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 renewal (2)


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


Blue Highways: Crater Lake, Oregon

Unfolding the Map

I'm going back to a theme of volcanoes in this post.  When you read it, you'll understand how it fits in with William Leat Heat-Moon's journey of redemption, rebirth and self-discovery.  Now that we've traveled alongside him past three volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest, I'll have to visit them.  View the map to locate the almost perfectly circular Crater Lake.

Book Quote

"Mount Mazama may be the greatest nonexistent fourteen-thousand foot volcano in the country.  Actually it isn't entirely nonexistent: only the top half is.  From the upper end of the Klamath basin, you can still see a massive, symmetrically sloping uplift of the mountain base.  Some six thousand years ago, geologists conjecture, the top of Mazama blew off in a series of ruinous eruptions and the sides collapsed into the interior.

"...I got out and looked around.  A brilliant night.  Trusting more than seeing, I walked through a tunnel in a snowdrift to the craterous rim of Mazama.  There, far below in the moonlight and edged with ice, lay a two-thousand-foot-deep lake.  Klamath braves used to test their courage by climbing down the treacherous scree inside the caldera; if they survived, they bathed in the cold water of the volcano and renewed themselves.  Also to this nearly perfect circle of water came medicine men looking for secrets of the Grandfathers.  Once a holy place, now Crater Lake is only a famous Oregon tourist attraction."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 2

Was this what William Least Heat-Moon saw from the rim of Crater Lake? Photo at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to site.

Crater Lake, Oregon

This post is back to volcanoes, but specifically, about the legends and symbolism that surround volcanoes.  You'll notice in the quote above that LHM writes about Crater Lake as a perfect circle of water, and that it drew both young Klamath men eager to test and renew themselves, and medicine men looking for secrets.  The symbolism of Crater Lake fits well into LHM's own journey, which he previously has described as circles within circles.  He is on a journey of his own renewal, so standing on the rim of the crater is very much in touch with two of the main themes of Blue Highways.

There is also the symbolism of Crater Lake's geological history.  Crater Lake is the collapsed caldera of what used to be Mount Mazama.  About seven thousand years ago, the volcano collapsed in a violent eruption that was fifty times more powerful than the explosion that obliterated the top of Mount Saint Helens in the 1980s.  Some of the accounts I've read have claimed that the ash material from such an explosion could have buried Rhode Island under 61 feet of ash, and if spread over the entire state of Oregon, would have covered it with nine inches of ash.  Volcanoes are always reshaping themselves.  The volcanoes of Hawaii do it in a slow ejection of lava which flows down the side of the volcano and builds it up during frequent eruptions and in slow motion.  However, the volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest such as Lassen, Shasta, and the now extinct Mount Mazama, do it explosively, building up pressure as a magma dome pushes toward the surface and finally explodes outward.  Sometimes, these volcanoes are the seeds of their own destruction.  In New Mexico, where I live, the sides of a volcano in the Jemez Mountains collapsed in on itself numerous times over a million years ago, creating the 12 mile wide Valles Caldera.  2 million, 1 million and 640,000 years ago, the Yellowstone Caldera formed during three supereruptions, and is 34 miles by 45 miles wide.   Similarly, the explosion of Mount Mazama created a caldera 6 miles wide when the sides of the volcano collapsed inward and upon itself.  The caldera eventually filled with water and became Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States at almost 2,000 feet deep.

Why is this symbolic?  I believe that everyone goes through cycles of build-up and destruction, which leads to renewal.  You might have found that themes I'm focusing on, in tandem with LHM, are those like growth and renewal.  Every cycle of growth, it seems, is preceded by some degree of destruction.  Old patterns or outdated views and thoughts need to be discarded or dismantled as the growth process works.  After all, one cannot move toward a future by desperately clinging to the past.  Volcanoes are the ultimate in this type of renewal.  No matter what, they reshape themselves by either covering over their past selves with new material, or by obliterating it.

The first humans in the area of Mount Mazama, not understanding the violent geological forces at work around and beneath them, put their own symbolic explanation upon the catastrophic events that created Crater Lake.  In their explanation, handed down through their legends, the destruction of Mount Mazama was due to a cataclysmic battle between Llao, the Lord of the Below-World and Skell, the Lord of the Above-World. Llao, on one of his frequent forays to the Above-World, saw the daughter of a Klamath chieftain and fell in love with her.  However, being from the Below-World, he was not very attractive and, well, the Below-World was not where the chieftain's daughter had planned to make her home, so she rejected him.  Angry, Llao tried to her people by fire.  They called to Skell for help.

The legend seems to indicate that at this time, both Shasta and Mazama were in eruption, because it describes a titanic battle between Llao, at the summit of Mazama and Skell, at the summit of Shasta.  Huge boulders, red-hot, were thrown by each at the other.  The earth was full of tumult - landslides, eruptions, and other phenomena raged as all the spirits of sky, water and earth joined on one side or the other.  The Klamath people, afraid of what this battle would mean for the world, sent two medicine men to the Mazama volcano and they jumped into the roiling crater hoping that their sacrifice would calm the gods.  This urged Skell on.  In a final push, he overthrew Llao and threw him into the pit of Mazama and back into the Below-World.  He then filled in the hole and covered it with water to seal Llao in for eternity.

I really love how actual geologic events transform into these types of stories by ancestral peoples who are struggling to make sense of cataclysm and catastrophe.  Besides just two gods duking it out over a woman, one can read into this myth the overcoming of dark forces by light, the redemption of a people, or a war between halves of the human whole.  And all of this runs along a chain of common human themes right up into the present day, and therefore fits with LHM's journey and his attempts to renew himself after a time of personal catastrophe.

Off in California and Oregon, two mountains still stand.  One stands high, tall, and silent and perhaps will erupt to life again in a time of upheaval and chaos.  The other stands broken, a shadow of itself, an almost perfect circle of water and a popular tourist attraction as the myths of its origins fade.  They tell a story of a dynamic and sometimes violently evolving world, but they could easily be the stories of ourselves.

Musical Interlude

In keeping with the volcano theme, this song, Cities in Dust by the 1980s band Siouxsie and the Banshees, is about the destruction of the Italian city of Pompeii by the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79.  Volcanoes are fascinating both in their striking appearances and in their striking destructiveness.


If you want to know more about Crater Lake

Crater Lake Facts
Crater Lake National Park
Cultural History of Crater Lake
The Disappearance of Mount Mazama (from 1901)
US Geological Survey: Mount Mazama and Crater Lake
Volcano Legends
Wikipedia: Crater Lake
Wikipedia: Mount Mazama

Next up: Muir Creek and Salt Creek, Oregon