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Entries in William Trogdon (145)


Blue Highways: Fort Klamath, Oregon

Unfolding the Map

On this day of remembrance for the heroes and martyrs of September 11, 2001 I do a reflection on where the United States has gone since that tragic day and where it might go.  The opinions expressed are mine only.  William Least Heat-Moon's (LHM) quote is used only as a path to my own reflections.  I do not discuss much about Fort Klamath, but offer some links below for your information.  Feel free to leave a comment whether you agree or disagree with me, but regardless, let's honor the innocent victims of a horrible act of terrorism.  Here's a map to locate Fort Klamath.

Book Quote

"I don't know whether Oregonians generally honk horns or whether they had it in for me, but surely they honked. Later, someone said it was part of the 'Keep Moving, Stranger' campaign. I turned off into the valley at the first opportunity, an opportunity numbered route 62 that ran to Fort Klamath....

"....I stopped at a wooden cafe....In front sat an Argosy landcruiser with an Airstream trailer attached; on top...was a motorboat and on the front and back matched mopeds....I stood amazed at this achievement of transport called a vacation.

"A man with a napkin tucked to his belt came out of the cafe. A plump woman...watched from the cafe.

"'What's up, chum?' the man said.

"We went inside, and I heard the woman whisper, 'His type make me nervous.'

"....I got reviled by people who could afford life at six-miles-per-gallon....After all, they read the papers, they watched TV, and they knew America was a dangerous place."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 1

Historical photo of Fort Klamath. Photo at Legends of America. Click on photo to go to site.

Fort Klamath, Oregon

The quote today is a long one, and I had to do some manipulating so that it wouldn't be too long.  The reason I chose to have such an extensive quote has something to do with the importance of this day, September 11, to many of us.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was getting ready to head from my home on Grand Route St. John in New Orleans to the University of New Orleans to teach my class.  I was a graduate student, and as I ate and listened to National Public Radio, I heard the announcer say that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers.  Curious, I turned on the television, thinking that I would see that a small plane, such as a Cessna, had flown into the side of the building.  The flames and smoke from the tower immediately told me that something much bigger had hit the building.  Like everyone else, I watched in rapt fascination as yet another plane hit the second tower, and when I tore myself away and went to school, I heard in the car that yet another plane had hit the Pentagon and a fourth plane had crashed in Pennsylvania.  At that point, the announcers were reporting that the United States was under attack through acts of terrorism.  At school, I fielded a call from a young woman who was terrified and did not want to come into class because she was afraid that terrorists might get her.  I excused her from class, and told her not to worry because terrorists usually attack large crowds or very well-known symbols.  Somehow, I knew that day that everything would change.

I was heartened when the world, in the aftermath of the attacks, turned out in force to support the United States.  My heart swelled when I read that so many peoples from so many other countries were expressing solidarity with the U.S. and, in the headline of the French paper Le Monde, "We Are All Americans."  Perhaps, I thought, the United States will use this opportunity to forge new bonds of friendship, cooperate with other nations, and work together with them toward a common, peaceful and prosperous future that we all seek.

But, it was not to be.  The people of the United States turned inward in fear of other terrors out there, and outwardly, the U.S. took a belligerent stance, striking out wherever it smelled the whiff of terrorism.  First it was Afghanistan.  I watched the cheers of a crowd at a prison rodeo in Louisiana when it was announced that the first cruise missiles had launched into Afghanistan.  Then, it was Iraq.  Our leaders seemed to have a lineup of countries that they planned to invade in preemptive moves to bring democracy.  Studying political science, I knew that tearing down nations and rebuilding them was hard work and could be impossible under certain conditions.  I was saddened to see the U.S. reputation suffer, and all the goodwill from most other nations dry up and blow away.

I have also watched as the U.S. has become a nation that seems to be increasingly looking without and within for enemies.  A column by Cal Thomas that I read in my local paper on September 9th, 2011 exemplifies this fear.  Thomas writes that Americans must observe 9/11 because it is a constant reminder of the countries and entities out there that "hate us," and that are "plotting to attack us again...and again." In the ten years since the terrorist attacks, American citizens are subject to new rules and regulations designed to keep them safe, but which have increased the powers and latitude of our country's law enforcement and military forces.  The U.S., in conducting its war against terror, has appeared to compromise some of the very ideals of democracy itself by profiling based on race and religion, capturing and renditioning suspects, using enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, and denying prisoners accused of terrorism basic rights under national and international law.

