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

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Entries in map (10)


Blue Highways: The Ending

Unfolding the Map

It's the end of the road for our Blue Highways adventure.  Even though the book ends with William Least Heat-Moon gassing up Ghost Dancing at New Harmony, Indiana for the final run to Columbia, Missouri and home, we know that he made it because he subsequently wrote other books.  Thank you, all of you Littourati, for reading my posts during my 2½ year journey through the book.  I'll be back in a few weeks with my next mapping project, whatever that may be!  In the meantime, here is the completed Blue Highways map!

Book Quote

"The circle almost complete, the truck ran the road like the old horse that knows the way.  If the circle had come full turn, I hadn't.  I can't say, over the miles, that I had learned what I had wanted to know because I hadn't known what I wanted to know.  But I did learn what I didn't know I wanted to know....

"....The pump attendant, looking at my license plate when he had filled the tank, asked, 'Where you coming from, Show Me?'

"'Where I've been.'

"'Where else?' he said."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 4

Columbia, Missouri and the end of the Blue Highways. Photo by CosmiCataclysm and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Columbia, Missouri : The Ending

It's with some bittersweet feelings that I begin this post.  On May 17th, 2010 I started this project to map and to explore my thoughts. feelings and emotional reactions to Blue Highways.  The concept remained simple, and followed neatly from my previous explorations into On the Road.  I would map Blue Highways, and write about whatever moved me from the reading.  This would provide a geographical map of Blue Highways, and also a map for me (and whomever else was interested) of my inner emotional geography and thought process.

Little did I know that this project would consume 2½ years, constitute 375 mapped points and 318 posts.  I could have never fathomed that, since I wrote a rough average of 1000 words per essay, I would easily write at least 318,000 words or more.  Nor did I know just what depths of my emotions and my knowledge, and in many cases my curiosity, I would sound in my journey through Blue Highways.

The fruits of my project have been, for me, overwhelmingly positive.  I feel that I've become a better writer and essayist, though I realize that the quality most likely varies from post to post.  I also loved immersing myself so completely into a book.  What the reader has seen in Littourati has been my thoughts and feelings that have been dredged up through William Least Heat-Moon's skillful and polished prose.

Littourati has also become more well-known on the internet.  Someone, I have no idea who, has put a link to Littourati on the Blue Highways Wikipedia page.  I've received the occasional comment of support and visits from all over the world.  I can only hope that what I've put down in these Blue Highways posts resonates with readers.  I've also added some additional small embellishments, like the "Musical Interlude" where I insert songs that I believe relate to the posts, photos of the towns and pictures of symbols of the state.

I'm very thankful to William Least Heat-Moon for writing Blue Highways and providing me with so much inspiration.  If he knows about Littourati and my efforts to map his book, I hope he approves.  I have never meant to diminish Blue Highways, but to celebrate it, and I hope that is evident.

My life's journey has progressed in the time since started mapping Blue Highways.  My job has changed, I'm buying a house for the first time, and there have been numerous joys and heartbreaks that I've experienced.  In other words, life has occurred.  One thing that has helped me through these ups and downs has been knowing that 2-3 times a week, I had posts on Blue Highways to do.  You, as the reader, have come along with me through some of those ups and downs, just as I have accompanied William Least Heat-Moon, circa 1980 or so, on his journey.  I don't know if I feel I've come full circle, because like he writes, I didn't know what I wanted to know.  That's been my joyful discovery during this process - those things I didn't know that I wanted to know.

What will I do, now that Blue Highways is over?  First, I have some unexpected, pressing personal business to attend to.  Then I must update my knowledge on Google Maps because its version has changed during my Blue Highways effort and I want the next project to utilize the latest version.  And finally, I need to pick my new project.  I have three in mind:

  1. Neil Gaiman's American Gods, where I would map the physical and spiritual journey of the main character Shadow (as well as my own feelings on spirituality and religion).
  2. Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days in conjunction with pioneering female investigative journalist Nellie Bly's effort to beat Phileas Fogg's (fictional) record in her around the world effort in the late 1800s, and Elizabeth Bisland's efforts to beat Nellie Bly at the same time as Bly's journey by traveling in the opposite direction.
  3. Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi in conjunction with Eddy Harris' solo trip by canoe down the Mississippi in his book Mississippi Solo.

