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River-horse : the logbook of a boat across America /
William Least Heat-Moon.
imprint
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, c1999.
description
xii, 506 p. : ill., maps
ISBN
0395636264
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, c1999.
isbn
0395636264
general note
"A Peter Davison book."
catalogue key
3426038
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
William Least Heat-Moon is the author of the classics Blue Highways and PrairyErth. He lives near the Missouri River outside Columbia, Missouri, where he is casting about for his next adventure.
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
A Celestial Call to Board For about half a league after we came out of the little harbor on Newark Bay at Elizabeth, New Jersey - with its strewn alleys and broken buildings, its pervading aura of collapse, where the mayor himself had met us at the dock and stood before a podium his staff fetched up for him to set his speech on, words to launch us on that Earth Day across the continent as he reminded us of history here, of George Washington on nearly the same date being rowed across to New York City on the last leg of his inaugural journey - and for the half league down the Kill Van Kull (there Henry Hudson lost a sailor to an arrow through the neck), we had to lay in behind a rusting Norwegian freighter heading out to sea with so little cargo that her massive props were no more than half in the water and slapping up a thunderous wake and thrashing such a roil it sent our little teakettle of a boat rolling fore and aft. I quickly throttled back, and the following sea picked up our stern and threatened to ride over the low transom into the welldeck. We had no bilge pump to empty it, and the cabin door stood hooked open to the bright blue April morning and the sea air of New York Bay. My copilot roared, "Don't cut the motors so fast when we're riding a swell! You'll swamp us!" Only ten minutes out, we were nearly on our way to the bottom, sixty feet below. I turned toward the stern to see the bay rear above the transom just before the water raised Nikawa high enough to let the next wave ride under and shove her fast toward the chopping props of the freighter. Then her bow slipped down the other side of the swell, we pulled away from the big screws, and I idled to let the deep-water tramp move ahead until I got an open lane on her port side. We pushed past, cut through the wake of the Staten Island Ferry, and headed on toward the Atlantic. "And that's how it begins," said my friend, a blue-water sailor, one whom I shall call Pilotis (rhymes with "my lotus"). It wasn't, of course, the beginning, for who can say where a voyage starts - not the actual passage but the dream of a journey and its urge to find a way? For this trip I can speak of a possible inception: I am a reader of maps, not usually nautical charts but road maps. I read them as others do holy writ, the same text again and again in quest of discoveries, and the books I've written each began with my gaze wandering over maps of American terrain. At home I have an old highway atlas, worn and rebound, the pages so soft from a thousand thumbings they whisper as I turn them. Every road I've ever driven I've marked in yellow, the pages densely highlighted, and I can now say I've visited every county in the contiguous states except for a handful in the Deep South, and those I'll get to soon. Put your finger at random anyplace in this United States atlas, and I've either been there or within twenty-five miles of it, but for the deserts of Nevada where the gap can be about twice that. I didn't set out to do this; it just happened over forty years of trying to memorize the face of America. When someone speaks of Pawtucket or Cross Creek or Marfa, I want an image from my travels to appear; when I read a dateline in a news story about Jackson Hole, I want the torn Teton horizon and a remembered scent of pinyon pine in me. "Have you seen the historic tavern at Scenery Hill?" the Pennsylvanian may say, and I want to ask, How goes the ghost, and are the yeast rolls still good? No words have directed my life more than those from venerable Thomas Fuller, that worthy historian of olde England: "Know most of thy native country before thou goest over the threshold thereof." Twenty years ago I ha
First Chapter
A Celestial Call to Board

For about half a league after we came out of the little harbor on Newark Bay at Elizabeth, New Jersey - with its strewn alleys and broken buildings, its pervading aura of collapse, where the mayor himself had met us at the dock and stood before a podium his staff fetched up for him to set his speech on, words to launch us on that Earth Day across the continent as he reminded us of history here, of George Washington on nearly the same date being rowed across to New York City on the last leg of his inaugural journey - and for the half league down the Kill Van Kull (there Henry Hudson lost a sailor to an arrow through the neck), we had to lay in behind a rusting Norwegian freighter heading out to sea with so little cargo that her massive props were no more than half in the water and slapping up a thunderous wake and thrashing such a roil it sent our little teakettle of a boat rolling fore and aft. I quickly throttled back, and the following sea picked up our stern and threatened to ride over the low transom into the welldeck. We had no bilge pump to empty it, and the cabin door stood hooked open to the bright blue April morning and the sea air of New York Bay.

