A Tale of Two Lakes and Three Tacos

In keeping with my vow I posted about yesterday, to be more the person I want to be than the person I usually am, this morning I set off again for another hike, this time around Thetis Lake, near Victoria (see photo below)

It was such a radically different experience in my head than yesterday.  When I got to a short but steep downward stretch of the path, the little fun buster in my head reminded me I would have to go back up if I went down, but it didn’t work, even for a second.  “So what?” I said, and plunged down the path.  When I got to an equally steep upward stretch, all I thought was “I can do this!”

Amazing how much experience matters.  In this case I have both one day of experience (yesterday) and seventy years of it to go on, and both of them tell me I’ve got this—whatever “this” is.

I noticed the turnoff for Elk Lake on my way this morning and thought maybe I would stop there on the way back.  The me I usually  am nixed the idea, saying one lake was enough and there was always another day.  The me I want to be chimed in as I was driving back, asking why I was in such a rush to get back.  “What are you going to do, go back to your room and sit on your bed?”

I want the new, improved me to win these showdowns, so I went to Elk Lake.  Turns out it is the home of the Canadian rowing team and a popular getaway for people in the area. There was a trail around that lake as well, but the legs were in open revolt at the idea of a second hike, so that will have to wait. Only so much self-reinvention can fit in one day!

Besides, it was time for lunch.  I went to one of the most popular restaurants on the waterfront in Sidney, and sat outside surrounded by potted flowers and dappled sun.  I ordered vegan tacos (yams, avocado, corn, and lots of other little goodies) and when a plate of three enormous tacos arrived, the server said, “you know, if you can’t eat all that, we can wrap it to go.”

“I think I’ll need that,”  said diet-conscious  me. As I dug in,  some other creature who is also me said “Wow! These are delicious!” and I polished off all three.  I don’t know who that new voice is, but the me I want to be has little room to spare in these shorts, so I’d better talk back pretty forcefully at least most of the time. But as lunch dates go, that voice was just the one I needed today.





The Me I Want to Be

I got out of quarantine one week ago and I have been too preoccupied to think about much of anything except getting a driver’s license, registering and insuring my car, signing up for medical care and a SIN (the Canadian SSN), getting a small storage unit for when I am between rentals, setting up a bank account, applying for a Canadian credit card to start building a credit rating (my stellar numbers in the US don’t count here).  I also got a haircut and a brow wax!  All that remains now is gas and a car wash before I head into Victoria on Monday to start my two-month stay there. Quite a lot for one week, but the pace I set has now put me in a position to be on vacation for the next few days.

Today I began the real  transition into residency here,  now that the work is done.  This morning I went up to a regional park and hiked along this trail leading to a viewpoint overlooking the ocean.

Almost instantly the clutter in my head began to clear.  The silence reminded me of how long it had been since I had not been surrounded by noise.  The occasional bird song and the rustle of bushes caused by an unseen animal was all that broke into the barely perceptible hum that was my ears adjusting to hearing nothing.

One of my first thoughts was, “here I am, walking in a forest.” Metacognition of this sort is often the preamble to insight  for me, and today my thoughts went something like this. “I want to be the kind of person who walks in forests.  Most of the time I am a person who thinks about walking in forests, but doesn’t actually do it. But here I am, doing it.”  At the moment I was the person I want to be, rather than the person I very often am.

There is no reason, I thought, that I can’t  be more of the person I want to be.  It is entirely up to me. I can look at pictures of beautiful places and imagine myself there, or I can get up and go.  I have absolutely no excuse, now that I have set out on this new chapter in my life.  I am going to call myself out on all my old excuses—no time, no money, no transportation, nobody to go with.

As I hiked, the me I usually am tried to defeat the me I want to be.  The hike was farther and steeper than I expected, and I saw clearly the toll that  a closed gym, curtailed life, and quarantine have taken on my stamina and strength.  The complainer in the back of my mind said I could just turn around, but the me I want to be pressed on.

