American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes
RIVER-HORSE: THE LOGBOOK OF A BOAT ACROSS AMERICA (1999). In a style reminiscent of Samuel Clemens* and Paul Theroux,* William Least Heat-Moon [William Trogdon] (1939- ) captures what it was like to traverse America from the Atlantic to the Pacific before the age of rail when the nation’s waterways were its highways. The 5,000-mile voyage from Elizabeth, New Jersey, in Newark Bay, through a portion of Lake Erie, through the Columbia River in northwest Oregon, is aboard a twenty- two-foot outboard-powered C-dory. There is some urgency in the narrative, propelled by his desire to make the journey in a single year, but what emerges over more than 500 pages is a pleasantly ambling, yet comprehensive, travel narrative composed of vignettes on, and contemplations about, America’s inland waterways.
The book bears few of the markers of maritime literature. The river is neither a boundary nor a conduit into a deep unknown, life on Least Heat- Moon’s vessel presents little deprivation, and shoreside comforts are always near. Yet the overarching theme is that the lakes, rivers, and oceans of the world are all one, an idea that prompts the author to find meaning in pouring a bottle of Atlantic water into the Pacific Ocean upon completing his journey. It also prompts an appendix urging readers to support environmental endeavors to clean up inland waters. The work, with Blue Highways:
A Journey into America (1982) and PrairyErth: A Deep Map (1991), forms a trilogy, but only River-Horse focuses on the water. [See also AMERICAN INDIAN LITERATURE OF THE SEA; GREAT LAKES LITERATURE]
Daniel M. Albert