My copilot roared, "Don't cut the motors so fast when we're riding a swell! You'll swamp us!" Only ten minutes out, we were nearly on our way to the bottom, sixty feet below. I turned toward the stern to see the bay rear above the transom just before the water raised Nikawa high enough to let the next wave ride under and shove her fast toward the chopping props of the freighter. Then her bow slipped down the other side of the swell, we pulled away from the big screws, and I idled to let the deep-water tramp move ahead until I got an open lane on her port side. We pushed past, cut through the wake of the Staten Island Ferry, and headed on toward the Atlantic.
"And that's how it begins," said my friend, a blue-water sailor, one whom I shall call Pilotis (rhymes with "my lotus"). It wasn't, of course, the beginning, for who can say where a voyage starts - not the actual passage but the dream of a journey and its urge to find a way? For this trip I can speak of a possible inception: I am a reader of maps, not usually nautical charts but road maps. I read them as others do holy writ, the same text again and again in quest of discoveries, and the books I've written each began with my gaze wandering over maps of American terrain. At home I have an old highway atlas, worn and rebound, the pages so soft from a thousand thumbings they whisper as I turn them. Every road I've ever driven I've marked in yellow, the pages densely highlighted, and I can now say I've visited every county in the contiguous states except for a handful in the Deep South, and those I'll get to soon. Put your finger at random anyplace in this United States atlas, and I've either been there or within twenty-five miles of it, but for the deserts of Nevada where the gap can be about twice that. I didn't set out to do this; it just happened over forty years of trying to memorize the face of America. When someone speaks of Pawtucket or Cross Creek or Marfa, I want an image from my travels to appear; when I read a dateline in a news story about Jackson Hole, I want the torn Teton horizon and a remembered scent of pinyon pine in me. "Have you seen the historic tavern at Scenery Hill?" the Pennsylvanian may say, and I want to ask, How goes the ghost, and are the yeast rolls still good? No words have directed my life more than those from venerable Thomas Fuller, that worthy historian of olde England: "Know most of thy native country before thou goest over the threshold thereof."

Twenty years ago I had been down enough miles of American road that I could visualize the impending end of new territory to light out for - as my fellow Missourian, river traveler Huck Finn, has it - and that's when I noticed the web of faint azure lines, a varicose scribing of my atlas. They were rivers. I began tracing a finger over those twistings in search of a way to cross America in a boat. At first I was simply curious whether one could accomplish such a voyage without coming out of the water repeatedly and for many miles, but later I grew interested in the notion of what America would look like from the rivers, and I wanted to see those secret parts hidden from road travelers. Surely a journey like that would open new country and broader notions, but I could find no transcontinental route of rivers that did not require miles and miles of portages and heavy use of border waters - the Gulf of Mexico or the Great Lakes. For my voyyage, I wanted only an internal route across the nation.

I'll skip details of how, during those two decades, I discovered inch by inch a theoretical route a small vessel might, at the proper time of the year, pursue westward from the Atlantic an interior course of some five thousand miles, equivalent to a fifth of the way around the world, ideally with no more than seventy-five miles of portage, to reach the Pacific in a single season. Travelers have boated across America before but never to my knowledge under those requirements. One night sixteen months earlier, in a thrill of final discovery, I found what I believed to be the last piece of this river puzzle, and at that moment I understood that I had to make the voyage at whatever cost. If a grail appears, the soul must follow. In my excitement I phoned my great friend to join me, teach me the bowline and sheepshank, remind me of the rules of the road, to be my copilot, my pelorus of the heart to steer me clear of desolation, that fell enemy of the lone traveler. Pilotis said, "When my father was dying a few months ago, in his last days when he was out of his head, he lay murmuring - I had to lean close to hear him - he said again and again, Can you make the trip? Can you make the trip? Better be ready.' It was his celestial call to board. Now you ask me the same question, and I don't know."

My friend mulled things for some days and then phoned. "I can make the trip. I'll be ready. Find us a boat that can do it." And that's how we came to be, on the twentieth of April, sliding past the Norwegian freighter on our way to the Atlantic Ocean. Pilotis - my Pylades, my Pythia, my Pytheas - writes well, values memorable language, quotes it as I can never do. After I had nearly sunk us within sight of our departure dock, in the ensuing embarrassed quiet played to good effect, Pilotis said as if lecturing, "Nautical charts carry a standard warning addressed to the prudent mariner.' Revere that adjective above all others."