So many possibilities!  If you have a preference, or a journey that I haven't thought of, please feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think.  I want to be back with my next project in late February.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who has visited this site.  Littourati would be nothing if you didn't visit.  At last count, the average is about 125 unique people per day, and about 231 hits per day.  I still find it astounding that technology allows one to reach so many people now with just a click of a mouse.  As you might have gathered in many of my posts, it's the blessing and curse of modern technology.  But, in this case, I have only found blessings.

Musical Interlude

I will end the Blue Highways posts with a song I just discovered: Eddie Vedder's End of the Road from the Into the Wild soundtrack.  I was leery, given how Into the Wild ends, but the lyrics really fit the end of Blue Highways.

If you want to know more about Blue Highways or William Least Heat-Moon

William Least Heat-Moon has written many other fine books since Blue Highways.  I was enchanted by PrairyErth, an in-depth look at Chase County, Kansas.  He also wrote another road travel book called Roads to Quoz, and a water-travel book called River Horse.  Please consider reading more from this accomplished author.

Audio interviews with William Least Heat-Moon
Booknotes interview with William Least Heat-Moon
In Depth with William Least Heat-Moon
Onpoint interview with William Least Heat-Moon
University of Missouri Museum of Anthropology: Ghost Dancing (the Blue Highways van)
Wikipedia: William Least Heat-Moon
WorldHum interview with William Least Heat-Moon

Next up: Wherever the Journey Takes Us!


Littourati News: Literature Genre Map

Maps don't have to be representations of physical spaces.  Maps can locate places in all sorts of spaces.  Here is a map of genres, which places various novels in space according to their types.

Click here to see Book Country's Genre Map.

Michael Hess


Littourati News: Maps of Neil Gaiman's American Gods

Every so often I run across geographical maps of literature.  I recently read Neil Gaiman's American Gods and thought it might make an interesting Littourati topic, perhaps after I finish Blue Highways in the very near future.  In doing some possible advance work on locating some of the place names, I came across Renata Sancken's geographical mapping of Gaiman's book.  The fact that she has done it already wouldn't deter me from mapping it myself because, if you've read Littourati, my projects aren't just about the mapping of literature, but also the geography of my own thoughts and feelings as I read the literature.  I think that Ms. Sancken has made an impressive effort to map American Gods despite the fact that Gaiman intentionally obscured some of the locations in his book, and thought I'd share it with you.

Click here to see Renata Sancken's Only the Gods are Real: A Tribute to Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

Michael Hess


Blue Highways: Fall River, Massachusetts

Unfolding the Map

Fall River, Massachusetts is where William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) tends to get lost.  As we're driving around with him in Ghost Dancing, trying to figure out our bearings, I'll write about how I usually have good directional sense, but how one city in New Mexico seems to confound my sense of place.  If you want to try to make sense of the maze of Fall River, get lost in the map.  The image at right, the black-capped chickadee, is the Massachusetts state bird.  It was drawn by Pearson Scott Foresman and is from Wikimedia Commons.

Book Quote

"Fall River, Massachusetts, is chiefly memorable for me as the factory city I have never driven through without losing the way.  Once there - predictably, inexplicably, and utterly - I am confounded by the knots of concrete.  So, that day, entangled again, it was like old times."

Blue Highways: Part 9, Chapter 5

Downtown Fall River, Massachusetts. Photo by Marc N. Belanger and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Fall River, Massachusetts

LHM's Fall River is my Santa Fe.

Let me explain that.  I agree with LHM.  There are certain places where the laws of chance do not seem to apply.  I have written about getting lost before, but usually when I've been a place once I don't forget it.  For example, my parents had a little phobia about driving down in the San Francisco Bay Area.  They were rural Northern Californians in a town with, at the time, one stoplight.  Yet every so often we would have to drive south to the Bay Area.  Freeways with multiple on- and offramps were difficult for them to negotiate.  They didn't have many familiar landmarks.  They needed directions to be spelled out for them very minutely.  If they strayed off the beaten path, even getting off the freeway one exit too soon, they were soon completely, hopelessly lost.  Tensions rose in the car when we drove to the Bay Area.  I think that my parents were convinced that if they made a mistake, we all might end up missing or dead.  Nobody breathed normally, or felt safe, until we reached our destination.

