Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Interstate: Notes

Apology
In addition to Bartram’s Travels, I had many other works in mind when writing this section. One other is Henry David Thoreau, especially his essay, “Walking.” On the highway today, one is certainly a saunterer in one of the senses that Thoreau delineated in his essay “Walking.” All travelers upon the interstate are at the very least saunterers insofar as they are sans terre while traveling—the interstates rarely inspire a sense of place. But it is possible to drive the highways, any highways, as a Saint Terrer, driving in search of a holy land, using the drive not only as transit, but as re-creation.

“Although I was still miles from the ocean, a heavy sea fog came in to muffle the obscure the obscure and lie over the land like a sheet of dirty muslin. I saw no cars or people, few lights in the houses. The windshield wipers, brushing at the fog, switched back and forth like cats’ tails. I lost myself to the monotonous rhythm and darkness past and present fused and dims things came and went in a staccato of moments separated by miles of darkness. On the road, where change is continuous and visible, time is not; rather it is something the rider only infers. Time is not the fourth dimension to the traveler—change is.” (William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways p. 343)

"A Destination is not a place, but a new way of looking at things" (Henry Miller, cf WLHM)

Only in looking back, can one look forward. My memory of I-81 was a window on the world. I counted license plates from elsewhere (something I still do), places I’ll never see, people I’ll never know, but act as proof of its existence.

I.
“If at each instant the flying arrow is at rest, when does it move?” --Zeno of Elea

My summer job in college was working for the Virginia Department of Transportation on a road crew. One of my duties, performed almost every Friday, was to ride the extent of the Interstate system in our district and collect the larger pieces of trash, mostly scraps of blown out tires.

II.
Interstate as a road map for the human heart.

III.
A journey viewed by one who wants at once to take part and sit on the sidelines.

In addition to the poem cited below, I also had in mind a posthumously published lecture (or the notes thereof) by Randall Jarrell, “Levels and Opposites: Structures in Poetry.” Specifically, “But the poem is completely temporal, about as static as an explosion; there are no things in a poem, only processes.”

“The saris go by me from the embassies.
Cloth from the moon. Cloth from another planet.
They look back at the leopard like the leopard.

And I....
this print of mine, that has kept its color
Alive through so many cleanings; this dull null
Navy I wear to work, and wear from work, and so
To my bed, so to my grave, with no
Complaints, no comment: neither from my chief,
The Deputy Chief Assistant, nor his chief--
Only I complain. . . .”
--from “The Woman at the Washington Zoo,” by Randall Jarrell

IV.
Zeno’s paradox of the arrow redux.

“Our two souls, therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.”
--From “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning,” by John Donne

V.
New Market battlefield hugs closely the banks of the Shenandoah River as it pushes north to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. New Market has oft been referred to as the Thermopylae of the Confederacy and Harper’s Ferry was where some of the first shots were fired over slavery.

The New River, oddly enough, is one of the oldest rivers in the United States geologically. It also has the distinction of being one of the few rivers, along with the Shenandoah, that flows north. To leave the great valley of Virginia, one must cross this river not once, but twice. The second crossing on I-77 occurs right before you climb the mountain to exit the valley and move into the Piedmont.

A refreshing sight: a man standing at the intersection of Techwood Avenue and 10th Street in Atlanta, Georgia, held a sign saying just that, instead of the usual, “will work for food.”

The mountain at Fancy Gap, Virginia, lies right on the line between Virginia and North Carolina. The road here is often treacherous because of the dense fog, and it also receives much snowfall and has been often closed because of the drifting. Despite all this, it is quite an imposing sight when it suddenly bursts into view driving north.

VI.
“You cannot step into the same river twice
For other waters are ever flowing on.”
--Heraclitus

VII.
It’s amazing how brightly a baseball diamond shines in the night. The lights can be seen for miles and miles.

Epilogue
Written in a rare blizzard in western Virginia. Although the road where I lived took 5 days to become passable, the interstate was cleared in less than a day.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
--”Dust of Snow,” by Robert Frost

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