I, whose boating life to that moment consisted of paddling about in a thirteen-foot canoe and standing below-deck watches and chipping paint on a nine-hundred-foot aircraft carrier, realized more than I wished to admit why I wanted Pilotis along, but I only pointed out the worn stone walls of Fort Wadsworth on the north end of Staten Island near the Narrows. Frédéric Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, considered that passage the Gate of America, an opening through which four centuries of ships have sailed for the Canaries, Calcutta, the southern capes, Cathay, but few for the Pacific via inland waters. Then we crossed under the lofty, six-lane span of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the great Silver Gate looking improbably thin and fragile hanging above us, and pushed east beyond Coney Island and Gravesend Bay, on into the ocean. We paused at that western edge of the Atlantic so it might set in us a proper watery turn of mind and reset us from lubbers to sailors. Then, in the spindrift, Pilotis leaned over the side to fill a small bottle with brine from the great eastern sea, cork it up and stow it safely in the cabin until, we hoped, I could unstopper it and pour it into the Pacific just beyond the treacherous bar at the mouth of the Columbia River a continent away.

Then I brought Nikawa about, and we headed for New York City and the East River. I said in near disbelief, After twenty years of thinking about this possibility, it's happening! And Pilotis said, "Can you make the trip? Can you make the trip?"

Copyright (c) 1999 by William Least Heat-Moon. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 1999-10-01:
In this, the third title in his trilogy (following Blue Highways and Prairyerth), Heat-Moon strikes out to discover America through her rivers. Feeling that he "could never really know America until I'd seen it from the bends and reaches of its flowing waters," he acquired a small boat, which he named Nikawa (which means river horse), a copilot (referred to as Pilotis), and a logbook and set out to journey from New York City to the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. In spite of the many obstacles he encounters, he has much time for reflectionÄoften bordering on superstitionÄand observation. The result is less a view from the river, which is obscured by natural valleys, river banks, and the usual border of trees, than of the people he meets along the way. His descriptions of them (and his ear for a good line) enhance our understanding of the places he visits. Heat-Moon set out to "experience the empire, learn the science, and report it to those who might not ever make the journey," and he has succeeded nobly. This evocative and masterly narrative is a reminder of the beauty and grandeur of our country. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/99.]ÄJulia Stump, Voorheesville P.L., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1999-08-23:
Writing under the name Heat-Moon (Blue Highways), William Trogdon once again sets out across America, this time propelled chiefly by a dual-outboard boat dubbed Nikawa, "River Horse" in Osage. In this hardy craft, he and a small crew attempt to travel more than 5000 miles by inland waterways from the Atlantic to the Pacific in a single season. Citing 19th-century travelogues and dredging odd bits of the rivers' past, Heat-Moon conveys the significance of passing "beneath a bridge that has looked down on the stovepipe hat of Abraham Lincoln, the mustache of Mark Twain, the sooty funnels of a hundred thousand steamboats." Though at first he is struck by how river travel is "so primordial, so unchanged in its path," he later notes that the only thing Lewis and Clark would recognize on a dammed and severely altered stretch of the Missouri River is the bedeviling prairie wind. But what remains constant for him is "the greatest theme in our history: the journey." It is an American theme, though by "westering" and persistently believing that the voyage is destined to succeed, Heat-Moon seems to be on dangerous waters for someone who is part Native American. But his romantic attachment to the nature of exploration doesn't occlude his indictments of pollution, overzealous river management and aboriginal displacement. The book, though largely engaging, is not without its slow spots, which Heat-Moon avers are true to the trip's nature: "the river is no blue highway because the river removes reverie." Heat-Moon has written a rich chronicle of a massive and meaningful undertaking. Unlike Blue Highways, however, the focus is not so much on people and places as on the trials of a journey that bypasses them in favor of reaching its destination. Illus. 250,000 first printing; $250,000 ad/promo; 13-city author tour. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
Review Quotes
"A coast-to-coast journey by way of great rivers, conducted by a contemporary master of travel writing.... Writing with an eye for local color and little-examined history (and sneaking in a pages-long sentence worthy of James Joyce in the bargain), Least Heat-Moon turns in a stirring narrative of a journey into landscapes few have seen...Vintage Least Heat-Moon, radiant with intelligence and masterful storytelling."
