Backroads Journal

Songline of the Blue Highway

In his book, “The Songlines”, British novelist and travel writer, Bruce Chatwin, describes songlines as “Footprints of the Ancestors”.  When the Australian Aborigines go on a “walkabout” they follow those ancestral paths and sing their ancestors back into existence.  When we reflect on the direction we have taken in our lives, we are, in our own way, bringing our ancestors’ influence on us to life.
I believe that each of us has a unique heritage or songline that has been sung by those who have gone before.  They followed their own dreams and talents as they created the legacy into which we follow.  They, in effect, sang our world into existence.


We can’t deny the fact that we are a product of those who came before us.  It’s taken me sixty-five years, but I am now beginning to understand the song that my ancestors have passed down to me.  It is deep in my being and I have been following it my entire life.  It is a melody comprising art, design, creative writing, following dreams, driving backroads and passing on my appreciation of the scenic natural world to others.  Each of our ancestors has had a part in determining who and what we become, but it is up to us to live our lives the best that we can.





My songline now is leading me on a journey that will take me back to some of the places that have had a special meaning in my life and to search out some new and interesting places that may eventually become lyrics that I will pass on to my family.   You might find a little bit of Gardner McKay, William Least-heat Moon, Peter Jenkens, John Denver and Jimmy Buffett interlaced within the stories and the places.  You will definitely find a bit of my Great-grandmother Belle, Grandpa Perry, my Dad, Granddad Earl and Jerry, my Father-in-law.

I invite you to tag along as I follow the backroads to some of the great places in this country, as well as some pretty special places we find along the way.  I hope you will find enlightenment and some insight into your own songline, but at least some entertainment.  While the travel and the locations will be true, there may be some bending of reality as the stories are told.  I thank Jimmy Buffett for the following lines.

        “It’s a semi-true story, believe it or not.  I made up a few things and there’s some I forgot, but the life and the telling are both real to me and they all run together and turn out to be, a semi-true story.” 
        Jimmy Buffett’s song by Mac McAnally, “Semi-true Story”.


The first verse of my song begins in 1887, when a young lady from Iowa, by the name of Isabella, embarks on her great adventure to homestead a piece of land by herself and teach school in the Dakota Territory.  I would not have known about it except for a portion of her personal journal that made its way down through the family.  During the year she lived her dream, braving Dakota blizzards, floods and no-show scholars, she discovered her inner strength and happened to meet a young man named Frederick Perry, my Great-grandfather.  It’s a great read and one that I want to document and illustrate for my Grandchildren. 


I plan to follow Belle’s move from Waterloo, Iowa to just outside what is now Mitchell, South Dakota and follow her through the winter of 1887 and spring of 1888.  It may take a little digging and more than a little creative visualization, since I have heard that her homestead is now under Interstate pavement, but the song that Belle began will be sung through her words and my images.


I believe that Belle passed on her courage to follow my dreams.  Belle and Fred’s son, my Grandfather, gave me appreciation for printmaking and art.  My Dad took us on magical vacations down the blue highways to teach us about the land and passed on his love of writing.  Granddad Earl and Jerry, my Father-in-law, added the personal touch of being there for us, brought laughter and taught us how to enjoy life.  Add in all the other people and influences along the way, stir that up with some daydreaming of sailing the South Seas with Gardner McKay in his “Adventures in Paradise”, following William Least-heat Moon down the blue highways and reading of Peter Jenkins’ walk across the country and you start to hear my song.  Add a soundtrack from John Denver, Jimmy Buffett and Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” and you have what you would call my Songline.


This journey of mine may not be a great story or one of powerful significance, but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it!  It’s the footprints of my ancestors that I am proud to follow.  We are too caught up in day-to-day issues and are losing the ability to dream and see the beauty of the world.  Come along as I follow stories down the backroads in search of interesting places and the natural, scenic beauty this country has to offer.


        “Oh I believe in song lines, obvious and not.  I’d ridden them like camels to some most peculiar spots.  They run across the oceans, through mountains and saloons, and tonight out to the desert where I sit atop this dune.”
        By Jimmy Buffett, “Far Side of the World”.


I will post stories on this Journal as well as on a new web page dedicated to recording the progress of the Songline.  A limited edition book of stories which will be illustrated with my original artwork will be produced.  I plan to publish the first stories this winter.  You will be notified when the new web page is up and running.  If you would like to follow along, click and “Like” my Backroads Press: Stephen Perry Facebook page for postings or sign up for my periodic newsletters.  Both of those option buttons can be found on the bottom left of my Backroads Press home page.