“The valley along which we passed today, and through which the river winds it’s meandering course… ascends gradually on either side of the river to the bases of two ranges of high mountains. the tops of these mountains are yet covered partially with snow, while we in the valley are nearly suffocated with the intense heat of the mid-day sun; the nights are so cold that two blankets are not more than sufficient covering.”
So wrote Meriwether Lewis from the headwaters of the Missouri River on August 2, 1805 — exactly 210 years ago today.
On that day Lewis and Clark were about 150 miles north of where I hiked today, but the words still ring true. These mountains too bear snow even in August, and I indeed need a blanket or two at night (even indoors). Given global warming, it’s interesting that they also found it very hot on this date.
I set out today up a logging road about 20 minutes’ drive west of home, with the dog beside me. He hung back at first, panting, until I made it clear I would not head back.
I’ve been reading Lewis and Clark’s journals just now, and as I walked I kept thinking of the two diarists, of their guides Sacajawea and Charbonneau and the rest of the party — their exhaustion from hauling log-built canoes always upstream, the sprains and blisters and tender feet from clambering over rocky streambeds, the digestive problems from tainted water, the constant search for game to eat, the harrowing losses of tomahawks and compasses, the uncertainty about where they were headed, what lay ahead, and the odds of survival.
Lewis wrote with wonder that the local natives, Sacajawea’s mountain Shoshone relatives, could survive at all in this environment. How much we owe to those natives’ kindness to the first Europeans, to the courage and stamina of the explorers and Mountain Men themselves, to the fortitude of the first European settlers who opened this wonderful land for the rest of us.
The dog and I trudged up a very rutted dirt road, through a pine forest that didn’t offer much shade. I didn’t need to carry much: A bear bell, bear spray, a water bottle.
Our trail led to a T-junction, and I chose the right turn, towards a place where the trees were thicker, offering more shade.
We scared up a grouse.
The pine grove opened into a wider meadow, covered with tall browning grass and some wild flowers still blossoming late in the season.
The road curved. What lay ahead?
I can rarely turn back when a slope or a bend beckons with the possibility of a new vista.
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© Lois Wingerson 2015