Heat-Moon has quite an obsession with the desert landscape. He has a way of depicting such a seemingly desolate space as a naturally beautiful portal into the Sublime. He writes on page 160, “There’s something about the desert that doesn’t like man, something that mocks his nesting instinct and makes his constructions look feeble and temporary” (Heat-Moon). The narrator romanticizes the desert’s ability to withstand time and resist man’s outside influence. Heat-Moon is “looking for its disciplines,” in that he hopes to live a poignant life beyond that of society’s modern standards. The author is beginning to come to terms with the way in which the commodity obsessed culture has dictated his actions. Thus, he relies on his family heritage to lead the way to salvation—he reminisces on his Indian lineage as a way to further connect with nature’s givings. As he drives through New Mexico, he comes across “a dusty spume of wind created by thermal pressures spun wildly about the sage and thistle” (Heat-Moon 156). He time and again associates himself with the Indian group as opposed to the civilization he only previously left behind: “People of the Old Testament heard the voice of God in desert whirlwinds, but Southwestern Indians saw evil spirits in the spumes and sang aloud if one crossed their path; that’s why, in New Mexico and Arizona today, the little thermals are ‘dust devils’,” (Heat-Moon 156). His awareness of the natural world is clearly changing as he continues on his journey. He’s always been linked with nature through his Indian ancestry, yet he’s never truly acted upon this intimate association. He’s coming to terms with himself in a spiritual manner. Nature now appears differently then it had before as he stared out his bedroom window in the start of the travelogue.
Working alongside his feeling of the Sublime, Heat-Moon has realized there is no existing, stagnant perception of nature. Rather, nature’s image depends on the eye of the beholder. Speaking to Mrs. Been while at the saloon, Heat-Moon remarks, “I’d have a beer,” I said, “but I guess it’s too early” (157). Mrs. Been replies, “Not in the desert” (Heat-Moon 157). Time stands still when one is surrounded by the “Big Hatchet Mountains, their backs against the deserts of Mexico” (Heat-Moon 156). Societal norms are irrelevant, as every second should be spent doing as one pleases—essentially, living in the moment and embracing life. However, Heat-Moon is not entirely cured of society’s ways. He still feels the need to analyze and define every situation. Mrs. Been speaks to Heat-Moon, describing the quaintness of the town. Yet he immediately responds, “I’ve got the feeling I’m in the farthest corner of the United States. The word for your town is remote” (Heat-Moon 158). He is unable to believe a thriving civilization may actually survive in this particular fashion, as if it must be a one-time oddity.
I’m looking forward to seeing if Heat-Moon is successful in accessing his divine, optimistic side as he travels through the blue highways of the U.S.