Why does all of this come to my mind with the above quote?  Feelings of being hated and persecuted are woven into the deepest and earliest fabric of this nation.  The original settlers arrived in North America with very recent memories of political and religious persecution in the Old World.  Even though the South was persecuting a significant portion of it population through slavery, the South always made the argument that it was the persecuted party.  Today, a white majority facing the possibility that it will not be a majority within a decade or two, now claims that it is persecuted by illegal immigrants taking jobs and racial minorities getting taking advantage of social welfare policies.  Businesses claim that they are persecuted by onerous government regulations.  What is overlooked is that often, those claiming the loudest about persecution have been persecutors themselves.

The 20th century international environment cemented in U.S. opinion that there were others out to get us.   Some of the threats were real, some were overblown.  If it wasn't the Hun in World War I, it was the Nazis and Japanese in World War II.  It was the Soviets and Chinese in the Cold War.  The enemies recently have been the Chinese, North Koreans, Iranians, Cubans and especially fundamentalist, Islamic Arabs today.  Supposedly, all of these entities are spending a lot of time and brainpower trying to bring down the United States.

All of this has coincided with a concern that within society, American are not safe.  Children are at risk from pedophiles, women endangered by rapists, ordinary folk by thugs, gangs, or psychotic mass murderers.  At the expense of social programs, enforcement has been stepped up and government has turned over the building and running of prisons to corporations to meet a perceived need to house all the criminals in our midst.  The most popular solution seems to be the notion that everyone needs to arm themselves so that they can shoot back if fired upon.  It's the same idea that drove the violent society of the Old West, with a civilized veneer.  If the United States could be encapsulated in one person, it seems to me that this person would be lonely and afraid, holed up in a house, gun pointing out a slightly opened window and ready to fire at anything suspicious but not quite sure that the house he is in is really all that safe.

Yet we seem to partake in actions that do nothing to increase our safety even if it makes us feel better for a little while.  We look with suspicion on those who are different, and distrust their motives even though we know little about them.  We have marked certain groups and people, in general, as being potentially dangerous and treat them as such.  Thus, every Muslim is a potential terrorist, and anyone who questions this generality is treated by some as at best naive and at worst a traitor.

LHM's quote, above, reminds us that we cannot, as a country founded on ideals of freedoms and rights, succumb to such falsehoods.  After all, LHM was a long-haired guy in a van that invited suspicion and contempt from an older couple, yet he wrote a piece of literature that is beloved by many today.  We invite nothing but polarization in society if we suspect everyone, and as Lincoln very wisely reminded us, "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

E.J. Dionne, also on September 9th, wrote a column that stands in stark contrast to Cal Thomas.  Dionne wrote that we should remember the heroes and martyrs of 9/11 on the 10th anniversary of their sacrifices, but that then we should, as a nation, move on.  He felt that it is dangerous to build a nation's policies around an horrific event in the past at the expense of the pressing problems that it faces in the present or looking toward the future.  He writes that our nation has never been in danger of falling to entities that wish to put a pan-Islamist fundamentalist empire in place.  Instead, we are more in danger from the mistake of not remembering what made the United States great in the first place.

I agree.  9/11 should unite us.  After all, the victims of 9/11 were a cross-section of American ethnicities, religions (including Muslims), political beliefs, and classes.  The terrorists of 9/11 did not warn Muslims to get out of the World Trade Center.  They didn't care.  We were attacked as a unified, diverse and free nation.  If all we learned from 9/11 is to be suspicious of everyone and everything and to always strike before we are struck, then we keep our world dangerous place for ourselves far into the future.  Instead, we should, as good democracies do, learn from our experience and take hard and sober looks at our actions.  We should honor the heroes and martyrs of 9/11 by being wise in our collective decisions and by continuing to uphold our democratic ideals of freedom, rights and justice.  Let's not be the old couple in LHM's quote, convinced completely that the world is a dangerous place, and that others must always be suspected and feared.

