Though 214 years, one month, and a few days apart, I venture to say that Merriweather Lewis and I shared some very similar experiences on the Missouri River. Lewis ascended, yes that’s right, went UP the Missouri, expecting to see the great falls, which would confirm that it was indeed the Missouri.
He himself was a bit unsure of the information he had to support the notion. His journal says he named it The Maria for the time being because it had the characteristics of being pure and having “celestial virtues and amiable qualifications of that fair one.” (A footnote in the journal indicates that Lewis shared musings of love occasionally.)
Standing on the bank of the Missouri in 2019 made me realize that Lewis and I experienced some of the same things. He and Clark reported rain that had passed, some thunder, clearing to sun and a “fine day.” Me too! They reported observing birds living along the shore near the timbers. Me too! Some Canada geese and a pelican. I picked up a flat stone and skipped it as far as I could across the Missouri, and I wondered if they did that too. If they did, it didn’t make the journal. I stood and took a bearing on the far bank of the river, listening to the wind wisp through the tall grass. Did they? They had compasses and sextants and reported a SW wind. Me too! Even our observations of the shallow but quick current matched.
Inevitably, 2019 brings some observations unknown to 1805. I did not rely solely on the compass as GPS is a fabulous tool when the time is right. Time did not allow me to consult former fur trappers or native people of the land.
It was not necessary to hunt my breakfast, nor to hang the remnants high in a tree for fellow travelers who were due along next. Lewis’s 27 miles traveled in a June day were whopping then but small change to my 350 miles. Though, if I had to transport my boat overland around the falls, I would have been elated at a handful of miles.
I see benefit in adjusting my viewpoint to capture Lewis’s Montana though. A journal of my trip may have included: a mule grazing was seen off to the east and the Missouri followed to the west as was indicated by the canyon like drop in the prairie. The scenery is breathtaking. Open, rolling grassland, with epic mountain ranges in the far beyond, each gaze worthy of an oil painting. I know the earth isn’t bigger here, but it sure does seem like it. Big Sky Country is a fitting motto. Even Lewis knew that no description or photograph could suffice. He wrote, in regards to a review of his own journaled description, that he was “disgusted with the imperfect idea which it conveyed of the scene” and wished he would have brought a camera obscura but realized that it wouldn’t have done it justice either.
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