"...Heat-Moon has a serendipitous knack of encountering engaging characters... "; "Heat-Moon is at his descriptive best when he is peering neither fore nor aft but over thegunwales into the water that draws him toward the setting sun... "; "So we all of us are in splendid good luck. All aboard! The skipper is going our way."
"His expertise gained from years of reading and travel along these rivers shines through...."River-Horse" is an adventure, a unique, colorful, and provocative river voyage."
"...His prose is straightforward and folksy, reminiscent of Twain and Melville.... [and t]here is a timeless quality to Heat-Moon's stories, all remarkably spellbinding and enchanting. An excellent book."
"...His prose is straightforward and folksy, reminiscent of Twain and Melville.... [and t]here is a timeless quality to Heat-Moon's stories, all remarkably spellbinding and enchanting. An excellent book." Booklist, ALA "His expertise gained from years of reading and travel along these rivers shines through...."River-Horse" is an adventure, a unique, colorful, and provocative river voyage." Christian Science Monitor "A coast-to-coast journey by way of great rivers, conducted by a contemporary master of travel writing.... Writing with an eye for local color and little-examined history (and sneaking in a pages-long sentence worthy of James Joyce in the bargain), Least Heat-Moon turns in a stirring narrative of a journey into landscapes few have seen...Vintage Least Heat-Moon, radiant with intelligence and masterful storytelling." Kirkus Reviews "In his favor, Least Heat-Moon is richly prepared for encounters with America's heritage. From all the research, he skillfully delivers bon mots of our past that are endlessly interesting, if seldom connected, a kind of riverbank almanac that reminds us what the writer can do to paint detail in the background of a scene." The Los Angeles Times "...Heat-Moon has a serendipitous knack of encountering engaging characters... "; "Heat-Moon is at his descriptive best when he is peering neither fore nor aft but over the gunwales into the water that draws him toward the setting sun... "; "So we all of us are in splendid good luck. All aboard! The skipper is going our way." The Washington Post "This time [Heat Moon] voyages across the country, from Atlantic to Pacific, almost entirely by its rivers, lakes and canals in a small outboard-powered boat, a bold and epic notion that should excite any armchair traveler." The San Francisco Chronicle
"In his favor, Least Heat-Moon is richly prepared for encounters with America's heritage. From all the research, he skillfully delivers bon mots of our past that are endlessly interesting, if seldom connected, a kind of riverbank almanac that reminds us what the writer can do to paint detail in the background of a scene."
"This time [Heat Moon] voyages across the country, from Atlantic to Pacific, almost entirely by its rivers, lakes and canals in a small outboard-powered boat, a bold and epic notion that should excite any armchair traveler."
This item was reviewed in:
Booklist, August 1999
Kirkus Reviews, August 1999
Publishers Weekly, August 1999
Library Journal, October 1999
Globe & Mail, November 1999
Los Angeles Times, November 1999
San Francisco Chronicle, November 1999
USA Today, November 1999
Washington Post, November 1999
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
In RIVER-HORSE, the preeminent chronicler of American back roads -- who has given us the classics BLUE HIGHWAYS and PRAIRYERTH -- recounts his singular voyage on American waters from sea to sea. Along the route, he offers a lyrical and ceaselessly fascinating shipboard perspective on the country's rivers, lakes, canals, and towns. Brimming with history, drama, humor, and wisdom, RIVER-HORSE belongs in the pantheon of American travel literature. In his most ambitious journey ever, Heat-Moon sets off aboard a small boat he named Nikawa ("river horse" in Osage) from the Atlantic at New York Harbor in hopes of entering the Pacific near Astoria, Oregon. He and his companion, Pilotis, struggle to cover some five thousand watery miles -- more than any other cross-country river traveler has ever managed -- often following in the wakes of our most famous explorers, from Henry Hudson to Lewis and Clark. En route, the voyagers confront massive floods, submerged rocks, dangerous weather, and their own doubts about whether they can complete the trip. But the hard days yield up incomparable pleasures: strangers generous with help and eccentric tales, landscapes unchanged since Sacagawea saw them, riverscapes flowing with a lively past, and the growing belief that efforts to protect our lands and waters are beginning to pay off. And, throughout its course, the expedition enjoys coincidences so breathtaking as to suggest the intervention of a divine and witty Providence. Teeming with humanity and high adventure, Heat-Moon's account is an unsentimental and original arteriogram of our nation at the edge of the millennium. Masterly in its own right, RIVER-HORSE, when taken with BLUE HIGHWAYS and PRAIRYERTH, forms the capstone of a peerless and timeless trilogy.