As viewpoints go, this one was relatively unspectacular, being more a peek through the trees than a wide-open panorama (see photo below), but really for me the larger point was the walk in the woods, and the bonus  of a walk through my own head. And so, there I was, a bit breathless, as I looked out on the reward I had earned by being the better version of myself. It is going to be so worth it to let her loose!



Thank You, Canada

It’s 6:30 AM. I have rinsed out my coffee cup and am posting this just before I open the door of my hotel quarters and step into the hallway as a free woman. After I pack up my car (no easy feat), I will head for the ferry to take me to Sidney, where I will spend a few days looking around that part of Vancouver Island, and then take up residence for two months in Victoria before moving on to whatever seems good at that point. I can imagine the sea breeze on my face  as I cross the water, although the glorious weather I have only been able to observe through my window for most of the last two weeks will have turned to rain by mid-morning. Sun or rain— I don’t care. It will mean life for real, not on hold.

Quarantine has certainly not been my favorite experience, but a Canadian friend put it in perspective when she pointed out that when Covid broke out, Canadians stepped up and did what needed to be done. Their willingness  to sacrifice as a nation by quarantining  for several months and practicing universal social distancing  is what made Canada a safer place for me to come to.  Despite the fact that I took a similar level of care back in San Diego, overall my country did not, and like it or not, that reflects on me.

I kept to the letter of the quarantine, except for a quick, masked and socially distanced run to the closest pharmacy for a prescription—acceptable under the rules of the quarantine. I needed to prove something—not just that I wasn’t infected, but that I care about Canada, and that I want to do my part to keep it safe.

Now I can enjoy things my friends back in the US wonder how long they will have to wait to experience again, starting with a celebratory dinner in one of Sidney’s top restaurants tonight.  Covid has taught me new habits, though, about masks, distanciong, and sanitizing, and I plan to be cautious even beyond what is expected here.  I am sure I will go with the flow when I figure out what that is ( I haven’t been outside to know), but I guess I have been affected psychologically by the months of living in fear in San Diego, and I can’t quite believe that I am safer now and that others are safer from me.

Just because I have a birthright doesn’t mean I should expect everyone to welcome me with open arms during a pandemic. I don’t blame people who don’t. I want Canada to be better by one good citizen because I’m here.

Thank you, Canada, for taking me in.

I stand on guard for thee.





Honoring My Mother


Tomorrow is my last full day in quarantine.  It is also my mother’s 101st birthday.  She didn’t live to see it, dying in 1986, three years younger than I am today.

My mother, Jean, is the reason I am here in Canada. She was the firstborn child of my English grandmother and her husband, my grandfather, an American chemist working for Miner Rubber Company in Granby, Quebec.

Jean and her younger sister Catherine, or Kitchie, as she was always known, spent their early childhood in 1920s Granby, where traveling in winter was done by sleigh, rivers were crossed by boat, and any further travel was done  by train.  No cars.  They rode their ponies to go get the mail in town.  They went to a small school where many of their classmates were First Nations children.

Jean is in back row, next to taller student standing to the right of the teacher. Her sister Kitchie is in front row, third from left.

When Jean was seven or eight, the family left Canada for Wausau, Wisconsin, where she graduated at the top of her high school class and went on to the University of Wisconsin to study Chemistry.  She ended up completing a Master’s degree in Chemistry, quite an accomplishment for a woman of her era.  She got a job at the Mayo Clinic working in the new field of electroencephalograms.

My mother at work in the Mayo Clinic

In college she met my father, Ivan Weeks, and they eventually married.  By the time I was born they were living with my two-year-old sister in Altadena, California, in the San Fernando Valley, where there were more orange and walnut trees than houses in an area that is now packed with suburbs and “Val Gals.”

Shortly after I was born she was diagnosed with ankyloid spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that, over time, can cause vertebrae to fuse. It is possible that her pregnancies may have triggered the disease, a fact I only learned recently and I don’t know if she ever knew. This fusing made her spine less flexible and she slowly froze in place from her waist to her skull, with her head and neck slightly askew. Her ribs were affected as well, making it necessary for her to breathe using muscles of her diaphragm because her ribs could not expand properly. This was aggravated in her case by asthma, which my aunt recalled began after a bout of whooping cough as a child.

