William Least Heat-Moon‘s travel takes me either to a place where I’ve been, or to some place new. That obvious comment points up a contrast of pleasures.
I’ve never been to Japan, but I take a train with Heat-Moon in the Hida Mountains by the Hime Kawa River “that seemed to flow like granite, so gray and stony it was,” but “in the valley the day was warm, and a butterfly wobbled through an open window of the slow coach, turned an unsteady circle, and, having effortlessly gained ten feet of elevation and a tenth of a mile of ground, flew out on the other side.”
Further on in that book, a sentence brings a memory I could quote word for word: “…in late July of 1947, a warm early evening of cicadas chirring out their sharp-edged presence in the vaulted branches of the elms along the street…”
He speaks of Kansas City, Missouri. For me, that was on Louisiana Street in Lawrence, Kansas, and brings back not just
Those years, we had inchworm infestations. They dropped from the elm trees to dangle in front of our faces. They landed on the pavement for our shoes to squish them. Two to four weeks later they became moths which I don’t remember as a nuisance because moths don’t squish under one’s feet and I was too young to be the one cleaning them off the windshield.
Some chapters further on in Here, There, Elsewhere, Heat-Moon explores Malheur (translation: “misfortune”) County in Oregon. Here, my spouse enjoyed a graduate school geology class expedition and planned to take me camping there someday, but someday didn’t happen. However, on the eastern edge of Malheur County, a county larger than several New England states combined, we would stop on the way to still-visible Oregon Trail ruts to see a marker to the sort of misfortune that gave this county its name. There, between the town of Vale and the Idaho border, is a marker where a would-be emigrant died of thirst, not knowing that not far beyond, perhaps visible over the next hill, he would have found life-saving springs.
As we travel vicariously with Heat-Moon to places we wish we could visit, we also happen upon those places of “Yes, we have seen that!” or “We were there with our daughters back when…”
Part of the delight of Here, There, Elsewhere is that one never knows where the next chapter will be, and it’s one delight after another.