Living With Nature

There is no precise literary term for the kind of writing William Least Heat-Moon does. Is it travel writing? Nature writing? Environmental history? Rather than search for a name to assign to it, one might do better to consider passion. Passion in its many nettlesome combinations of love, joy, desire, greed, or anger - is a fuel.

"One of the things I care about most in life is the land and the way we belong to it," says William Least Heat-Moon. "Everything I do grows out of that passion." It is a theme explored in many ways by this Missouri writer who took us on a 13,000-mile van ride in Blue Highways, and who plumbed the very bedrock of Chase County, Kansas, in Prairyerth. They are books fueled with a passion for self-discovery, understanding one's sense of place, and learning to live in harmony with the natural world.

Least Heat-Moon, born William Trogdon in 1939, grew up in a suburban setting, and as a boy, explored the remaining pockets of woods that surrounded his family's south Kansas City home. He came to the University of Missouri-Columbia to study English, and later, photojournalism.

"The notion of being Least Heat Moon was strong until I was about 16 or 17 years old. When I went off to college, all that slipped away from me." And for 20 years, he was adrift and sometimes miserable. "I was pursuing interests that were not in accord with my real, deep passions."

Writing Blue Highways was an awakening. He came to recognize a small portion of Osage in his background and the influence it has over his work and life. He renamed himself Least Heat-Moon.

I was in one of the strangest pieces of topography I'd ever seen, a place, until now, completely beyond my imaginings. What is it in man that for a long time lies unknown and unseen only one day to emerge and push him into a new land of the eye, a new region of the mind, a place he has never dreamed of? Maybe it's like the force in spores lying quietly under asphalt until the day they push a soft, bulbous mushroom head right through the pavement. There's nothing you can do to stop it. - Blue Highways

"I believe there's something that moves within all of us, that for lack of a better term, I call genetic memory," he says. "In which, things that occurred to