Once she became a mother, and once she began dealing with the permanent double disability of the spinal fusion and impaired breathing, that was the end of any hope for a career.  Actually, even if she were in robust health, that just wasn’t in the cards for women with professional husbands  and young families in that era. I have written about this aspect of my mother before, and I encourage you to read my 2019 blog post, “Anniversaries,” here to learn more about growing up with this remarkable woman.

What amazes me most about my mother is that I never  for a moment saw her as disabled. I don’t think she saw herself that way either. There wasn’t much she couldn’t or didn’t do, although often in her own way.    She drove, but with the addition of big mirrors that stuck out from both sides of our car because she couldn’t look over her shoulder to see what was behind her. One thing she couldn’t do was ski.  While we were on the slopes, she sat in the lodge and read and knit all day because she couldn’t turn to catch a chair lift or see what was coming down the hill.  She was the best Girl Scout  leader in town, and I was always jealous because it was for my sister’s troop and I hated mine.  She became  skilled at many crafts, including mosaic and wood carving, and we feasted on vegetables and berries from her garden and fruit from our  small orchard in season, and on jams and canned fruit she made herself.

My mother did not become an American citizen until she was around forty,  I remember going to San Francisco for her to sign the naturalization papers, mostly because we went for sukiyaki on Fisherman’s Wharf afterwards, a family treat.  Apparently her main rationale for this change was that she had gotten tired of not being able to vote.

As she grew older her lung capacity decreased, and in her last years, it was at about 20 percent.  Catching a cold was potentially fatal because any congestion would make getting enough oxygen impossible.  Still, she went out and about with a breathing contraption in her car, and I rarely heard her turn down a chance to go do something fun because it would be too strenuous. We camped with my little boys, and visited the wonderful Native American sites around Los Alamos, where she moved with my father in the 1970s.  A doctor once told me he was astonished that someone with her lung condition wasn’t in a wheelchair. My mother never even used a walker.

With my son Ivan channeling the Lone Ranger in Los Alamos, New Mexico

She celebrated her  67th birthday with her sister, my Aunt Kitchie, on August 20, 1986, and apparently was not feeling well.  She had to take her temperature several times every day, because any rise could signal the onset of a cold, and she needed to get to a hospital immediately to save her life.  Kitchie found her the following morning dead at the breathing machine she kept in her bedroom.  She must have felt short of breath and gotten up to use it.  She took her temperature too—it was noted in her log.  One degree above what it had been that morning.

My mother died thirty-four years ago this Friday, the same day I leave quarantine. On that day,  I will receive from her a final  precious gift, the chance to start my new life in Canada as a citizen by descent.  I think she would be astonished and pleased that the little girl grinning in the school photo was already carrying that gift for me.







What If?

We can’t  begin to understand the concept of a billion—a billion miles, a billion years, or a billion dollars. The mind simply shuts down.  I have been told we can’t see more than five of any object before we have to start grouping to arrive at how many there are. So much for the crowning achievement of evolution—the human brain!

One of my favorite writers, Loren Eiseley, in “The Flow of the River” ( a strong candidate for the best essay I have every read,  in The Immense Journey, one of my all-time favorite books) speaks about the vastness of the universe, in which a billion is a small number,  and how that affects religious thought.  If we can’t comprehend the universe, how could we begin to comprehend a God capable of creating it?

The answer is, we can’t. I am not arguing that there is or isn’t such a God, just that our brains couldn’t grasp it anyway.  The Quiche Maya creation story has it that their deities created humans with perfect insight, but then took it away, so we would see and understand less.  Why?  So they would remain superior to us.

All of this adds up to one big question for believers, regardless of what they believe: How can deity make itself known to beings incapable of knowing it?  Some cultures believe it does this through natural phenomena like thunder or fire, and others see its hand in rewards or punishments.  No matter, really because either way (or another way altogether), these are all ways in which religious apologists would, in Eiseley’s words,  “bring God into the compass of a shopkeeper’s understanding.”

