Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Blue Highways

Does anyone remember the book Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon? I remember seeing it around my parents house growing up, along with copies of acknowledged classics like Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, a collection of Shakespeare's plays, and probably a few others. Eventually I read through them all, sometimes more than once. Obviously, the ones that stuck in my memories left an impression. Blue Highways, as far as I know, is not on any high school's required reading list. I'm not aware of any college courses dissecting and analyzing it. It hasn't been made into a major motion picture or even an after-school special. So why does that relatively unknown book stick out so well in my memory?

Sumac provides a late winter food source for robins, bluebirds,
and waxwings. It also, apparently, provides a convenient perch.

The obvious answer is that I made a connection with the author through his writing, and recently, since I started driving back roads to work, I feel a little like Least Heat Moon. These are the roads colored blue on old highway maps, before DeLorme gazetteers became the rage, before Google Earth presented real images with roads colored . . . well, like roads. These are the roads he traveled to find America, the real America, and himself. His real self. Perhaps, in a roundabout way, I'm looking for more than safer stops and more interesting birds when I'm commuting to and from the daily grind. As I mentioned earlier, I am consciously trying to find more meaningful paths.

I've encountered a small flock of Horned Larks regularly on
my back road drives, this was the first time they let me get close.

This morning I encountered only one other car on my blue highway, fortunately while I was just driving and not stalking any birds. I watched a triad of Horned Larks for some ten minutes, slowly creeping forward in the car, which served as a convenient (and warm) blind. Eventually I stopped altogether and let them come to me, which they did. I must have stopped near the tastiest grit.

In a field covered in white snow and opaque ice this
Red-winged Blackbird lends a welcome burst of color.

Today's most welcome sighting was a Red-winged Blackbird, which had been absent two days ago. He perched solidly on the ice-covered branches and loudly proclaimed he was back. I'm not sure if anyone else heard him, but I certainly did. I heard his raucous "conk-a-REE," who could miss it, but I also heard what it meant. It meant the migrant flood gates are open, and soon the rest will be pouring in. Next the phoebes, Tree Swallows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, meadowlarks, and Fox Sparrows, then the catbirds, towhees, thrashers, Pine, Palm, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, followed by the vireos, flycatchers, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the rest of the warblers, and so many species I'm neglecting here. And through it all you'll still find me slowly taking in the blue highways.


Elizabeth Westmark said...

Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon is one of my old favorites. I enjoy driving the blue highways, too. Your blog is lovely and a nice new discovery for me this evening.

Manfred said...

Hallo from Germany!
I can fully understand the passion you guys had experienced whilst reading William Least Heat Moon's BLUE HIGHWAYS.
Many miles my Harley and I had made on side roads during a decade of annual vacations, flying over from Germany, before detecting the German translation of the book.
And the fascination I got was transferred to my fellow Harley riders and so we had chosen this phrase as the name for our newly founded group of Harley riders, the BLUE HIGHWAY CHAPTER GERMANY; in our website we've honoured W.L.H.M. by citing the prolog to his work and displaying a map of 1947.
All the best for frineds and fans of this book,

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