Musical Interlude

I was always taken by this version of The Star Spangled Banner, performed by Bruce Hornsby and Branford Marsalis.  Just let it wash over you on this day of remembrance.

If you want to know more about Fort Klamath

Fort Klamath Museum
Oregon Trail
Wikipedia: Fort Klamath
Wikipedia: Fort Klamath (unincorporated)

Next up: Crater Lake, Oregon


Blue Highways: Klamath Falls, Oregon

Unfolding the Map

We cross out of California and into another state, our eighteenth if you're keeping track.  I revisit an old theme about state of mind, particularly the state of being alone.  Go to the map to see where we are, and enjoy some alone time reading this post!

Book Quote

"...then crossed into Oregon, where the Cascades to the west blocked a froth of storm clouds; but for the mountains, I would have been in rain again. A town of only fifteen thousand somehow spread across the entire bottom of a long valley; when I saw the reach of Klamath Falls, I kept going."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 1

Downtown Klamath Falls, Oregon. Photo at the Rowing and Sculling website. Click on photo to go to site.

Klamath Falls, Oregon

There is something very poignant when LHM sees the lights of a small city in Oregon and decides to keep going.  In the long, lonely drive across America that he has completed so far, where he has spent time mostly with himself in Ghost Dancing, I can imagine being a little shy of people.  After all, being alone is not a bad thing.  Alone time, especially for certain people (and I count myself one of them) is a way to recharge one's mental and emotional batteries.  For introverts, just being around a lot of people and activity is work.  It takes emotional energy that can be draining.  Those with the extraversion trait seem to get their energy around other people, and find being alone difficult.

I'm not sure what LHM is like in real life.  Perhaps he is an extravert, and therefore given the circumstance of losing his job and losing his romantic partner, he is in a time where he is simply more inclined to be by himself.  Or perhaps he is an introvert, and this is his way of recharging and healing.

As an introvert, I have been thinking about these types of questions.  I am married to an extravert.  My wife enjoys people and putting herself into the thick society and all its events.  For many, many years I thought that my duty as a husband was to go along, even when I didn't feel like it.  As a result, I found myself getting more unhappy and irritable.  We began to fight more at events as she mingled and I, tired and not happy about being there, seethed in the corner.  It became assumed that I would go to every event and happening, and I bought into the assumptions.

I also snatched at any time alone.  Hiking, driving long distances, even my year-long stint as a visiting professor in Lubbock where I lived alone during the week and then commuted back to my wife in Albuquerque on weekends, were like little oases of sanity to me.  I found myself happier after getting some time to be alone, to be with myself.

Being alone isn't all wonderful.  I must say that I have a very love-hate relationship with being alone.  One thing about being alone is that eventually it makes you reflect on your life, and makes you confront your own inner demons.  I have a few of them, some due to family circumstances in my youth I couldn't control, some due to my own choices and mostly from a negative self-image.  As an introvert, this was difficult because it forced me, even though I had fears of being alone, into social situations that in high doses was difficult for me to maintain. In other words, I had to go to events and activities to stay away from self-loathing thoughts, yet doing too many of those was not the answer for me.

Thankfully, I'm getting past this.  A commitment to a new form of therapy, somatic transformation therapy, has helped.  I am also making a commitment to say what I want and need, especially my need to take time for myself.  This includes allowing myself to be alone.  The demons?  They're still around but save for a couple that pop up regularly, their voices are getting more muted and I can ignore them better than before.  In fact, doing these little essays around Blue Highways has been part of that process.

I want to make a distinction between being alone and being lonely.  Being alone is a choice that one can make.  LHM chooses to remove himself from his circle in Missouri to travel alone around the country.  People can choose remove themselves for a while from the society of people.  However, loneliness is not a choice, it is a feeling.  One can be lonely even in the midst a crowd.  I've felt loneliness as well, and it's never a good feeling.  Loneliness is a lack of connection with others, and not necessarily by conscious choice.  While we all feel lonely sometimes, a persistent and chronic feeling of loneliness can lead to self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.  I'm never happy when I'm feeling lonely, whereas it is possible for me to be happy when alone.