Painfully elitist in phrasing as it is (the book was published in 1946), Eiseley’s point is powerful. To think of God, should we choose to, we have to use the brains we have, and these are inherently too feeble not just for the shopkeepers but the Einsteins among us.  So what do we do?  We bring God down to a size we can relate to.  We can see divinity in a spring blossom, or a bronze statue glowing where thousands of hands have touched it, or in a baby’s first cry. We think for a moment, “Ahah! I’ve glimpsed it!” and that may be enough to make believers of some.

I used to teach World Religions and when we got to Christianity, I would bring Eiseley’s idea into the way I framed it. What if there really is a God like the biblical one, omnipresent and omnipotent beyond our comprehension?  How would that God speak to us?  We see an evolving answer in the Hebrew Bible. God speaks intimately to Abraham in a garden, directly to Moses but in a scary, distant way on Mount Sinai, then often in fiery anger through the prophets, then not at all, at least in words, anymore.

Get the picture?  God tried to convey what human responsibility is, by a few basic laws of behavior told verbally to Noah, then by carving a few more in stone, then by giving voice to the prophets, then—and here is where Judaism parts ways with both Christianity and Islam—God retreats into silence, as if to say, “I’ve had it with trying to get through to these knuckleheads,” leaving humans to sort through messages in the scriptures they already have.

And what follows is the means  by which both Christianity and Islam have derived their power in the human story. In these faiths, God indeed does bring it down to a shopkeeper’s understanding by sending an exemplar to walk among us.  “Here,” God seems to be saying, giving up on stone tablets and brimstone.  “I want you to act more like him.”

The light dawns.  Be loving, be just.  Every day.  That’s enough. That’s really what all the biblical words are about anyway. Even if you don’t believe either of them were sent by God, Jesus and Mohammad (may peace be upon them) remain model lives for millions.  The saints continue this tradition of human exemplars, their power deriving from the fact they they were people just like us, who put the will of God first.

So now here we are in 2020.  Is the next chapter in the story of God going to be that he gives up on the adequacy of even his best messengers?  The idea of loving one’s neighbor doesn’t seem to have critical mass today, and there seems to be little Jesus-like behavior among the loudest of the self-proclaimed faithful. There has always been a tension in America between the desire for personal liberty and the needs of the community, and while many—maybe even most Americans—are choosing community, right now advocates of personal liberty are on a rampage.

Is God going for a reboot? Is that what 2020 is all about? One last chance for us to pay attention?  If the perfect humans didn’t teach us anything, maybe a return to  fire and brimstone will—an Armageddon of disease, with climate disaster and rampant worldwide social injustice thrown in as well. Will this dawning horror teach us anything?  I wish I still thought so.

The will of the Biblical God is that love and justice prevail. Those of us who believe in that, whether or not we believe in that God, will have to stick it out until we win.  If we don’t, and if an omnipotent God does rule the universe, perhaps we will end not with a bang or a whimper, as T.S. Eliot suggests, but with a colossal shrug, and a new bit of clay in another Garden of Eden. 



The Mystery Woman in Room 404

Day Seven!  Halfway through my quarantine!

In some ways it hasn’t been been that different from the restrictive life I was already living in San Diego.  After all, on a typical day I did not go out, and I passed the time in much the same manner I do here.  Still, it does feel different in some significant ways.

In San Diego I was inside as a means of staying well. Here the presumption seems to be that I am  one step ahead of my first symptoms.  The staff here at the hotel has been really nice about checking in on me, but the way we interact is based on the premise that I absolutely must not come out of my room for any reason whatsoever because I might be poisonous. 

When I was home and while en route to Canada I used to remind myself that there is no danger at all in interacting with anyone who is not infected. Since most people aren’t carrying the virus, exercising reasonable caution has kept me safe to this point.  Still, I think we all tend to see everyone as walking clouds of virus, like the Peanuts character Pig Pen, who shed dirt in little squiggles and dots everywhere  he went.


