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Entries in road trip (321)


Blue Highways: Buckhannon, West Virginia

Unfolding the Map

This post is garbage!  Or, more accurately, it's about garbage.  I hope you don't think it is garbage!  As William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) makes his way back toward the end of his journey, he passes through Buckhannon and notices all the rusting cars and appliances in yards.  It got me thinking about garbage in my life.  What is garbage?  How do we know it?  I don't say I have any answers, but reflections.  If you want to know where Buckhannon is located, this virtual map won't clutter your house!

Book Quote

"At Buckhannon, I drove southwest on state 4.  Beautiful country despite hills clobbered with broken appliances and automobile fragments, which children turned into Jungle gyms.  Should you ever go looking for some of the six hundred million tons of ferrous scrap rusting away in America, start with West Virginia."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 3

East Main Street in Buckhannon, West Virginia. Photo by Tim Kiser and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Buckhannon, West Virginia

This morning I had just sat down to eat breakfast, drink my cup of morning tea (Darjeeling) and read the paper when my wife said "Oh, today's garbage day."  That meant that I had to trundle myself up, gather up the garbage from the kitchen and two bathrooms, drag it out to the trash can and wheel it out to the street, along with the recycling.  Only after that could I sit down and enjoy my oatmeal and tea.

I write about that humdrum little detail because like most Americans, I have a complicated relationship with garbage.  This relationship includes not only making sure that I have the garbage at the curb every Wednesday for the trucks to pick up, but also deciding what is garbage as opposed to things I want to keep.  In my relationships with other people, I've found that garbage is a very subjective term.

We all know garbage, for the most part, when we see it.  Wrappers discarded on the street are a good example of something we might label as garbage.  Stuff that smells is garbage, such as old or spoiled food.  But occasionally, we see something that someone has set on the curb as garbage and find it desirable.  As a college student needing a couch for his dorm room, when I saw a halfway decent one sitting out on a curb, I took it.  Lamps, old televisions or computers, things that in our increasingly throwaway society people discard because it is easier to buy something new than fix the old, often are put out as garbage by some but then taken by others.

Sometimes, things we have that we consider beautiful are considered garbage by others.  I don't know how many times I've been in houses that have what I consider hideous art on the walls.  Why would anyone buy that, I wonder?  What I think would look better adorning a trash can than someone's home might well have special meaning to the person who owns it.

My uncle, a hoarder, gave me a new insight into the junk versus treasure conundrum.  He collected things that he thought would be valuable someday.  His house was literally untidy pathways between piles of stuff.  Most of it was trash.  He collected newspapers because he thought the headlines would be worth something someday.  He collected cheap memorabilia for the same reason.  He had piles of books, usually bad novels or biographies.  I suppose that he thought that someday some of these cheap things would not be readily available, leaving him the sole proprietor of a moment of time and history that people would want to reconnect with, and would want to pay lots of money for that experience.

I'm not saying that he didn't have valuable things.  He had a practically priceless collection of vintage, excellent condition 78 RPM records comprising classical, jazz and pop music dating from the early 1900s up through the 1940s and 50s (someone actually put some on the web, that you can see here).  I desperately wanted to own this collection and make it available to others, but unfortunately he didn't leave the records to me and the family of his surviving brother (my other uncle) took possession of them on my uncle's death.  I can only hope that they made their way into the hands of collectors who will appreciate them, or to a museum or some music foundation that will preserve them, rather than getting thrown in the trash.  He also had some collectible baseball action figures from the 1960s and 70s that were still in their original packaging that might be worth something someday.

My uncle helped me understand the mentality of a next-door neighbor, many miles and many years later.  This neighbor was gay, but in appearances was the antithesis of the stereotypes of gay men.  He dressed like a slob, and lived in a house that was eventually condemned for code violations.  He had been the owner, with a life partner, of an antique store.  When his partner died of AIDS, he closed the store and brought all of the stuff home. Some of it was very nice, such as costume jewelry, vintage clothing, and other material antiques that might fetch a bit money if sold.  Yet it was piled all around his place - with trails between the piles - and not put to any use whatsoever.  Eventually, the city condemned his house and bulldozed it.  My neighbor had managed to liberate most of his stuff from the home, and went to live elsewhere - hopefully somewhere in the country - where he could keep his stuff with less attention from authorities.  What became an empty lot was eventually sold to an Asian immigrant, who built a house that he rents to a Navajo family.

