Thursday, July 24, 2014

on the road with sacagawea

I am not a very good passenger.  I worry a lot and anticipate the worst possible scenarios, playing them over and over in my head.  I work really hard not to pass this all on to the driver (my husband):  I draw, I sew, I hold my special rock (really) and I close my eyes.  This is not a reflection on Dan's driving, I just don't think we are meant to be propelling large metal machines at high speeds down roads with thousands of other large metal machines.  All of these soft bodied, wide-eyed, distractable beings, operating crazy powerful hunks of metal - where are our shells?? It's just something I don't get.  

It really helps me to be distracted by a good story.  We usually listen to audio books for hours on long road trips, but due to a snafu, the stories on our i-pods are completely jumbled.   We stuck with Huckleberry Finn for about half an hour before we confessed to each other that we really had no idea what was going on.  Bummer. We were looking at three really long days at the top of our trip - Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and eastern Colorado - without stories? DANG. 

Ani was unfazed; Dan loaded her ipod with several Beatles albums before we left and when we tired of listening to them, she put on her headphones and put Help on repeat, singing loudly to her favorites.

We needed a story.

Before we left, I made a last minute decision to ask Dan to stop by the library to pick up a few books I had on hold, and we brought them along.   Now, here is where I should have really started this post, and it could have sounded something like this:

Knowing that our homeschooling family of four would be taking a road trip to the northwest this summer, I decided to plot a route that followed the trail of Lewis and Clark.  Along the way we will be reading carefully chosen excerpts of their journals and studying the landscape outside our windows with a historical perspective.  

But I would have been totally lying.  It was a fluke, except that I was looking for good novels about the American West for us to read at some point this summer.  What I didn't realize is that I found the perfect novel to accompany us on our trip.  Sacagawea by Joseph Bruchac is a wonderful fictional telling of the journey of Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark and their "Corps of Discovery" in the early 1800's. Bruchac alternates chapters between Sacagawea's voice and the voice of William Clark, as they tell the story of their journey to Pomp, Sacagawea's son.  

Frustrated with our lack of audio books (to tell the truth, I was a little panicked), I rummaged in the library bag and found this book.  When I opened it I saw the map of their journey, which started in St. Louis.  Hey wait a minute! We're almost to St. Louis!  We crossed the Missouri as we read about the expedition's magnificent gun-laden boat, and picked up their trail again in Wyoming as we drove through the Wind River Reservation where Sacagawea's grave site is.  We saw the Yellowstone river, drove through Three Forks where the Shoshone people were from, and followed their trail through the Lolo Pass from Montana into Idaho, along the Lochsa river down to the Snake River, where they stayed with the Nez Perce, waiting for the snows on the pass to subside.  Every time we cracked the book, we exclaimed - hey! We're looking at that! We're seeing bison! Do you think they were that huge back then? We're watching a bear feeding on a bison carcass, just like they did along the river after the spring thaw!

I did not plan it and I could not have planned it better had I tried. It was almost eerie how good a match this book was for our trip. Serendipitous. 

grasslands around Hell's Gate, Idaho

Our last night of camping before we reached Seattle, we stayed at the western edge of Idaho, on the Snake River.  We pulled into our campground, called Hell's Gate, which I'd found online the night before, and drove right up to the Lewis and Clark Discover Center.  We were sleeping next to a site where there had been a Nez Perce village that hosted the expedition, two hundred years ago.  

osprey nest on the Snake river, Idaho

We read the final chapters as we drove along the Columbia river, finally turning north where the expedition travelled south.  After so many days with Sacagawea on my mind it was sad to have her story end.  I found the story so much more engaging, being able to picture the muddy river of the Missouri and the area where the Shoshone hid in the mountains until it was safe to make a quick visit to the plains for a buffalo hunt.  

It has not escaped my notice that before we leave the northwest we will be passing by Fort Clatsop and Cape Disappointment, places where the expedition stayed when they finally reached the Great Water That Tastes Bad. Maybe our parallel journey hasn't quite come to an end...


merry said...

I read a novel about Sakagawea in Moscow and LOVED it! I can't remember anything about the title or the author, but I got swept up in the journey and loved every minute of it!!

tokarz said...

well that sounds so perfect!