Table of Contents
My Lotic Matesp. ix
The Boatp. xi
The Hudson River
A Celestial Call to Boardp. 3
Up Rivers Without Sourcesp. 8
There Lurk the Skid Demonp. 14
A Drowned Riverp. 19
Where Mohicans Would Not Sleepp. 24
Snowmelt and a Nameless Creekp. 30
The Erie Canal
The Pull of a Continentp. 37
Released from the Necessity of Mundane Toilp. 43
Like Jonah, We Enter the Leviathanp. 50
Knoticals and Hangman's Ropep. 56
We Sleep with a Bad-Tempered Woman Tossed by Feverp. 61
The Lakes
Hoisting the Blue Peterp. 69
How the Sun Rose in the West to Set Me Straightp. 76
The Allegheny River
An Ammonia Cocktail and a Sharp Onion-Knifep. 83
A Flight of Eagles, an Iron Bed, and So Forthp. 91
Unlimited Sprawl Areap. 96
Zing, Boom, Tararel!p. 101
The Ohio River
Proving the White Man a Liarp. 107
The Day Begins with a Goonieburgerp. 114
Enamel Speaksp. 123
Along the Track of the Glaciersp. 127
From Humdrummery on down toward Tediump. 132
A History of the Ohio in Three Wordsp. 137
A River Coughed Up from Hellp. 146
A Necessity of Topography and Heartp. 149
Nekked and Without No Posiesp. 156
Eyeless Fish with Eight Tailsp. 161
The Great Omphalos in Little Egyptp. 166
The Mississippi River
A Night Without Light on a River Without Exitsp. 173
The Ghost of the Mississippip. 178
Of Swampsuckers and Samaritansp. 181
To the Tune of "Garry Owen" We Get Readyp. 186
The Lower Missouri River
We Start up the Great Missourip. 193
I Attach My Life to the Roots of a Cottonwoodp. 200
A Language with No Word for Floodp. 203
Looking the River in the Eyep. 209
Clustered Coincidences and Peach Piep. 214
Gone with the Windingsp. 220
Pilotis's Cosmic View Gets Bad Newsp. 226
The Dream Lines of Thomas Jeffersonp. 231
A Water Snake across the Bowp. 237
Sacred Hoops and a Wheel of Cheddarp. 242
The Upper Missouri River
We Find the Fourth Missourip. 249
The Phantom Ship of the Missouri Reedsp. 257
How to Steal Indian Landp. 263
A Conscientious Womanp. 270
Flux, Fixes, and Flumdiddlep. 275
Sitting Bull and the Broom of Heavenp. 284
How to Be a Hell of a Rivermanp. 289
Yondering up the Broomsticksp. 298
Chances of Aught to Naughtp. 303
We Walk under the Great Riverp. 308
Why Odysseus Didn't Discover Americap. 314
Pilotis Concocts an Indian Name for Godp. 321
Trickles, Dribbles, and Gurgletsp. 325
My Life Becomes a Prepositionp. 331
Little Gods and Small Catechismsp. 343
Eating Lightningp. 346
Imprecating the Windp. 352
Into the Quincunxp. 356
Planning for Anything Less than Everythingp. 369
Over the Ebullitionp. 374
Ex Aqua Lux et Visp. 377
Weaknesses in Mountains and Menp. 384
A Nightmare Alleyp. 388
No Huzzahs in the Heartp. 393
The Mountain Streams
We Meet Mister Elevenp. 401
Eating the Force that Drives Your Lifep. 409
An Ark from God or a Miracle of Shoshonesp. 413
A Shameless Festal Boardp. 418
The Salmon River
Bungholes and Bodacious Bouncesp. 429
The Snake River
My Hermaphroditic Questp. 449
Kissing a Triding Keepsakep. 454
Messing About in Boatsp. 458
The Columbia River
The Far Side of the River Cocytusp. 465
Place of the Deadp. 473
Theater of the Graveyardp. 479
A Badger Called Plan Ap. 482
Robot of the Riverp. 489
A Taproom Fit for Raggedy Annp. 493
Salt to Salt, Tide to Tidep. 498
An Afterword of Appreciationp. 505
If You Want to Helpp. 507
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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