My own house is filling up with stuff.  I'm not a hoarder, but trying to decide what is garbage and what isn't is difficult.  Most of the stuff I have has a memory attached to it that for some reason I am reluctant to part with.  It keeps accumulating, making keeping an uncluttered house difficult.  But I have trouble classifying it as either garbage or someone else's treasure.

In the country, one can drive in rural areas and see rusting hulks of autos, trucks, buses and tractors sitting out in yards on blocks, weeds growing up through the engine, and missing windows because they have been busted in by mischievious kids or elements.  Appliances also sit rusting, unused and unwanted.  Most people associate this type of yard with a "trashy" element.  After all, how can someone not care about the appearance of their home with all that trash around it?  Yet, if you talk to people, you'll find that often they scavenge these items for parts.  That's what I suspect that people in West Virginia, with "some of the six hundred million tons of ferrous scrap rusting away in America," are doing with it.

Lately, trash is making a comeback in the form of "found art."  Enterprising artists take bottlecaps, sea glass, old dominoes and ScrabbleTM tiles, old photos, broken ceramic and crockery, and dated magazine pages and turn them into jewelry or put them into other types of art.  I have bought my wife brightly colored jewelry made in Africa from tightly rolled magazine pages.  I have seen handbags woven from the straps of old seatbeltsDiscarded wire is used to make brightly colored baskets.  I've always heard that "one man's trash is another man's treasure," and these found art objects are making a believer out of me.

I believe that if I see garbage in my life, that's what it is.  If something is cluttering your life, or smelling bad, and hampering your style or causing anxiety, then get rid of it.  Perhaps it's time for me to loosen my bonds to my accumulating stuff, let it go, and hope that my treasure can also be someone else's treasure too.

Musical Interlude

Oscar the Grouch of Sesame Street is the world's foremost lover and proponent of trash.  In this video, called I Love Trash, he sings the praises of garbage.

If you want to know more about Buckhannon

Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce
City of Buckhannon
The Record Delta (newspaper)
Smithsonian Magazine: Buckhannon: The Perfect Birthplace
Upshur County Convention and Visitors Bureau
West Virginia Wesleyan College
Wikipedia: Buckhannon

Next up: Sutton, West Virginia


Blue Highways: Judy Gap, Seneca Rocks and Elkins, West Virginia

Unfolding the Map

Twisty and spine-wrenching roads can often lead to interesting places.  What begins, in this post, as a reflection on winding roads at home leads to the realization and exploration of how two places can engender a feeling of connection and comfort.  All this takes place in the winding mountain roads of West Virginia.  (Note: William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) refers to "Mouth of Seneca" in his quote.  However, the town has since renamed itself "Seneca Rocks," and I use their current name throughout this post.)

Book Quote

"The road, a thing to wrench an eel's spine, went at the mountains in all the ways: up, down, around, over, through, under, between.  I've heard - who knows the truth - that if you rolled West Virginia out like a flapjack, it would be as large as Texas.  Where possible in the mountainous interruptions, towns opened briefly: Judy Gap, Mouth of Seneca, Elkins."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 3

Seneca Rocks, the geological formation for which the town (formerly Mouth of Seneca) is named. Photo by Aneta Kaluzna and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host page.

Judy Gap, Seneca Rocks and Elkins, West Virginia

I grew up in a small Northern California town, and the only way in and out of town is by one of three highways.  Either one drives Highway 20 from Willits over to my hometown of Fort Bragg, or drives Highway 128 from Cloverdale to the mouth of the Navarro River, and then north on Highway 1.  The other access into town was one we never took because we rarely went north.  That route comes south from Highway 101 at Leggett down Highway 1.

