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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: In the tracks of Lewis and Clark

June 27, 2013|By Joe Puglia

The journals of Captains Lewis and Clark are the most prophetic narrative of American history. Thomas Jefferson ordered Meriwether Lewis to keep an accounting of all discoveries made on their trek up the Missouri River. Jefferson was a visionary. He taught Lewis to write with the poetry of imagination to insure their journals would be literary masterpieces. On this Montana adventure they are my Bible.

We put into the river at Coal Banks landing; the boat crews had methodically loaded the equipment to insure a perfect balance as we shoot the current of the Missouri. I told my students that having balance is a lot like life; the Eastern mystics call it center. It's what Siddhartha searched for on his quest for the divine. He didn't realize that he already had it.

Prior to shoving off, I read Lewis' words: “We were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width.... The good or evil it has in store for us was for experiment yet to be determine.... Entertaining as I do the most confidant hope of succeeding … I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.”

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My students are pensive as they leave terra firma. We head for the center of the river. The current immediately takes us and swings us north. All we hear is the rhythmic sound of the paddles as they dip and, with a backward swing, they dip again. After an hour the sounds of laughter begin to emanate from the boats. Anxiety is a natural suppressant, causing us to overcompensate in our focus. However, confidence is gained through preparation, competence and repetition. By the late afternoon our crew would have made the Lewis and Clark proud.

The Missouri is a river that speaks to the traveler; it says, “I am a grandfather spirit; I have a life.” It was the grandfather spirit that brought the captains into the interior of North America. If you listen closely enough, you can hear the river saying, “Follow me; great discoveries await.”

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