After lunch in a peaceful woodland setting above the Missouri River my husband and I descended through a steep muddy canyon to the jetty to await a return boat trip back along part of Lewis and Clark’s route. I delighted in the flora on the woodland floor – sweet-smelling mock orange growing wild, harebells and mountain bluebells, Indian blanket and dog rose. We pondered the birds we had seen along the river – a sleekly flying pelican which when fully loaded can carry three gallons of water in its bill and bald eagles of every generation: an eaglet in the nest, a five year old speckled youth and a stately, hunched adult perched on a dead tree acting as a river lookout. N.B. Benjamin Franklin didn’t want the Bald Eagle to be the symbol of America as it was a scavenger and a thief. He wanted the national emblem to be a turkey!
As we left our forest idyll and neared the jetty, the tinkling sound of children’s laughter in the distance greeted us. While on the periphery of their merriment, the shrieks of gay abandon were delightfully muted. Shortly darts of color between the pines became squealing banshees.
We hadn’t yet located the centre of this dynamic gathering when the tuneless strains of Happy Birthday drifted up, sung with obvious gusto. Quiet then descended on the gulch for five minutes as the cake was cut and distributed. Soon toddlers running with plates of chocolate cake covered in day-glow icing began crisscrossing our path. The icing that wasn’t smeared on their faces had kicked into their brains with a sugar rush. Bedlam ensued just as we came into their midst.
Uncle Ryan was celebrating his birthday with – and I counted – three babes in arms, six toddlers, another eight under 10’s, one pregnant mom amongst assorted moms and dads who hardly looked older than teenagers themselves and Grandma. And we were to be honored with a return journey on the boat with them.
It was hot and humid, we were weary and grumpy after an early start and we no longer wanted to be Lewis and Clark expeditioners. We wanted to be in our car by ourselves with the air conditioning on. Jimmy and I stood sweating glumly on the jetty while filthy, happy children pounded up and down. Parents stressed over the possibility of kids falling in the water and Grandma, with fluffy blond hair and an ample lap, provided seating for two toddlers at a time.
A canopied tourist boat slid past on the far bank of the Missouri River – already full! If most of the passengers didn’t disembark for a picnic – and it was already late in the day – we’d have to spend another two hours on the jetty to wait for the next boat with “Uuuuun-cllllllle Ryyyyy-aaaaan!,” who it would seem was out of earshot right then, and his family. Toddlers were sobbing, “I want to get on the boat!” and harassed parents were trying to keep tabs on all the excitable tiny tots on the narrow jetty. Only Grandma was calm, tending to the grandchildren within arms’ reach.
A second boat appeared unexpectedly. It was nearly empty and I began to work out a strategy so as not to share a ride with UncleRyan. Don’t get me wrong. Taken individually, the children were all quite sweet (except the little girl in the lavender t-shirt who was a complainer and a whiner) but the prospect of being confined with the whole over-tired family, still at full volume, on a small boat did not fill me with joy. Jimmy was ready to swim back.
We positioned ourselves so as not to appear part of the birthday celebrations and arranged our faces so as not to appear in the festive mood – not difficult at this point. The first boat drew alongside and two couples disembarked. The captain thankfully identified us as party poopers and invited us on board. Children howled as it became obvious that they were being left behind, but we knew the second boat would draw up within minutes.
Dripping with perspiration and tense with unnecessary angst, we slid, literally, into our seats and began to cool off as we motored upstream. Our air conditioned car awaited us for a short jaunt back to our air conditioned trailer.
So good on you Lewis and Clark and all the hardy explorers, pioneers, ranchers, cowboys, trappers, prospectors and settlers. The United States would still be confined to the east coast, the middle of the country would be French and the western region would be part of Mexico if it had been left to Jimmy and me to explore the Wild West.