Travel: From Sea to Shining Sea ; Louise Harrison Reads a Tale of the American Riverbank in Our Latest Round-Up of Travel Books

By Harrison, Louise | The Independent (London, England), March 19, 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Travel: From Sea to Shining Sea ; Louise Harrison Reads a Tale of the American Riverbank in Our Latest Round-Up of Travel Books


Harrison, Louise, The Independent (London, England)


River-Horse: A Voyage Across America

William Least Heat-Moon

(Secker & Warburg, pounds 17.99)

William Least Heat-Moon - the pre-eminent chronicler of American by-ways and author of Blue Highways and PrairyErth - reverts to a more traditional mode of travel for his latest exploration. River- Horse describes a 5,000- mile journey across America using only interior waterways (a greater distance than any other cross-country river traveller), following in the wake of river explorers Henry Hudson, and Lewis and Clark.

What did America look like from its backwaters? Keen to find out, Heat- Moon spent years calculating a route by which a small vessel could cross from the Atlantic at New York to the Pacific in Oregon over inland waterways. Together with his co-pilot, who goes under the nick-name Pilotis, Heat- Moon navigates the rivers, lakes and canals of America in a 22-ft fibreglass powerboat called Nikawa, which means "river-horse" in the language of the Osage Indians. The boat was small enough to hitch on to the back of a trailer, yet large enough to carry bare essentials.

The design of Nikawa made her look like an illustration from a children's book - often causing people to describe her as "cute", much to the chagrin of the courageous explorers.

Early on, after a bruising six hours on Lake Erie, with the Nikawa constantly crashing and plunging through 7ft waves, Heat- Moon contacts the boatbuilder to check if his vessel can withstand such a beating, only to receive the dour response: "The boat can take it. The question is whether a crew can..."

The author idealistically observes how "river travel makes this country appear as it ought to be: a sensible number of people blending their homes, barns and businesses with a natural landscape free of those intrusive abuses junked up alongside our highways". Heat-Moon does not shy away from describing the effects of America's appalling environmental legacy, regularly reminding us of the detritus on the river banks - old sofas, human sewage, tampon applicators.

But despite the hard times, the quest yields incomparable pleasures. Strangers are generous with help and are the source of countless anecdotes. The ancient aboriginal mounds, shaped into serpents, bears and birds, stand like sentinels all along the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri. Heat- Moon's flowing prose is generously inflected with allusions to literature and history.

Peopled with interesting characters and bursting with amusing travel trivia, the account combines insight and high adventure. The result is a humorous, intelligent and above all compassionate guide to the real America. As the writer says, "when there is a holy grail to pursue then the soul must follow".

Fresh-Air Fiend: Travel Writings 1985-2000

Paul Theroux

(Hamish Hamilton, pounds 20)

Paul Theroux has enjoyed a distinguished career as a novelist (Picture Palace, The Mosquito Coast) and travel writer (The Great Railway Bazaar), while as an academic he manages to bring erudition and accuracy to his work.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Travel: From Sea to Shining Sea ; Louise Harrison Reads a Tale of the American Riverbank in Our Latest Round-Up of Travel Books
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?