I worry, however, about our ability to get away and be alone.  I think that one can become too engaged.  We may be social animals, but we also need time to ourselves, just like we need to sleep and dream.  Being by ourselves allows us to reflect upon our lives and what's important, and make the adjustments in our attitudes that we need to navigate a life that often throws us surprises.  In a world with a growing population, where more people are moving to cities and people are becoming more and more engaged socially via computers and communication, can we ever truly be alone again?  I walk around with my smart phone, which is always connected to the internet, and I am always within beck and call of someone.  It's becoming harder and harder to disconnect, and harder to find places where one can be truly alone for any length of time.  As more people seek ways to get away, national and state parks and campgrounds are becoming utilized by growing numbers of people.  Even going for a long drive to get away is getting more difficult, as our roads become more and more crowded.  Places that 20 to 30 years ago hardly had any cars now suffer traffic jams.

It's only going to get worse with population growth and as people crowd together in cities by choice or by necessity.  Hopefully, it won't result in a dysfunctional and dystopian society (though some may argue that we are at that point already).  I would like to think that as we become more crowded together, people might actually begin to appreciate their time in solitude.  I hope that such appreciation becomes a means of valuing society, not turning away from it.  Personally, when I flee the lights, I want my flight to be temporary, so that I can come back to society putting a greater value on myself and on others.

Musical Interlude

This song, from the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, is ultimately about being alone, loneliness, and the companions we sometimes don't realize we have.  The song often brings a tear to my eye when I hear it, and this is an especially poignant version sung by the incomparable Bernadette Peters.


If you want to know more about Klamath Falls

City of Klamath Falls
Discover Klamath
Klamath Falls Herald and News (newspaper) Klamath Falls
Wikipedia: Klamath Falls Klamath Falls (blog)

Next up:  Fort Klamath, Oregon


Blue Highways: Tulelake, California

Unfolding the Map

We stop for groceries in Tulelake, California with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM).  That leads me to expound on how I hate shopping. I actually write about that.  It's kind of pathetic, but I also write about tule fog and Japanese internment camps.  It's about all you can do when all LHM does is stop for groceries.  Try the map to see where this last stop in California is located.  Oh, and don't forget to turn on the Led Zeppelin while you read!

Book Quote

"I never found Lookout. In dry and dusty Tulelake, I bought groceries..."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 1

Tulelake Public Library. Photo at the website of the Siskiyou County Library. Click on photo to go to site.

Tulelake, California

I hate shopping - it really doesn't matter what kind.  There are degrees to my shopping hate, however.  Grocery shopping is probably lower on my list of shopping hates than others.  At the top - clothes shopping.  I do it rarely.  If I have to shop for clothes, I make sure I know exactly what I want.  I walk into the mall/department store, go right to a rack that looks like it has something close to what I want, and pick something out.  If I have to try it on, I just want to make sure it fits.  Then, I choose between the two or three items that I have, discard the rest, pay, and get out.  It might me a half hour at most.

I can't go into a store or mall, like many people do, and spend an entire afternoon or day there.  I can't allow myself to try on dozens of items, even stuff that I know I won't get, because it looks interesting or good.  I may go an entire year without shopping for clothes, or longer.  If my mom or wife gets me something that I can make work, I'll wear it until it has worn out.

Grocery shopping is a little different.  At least with groceries, I usually have a list, and I can check the items off the list one by one and see a physical manifestation of my internal misery or boredom counting down.  At least, with grocery shopping, I can see an endpoint to the process.  What constantly rankles me in grocery shopping is when I'm at a store where I'm unfamiliar with where the items are located, or when the store rearranges its offerings.  That adds time.  I actually take time on my first two or three trips through the store to mentally catalog where items are located so that when I come back, I can cut my time at the store down.  I also work out the best routes through the store so that I minimize having to go back to look for something.  I'd rather not grocery shop, but when I must I can live with it.

I've never understood how people can spend so much time in stores and like it!  For me, being in a store is akin to being in a dental office.  I'd just rather be somewhere else, no matter how nice the people helping me are being, no matter how much my comfort is being attended to.