I feel a bit like the stereotypical spy. When I open the door in the hotel to put out my garbage (housekeeping will not come in, so I call the desk to send someone to get it) I stare up and down the hall to see if it is safe. I debated going down late at night to check on my car but haven’t done it yet.  Maybe a load of stealth laundry late at night?  Probably not.

This is very different from life in San Diego, where the decisions around going out were always mine to make. I could go out, but I almost always chose not to.  Here I had better not cross the threshold  because the Canadian government has made very clear how much potential ruin they are prepared to inflict upon my plans for my life if I do.  And I promised Canada I wouldn’t.  I want to get off to the best possible start here, and this is how to do it.

It is is a weird juxtaposition between this healthy person in room 404 and the apparent perception that there is a grave risk posed by my being here.   I exist only as a potential miasma swirling out from under the door. And here I am inside, listening to music, reading, researching things to do on Vancouver Island, fixing meals, doing sit-ups and stretches, having a glass of  wine or a cup of tea, writing this blog.  Not so much as a sniffle and yet a threat still does lurk..

I left home on August 1, and since it is now August 14, I think we can safely assume I did not bring Covid with me.  Every day I stay symptom free I can tick off another place on the road where I did not get infected.  By the time I get to the end,  only that cute border crossing guard who might have breathed on me through his mask could have given it to me, and he would have gotten it from another Canadian.

But no matter.  Canada is right to exact this price on anyone who wants to walk freely here.  I’m fine.  Eager to get out, but way more than okay. I’m doin’ it, and that’s all I have to say.



Day 4 of Quarantine: Lemons to Lemonade

As I pass the 25% mark in my two-week quarantine in Vancouver, I thought it might be good to count a few blessings:

  1. I haven’t lost my room key or had to ask the desk for my room number once.  This is historic.
  2. I haven’t had to check the weather forecast when getting dressed
  3. I don’t need to use the hair dryer, and my hair appreciates that
  4. When I look up and see I have frittered away a few hours, my response is “Great!” rather than “Oh, geez, I’d better get something done!”
  5. I haven’t brought  home any impulse purchases
  6. I’ve stuck faithfully to a healthy diet because I bought nothing but veggies and protein and can’t go out to buy any junk food.  A good thing, since I would have torn through all of it by now
  7. I have gotten some tedious tasks done, like clearing out old emails and clipping my toenails
  8. I don’t have to wash my hands a million times a day, or wear a mask
  9. And best of all— drum roll, please— I know I haven’t contracted Covid in the last few days

The Good, the Bad, and the Open for Consideration

I am in quarantine in Vancouver.  It is 8AM on my second day.  The sky is entirely blue, and world-class Stanley Park is steps away from the front door of my hotel.   I can’t go outside.

I ordered groceries delivered yesterday and forgot creamer for my coffee.  I can’t run out to get it, and won’t have another delivery for a week, so I will have to do without.

I bought a set of resistance bands so I could work out in the room, but I can’t find them.

There.  I am done complaining.

I drove over two thousand miles in the last week without any mishaps.  I saw four friends, two of whom I seldom see, and two of whom I hadn’t seen at all for fifty-plus years (thank you, Facebook).

I got across the border without a hitch and even got a break of more than half off on the import tax on my car as a “returning” Canadian (I told them I wasn’t but they wanted to be nice)

I saw three national parks (Shasta from a distance, Crater Lake, and Mt. Rainier) and one National Historical Park  (Fort Clatsop).

My car GPS works in Canada, so I found the hotel easily, and I will be able to find my way when I am out discovering my new world.

My room is really a small apartment with nice everything (see photo of living area below).  I could use a balcony, but at least the windows open part way.

I am safe, whole, and grateful.

So now what do I do for the next two weeks?  Hmm, let’s  see….

