The following is a post on Jakartass Travels, a blog I’ve set up as an archive of the diaries I’ve kept on my worldly travels since 1971.
I’ve always been in the habit of ‘having a book on the go’ and I read many during my 13 month circumnavigation of the world in 85/6. That was one motivation for setting up the book exchange in the office of Kashmir Himalayan Expeditions in during my two and a half month stay in Leh, Ladakh. Someone deposited a copy of William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways and I’m only slightly ashamed to say that once I’d dipped into it, I felt unable to return it.
I’ve always thought that travel is about the journey more than the destination, and I was very happy to find someone who appeared to echo my own musings, yet made them coherent.
The book is now sitting on one of my bookshelves here in Jakarta ready to be dipped into again. It’s not so much the conversations he had as he followed the roads less-travelled across America, as the seemingly random philosophical thoughts which grabbed me.
As Henry Miller said, and he’s another author who framed my journey, “Our destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”
Dotted through my diary are quotes from Blue Highways which resonated with me then … and still do now. This post brings them together.
My page references are from the Picador edition pub. 1983.
(Download an excerpt from Blue Highways here.)
It is a contention of Heat Moon’s – believing as he does that any traveller who misses the journey misses all he’s going to get – that a man becomes his attentions. His observations and curiosity, they make and remake him.
Etymology: ‘curious’, once related to cure, once meant ‘carefully observant’.
‘Absurd’, by the way, derives from a Latin word meaning ‘deaf, dulled’.
Maybe the road could provide a therapy through observation and obvious, a means whereby the outer eye opens an inner one. STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, the old railroad signs warned. Walt Whitman calls it “the profound lesson of reception“.
I learned to travel, then travelled to learn.
What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re travelling, you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterday’s on the road.
The word ‘error’ comes from a Middle English word ‘erren’, which means to wander about, as in ‘knight errant’. The word evolved to mean ‘going astray’, and that evolved to mean ‘mistake’. As for ‘mistake’, it derives from Old Norse and once meant ‘to take wrongly’.