William Least Heat-Moon, author of such American travel books as Blue Highways (1982), River Horse: A Voyage Across America (1999), and Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey (2008), is one of my favorite writers. His backdoor journeys to our country’s small and unknown locales are often instigated because of one factor: Least Heat-Moon has a penchant for place names. For him, the more odd, descriptive, and unusual the designation, the more compelled he feels to go there. On his pages, I’ve stopped at little towns with colorful monikers such as Smackover, Hog Jaw, Possum Grape, Humptulips, Haydraw, Windhorst, and Circle Back (five miles from Needmore). For a writer, names like those reek of an engaging story, and Least Heat-Moon heeds “the call.”
For the rest of us, other terms or phrases often inspire us to visit a certain area. If a place has “national park” in its title, or “spa” or “resort,” for example, we quickly jot it down on our mental list of gotta-go-theres. We may not otherwise be familiar with the spot or even have seen photos of it, but yet it just sounds like a destination we need to see.
One Horse Hill.
I live in Wisconsin, among the rolling croplands adjacent to Interstate 94. It’s a road I travel almost daily. On one of the farms next to the highway, there’s a small hill with a lone tree. Its surrounding pastures support a dairy herd. Almost every day for several years now, I’ve seen a horse standing on that hill in the morning, watching the comings and goings of “her” cows. In my head, I’ve come to call that little spot “One Horse Hill.” As far as I know, I’m the only one who calls it that.
In one of my favorite daydreams, I see myself parking my car next to the interstate and walking to the top of One Horse Hill. I stroke a long, equine nose and sit down under the tree. That horse and I watch the herd together, as if we had all the time in the world.
However, I wonder if I would entertain the same fantasy if I knew the farm family’s actual name, the numbers in its street address, or the name of that hill — in the unlikely event that there is one. If that mound were called, say, “See-Beef-Before-Being-Butchered Hill” or “Just-About-to-Go-Under Acres,” would I still dream about lingering there?
Everyone Knows My Name.
And if my small spot with a horse were designated “One Horse Hill National Park,” would others who drive by every day as I do suddenly also start longing to visit? Would the hill’s significance somehow grow in my heart and in the minds of my neighbors and the world? Would my experience of nature’s rhythms from that vantage point be somehow better, as that horse and I spent our hours looking out upon the black earth, Black Angus, and black-and-white Holsteins of Wisconsin?
Have you ever signed on for a tour because of the words in its title, such as “national park”? Have you ever wanted to visit a place just because of its name?
For me — and I suspect for William Least Heat-Moon — a little speck on the planet named for a singular pony would fit the bill.
Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,