptions have been carved newer ones - names of settlers in the 1700s and 1800s.  Over those have been spraypainted graffiti.  Multiple generations of "tagging," if you will, have made it abundantly clear that this area is frontier no more.

In contrast, I think of those conquistadores who, according to LHM, wandered about the "maze of the Colorado" looking for a place to cross.  As they gazed out upon the canyon, in what must have been a mixture of awe at the harsh beauty and sheer terror at whether they would make it out alive, they were pushing a frontier.  It looked like a barrier, but in overcoming their terror and carving steps down and up the sheer sides of the cliff, they turned it into an obstacle that they overcame, and pushed their frontiers farther.

Granted, the Hopi had been there before but for all intents and purposes, the conquistadores were exploring an area that nobody in their reality had ever seen before.  It was so impenetrable that in the mid 1800s explorers were still trying to understand the geography and topography of the area and discovering places where few people had ever been.

What it must be like, for just a brief second before our petty human interests get in the way, to be an aborigine standing for the first time on the shores of Australia, or a Marco Polo gazing upon a new country that would one day be named China, or a Columbus landing at Hispaniola, or a Neil Armstrong setting humanity's foot for the first time on a different world!  In those moments, I think, something in us pauses, just for a brief instant, to understand that there is wonder in what lies before us in the unknown and in that moment our horizons are pushed farther away and lead us to speculate and imagine all the promise and possibility before us.  That brief pause for reflection therefore seeds new exploration and new frontiers.

Horizons are always being reached, and new frontiers conquered, not only in the physical realm but also in the sciences and philosophy and whatever else we can think of.  Someday, we may find new frontiers to explore in our solar system and beyond.  In reality, I push new frontiers every day personally, professionally and otherwise.  I don't often think of those as frontiers - at least frontiers that I can physically feel and touch.  So for now, I lament that as our world gets smaller, its physical frontiers are rapidly disappearing, and I treasure those moments when I can imagine that I am the first to see a beautiful landscape or a geographical wonder.  In those times I can feel that I too am an explorer, standing somewhere between the awe and beauty of what's before me, the fear of what happens next, and the hopefulness of what my discovery might mean for my life.

Musical Interlude

When I was in high school, Journey was one of the hot bands.  I had Journey's Frontiers album, and I remember this song, Rubicon, speaking to the hope, anger and possibilities of my youth.  Needless to say, I blasted it a lot until I wore out my cassette tape"Rubicon" refers to Julius Caesar crossing a river in Northern Italy to make war on Pompey.  To me, it also refers to decisions where one takes a step over what was a barrier, and thereby pushes a frontier and writes a new future for oneself.

If you want to know more about the Navajo Bridge and its environs

Excellence in Highway Design: Navajo Bridge
Marble Canyon Photo Gallery
National Park Service: Navajo Bridge
Navajo Bridge Photo Tour
Wikipedia: Navajo Bridge
Wikipedia: Marble Canyon (community)

Next up:  Cedar Breaks, Utah


Blue Highways: Hotevilla, Hopi Reservation

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapA little bit of a rambling, somewhat disjointed post for you this time, covering cops, wind, tumbleweeds, and journeys as destinations.  Also a little bit of original poetry, and The Marvelettes.  What would a "thought" blog about literature be without some jumping around once in a while?  Click on the thumbnail of the map to learn where Hotevilla is located.

Book Quote

"A tribal squadcar checked my speed at Hotevilla, where the highway started a long descent off the mesa. The wind was getting up, and tumbleweed bounded across the road, and sand hummed against the Ghost. West, east, north, south - to each a different weather: sandstorm, sun, rain, and bluish snow on the San Francisco Peaks, that home of the Kachinas who are the spiritual forces of Hopi life."

Blue Highways:  Chapter 5, Part 2


Water tower in Hotevilla, Hopi Reservation. Photo by "nativeone28" and hosted at Panoramio. Click on photo to go to host page.Hotevilla, Hopi Reservation

I have been stopped by police twice in my life.  One was when I was in high school.  Our road had a new stop sign on it, but people in my neighborhood who were used to driving straight through with no stops usually ignored the stop sign.  It got so bad that they stationed a highway patrol car just out of sight.  One night, I think I was around 16 at the time, I did a rolling stop where I didn't really come to a complete stop.  All of a sudden there were flashing lights.  The patrolman did the patrolman thing - he asked me if I knew why he stopped me - and I knew but it was all new to me and I was a bit intimidated.  But he let me go with a warning.

