Lewis and Clark led the way and took part in an amazing adventure, and an expedition is exactly what it was. They dared to venture into a region unknown to them. Among the unknown was the nature surrounding the paths they were to take. Lewis and Clark, as well as everyone else on the expedition, had only ideas of the geographic areas they were braving. This is shown throughout The Lewis and Clark Expedition. The journal entries throughout this book show just how important nature was to the explorers.
What exactly were Lewis and Clark looking for? They wanted to find a northwest passage to use as a trade route from North America to the Pacific ocean. Using waterways was the only way to trade and ship good in large quantities. To get to the Pacific, another way was needed. It was believed that the Missouri River and the Columbia River came together to form a route to the East Coast. Unfortunately, not much was known about the western United States or the upper Missouri River. Lewis and Clark now had their task: to see if this waterway truly did exist.
The two explorers, along with their men, encountered many new wonders as they traveled up the Missouri. One major discovery was the difference in vegetation. Lewis describes a cherry, which are similar to the ones he has seen before yet have some different characteristics(page 40). He describes the bark as being "smooth and of a dark brown colour", and explains the fruit as "a globular berry about the size of a buck-shot of a fine scarlet red". Lewis is intrigued by the differences judging by his writing. Lewis had much knowledge about observing his surrounding, and Clark had an interest in
learning. This is why the vegetation seemed so phenomenal to them as the trudged up the Missouri.
While the plans looked interesting, the served a more useful purpose. This purpose was survival. Before the explorers reached the first village they lived off pawpaws, yellowish fruit that grew along the river (page 75). Other berries and fruits were used as staples during the duration of the trip, especially when meat was scarce due to the lack of herding animals at times.
Another thing the two explorers documented were the animals. They saw many animals they had never encountered before. Among these were the buffalo and antelope. They learned how Indians depended on the buffalo for food and other amenities, and also discovered how important these animals would become for their own survival. They also learned how different animals were more influential to Indian tribes in different regions. Plateau and Northwest Pacific Indians relied on elk and salmon, while the Plains Indians relied on buffalo.
One of the animals most documented in Lewis’ journal was a large furry monster called the grizzly bear. The grizzly bear made a profound impact on the explorers. They were shocked to see an animal with suck brute force and strength. The size of the grizzly was enough to enthrall the men gazing at them. Lewis wrote on May 11th, 1805 that the bear "being so hard to die rather intimidates us all" (page 187).
They also had encounters with insects previously unknown to them. One such insect was the mosquito. Nets had to be issued to the explorers for them to continue their journey. The journal entries also vaguely make references to fleas, lice, and other insects
(page 189). Not only did they discover animals that intrigued them, but that encountered animals that hindered there chances of survival by carrying diseases and acting as a nuisance.
In the Winter of 1804, the explorers set up camp in the Mandan villages located in what is now North Dakota. They experienced a terribly harsh winter, which was never experienced further south. At times the weather reached nearly forty degrees below zero and the explorers encountered another new experience called frostbite. It wasn’t common knowledge that northern states generally have harsher winters than the southern regions. This was another important discovery in the field of science.
The importance of nature seems to be one of the underlying themes in Lewis’ journal entries. The explicit detail he uses shows his interest in new places, vegetation, wildlife, and sights overall. This information about nature (climate, animals, plants, and geography) had a profound impact on many views. The discoveries in geography allowed for another trade route, which Jefferson wanted, while the other natural factors gave us a glimpse of the differences from coast to coast. Climate and weather may have sparked ideas about latitude and longitude having an impact on the changes in cold and hot, as well as vegetation changes.
In closing, a better understanding of the natural side of the exploration helped generate ideas of science. These ideas could include medicine, like when the crew member felt better after drinking copious draughts of a strong tea of horse mint (page 80). With all these science ideas out in the open, it provided the explorers, as well as the rest
of the world, with the urge to learn more about nature and the world around them. Wasn’t learning more about the country one of the main purposes of the long expedition in the first place?
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