Posted by: Diane | July 2, 2007

Blue Highways

I just finished reading Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat Moon. Actually, it’s the second time I read it. The first time I was probably about 15 years old and it was a relatively new book. This time, I picked it up at a library book sale for $.50. (I love a good bargain.)

The author taught at the University of Missouri in 1978 and after losing his job and getting a divorce, he set off on a trip around the country driving only on the back highways of America. This book is about his trip, the people he meets, and the insight he gains.

I loved it the first time I read it, and I loved it this time, too. It awakens the wanderlust in me.

…Now that I’ve settled in with a cup of Double Dutch Chocolate coffee, I’d like to share some of my favorite excerpts…

At one point he is looking for Old Ninety Six, South Carolina. Many places he visits simply for their interesting or unusual names. He asks directions of a National Park Service ranger and gets taken on a tour of the “Star Fort” which had recently been acquired by the federal government.

Durham braked, opened the door, and swept in an empty beer can in one motion. “People still think it’s county land. They come here at night and hunt, drink, make out. Even throw a party inside the Star Fort the way they’ve done for who knows how long. All illegal now, of course.”

That’s the federal government for you. But wait, it gets better:

…The Park Service has plans for a visitor center and roads and more restoration. …one day we’ll have pavement so high-heeled ladies and overweight men can tiptoe a few steps to the Star Fort, see something they don’t understand, take a snapshot…and hurry on.

You know, they make it sound like they’re preserving history and natural wonders when the government takes over places like this one. I have a different opinion: they’re controlling history. And if they can rewrite history in the textbooks, they can do it on site, too. Besides that, there is more to history than dates, names and places that laud our grand and glorious government:

A man limped out of the woods. He once lived nearby and had returned for a look…
“We used to fool in them tunnels when we was kids,” the man said. “I’ll tell you, this land seen some times–cockfights, even a duel inside the fort.”…
Durham said quietly to me, “History speaking.”

History overlays history overlays history. Big, little, well-known, obscure, national and local. And it is all of value. One final quote:

“…if the feds ever need NPS land for another purpose–timber, mining–you can bet it will go.”
“Maybe it’s gone already then.”
“Could be, but to a historian, it’s been going since the beginning.”

(Coffee’s gone. More in another post.)


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