Shopping aside, you may wonder what the name Tulelake actually means.  LHM provides no clue because, probably like I might feel, he simply gets his groceries and gets out of town.  Somehow he missed Lookout, California even though he drove right past it, but there has been a lot on his mind.

The name Tulelake comes from "tule" (pronounced "too-lee") which is a derivative of the Spanish "tulare," and it means a type of grass that grows in the water along the shoreline of a body of water such as a pond or a lake.  California's Tulare County was named after this particular grass, and in fact, Tulare Lake in Central California near Fresno was once the largest freshwater lake in the United States west of the Great Lakes.  I say "was" because a century of irrigation and diverting river flow dried up the lake, which occasionally comes back during periods of high rains and or a lot of runoff out of the Sierras.

I always heard of what they called "tule fog," which is considered a real road hazard down near Fresno.  This thick fog blankets the Central Valley and has been known to cause multiple car pileups on I-5.  In a way, though, I have always missed the fog that I grew up with.  The fog I am familiar with was not the tule fog but rather ocean fog that would settle in over my town often in the early evenings.  Sometimes that fog was so thick you could barely see 100 feet.  I've heard that tule fog is like that, very thick.  Fog has always given me a strange, if cold, sense of comfort.  I've felt enveloped in a protective cocoon when I'm in fog.  I don't get much fog where I live now, in Albuquerque.

One other thing about Tulelake that LHM missed.  It was the site of a POW camp during World War II for Italian and German prisoners of war, and it was the location of a controversial "relocation" camp for Japanese internees.  It was extremely notorious because it was used specifically to segregate Japanese internees who refused to swear loyalty to the United States or who had aroused the suspicions of the US government.  These internees were later sent to other permanent camps in Wyoming and Utah.  Most of the internees were threatened with deportation, but a civil rights attorney who took their cases managed to regain most internees' citizenships.  Notable people interned in the Tulelake War Relocation Center were Pat Morita of Happy Days and Karate Kid fame, and George Takei of Star Trek fame along with other notable artists, musicians, politicians, and athletes.

The forced internment of thousands of American citizens on the basis of their ethnicity and race is unfortunately not new nor isolated.  Every time we are in conflict, we face similar circumstances, whether we are referring to slavery, concentration camps at Andersonville in the Civil War, to mistreatment of prisoners in every conflict up through the so-called War on Terror.  I wish that American values had stopped slavery from happening long before it was abolished, that immigrants over the course of our history were treated better and as potential contributors, not detriments, to the United States, and that we didn't take the easy way out of profiling certain groups within our country as automatic enemies during times of conflict.  I often wish the US lived up to its own lofty ideals.  But, in previous posts, I also wrote that mistakes and flaws, and the realization of them, make people better and stronger and willing to correct them.  I want to believe that the US collectively has learned from past mistakes and used them to become a better nation.  I hope I will continue to be proved right as the US moves through its historical highs and lows.

I don't think that there is a way to tie grocery shopping, tule fog and Japanese internment together in a neat little, inspirational or deep package.  So I won't, and just leave these scattered bits of recollection and reflection as they are.

Musical Interlude

I've been looking for a good place to play this song, and since this is the last Blue Highways post about California, I'll put it here.  Whenever I hear this song, I get a wistfulness about my home state.  It has problems, big problems, and my hometown seems more dangerous with a couple of high profile murders recently.  But it's where I grew up.  When one is young, one dreams a lot...and this song captures my dreamy wisftfulness.  Besides, I like songs in minor keys.  So enjoy Led Zeppelin's live version of Going to California.


If you want to know more about Tulelake

Lava Beds National Monument
Tulelake Chamber of Commerce
Tule Lake Committee
Wikipedia: Tulelake

Next up:  Klamath Falls, Oregon


Blue Highways: Bieber, California

Unfolding the Map

You're not going to find any Justin Bieber jokes in this post.  Nope, we're going to concentrate on volcanoes, because that's what William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) writes about in his quote.  Volcanoes, as you'll learn, are another fascination of mine.  So check out the map, or, if you want to see a 3D rendering of Shasta, go to the Google Earth file!