These roads run through the Coast Range and therefore, like LHM describes, are enough to "wrench an eel's spine."  Curves, and switchbacks.  Horrible drop-offs into valleys, rivers or oceans.  Rarely can one get enough speed to reach 50 miles per hour safely except on the occasional straight stretch that might run for a quarter mile or so.  While only 35 miles, it could easily take 45 minutes to an hour to traverse the distance between Willits and Fort Bragg.  Highway 128 was about 75 miles from Cloverdale to the coast, but the 35 mile stretch between Cloverdale and Boonville is one of the worst stretches of twisty road I've ever driven, until it flattens and becomes more straight in the Anderson Valley and along the Navarro River.

When I visited Appalachian Kentucky for the first time in my mid-twenties, and drove through the mountains of West Virginia in my late twenties and early thirties, I felt like I was home.  The roads twist and turn and often reminded me of stretches along Highways 20 and 128.  The sheer drop offs over valleys, like that of the New River, and the way that the curves stretch short distances into driving odysseys, made driving those areas an exercise in the awakening of memory.  Had I grown up in Appalachia I most likely would have gotten car sick fairly regularly in the first few years of my life, just like I experienced in my youth in Northern California.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that my biological mother's family was from a mountainous area of West Virginia!  I was recently talking to someone who posed the theory that we are a product of the places where we were raised, and that our connection to place might even be lodged in our genetic material.  Given the feeling of comfort that I had when in Appalachia, particularly in the pace of life, the people, the mountains and the natural beauty, I can almost believe in a genetic attachment.  How could I have felt so much at home there if some kind of genetic connection had not been passed through generations to my biological mother and then to me?

You may disagree, Littourati.  The similarity of the area may only have awakened deep-seated longings for home.  The mountains may have simply reminded me of the mountains surrounding my home town.  The way of life in rural areas may not be much different regardless of the region or area, and the people may have similar ways of looking at things.  I grew up in a blue-collar town, and a lot of Appalachian towns are mining towns and therefore blue-collar also.  Blue-collar people simply have a similar outlook on life regardless of where they are.

And you might be right.  But whether it is a genetic connection, or just reminders of home, I felt something driving through those mountains.  That feeling of home, whether I am in Northern California or 3,000 miles away in West Virginia, taught me that I never have to be homesick if I don't wish to.  Each time I am by an ocean, or even a large lake, I can find things that remind me of my beloved Pacific.  I was especially surprised to find such similarities once while driving along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  Whenever I am in mountains, memories of my youth come flooding back, and I am always ready to explore a gulch, valley or holler, and to sit and dip my toes in a creek, stream or river.  The vegetation and animal life may be a little different, but I find that my connection always has to do with the feeling of the place, not the specifics.

I remember that my wife and I went to visit some friends in Hazard, Kentucky before we were married.  It was a late afternoon and I was sitting on a porch of a house that looked very much like the cabin where I spent my summers in my youth.  I used to sit on the deck by our cabin in the late afternoon, listening to the ball game or maybe the lonely wail of the approaching train from Willits.  The sun, as it lowered in the sky, shone through the leaves of the oak trees that bordered our deck.  The light diffusing through the leaves gave them a brilliant green hue that often struck me dumb with amazement.  I also remember the scent of the afternoon forest, the music of the river over its rocks, the soft rustle of the leaves as they in a late afternoon breeze, and the sound of insects that pervaded throughout.  My father, often very Buddha-like as he sat in shorts, bare-chested, with me on the deck sometimes would say "Listen, Michael.  Listen to the trees.  They are telling you something, if you just listen."  On that day in Hazard, Kentucky, in the late afternoon, I had the same kind of feeling and I smelled a similar scent in the forest.  The breeze through the trees, and the sun shining through the leaves, was very similar to that of home.  Even the insects seemed to sing the same song.

I told my friends to be quiet, and listen to what the trees were saying.  They thought it was weird, and soon went back to chatting.  I just smiled, and enjoyed a warm and familiar feeling, because I knew what the trees were saying...

