The beginning of Blue Highways reminds me of Wild. Heat-Moon gives the impression of needing to get away. He’s lost his job, he’s divorced, and thus essentially he has nothing holding him to his everyday routine. The very first paragraph of the travelogue opens with a common feeling, one in which readers can relate. He was laid off “because of declining enrollment at the college” (Heat-Moon 3). We all know the moment in which, whether we’re fired or lose something which constitutes our daily being, we are overcome by a sense of inadequacy and confusion. What am I going to do now? Similar to Strayed, he’s looking to redefine that which he’s come to consider normal. His identity has gotten him this far, but his accomplishments are now falling apart. Thus, he must reconstruct his life. However, the narrator doesn’t appear to be near as in touch with nature or his outside surroundings as Strayed. She at least had a background with nature. Heat-Moon debates whether or not to even comply with this urge to journey along “the country on the smallest roads [he] could find” (7). As he steps from his bed and moves towards the window to look upon the geese and the stars, he demonstrates how separated he is from the natural world. His home and his job had become his own little environment—anything beyond this is out of the ordinary for him. The given moment tells me his upcoming journey will go one of two ways—he will either scare quickly or fall into an intimate relationship with the new places in which he travels. Clearly, he succumbs to the latter.
Heat-Moon has a family history with nature. He comes from a line of Siouan peoples. For this reason, he appears to be attempting a familial connection. He’s the odd one out. This may present immense subjectivity throughout the travelogue. He’s searching for the “awe” second of tranquility. The given skepticism as it relates to Blue Highways is described by Thompson as a set of “two challenges, of comprehension and of communication” (67). As Heat-Moon stands in the desert he “felt more than [he] saw. It was as if [he] had reduced to mind, to an edge of consciousness” (150). He is at peace as he’s become one with nature, but simultaneously he’s still an individual outside of the natural realm, merely interpreting its every change as it relates to the human mind. This is the double consciousness, which gives reference to the sublime. Once more, Heat-Moon has supplied Thompson with another example of travel writing’s inability to effectively convey a certain situation or place due to the writer’s sublime experience: “Travelers report being rooted to the spot, or struck dumb in amazement; and the latter condition is one reason why tropes of inexpressibility and linguistic inadequacy are another commonplace in travel writing, with writers frequently protesting that even retrospectively they cannot find the words to convey fully their experience” (Thompson 67). Heat-Moon personifies the desert and its animals towards the end of chapter 8. He likewise goes on to state, “the night, taking up the shadows and details, wiped the face of the desert into a simple, uncluttered blackness until there were only three things: land, wind, stars” (150). The author is using figurative language in order to “establish a point of comparison that frames the unknown in terms of the known” (Thompson 68).
His language grows increasingly beautiful as he continues further into his journey. Yet the language gives way to the reader’s underlying need to question the accuracy of Heat-Moon’s travels and that which he sees along the way.
I researched William Least Heat-Moon (because with a name like that, who wouldn’t?) and came across a video where he discusses his writing of Blue Highways. You have to go to about minute 18. Prior to this, he’s only being introduced. Enjoy!