Book Quote

"North of Bieber, on a whim, I followed the road to Lookout.  In the high valley lay marshes filled with yellow-headed blackbirds, pintails, cinnamon teals, willets, Canada geese.  The highway rose again into another volcanic region.  Mount Shasta, sixty miles west, isolated by its hugeness, haloed in clouds, looked like a Hokusai woodcut of Mount Fuji.  Perhaps it is the immensity of space around Shasta or the abundance of high peaks in the West that diminishes a mountain of such size and perfection in the American imagination, but in almost any other country, a volcano so big and well-made as Shasta would be a national object of reverence - as in fact it once was to the first men who lived under it."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 1

Is this America's Mount Fuji? Mount Shasta. Photo on Jim Liatti's blog. Click on photo to go to site. I couldn't find a decent picture of Bieber.

Bieber, California

Volcanoes.  When I was growing up in northern California, I never realized how close they were to me.  Volcanoes were something that I'd see in the news every so often.  A South American volcano might blow its top, sending ash and steam high in the sky.  Occasionally, footage on TV would show hot, viscous lava oozing from a vent in a Hawaiian volcano.

The fact was that I was living almost in the shadows of volcanoes right in my back yard, and nobody told me.  Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta were both within a 2-3 hour driving distance from my home.  However, because my family never drove further north or east than we had to, I never learned that these were dormant volcanoes.  I thought of them as snow capped peaks somewhere to the east.

This was too bad, because in many ways I was fascinated with volcanoes, in the way that a little boy is always fascinated with things that are hot and fiery and explode.  I was also fascinated with war because of the explosions, air disasters, atomic weapons and other things or events that carried a loud, destructive bang.  The caveat:  they had to be at a distance because, and this applies even now, I don't like loud bangs and this was worse when I was a child.  As long as I could see them on TV where the volume was muted, or read about them in a book, I loved explosions.

So I read avidly about volcanoes around the world.  I learned that the volcano on Krakatoa erupted in what was perhaps the loudest and largest explosion in recorded history, obliterating a good portion of the island, sending a shock wave thousands of miles, and generated a powerful tsunami.  I thrilled reading about the people mummified alive in the volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii.  I watched with fascination as footage on TV and in educational films showed a new island being born off the coast of Iceland.  And of course, I was riveted to the television during high school, watching over and over the footage from Mount St. Helens when it blew its side out in a massive explosion that killed a number of people, sent steam and ash into the atmosphere, caused hot boiling mud to cascade down canyons and rivers, and rained ash upon Portland, Oregon and other cities over a wide area.

Years later, in Albuquerque on a vacation, I realized that the conical projections on the mesa west of the city, and which can be easily seen from where I now live, were in fact the remnants of small, dead volcanoes.  They formed between 150,000 and 100,000 years ago along a fissure in the earth's crust.  As we traveled on that vacation in the state's Jemez Mountains, we chanced upon the Valles Caldera, a huge collapsed-in crater of an extinct supervolcano that measures about 12 miles in diameter.  This volcano erupted last about 50,000 years ago.  South of Albuquerque, near Socorro, the El Malpais lava flows are so recent that the first humans in the area may have seen them still smoking.  Today, the lava flows look like someone took black soft-serve ice cream and dumped it along the freeway where it congealed and hardened.

I was in San Salvador, El Salvador for a month in January 2008, and the city lived under the looming presence of a volcano.  At one point during my trip, I stood on the slopes of the volcano in a coffee growing area and saw steam rising out of vents right by the trail.  I never thought I'd stand on an actual working volcano, but there it was.

Volcanoes are apt metaphors for life.  Our world was forged, almost as if it were a pot, through spinning forces that shaped it into a sphere.  The middle of the sphere is molten, and early on that molten material spewed out and hardened into the earth's crust, which today still is shaped by forces deep within the core.  The world may seem calm, placid and serene, but as the occasional earthquake erupting volcano remind us, deep within the earth is a raging maelstrom that largely supports life but occasionally brings death upon us.