Peace, they rustled, as the sun slowly sank behind the mountains.

Musical Interlude

I always liked this song, Peaceful Easy Feeling by The Eagles, though the subject of the lyrics is a little off the topic of the post.  I used to imagine lying with a girl under those same trees I described, in the afternoon sun, looking up at the brilliant green leaves offsetting with the brilliant blue sky, amid the dappling of shadows and sunlight on the ground.  I thought that there could be nothing more romantic.

If you want to know more about Judy Gap, Mouth of Seneca and Elkins

City of Elkins
e-WV: Judy Gap
The InterMountain (Elkins newspaper)
Virginia Wind: Seneca Rocks
Wikipedia: Elkins
Wikipedia: Judy Gap
Wikipedia: Seneca Rocks (geological formation)
Wikipedia: Seneca Rocks (town

Next up: Buckhannon, West Virginia


Blue Highways: Franklin, West Virginia

Unfolding the Map

The New Year has begun, and William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) finds the power in a circle - the circle of his trip, the circle of life.  I will explore and reflect upon how our passages in seeming straight lines are really circles, and how this New Year is yet another segment on the circle of our own journeys through life.  To see where Franklin is located, please see the map

Book Quote

"After a small meal in the Ghost, I marked on a map the wandering circle of my journey.  From the heartland out and around.  A blue circle gone beyond itself.  'Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle,' Black Elk says.  'Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were.  The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.'

"Then I saw a design.  There on the map, crudely, was the labyrinth of migration the old Hopis once cut in their desert stone.  For me, the migration had been to places and moments of glimpsed clarity.  Splendid gifts all."

Blue Highways: Chapter 10, Part 2

The Potomoc River in Franklin, West Virginia. Photo by Doctor Flowers and hosted at City-Data. Click on photo to go to host site.

Franklin, West Virginia

As we start this new year, with its promise of new beginnings and fresh starts, it is easy to look back at the trajectory that our lives have taken and reflect upon them.  In my previous Blue Highways post I did some of that reflection by examining the past year.  As one gets older, it becomes more commonplace to reflect on longer periods of time in the past.  As a child and young adult, my capacity for reflection beyond what I had experienced a day, or maybe a week at most, in the past was fairly limited.  As I have just reached the completion of my 49th circuit around the sun, I find that I am spending more time in reflection deeper into my past.

One of the themes of Blue Highways has been that of circles.  A person's journey through life has been described in the book as a series of setting out on journeys, and then circling back to the origin.  Nothing, it seems, ever is a simple trip from point to point.  Most of the time we set out somewhere, we return, giving our lives a circularity that we rarely notice.  We go to work, and then return.  We set out on shopping trips, and then come back home.  My sense is that if we mapped people's short and long journey's the result would resemble the drawings I did as a young person with Spirograph plastic wheels.

Circles so dominate our existence that we barely even think about it.  We live on a spherical planet that is essentially a series of circles increasing from infinitely small to the maximum diameter of our planet and then decreasing back to infinite smallness.  That planet rotates, meaning that we essentially make a complete circle once every 24 hours.  That sphere travels in a roughly circular orbit, with other spheres, around a spherical sun. The sun itself travels with other stars on the outer arm of a spiral galaxy in a circular path around the galaxy's center.  The universe itself may be spherical, originating in time and space at the center in a titanic explosion and expanding outward like a big bubble.

If we look at our journey through time, over the course of our lives, then once again we have a circle.  LHM quotes Black Elk, but Black Elk was not the first to notice this circularity.  The seasons, following a cycle determined by the circular travel of the earth around the sun, prescribe a rotation through time as fall changes to winter, winter goes to spring, and then spring turns to summer, and summer goes back to fall.  Life moves in a circle as well, with the smallest creatures serving as food for larger creatures, and so on up the food chain, until death makes even the largest creatures food for smaller creatures, and even some of the smallest living beings.  Water moves in a circular pattern as well, from oceans to rivers, streams and lakes and back to oceans - with some taking a side trip through our bodies before it is purified back through the ecosystem into the circle again.

