Though I find it too long, way, way, way too detailed, and lacking in the tight and fascinating storytelling that makes Blue Highways so brilliant, it does have some seriously impressive moments.
The gist of the book is that Heat-Moon undertakes a cross-country voyage by boat, often following in Lewis and Clark's footsteps (or, well, boat wakes, I suppose) but also making some out-of-the-way turns that will allow him and his small crew to stay on the water for as much of the journey as possible, save for a few unavoidable portages.
On a stretch of the Missouri River in South Dakota, Heat-Moon lies on the ground in the sunshine:
He goes on:
"I thought how far I was from where and when this journey began, how I was so distant from that fellow passing for me twenty months ago, the one so eager to learn the secrets of river passage. Could he--the me of that moment--and I sit down together, he would want to know what I knew and absorb what I had experienced, and he would regard me enviously, just as I do those men who have returned from the moon."
"But there would be forever a difference between him and me: I went and he did not. He set the voyage in motion, but he could not take it. Just as I, who lay on the Dakota hill, could not know whether Nikawa would ever reach the Pacific, he could never see the outcome of his preparations, unless somewhere, on some far other side, time permits us to meet our past selves, all those we have been. Our physical components change every seven years, so our brains are continuously passing along memories to a stranger; who we have been is only a ghostly fellow traveler."
"As for me, what might I learn from him who laid out the voyage or from all those others I once was? ... What a report I might deliver to them about where they have sent me! ...They could redraw the faded lines on the long map of my journey here, point out clearly where it was I took a road other than the one they intended, and they could tell me whether they found it a good one or rankly stupid. Were human memory total and perfect, perhaps I'd be only one person from start to finish, but forgetfulness cuts me off from who I've been so that hourly I am reborn."
All of which is essentially a much more lyrical and thought-provoking (and, in some ways, heart-rending) way of saying what I was trying to get at in my post on my eighth San Francisco anniversary. Heat-Moon has put the words down better than I ever could; to one such as me, for whom finding written proof that someone understood what's in my head before it actually got there is like striking gold, that alone is worth the effort of soldiering through 502 dense pages.