The second time was about 3 years ago.  I was traveling back to my job in Lubbock from Albuquerque after a weekend of seeing my wife.  About 30 miles across the Texas line, I was pulled over by a state trooper.  He had clocked me going 75 in a 65 mile an hour zone.  There wasn't much traffic on the road and it was probably about 11:00 at night, so he let me off with a warning also.

The interesting thing about that drive was that it was very reminiscent of LHM's description of tumbleweeds and sand.  Tumbleweeds may be a symbol of the old West, but when you drive through a windstorm and there are dozens of them blowing across the road, they are a bit of a menace.  They can also do some pretty heavy damage to your car.  If you hit one just right, it can puncture a radiator or an oil pan.  At night, they seemed to often fly out of nowhere right at you.  When I would drive the stretch between Fort Sumner and Santa Rosa, New Mexico where there was lots and lots of open land and no buildings, it was almost as if the night were throwing the tumbleweeds at me, testing my ability to dodge and weave. 

Living in New Mexico is probably a lot like living on the Hopi Reservation.  The area is arid, and windy.  The wind usually blows from the west, kicking up the dry sand.  As I write this, today we are having sixty mile-per-hour gusts outside, and the horizon is obscured because of all the dust and grit in the air.  Walking outside leaves grit in your mouth and in your teeth.  To me, the four directions in New Mexico are as such:  north-coolness; east-mountains; south-hotness; west-wind.  The wind here, especially in spring, is a force to be reckoned with.  It gets into your head.  I ride a bike as my transportation to and from work, and the worst part of my ride in the spring is that in the morning, the wind is blowing against me on my downhill ride to the office, and in the afternoon it has switched around to oppose me on my ride home.

I imagine that living on a mesa, one might cling to the land because it might seem that if one stops clutching, one might be blown off the mesa into the ether.  If one believes in cloud people as the Hopi believe in the Kachina, I can see how easy it would be to believe that the wind could carry us if we don't hold on for dear life.  If it can carry the Kachina on their journeys to the Hopi people in order to teach and convey important messages, it might also take us ordinary folk away to places or worlds unknown.  It is better to hold ourselves down here than face that kind of unknown.

But for me, the choice is between being a stone, affixed to the earth and slowly being worn away by the elements piece by piece until there is nothing left of me, or being a tumbleweed and being blown about to places the wind wants to take me.  At times in my life, such as now, I want to be rooted to a place and not move.  At other times, I want to be like LHM, riding along in my van like a tumbleweed to places unknown.  Either way, as long as I'm happy in what I'm doing, it's all good.

I'll inflict another poem on you that I wrote, which gets to this kind of feeling and fits with my reflection on wind also.  I wrote it after breaking up with someone:

Autumn Thoughts

A click, and then a lifeless, droning hum
As I dropped my phone, now overcome with shock;
I walked outside, into the setting sun
And sat upon the grass with burdened thoughts.

A cavalcade of brightly colored leaves
Ran helter-skelter down the somber street,
Driven by a soft, yet forceful breeze
That pushed them onward to an unknown fate.

How I wished that I could join them there,
And also dance away my lonely grief,
Until, with growing pain, I was aware,
That life is but the wind, and I a leaf.

I thought of love and loss, and thus entranced,
Ran out into the street to join the dance.

Michael L. Hess

A friend told me today that her revelation is that the journey is the destination.  I'm still thinking about that and what it means, but somehow, it makes complete sense.  We are all on journeys, but sometimes, the journey and not the destination is what we need to understand ourselves and our lives.

Musical Interlude

Not sure why, but The Marvelettes' hit song Destination Anywhere is speaking to me right now.  Enjoy!

If you want to know more about Hotevilla

Final Message from Hotevilla by Hopi Eldest Elder Dan Evehema
Truth of a Hopi: How Hotevilla and Bakabi were founded
Wikipedia: Hotevilla-Bacavi

Next up: Tuba City, Navajo Nation

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