Advertisement

Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Wandering and pondering the Missouri River

July 03, 2013|By Joe Puglia

Last week I mentioned that I am adventuring in the West for the 31st year, teaching college kids the history of Lewis and Clark and how to survive on the land. I am convinced that survival is the alchemy of skill, brute determination and endurance. We are canoeing the White Cliffs of the Missouri River that Lewis referred to as “Scenes of Visionary Enchantment.”

The Missouri River is not conducive for contemplative thought. I can appreciate the lapses in the captains’ journals, when they went for days without an entry. The overwhelming logistics and the arduous daily struggle to survive must have been exhausting. Similarly, I struggle to write my thoughts but the demands of this river are debilitating. Nevertheless in the evenings, under candlelight, I pen my journal just as the captains did.

The Missouri River and the land that it waters is a spiritual geography. Words hardly capture the essence of wilderness, nor reveal its melancholy, mystery or charm. Every turn on the river with its treacherous current, snags and sandbars yields a wild moment; the land has not changed since the Corps of Discovery came this way.

Advertisement

The river with its twists and turns and its seething pulse speaks as it groans and moans. “Come up me,” says the Grandfather Spirit of the Missouri. What drew Lewis and Clark up this river was an unformed sense that their country’s destiny lay that way. They journeyed at Jefferson’s behest to find the Northwest Passage.

As we float the current I see the men of the Corps of Discovery knee deep in the river pulling the keelboat up a current that displaces 20,000 cubic feet of water per second. I see Lewis walking the shoreline collecting specimens to send back to the scientist president. I see John Colter hunting buffalo and fighting grizzly bears. I see York, Clark’s black slave, cleaning the weapons. I see Captain Clark, sitting near the fire, dipping his quill in ink, and creating an American epic in the prose of the journals. I see the Indian girl, the teenager named Sacagawea, sitting with the men around the campfire nursing her infant son, Jean Baptiste, the youngest member of the Corps of Discovery.

La Canada Valley Sun Articles La Canada Valley Sun Articles
|
|
|