It is telling that the largest known mountain in the solar system, Olympus Mons on Mars, is a volcano.  A thirteen mile high volcano on what appears to be a placid planet surface.

We often speak of people similarly, particularly when it comes to emotions.  Anger can be volcanic.  I tend to be placid on the surface even as emotional storms rage within.  If, like in volcanic activity, pressure builds up inside I may erupt in anger, an outburst that spews the ash and lava of my inner turmoil but which allows me to subside, pressure relieved.  Love has often been described as volcanic in nature, erupting in heat and flame and subsiding again, lying dormant before raging to life again.  Everything in the universe seems to have the face that is shown outwardly and conceals the raging inferno within.  Volcanoes, seen in this way, just give us a glimmer of the truth of what's inside, whether it's the full face of our planet or a human volcano ready to rage, love or both.

Musical Interlude

How can you have a post about volcanoes if you don't have Jimmy Buffett singing Volcano in the background?  You can't!

If you want to know more about Bieber

Big Balley News for Adin, Bieber, Lookout and Nubieber Bieber
Wikipedia: Bieber
YouTube tour of Bieber by Tommy "Kayak" Cox

Next up: Tulelake, California


Blue Highways: Fall River Mills and McArthur, California

Unfolding the Map

A little change today, Littourati!  I usually put the current map in this space in the post.  But I thought it might make more sense to put the map on one of the sidebars.  At any time, you can get to the current map by clicking on the thumbnail at the top of the left sidebar.  Today's post is about mistakes as William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) writes about the importance of error as a gateway to personal exploration, all set in the forgotten (by LHM, at least) towns of Fall River Mills and McArthur.  Remember, to see where they are, explore the map!

Book Quote

"If a man can keep alert and imaginative, an error is a possibility, a chance at something new: to him, wandering and wondering are part of the same process, and he is most mistaken, most in error, whenever he quits exploring.

"...I had driven through Fall River Mills and McArthur, and I couldn't remember a thing about them.  If I were going off on some blue highway of the mind, I should have pulled over."

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 1

Fall River Mills, California. Photo by Roy Latham and hosted at City Data. Click on photo to go to site.

Fall River Mills and McArthur, California

I wrote in my last post that I was going to continue on a certain theme, but given the subject of the quote above, I'm also going to examine a couple of other things as well.  My original intent was to write about the speed at which we can take life.  My point was that, and it won't come as a surprise to most of you, if you careen headlong through life at a fast pace, you can't fully experience life and the things that give it meaning.  In essence, this is my struggle at this point in my own life, and I'm really trying to slow down and give myself the opportunity to enjoy things that I would otherwise have missed.  I feel like I've missed many things.  Like LHM, who drives through Fall River Mills and McArthur and doesn't remember them, I have taken part in various events and happenings and find myself struggling to remember what they were.  Sometimes, I might forget at the end of the week what I had done at the beginning of the week.  That is no way to appreciate life - instead, it only serves to leave one at the end of one's life with no satisfying memories to take with them as they go.

But, LHM puts out a very interesting thesis in his passage that I quote above.  He posits that only through error does humanity give itself a chance to grow.  To repeat, it is our mistakes that make us capable of becoming better people.

Think about that for a moment.  All the mistakes you have made - and I am addressing this to you, all of you Littourati who happen to be reading this - have been opportunities for self-awareness and growth.  Those mistakes include the little mistake that you made in balancing your checkbook or the small error in judgment that caused someone to be angry with you.  They also include the deep, dark mistakes that have made you ashamed, and that may have left some of you questioning at times whether you are, in fact, a good person.

There's are a couple of caveats here, of course.  The first caveat is that once the mistake has been made, you have to be willing to learn from it and act either correct the error or at least make sure it doesn't happen again.  If you balanced your checkbook wrong, then instead of saying "screw it" and living with the anomaly, you figure out what you did wrong and learn ways to avoid doing it again.  If you made an error in judgment, you gain awareness, say "I'm sorry" to the person to whom you must apologize, and recognize how to avoid such situations in the future.  If it is one of those deep dark mistakes, you must explore it, reveal to yourself what lay behind your actions and why you made the bad choice you did, and use it as a springboard to make your amends in whatever way is best.

