“New ways of seeing can disclose new things. Do new things make up for new ways of seeing?” (p. 17)
William Least Heat Moon’s excursion reflects his appreciation for tradition and the purity of the past. His odyssey reflects his Indian heritage and the corrupting influence of modern technology. Heat-Moon takes a circular journey around the country. By traveling this circular path and subconsciously following his Indian heritage routes, William Least Heat Moon symbolically returns to his childhood, to his soul, to his origin, to himself, and his people.
He travels the Blue Highway towns, the “don’t blink or you’ll miss it towns,” where people live the old-fashioned way of life. Completely frustrated with trying to cope with recent personal and emotional loss in his life, Heat-Moon takes a quest to take control of his destiny. He realizes that the precious fragility of nature has been camouflaged and destroyed by modern-day chaos and “advances.”
Getting in touch with his childhood enabled him to experience his Native American heritage.
Heat-Moon at-Moonf this heritage; a culture that respected the earth and appreciated all that nature has to offer. He decided to begin his journey in the spring, a time of rebirth. Just before beginning his journey, he admired an undulating W-shaped configuration of the geese migrating northward. He decided to start his quest at the beginning of the new season, “darkly, with neck stuck out.”
The Native American culture, so aware and grateful for the natural environment, would consider modern culture to be full of chaos and destruction.
Everywhere that Heat-Moon went, he observed and treasured the existence of nature all around him. He took time along the way to observe birds and small animals. Heat-Moon suffered the tyranny of highway traffic and the chaos every time he approached a city, but felt joy when going to the remote blue highway towns. For example, in Gainsburrow, he made the following notes of relief: “No interstate refugees with full bladders and empty tanks; no wild-eyed children just released from the glassy cell of a station wagon back seat; no long hall truckers talking in CB language.” On his way to Darlington, after traveling on a highway for a while, Heat-Moon sighs with relief after getting back to quiet, remote country roads. “I escaped the damn nation-passing station wagons full of beach balls and babies.” He appreciated smelling cattle instead of carbon monoxide, now driving instead of being driven.
At Sandy Creek reservoir, Heat-Moon tries to find his grandfather’s mill. Tracing his heritage, he discovers the Indians who once lived next to the reservoir thrived with plentiful fresh water, meat, berries, and protection. Looking over the water area now Heat Moon sees dried-up, industrialized land. “Now you can’t put as much as a fishin’ line from the bank in that lake legally.” Later that night in the same town, where a policeman asked his name, Heat-Moon only told the officer the truth because he figured he had already run the license plate of his truck. “I started to say, Standing Bull – some Indians believed that to give your name is to put yourself in a stranger’s power.” If only the stranger did not have that dominating power over him. “Before I fell asleep again, I remembered the red men who walked backward and brushed out their tracks so no dead soul could follow.” The land was now so supervised that there was no wondering by yourself. The old Indian ways would not work now.
Throughout his journey, Heat-Moon meets many people, but perhaps the most influential is a hitchhiker named Author Bakke. He was a simple man “going everywhere, anywhere, nowhere. He belonged to no place, and was at home anyplace.” He was a man of faith, who had a mission to carry out the word of God everywhere that he went. Heat-Moon admires his simplicity and self-sufficiency, and perhaps the reason he shared part of his journey with him is that he could relate to Bakke’s philosophy of life. Bakke Abel believes in spiritual life, rather than a material world. He was on a mission to tell others that “Buying things is an escape. It’s showing what you aren’t. It’s loving yourself.” Bakke reminds Heat Moon of the trappest monk that he met through his journeys, who also lived in simplicity.
“Without too many things around, we have more time” Bakke once said, “his idea is to come away from things, come away from it all.” In the faith and tradition of NavajojoHeat-MoonMoon baths in pure icy water. He was so cold but was comforted with the thought that this is how the Navajos must have felt after a traditional sweet bath and role in the snow. Here at the creek, he meets an old man by the name of Watkins, who shares Heat Moon’s philosophy of life. Hindered by his family, he cannot live as he wants to, free from the corruption of society. Watkins views his grandchildren, the new generation, as already being corrupted by the technological advances of the world. “Great grandkids won’t have anything unless wires come out of it. If I ran an extension cord down my pant leg and let them plug me in then they’d believe that they had a real great-granddad.” Watkin’s “finger-wagging wife” is traveling across the country with him. She is the overpowering link to modern-day advances and expectations of society. If he could, he would travel as Heat-Moon does, carefree and appreciative of nature with only the essentials in his vehicle. Yet, his camper has everything one would ever need. Watkins is not even allowed to call his dog “White Fang,” instead his wife makes him call it “Bill”, which is an acceptable name. His wife is full of injunctions and accuses her husband of wasting sunshine years doing nothing productive. The wife, controlling and overpowering, symbolizes modern society. Just like Heat-Moon on the highway, Watkins wasn’t driving, he was being driven.
William Least Heat Moon experienced a renaissance journey of identity, a quest that was essential for him to continue living. Joulivinging into childhood he met all types of people and saw the influence technology had on them. Some people found it destructive, like Madison Wheeler from Gainsburrow, who was a poor farmer without a desire
for modern tools and machines. His motto was “It’s the doin’ that’s important.” He also encountered people who were dependent on things of modern society, like Watkins’s wife. She did not see the beauty of nature, just the machines around her. He learns that it is rare to appreciate the precious fragility of nature and it is hard to avoid contributing to the corrupt society that has been camouflaged and destroyed by modern-day chaos and advances.”