While asking a policeman for directions to the ferry-slip in Belfast, I turned away from my two pieces of luggage. Nobody saw anything, not even the bobby, but my small grip vanished and with it camera, photographs, logbook, shaving kit, pint of mead, passport, and my Icelandic Airlines ticket home. I still had the dirty laundry.
When I phoned my father… he said, “So now you’re over there in a dither in one of your pet thithers.”
William Least Heat-Moon, Here, There, Elsewhere.
With that paragraph in Heat-Moon’s “Thitherward,” or what the rest of us unimaginatively label “foreword,” I was hooked. I must have missed Blue Highways because travel and places were not on my reading list when that book came out. I’ll read it next, unless I pick up for River-Horse first. I want to read about Heat-Moon and his companion Pilotis fare as they take (I assume) the water-route of Sacagawea, Lewis, and Clark, part of which we have followed on the roadside, plus a short stretch by canoe up the Missouri.
It adds something to a book when we can say, “We’ve been there!” On the other hand, when we can’t go thither, reading about elsewhere is a satisfactory substitute. We’ll never hike in the mountains called “The Roof of Japan,” but, with the help of sketches that look to me like authentic stone rubbings, we walk “up among the roadside gods” and discover the Dosojin.
Hiking that piece of remote Japan was an encountering of so many unknown things that my curiosity began to feel over-loaded…and that’s when I became aware of having passed several carved-stone markers set along the waysides. They awakened me, and I began seeing again… Each was of gray granite, each uniquely shaped and chiseled, but all of them showed a pair of figures cut into the face of the naturally shaped or smoothed stones…Shinto roadside gods… “Dosojin.”
Sojin means “ancestor deity,” but do, a homonym of philosophic significance, with a slight change in the vowel sounds can mean either “road” or “earth.” …Always it was man beside woman, because Dosojin are female and male, singular and plural, sweet and bitter, health and sickness, life and death, one and its other.William Least Heat-Moon, Here, There, Elsewhere.
Some reviewers find his extensive vocabulary formidable; I’m entranced by his way with words–the sort of word craft to which I aspire, not a copy of his, but the equivalent in my voice.