I have an iPad, a laptop, a mobile phone, and a television with fairly decent cable.  I have a zillion audiobooks, podcasts, online courses, and music on iTunes. I have the play I have been too distracted to continue working on in the last few weeks. I have all the sketching materials I bought the last time I thought about learning to draw.  I have a row of books lined up on the desk that I haven’t had time to read. I have about two hours left of a really good audiobook, and lots more in the queue.  I have friends and family to email, message, and phone, and a blog to maintain. I have exercises I can do without the resistance bands.  I have the raw ingredients for some pretty good meals.  I have a comfy bed for naps.

At my age, I try never to say I wish time would pass more quickly.  That will be put to the test here, for I already cannot wait to feel the sun and fresh air,  to be on that ferry going to Vancouver Island, and wander around there in a state of constant discovery.  But for now, I will try to see this as a good transition time, a chance to practice my resolve not to be in a hurry about everything.  For now, it’s breakfast time, day two, and who knows after that?





The Art of Gratitude in the Rain

Time to shift gears.  It’s an apt metaphor, even with an automatic transmission, for a journey from the Mexican to Canadian border in six long days of  driving.  As I write this I am ensconced in a hotel outside Seattle. I’ve done it.  The long hours on the road are behind me, and the sights are now wonderful memories.

What remains  are visits with friends in the area, and about 100 miles of northbound road. All the things that could have gone wrong haven’t, and I am right on schedule to cross tomorrow morning.

The day before yesterday at Mt. Rainier I chose to wait until the next morning to visit the famous wildflower fields that are the number one summer attraction at the park. I was tired and I wanted to be fresh for it. As luck would  (or wouldn’t) have it, the morning was gray and drizzly, but I set out back up the mountain anyway, hoping the fields would be above the clouds. Unfortunately they were right in the middle, and visibility was less than ten feet. No mountain, no flowers.

I can picture my friends in the Northwest saying, “ Get used to it,” as my never-consider-the-weather Southern California self makes the adjustment to nature laughing at my plans.
Of course I was disappointed, but it was pretty easy to find my way back to gratitude. I have seen so much, including Mt. Rainier closer up than the flower fields, and there have been a lot of wildflowers to see, even if not dense acres of them in one spot. I saw the Oregon Coast, I saw Mt. Shasta, I saw Crater Lake, I saw the Columbia River, I saw Fort Clatsop ( see last post).  The weather was perfect for all of them.

This is the third time in memory that fog has dashed my hopes. The first was when I scattered my son’s ashes at Nordkapp, so they could merge into the dust that lights up the Aurora Borealis. The second was in Bhutan, when the summit from which we might have seen the Himalayas was so socked in we could barely see the trees on the other side of the road. Likewise, Mt. Rainier was towering over me in the mist just as surely as on a clear day.

I scattered my son’s ashes in the middle of the lowest period in my life, when I struggled every day for a modicum of happiness.  I couldn’t see ahead then, and the fog seemed so apt.  The last two experiences have come at far better times for me, but the message is still the same.  Just  because I can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. Like whatever lies in the future,  we just have to wait for our minds and hearts to be ready, and then be astonished, when the fog lifts, by what has been there all along.



Honoring the Corps of Discovery

A few years back, when i was preparing for a cruise from Vancouver to Los Angeles, I decided that for the journey up the Columbia River to Portland I would prepare a talk on the Lewis and Clark expedition, which left from Missouri in 1804 to explore the continent all the way to the west coast.  Their final stretch for the 33 members of the expedition was down the Columbia River, where almost a year and a half after setting out, they  finally saw the Pacific Ocean.

I vaguely remembered studying this expedition, formally titled the Corps of Discovery, mostly because it starred one of the very few women who showed up in schoolbooks, a Shoshone woman named Sacajawea (shown in a sculpture here) who served as a guide and interpreter, carrying on her back her infant son throughout the journey.  Of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark I remembered nothing except their names.

I learned in my research that at the mouth of the Columbia River there is a replica of Fort Clatsop, the structure the Corps built to survive the winter before heading back the following spring. I put it on the list of places I hoped I could visit some day, and when I planned my route to British Columbia, I chose  a route through coastal Oregon that would allow me to visit.