In other words, the Bay Area was a maze that they had to negotiate.  As in a maze, one step off the true path could be their undoing, leaving them wandering in an unfamiliar and terrifying terrain that at best would be purgatory, and at worst a horrible hell.  If that meant they had to drive 45 miles an hour to make sure that they didn't miss an exit, so be it.

Fortunately for them, I had a very good memory.  If I had driven the way once, I could remember how to get there again.  They doubted me at first and didn't listen to my suggestions, but eventually they saw I was right and would ask me if they didn't remember themselves.

That ability to remember the way has stood me in good stead over the years, especially when it came to the Bay Area and along the California coast.  I also seemed to have good map memory, so that if I looked at a map and memorized the route on the map, I could usually figure it out with a minimum of hassle on the road.  The road signs were key - if they were missing then all bets were off - but I could still usually figure out the route even if there was a bit of trouble like that.  Of course, it always helped that I had the ocean within sensing distance on the west side of me.

I remember the first time that I really found myself turned around and having trouble figuring out where I was and what direction I should go.  I was, ironically, in a city laid out upon a pretty well-defined grid.  I had just moved to Milwaukee, and I think that without the ocean to orient me I was confused.  Milwaukee's grid runs pretty predictably north-south and east-west.  The north-south streets are all numbered, and Lake Michigan lies on the east side of the city.  But as I stood in a section of the inner-city, looking at street signs, I was briefly lost.  My difficulty may have been attributable to the fact that it was the first time that I ever had lived anywhere outside of California up to that point in my life.  Or, it may have been due to the unease I experienced in living in what was considered a sketchy, if  not dangerous, neighborhood.  But for the first time in my life, I really felt lost, and it seemed that something that defined me, my unerring instinct for direction, had abandoned me.

I recovered, but I was shaken.  I wondered if that was what it felt like to be truly lost?  I think that being lost isn't necessarily a bad thing if one knows that one has resources to find oneself.  But to be hopelessly lost, where one has no resources - THAT is the loneliest feeling in the world.

Now, I'll come back to Santa Fe.  I'm never really lost in Santa Fe.  It's just that I have never understood the city.  It follows no comfortable grid.  There are a couple of main streets that lead into the city from the interstate, but once you get away from those streets, it becomes more difficult to orient yourself.  Roads and streets meander back and forth.  If I lived there, these meandering ways might be fun to explore, but usually I am driving up from Albuquerque and have to be at a place at a certain time.  It has taken me eight years and countless trips for me to be comfortable enough to know my way to the main plaza, to the museums on Museum Hill, and maybe one or two other places.

As LHM says, however, the chance for me to become "predictably, inexplicably and utterly" lost is high.  At least it's not "hopelessly" lost.  In this case, it's simply an annoying lost.  But annoying is bad enough, especially when you're in a very small city and therefore which should be easy to understand and easy to get around.  I've come to think of it as a mental block that I have, and that my self-talk, operating in the background, sabotages me.  Or maybe I just like to complain about Santa Fe and the universe conspiring against me and I doom my chances to know the city streets before I even begin.  All I know is that it's damn frustrating!

Musical Interlude

I found a song entitled Mazes that I liked by a group called Moon Duo.  The lyrics speak of the emotional mazes we often find ourselves in.

Oh, did you know that Fall River is where Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks, and when she saw what she had done she gave her father forty-one?

If you want to know more about Fall River

Battleship Cove
City of Fall River
Fall River Chamber of Commerce
Fall River Herald News (newspaper)
Fall River Historical Society

Next up: Newport, Rhode Island


Littourati News: Google Map of Mark Twain

If you read my posts regularly, you know that I am a fan of Mark Twain.  Recently, I was made aware of a Google Map that maps significant events in Mark Twain's life.  The map was created by Terry Ballard for the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut.  Mr. Ballard wrote me about it after visiting Littourati.  Have fun exploring Mark Twain's life interactively!

Mark Twain's America Map