23 October 2012

Blue Highways. A Journey Into America.

When William Least Heat Moon wrote about his travels across 38 states of the United States on secondary roads in 1981, he was documenting aspects of American life that were already disappearing.  Now, thirty years later, even more is gone.  This book was a pleasant read that took me months to finish because of competing interests, but its episodic structure made it easy to put down and pick up again weeks later.

I previously wrote a post about "playing the bones" inspired by a chapter in this book.  Today I won't present a thorough review - just these excerpts of interesting tidbits.
"The saguaro is ninety percent water, and a big, two-hundred-year-old cactus may hold a ton of it—a two-year supply. With this weight, a plant that begins to lean is soon on the ground; one theory now says that the arms, which begin sprouting only after forty or fifty years when the cactus has some height, are counterweights to keep the plant erect."

"It's a peculiarity of history that the milder tasting grades [of maple syrup] are the most expensive: in the early days when the primay purpose for maple syrup was to furnish sugar, women didn't want all their baked good tasting like maple."

"telescope house" - (eastern shore of Maryland) - "the name derived from the linking of three houses, each successively larger... for economic reasons..." (as a family grows).  [Pic here].

re Battle of the Wilderness :  "On that single day of May 12, nearly thirtteen thousand men died fighting over one square mile of ground abandoned by both sides several days later."
The author is adept at clever turns of phrase ("A road so crooked it could run for the legislature" "The Ponce de Leon Believe Anything Award") and employs a surprisingly broad vocabulary that added quite a few entries to my personal "interesting words" list:

bosky             woody; shady; covered with bushes
cardoon         a perennial plant, blanched and eaten like celery (< Ital. cardon = thistle) 
cockahoop     in a state of unrestrained joy or excitation
cubby             (? related to cubbyhole) (something for a napkin)
culch             the stones, shells, etc. forming an oyster bed; the spawn; Dial: rubbish, refuse
dingle             a deep dell or hollow, esp closely wooded; to ring as a bell
drupe             a fruit, as a peach, with skin, pulp, and hard inner shell (<Gk “olive”)
haut-boy         an oboe (<MF haut+bois = high wood)
kilderkin          a unit of capacity usually equal to half a barrel or two firkins
mochila          a flap of leather on a saddle for attachments (<Sp mochil = errand boy)
muntin             a bar for holding the edges of windowpanes within the sash (MF “mount”)
numen          divine power or spirit; a deity presiding locally (<L “to nod, command”)
pocosin         a swamp or marsh in an upland coastal region (<Algonquin “break open”)
pother             commotion, uproar; choking or suffocating cloud
scabble         to shape or dress (stone) roughly
scumble         to modify color by overlaying parts with opaque color (cf “scum”)
telson              the last segment of certain arthropods (lobster, crab) (<Gk “boundary”)
windflaw         a sudden, usually brief windstorm; a burst of feeling (<Scand flaga = “gust”)
wold(s)         upland plain


  1. Strangest thing. Just looked this book up in my local library and we have the German translation but not the English.

    Have to wonder about how the book ended up in the library.

  2. According to Goodreads, this is book 1 of The Travel Trilogy, which also includes PrairyErth (sic) and River-Horse.

  3. I love this book; I was introduced to it in college and I've read it multiple times. And, as is so often the case with such wonderful books, every time I return to it, I get a little something different out of it.

  4. Reading this book right now as it mirrors parts of my life. Love it so far.

  5. You should read "Miles From Nowhere" by Dayton Duncan. Similar idea and an awesome read.

  6. This is one of my favorite books. I related to it at the age of 20 when I first read it, and I will probably find myself in it again when I re-read it this year at age 34.

    I also liked River-Horse, but I wished that he'd left everyone at home and just gone by himself. Too much conversation.

    PrairyErth was too dense for me. I put it down about 3/4 through. I have not yet read Roads to Quoz.

  7. "bosky woody; shady; covered with bushes" is directly from the Spanish bosque ['bos-kay' not 'bos-key'], 'forest', 'woods', as in the "Bosque Redondo, the 'Round Woods' on the Pecos River in NM.

  8. I borrowed this book from my grandmother and read it in the early '90s when I was in my early twenties. Ever since, I am a big fan of taking the long way.

    This is a wonderful blog. I found it through a link off of JustaCarGuy

    Best regards,
    Jim Mitchell

    1. Thanks for the compliment.

      And Just a Car Guy is my favorite automotive blog.


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