Some of our earliest religious symbols were circles.  Life itself follows a circular pattern.  It is easy to see life as being a line from birth to death, but long before Black Elk spoke about life's circularity the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible warned people that "from dust we came and to dust we shall return."

If our life indeed prescribes a circle then it stands to reason that my past year is just one little stretch along the rim.  When I think about how my life might fit this model, I realize that all of the little circles of life that I have taken have still moved me forward.  My little circles to and from work and back home have worked toward moving me forward in my career, as well as helping me save resources that may lead to the purchase of a house in 2013.  My trips to and from the classes I have taught have given me a greater understanding of my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, and will ensure better classes for my students in the future.  My writing in Littourati, while moving in a seemingly linear fashion through On the Road and Blue Highways, has taken me on a circular path between the past and the present, over and over, especially in my more reflective posts.

As LHM looks at the map of his journey, and you can also look at the whole map here, he realizes that his journey is not only circular but also resembles the circular maze of migration that is part of the Hopi mythology.  The Hopi believe that starting in the First World, and into the current Fourth World, the clans of humanity have continually set out, come back together, and then disbanded again over and over in a repeating pattern.  The sequence and cycle of togetherness and harmony followed by separation and discord seems to encompass most of our experience of life.  These past holidays, I noted how U.S. families, no matter how difficult their relations with each other, keep coming back together at certain times of the year and usually always around the Christmas holidays.  Sometimes these gatherings can be harmonious, at other times they can be full of dysfunction and pain.  Yet something keeps drawing us through that particular circle year after year.

I celebrate the circles in life, but realize that these circles will bring me forward through joy, and occasionally backwards through pain, melancholy and remembrance of things that I wish would stay in the past.  Yet I can't help but move forward.  When people have wished me a happy new year in the past few days, I thank them but am very aware that some of it will be happy, some of it will be sad, but all of it will move me forward on my own circular life journey.  And that is as it should be.

Musical Interlude

Rodney Crowell's song Dancin' Circles Round the Sun, encapsulates the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epictetus who argued that we should not worry about the things that we can't control.  When people try to exercise too much control over life, things get out of balance, and as we all know a circle out of balance, such as a wheel, can cause a bumpy ride.


If you want to know more about Franklin

Guide to Pendleton County
Wikipedia: Franklin

Next up: Judy Gap, Seneca Rocks and Elkins, West Virginia


Blue Highways: Stanardsville, Virginia

Unfolding the Map

At the close of 2012, I will use this post to reflect on the past year.  William Least Heat-Moon (LHM), toward the end of his trip and as he traveled through Stanardsville, reflected on what his trip had accomplished.  Usually we accomplish quite a lot that we don't give ourselves credit for, and overemphasize our failures and shortcomings.  Not this time, Littourati.  Not this time.  To the right is the Virginia State Seal, found on Wikimedia Commons.  To see where Stanardsville awaits the New Year, go to the map.

Book Quote

"I went up U.S. 33 until the rumple of hills became a long, bluish wall across the western sky.  On the other side of Stanardsville in the the Blue Ridge Mountains, I stopped in a glen and hiked along Swift Run, a fine rill of whirligigs and shiners, until I found a cool place for lunch.  Summer was a few days away, but the heat wasn't....

"....In a season on the blue roads, what had I accomplished?  I hadn't sailed the Atlantic in a washtub, or crossed the Gobi by goat cart, or bicycled to Cape Horn.  In my own country, I had gone out, had met, had shared.  I had stood as witness."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 2

Greene County Courthouse in Stanardsville, Virginia. Photo by Calvin Beale and posted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

Stanardsville, Virginia

As I write this post, it is New Year's Eve 2012.  The time of year often entails a look forward at the coming year, and even resolutions for what one hopes to accomplish.  However, on New Year's Eve media often spends time looking back at the year's accomplishments, failures, events, and the people that have passed on.  We can see from the quote above that as LHM is the end of his own journey, he also takes a look behind him to tally up his own accomplishments on his travels.

