Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon

Author:William Least Heat-Moon [LEAST HEAT-MOON, WILLIAM]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780316218542
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Published: 2012-04-03T04:00:00+00:00


MOUNT Mazama may be the greatest nonexistent fourteen-thousand-foot volcano in the country. Actually, it isn’t entirely nonexistent: only the top half is. From the upper end of the Klamath basin, you can still see a massive, symmetrically sloping uplift of the mountain base. Some six thousand years ago, geologists conjecture, the top of Mazama blew off in a series of ruinous eruptions and the sides collapsed into the interior.

Hoping for a place to pass the night, I took a highway up the slope. After a few miles, the road became a groove cut between ten-foot snowbanks, but stars shone, so I drove on to the top. I got out and looked around. A brilliant night. Trusting more than seeing, I walked through a tunnel in a snowdrift to the craterous rim of Mazama. There, far below in the moonlight and edged with ice, lay a two-thousand-foot-deep lake. Klamath braves used to test their courage by climbing down the treacherous scree inside the caldera; if they survived, they bathed in the cold water of the volcano and renewed themselves. Also to this nearly perfect circle of water came medicine men looking for secrets of the Grandfathers. Once a holy place, now Crater Lake is only a famous Oregon tourist attraction.

The next morning, the fog rising from the surface of the lake (the deepest and bluest in America) gave it the look of a hot washtub of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing. The lodge still lay piled under some of the six hundred inches of annual snowfall here, and the road down the other side of Mazama was not yet cleared, so I went back the way I’d come. Again. Oregon 230 followed a broad mountain stream called Muir Creek. When the morning warmed, I stopped along the banks to fill a basin and wash; after Hat Creek, the water was merely bracing.

Big, yellow-hooded blossoms of the Western skunk cabbage spread over the margins. Although the plant bears some resemblance in shape to the purplish skunk cabbage of the East, it is a relative of the jack-in-the-pulpit, and its flowers are virtually odorless. Looking nothing like cabbage, the leaves were used by Indians to wrap food for cooking; they pulverized the hot, peppery roots into a flour that helped save them (and the Lewis and Clark expedition) from starvation in early spring before other edible plants sprouted. Even today elk and bear, grubbing for the roots, will dig up whole patches of swamp.

I crossed the Cascades on Oregon 58. While the mountains were not particularly high, the road made steep climbs and drops over timbered slopes, and runaway-truck escape ramps looked like ski jumps. On the western side, humidity increased and ferns grew thick as jungle vines. For a time, desert lay behind.

At noon, the journey began a kind of sea change that started when I drove up an old logging road into the recesses of Salt Creek, a stream working hard to beat itself to a lather. In Missouri, when a man’s whereabouts come into question, the people say he’s “gone up Salt Creek.


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