The second caveat is that you have to recognize that errors are a part of life, that we all make them, that life would be unbalanced without them, and that you have to give yourself some slack because you're the only person capable of doing so consistently.

As a political scientist, I have been trained in the scientific method, a major component of which is being aware of and understanding error.  In science, error is a bad thing, and I'm going against my training when I suggest that errors can be positive.  There are two types of error: those introduced by the experimentor and those that are randomly occurring.  The first type of error is the one that you try to avoid.  The second type of error is deemed to be ever present and you cannot completely erase it.  A scientist tries to minimize the random errors and compensate for those that occur.  An arbitrary number that scientists often use is 95%.  If error can be reduced to plus or minus 5%, meaning that you will get the same result 95 times out of every 100 tests, then you have made your point - there is an excellent probability that you are right.  For example, let's say I theorize that daily head scratching leads to hair loss.  If I test that theory, and find that in at least 95% of cases that daily head scratching correlated with increased hair loss, then I can claim that I have discovered a probable cause of hair loss and recommend that people stop scratching their heads.  If, however, I show that hair loss is only associated with daily head scratching 60% of the time, then I have a much weaker theory. 

The errors that the scientist can control if he or she is careful are those errors that might be associated with the testing.  Using the example of the silly experiment above, perhaps people have a chemical on their fingernails that is what actually leads to the hair loss.  Or perhaps the experiment used people with a baldness gene that would have lost their hair anyway.  These are errors that come about because the scientist hasn't sufficiently thought through his or her theory or experiment.

My training has been all about ways to minimize error.  It's true that randomly occurring errors can be controlled.  We all know that there are effects of our choices and decisions that can't be anticipated.  However, we are going to make errors that had we though a little more, we might have predicted and avoided.  But does that mean errors are completely bad?  There is something to error, to mistakes, that has value.  Imagine a life without error.  It would be pretty boring.  Most of our media would have nothing to report on.  Reality TV wouldn't exist.  Tragedy and comedy would cease to lose their meaning, if they existed at all.  Without error, we would not need to try anything, because whatever we tried would succeed instantly, the first time.  It sounds great, but where's the probability for growth?

A child learns to succeed through trial and error.  We continue that process throughout our lives, discarding efforts that lead nowhere and using them to learn and create other efforts that will succeed.  The success of the human race has been built on maximizing our learning through error.  Nature uses trial and error through the evolutionary process - or if you will, in the Abrahamic traditions God cast out Adam and Eve from Eden because of their errors and we have been making mistakes and redeeming ourselves since.

Personally, I have committed many errors.  I've learned from them all, even if it has been painful to do so.  In the process, I like to think that I become a better person.  I have seen some who steadfastly refuse to learn from their errors - they may even refuse to admit they make them - and so continue making the same errors throughout life.  Such people sow discord and cause pain for families, friends, and relationships in a constantly destructive pattern.  I hope that I am not one of those people.  I believe that I possess the character and the will to admit mistakes and correct them as much as possible.  Those that I don't correct, I also will be doomed to repeat throughout my life.

As LHM observes, to explore is to allow oneself the opportunity to both make mistakes, and to correct them.  It is the ongoing cycle of life, yet another circle to add to the myriads of circles that make up our existences, and I believe it is the reason why we are here.  I can think of no better way to bow out, at the end of my life somewhere in the future, than being able to say to myself and others:  "I made mistakes, I explored why I made them, I corrected them, and I learned about myself."

Musical Interlude

I'm going to out myself.  I've never been a real Elvis Costello fan.  I guess I was never introduced to him when other people were discovering him.  I knew a couple of songs, like Alison, which didn't grab me too much.  But in searching around my collection, I ran across this song by Elvis Costello and the Attractions called Brilliant Mistake.  This YouTube version makes the key sound transposed up one from the original, but it's the lyrics that count.  Enjoy!


If you want to know more about Fall River Mills and McArthur

Fall River Valley Chamber of Commerce
Mountain Echo (Newspaper) McArthur
Wikipedia: Fall River Mills
Wikipedia: McArthur

Next up: Bieber, California