It is curious that he begins with a list of those things that he didn't accomplish, and one could read this as his admission that his trip wasn't important.  After all, instead of crossing "the Gobi by goat cart," he went out.  Instead of bicycling "to Cape Horn," he met.  Rather than sailing "the Atlantic in a washtub," he shared.  Above all, he had "stood as witness."  To what?  To his country certainly, but also to himself.

As I look back at my own journey in this past year, not necessarily through space but definitely through time in the form of days that make up a year, I can ask myself the same questions.  What did I do?  And my list isn't that exciting.  I worked.  I made a trip or two.  I hung out with friends sometimes, and I spent a lot of time alone.  The three major accomplishments that I can list are the following: With a colleague, I got a paper published in a major political science journal; I wrote roughly 118 posts in Littourati for a word count of around 120,000 words; I made great strides in my own personal development through a combination of therapy and self-reflection.  I watched all the episodes of the old Star Trek.

I am currently reading a memoir of Istanbul by the great Turkish writer and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk.  He identifies a melancholy, which he labels with the Turkish word huzun, that Turks collectively have when they consider Istanbul.  All around them are the reminders of the glories of the Ottoman Empire, in particular the crumbling houses and palaces of Ottoman princes.  Turks, after the last political remnants of the Ottoman Empire had been swept away under the Westernizing zeal of Ataturk, could not simply forget that they had once been a great civilization.  The reminders were there to see.  Sure, they could look forward to the accomplishments of a modern, Western and dynamic society.  Indeed, Turkey has positioned itself as an economic and political player in the 21st century.  But Pamuk points out that the melancholy weight of the past still hangs on the coattails of Turkish society.

As I look back on my last year, I could look at it with the same melancholic air, and in keeping with Pamuk's concept of huzun, I'm most likely not the only person who does this.  There were so many things I could have done.  What about those things that I might have accomplished.  I wanted, for example, to take up some sort of hobby, to learn how to bead necklaces and earrings for example, as a reflective and creative enterprise.  That didn't happen.  I had hoped to begin running again and didn't even begin.  I wished to even do some mundane activity, but very necessary, like organizing and cleaning our house.  I couldn't get a handle on it, and didn't even know where to begin.  I wanted to write more in my field of political science.  The list could go on and on if I let it.  And like Pamuk's Turkey, the weight of my past accomplishments as well as the expectations I had for myself weigh down my thoughts and create a thin veil that blurs the good that I did accomplish this past year.

It's very easy to get caught up in the "would haves," "should haves," and "could haves."  Doing so tempers the thoughts about the new year.  I have ceased making New Year's resolutions because I find that I just disappoint myself if I do so because I never complete them or give up on them.

As I close 2012, and get very close to finishing Blue Highways, it's easy to reflect back on the year and see the things that I didn't do that I wished I had.  It's easy to look back on my life and regret some things I've done, other things that I didn't do, and certainly all of those things that I could have done better.  At the same time, we often give short shrift to that which we accomplished, and those things we accomplished well.  I suppose that's human nature.  We often regret choices and actions taken, and pile up the dead weight of past glories and should-have-beens behind us.

It's true that I didn't achieve a lot of the goals that I set for myself.  But it's also true that I achieved other goals.  As I look back upon my 2012 journey, I realize that the most important thing is that I participated in the process of living.  I lived, not in the sense that I stayed alive but in the sense that I actively participated in life.  That participated included both the joys and the disappointments, the achievements and the failures.  Given the alternatives, I think my year went pretty well.

On this New Year's Eve, 2012, my wish for you, dear Littourati readers, is that you also truly lived in 2012, and will continue to do so in 2013 and beyond.  A very happy New Year to all of you!

Musical Interlude

Even though it's from 1988, and references that year, this song by Abba, Happy New Year, has lyrics that fit the post.  Enjoy!

If you want to know more about Stanardsville

Wikipedia: Stanardsville

Next up: Franklin, West Virginia


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