The Great Pains & Accuracy Tour

beedge - 06:09am Jul 9, 2001 EST
Barrett Golding

River Out West Horse Heat Moon

Book cover> Out West by Dayton Duncan written in the 80's. He followed the L&C Trail via VW minibus.
rob: I've read Duncan's Out West, and Jo just finished it. a good book, but, to me, a bit predictable: ya know, he finds the struggling farmer, the downtrodden Indian, the local museum with the what-a-character curator, and all the other stereotypes one expects; punctuated by his Major Conclusion every few pages. I see why Ken Burns chose him as co-writer; he secretes the Burns Aesthetic of Superlative and Hero-worship.

I've just started River-Horse: Across America by Boat, which I like much better. it's a longer, riskier, more arduous journey. Will Least Heat-Moon's weaves observation, event and history into lovely meandering paragraphs. his revelations are subtler, less-conclusive, often not even stated, but folded into something as simple as his thoughts about maps.

Book cover

I am a reader of maps, not usually nautical charts but road maps. I read them as others do holy writ, the same text again and again in quest of discoveries, and the books I've written each began with my gaze wandering over maps of American terrain. At home I have an old highway atlas, worn and rebound, the pages so soft from a thousand thumbings they whisper as I turn them. Every road I've ever driven I've marked in yellow, the pages densely highlighted, and I can now say I've visited every county in the contiguous states except for a handful in the Deep South, and those I'll get to soon. Put your finger at random anyplace in this United States atlas, and I've either been there or within twenty-five miles of it, but for the deserts of Nevada where the gap can be about twice that. I didn't set out to do this; it just happened over forty years of trying to memorize the face of America. When someone speaks of Pawtucket or Cross Creek or Marfa, I want an image from my travels to appear; when I read a dateline in a news story about Jackson Hole, I want the torn Teton horizon and a remembered scent of pinyon pine in me. "Have you seen the historic tavern at Scenery Hill?" the Pennsylvanian may say, and I want to ask, How goes the ghost, and are the yeast rolls still good? No words have directed my life more than those from venerable Thomas Fuller, that worthy historian of olde England: "Know most of thy native country before thou goest over the threshold thereof."
--River-Horse, © 1999 William Least Heat-Moon (read a longer excerpt)

I did like Duncan's Road Rules; but compare Heat-Moon's verbal vamping above to Duncan's proclivity for proclamation below.

Road Rule 1: Never stop to ask directions, unless you are completely defeated; never stop to look at a map, unless you have to stop for something else. [Looking at a map is not prohibited, but don't stop to do it.]

     First Corollary: The more uncertain you are about where you're headed, the faster you go to get there. ...

Road Rule 12: You can learn a lot from books, maps, and statistics but the road is a better (and sterner) teacher.

     First Corollary: The lessons of the road are taught by practical, workshop methods, not by lectures. They're more effective that way.

     Second Corollary: The main course of study in the classrooms of the road is not romantic fiction.
--Out West, © 1994 Dayton Duncan (read all the Road Rules)

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