William Least Heat-Moon Jonathan Yardley - Essay

William Lewis Trogdon

Jonathan Yardley

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

With the arrival of the first hints of spring a few years back, a 38-year-old man named William Least Heat Moon, a.k.a. William Trogdon, decided to "chuck routine" and "live the real jeopardy of circumstance." His job teaching English at the University of Missouri had vanished and his marriage was in a state of terminal disrepair. A person of mixed blood—part Anglo, part Sioux—he decided to set out on an uncharted journey through America, a journey that he hoped would tell him important things about himself, his heritage and the country in which he lived; he decided also to follow what he calls the "blue highways," the smaller roads that used to be colored blue on gas-station roadmaps.

His vehicle was a van that he nicknamed Ghost Dancing, "a heavy-handed symbol alluding to ceremonies of the 1890s in which the Plains Indians, wearing cloth shirts they believed rendered them indestructible, danced for the return of warriors, bison, and the fervor of the old life that would sweep away the new." He wanted to get away from the interstates and the franchises, into an older and more rooted America….

His journey [as recounted in Blue Highways: A Journey into America] lasted from the beginning of one spring to the end of the next. Leaving his Missouri college town of Columbia he headed east to North Carolina in search of a memorial to his English ancestor, also named William Trogdon, who "supplied sundry items to the Carolina militia for several years during the Revolutionary War" and for his pains was summarily executed by a band of Tory vigilantes. He then drove southwest to Louisiana and Texas, worked his way northwest through the Utah desert, and made a straight run across the country, due east from Oregon to Maine. The last leg took him home by way of New Jersey, Maryland's Eastern Shore and the West Virginia hills.

As all of the above suggests, Least Heat Moon is an indefatigable romantic; although he makes occasional gestures in the course of his narrative to the brutalities inflicted on Indians by whites, and though he muses from time to time about what it means to be of mixed blood and thus mixed heritage, Blue Highways makes clear that more than anything else he is...

(The entire section is 925 words.)