I felt strange reading an article tonight. It said that the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which blazed a trail through America in 1804-1806, was “America’s most famous and important exploration.”
That floored me.
Because if this is true, that means we experienced our greatest exploration achievement more than two centuries ago. It means that we are currently relying on the legends of our past, rather than forging ahead to create even greater legends in our future.
I continued to read the article with curiosity. It went deeper describing the Lewis and Clark expedition… In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson created a specialized unit in the American Army called the “Corps of Discovery.” The goal of the Corps of Discovery was to explore the wilderness-filled landscape so that the American nation could then rise upon it. Two men, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, were then chosen as leaders to take the cross-continental journey.
In the next two hundred years, America became the world’s only super-power. But we are in a different society now. Things are changing. What worked yesterday, might not work tomorrow.
Because it is unlikely that the government will commission another “Corps of Discovery,” it is up to us to take the next expedition on our own.
I was walking outside today. I took a trail that cut through a snowy forest and I realized I was having an almost identical moment to what Lewis and Clark would have experienced . I looked around. I tried to feel like them, and make it real. But no matter how authentic I tried to pretend, my experience didn’t feel as fresh or revelatory as theirs did. I felt ordinary. Like I’ve done this every day of my life. And I was right, since Lewis and Clark first did it, walks like this through the American landscape have been repeated hundreds of millions of times. We’ve seen everything we can see. Because of this, our love for discovery has been dulled.
As I walked through the woods I kicked away fresh snow and it made me question what my American experience has become? Am I going to continue being a cog in this cyclical routine where everyday feels like someone else’s dream? Or am I going to venture out – and try to go further than Lewis and Clark ever did – and as a result, create a new American experience? I walked through the woods asking myself this…
I continued wandering along the trail and looked up. All the trees seemed to be looking down at me, like they held secrets that were beyond my knowledge. They were more than just pictures on a landscape. They had personality. They were old oaks trees – hundreds of years old – and several of the oldest ones may have actually been living when the original Lewis and Clark expedition passed this way. These were the sights that those first American explorers saw which sprouted in their minds and created our signature American ambition and cowboy attitude.
As I walked, I got confused, and I experienced a vivid flashback.
I was in the mountains of New Mexico on a backpacking trip with some friends. We had set up camp near a river and it was my job to go get clean water. I explored through the forest and found the river, but as I hiked back to our camp everything started looking the same and I didn’t know which trail to take. I stumbled around looking, and panic hit. Fear sunk into my heart. I was lost, and it was one of the most horrifying sensations of my life.
Luckily, after a little more exploring, I did find my camp. But looking back on it, that short period of feeling lost was one of the scariest moments of my life. It was one of those moments that shock you into realizing who you are, and how grateful you are to be alive.
As I look around at America today, I remember that memory. I think our society is kind of in a similar state. It’s like we’ve all walked into a forest, feeling empowered by our past, but now we realize we’ve lost our direction to our future. I feel an undertone of fear creeping in that maybe we don’t know who we are anymore, and don’t know how we’re going to get to where we want to go.
It’s sad to me that we consider our most famous exploration to have happened two centuries ago. My hope in the coming years is that as America realizes more and more how horribly lost it is, a new generation of seekers and explorers will rise up with fresh eyes and a fearlessness radiating out from them because they have gone on and survived an even greater journey than Lewis and Clark ever did. It is an adventure into understanding the meaning and purpose of the soul.