President Thomas Jefferson, who sponsored the Corps of Discovery, required that every man on the mission (mostly army volunteers) keep a journal if he was literate.  As a result, we have a rich trove of documentation of everything about the expedition. We have not only the two leaders’ copious notes, drawings and descriptions, but details of camp life from the others.   We know from Lewis’ journals that he suffered from dark periods that strongly suggest bipolar disorder, borne out by his suicide years later (although conspiracy theories abound).  I have no way to even imagine  what that would have been like for him—and Clark and the others— to deal with out in the vast, unfathomable unknown they were traveling. The journals all suggest very little.  He was, after all, the appointed leader of the expedition, and who would speak ill of him?

I also learned that William Clark had once been Meriwether Lewis’ superior officer. When Lewis was appointed to lead the Corps,  he requested that Clark be co-appointed.  Jefferson refused that request, so though technically Lewis was his superior, he insisted that Clark be called Captain as well, and it isn’t clear the others in the Corps even knew it actually wasn’t true.

Hard as it is to believe, in the three years of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, not a single life was lost.  Not one, despite all those mountains, rivers, brutal weather, natural disasters, predators, and other obstacles.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  A week or two after they set out, one member of the Corps developed peritonitis and died of sepsis.  That would have happened if he stayed home, most likely, and it should not taint the astonishing leadership and judgment of Lewis and Clark.

As to the reason I needed to go to Fort Clatsop, one of the things that reflects best on America happened upon their arrival at the Pacific in November 1805.  They knew they had to winter there in that milder climate because their route home across the mountains and plains would not be passable until spring.  There were two  possibilities.  First, they could stay on the coast and hope to flag down a passing ship, for trade had opened up along the coastal route by then.  Second, they could go a short distance inland, where the forest would offer better protection, but they would miss the chance to be picked up.

Lewis and  Clark did what I think is a quintessentially American thing. They could have just decided themselves which to do, but they didn’t. They presented it to the group for a vote. Everyone got an equal vote, including Sacajawea and York, an enslaved man Clark had brought along as his servant.  They were the first African American, the first woman, and the first indigenous person to vote in American history.  The group voted to go inland, and that was that.  Fort Clatsop (replica shown here)  was the result.



That’s pretty impressive, but I don’t want to sugar coat these two men.  They were products of their time, and deciding that everyone deserved a say in that situation is not the same as thinking everyone is inherently equal.  After their return to Missouri, York fully expected to be freed, and was astonished that Clark refused.  I am astonished as well.  Clark also persuaded Sacajawea to let him take over the schooling of her child back in Missouri, so he could grow up in white culture.  Also cringeworthy, so let’s not leap to declare him a saint.  But let’s not throw him out as a racist SOB either, for he was so much more complex than that. 

The story of the vote on the shore of the Pacific reveals the simple truth that sometimes the best leaders  are those who know when to follow. Leadership means more than issuing orders. True leaders enable.  True leaders listen. True leaders know when to get out of the way. That is what the American founders thought leadership would entail in this new experiment in democracy. The country was still so new when Lewis and Clark set out that the greatest intellect behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, was not only still alive, but the one who sent them.   

How far we have fallen  from that profound moment on the Pacific shore. How far we have fallen from the idea that everyone should have a voice—or, with a truncated census, even be counted at all.  How far we have fallen when our president will not even promise  he will honor the results of the election.  How far down the Missouri River would this expedition ever have gotten with what passes for political leadership today? Lewis and Clark showed what America could be.  Lewis embodied it when he insisted Clark be treated as his equal.  They both embodied it when they shared power with their companions.  They both embodied it when they treated no one as expendable.

Up here in the northwest corner of the United States as I write this,  I offer up to the universe the hope that the best that was in Lewis and Clark can prevail in a better America,  where everyone matters, and where York and Sacajawea are treated as equals not just sometimes but—unquestionably—always.