Tag Archives: Lewis and Clark

More Flies and Willy-Willies

During the long, hot drive the day before (Poor Judgment), we saw something neither of us had ever seen before – whirlwinds.

Dust Devil
Dust Devil (Photo credit: dagnyg)

A whirlwind is a weather phenomenon that can manifest in a major way – a tornado, or a minor way – little vortexes of wind, known as snow devils, steam devils and dust devils or in Australia as willy-willies or whirly-whirlies. We had seen several dust devils which caused my driver to veer violently on the interstate as he was so taken with this caprice of nature.

Now, as Jimmy bent over a locker on the outside of the trailer, rearranging blocks of wood, crank handles, ladders, gloves, hoses and all manner of guy things, a fly devil (The Flies) appeared above his head – a four-foot whirling column of friends

When he walked along the length of the trailer to wind things up and down, his fly devil went with him. It was just the most comical thing – like a cartoon of a dirt boy with his very own gang of flies in formation. I pointed above his head and opened my mouth to speak but thought better of it as I didn’t want to spoil my fun. They didn’t seem to be bothering him.

When we were ready to go, we leapt into the car with a similar gusto as when exiting the trailer. A few flies followed us in so we opened the windows after five minutes on the road and helped them out.

We stopped to admire another train. Yes, we are certifiable.
We stopped to admire another train. Yes, we are certifiable.

Making our first pit stop in Idaho, we opened the doors to discover thousands of the little monsters taking refuge in all the door sills, including the rear tailgate. Some flew in and some flew out but mostly they stayed put so with all five doors open we spent the next half an hour encouraging them out of all the crevices in the car to take flight in their new state.

Looking west toward the Bitterroot Mountains o...
Looking west toward the Bitterroot Mountains over Missoula from Mount Sentinel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We continued to pick, smash and flick for the remainder of the journey. One successful method of departure for them was to assist them along the inside of the windshield, open the window two inches and then watch them be sucked out by the vacuum effect. Some of them have been relocated to the spectacular Bitterroot Range of mountains, (perhaps to pick up the Lewis and Clark Trail) which forms the border between Idaho and Montana. They might find the weather a bit harsh come winter.

When we arrived at our campsite in Missoula, Montana (this sorry tale goes on a bit, be pleased you weren’t with us) we found that, no, the flies hadn’t all been blown away to new pastures along the interstate, but had taken up residence in our trailer – on the windows, on the lights, on the ceiling, walls, curtains, blinds and occasionally on any exposed skin – and we’ve no idea how they got there as all the doors and windows had stayed firmly shut since the morning. If you’re interested, they weren’t bitey things – just small, friendly, and rather slow but hugely numerous flies.

We then started to swat in earnest . . . . for hours and hours. All God’s little creatures, I kept thinking as I squashed fly after fly, but what possible use could they have? Admittedly, all the swallows were quite plump back at the campsite from hell (Poor Judgment), but couldn’t God have just let the swallows eat seeds, skipped these particular flies and saved us the trouble?

As the evening dragged on we tired so took it in turns, one holding a damp sponge acting as the killing machine, and the other pointing and shouting annoyingly, “There’s one! Quick! There’s another one!”

The bed compartment 'upstairs.'
The bed compartment ‘upstairs.’

We attempted to have an early night, both being dog tired from our freight train excitement the night before. As is our habit, we put out all the lights except the reading light over our bed-in-a-drawer, our cozy train-compartment-type arrangement that pulls out from the back of the trailer.

The hide-a-bed from the outside.
The hide-a-bed from the outside.

THWACK! and I was jolted from reading my book as Jimmy squashed a fly on the ceiling over his pillow. I read the same sentence again and SMACK! Jimmy would slap the flies onto the ceiling and then pick them off with his fingernail leaving little fly silhouettes behind.

“It’s no good. I need the sponge,” he said nudging me out of bed whilst showing me his handful of flies.

“I’m getting in the other bed,” I said, having now read the same passage five times still without comprehension. When I put the light on over the other bed, half of the flies dutifully followed me, winging around my face to get a look at my book. “I’m putting my light out,” I blurted tetchily, and pulled the sheet over my head. “Put your light out and go to bed. They won’t bother you then.”


“Put your light out and go to bed.”



He put his light out and went to bed.

Perhaps I should have shown more compassion for the hapless owner of the campsite from hell. I reckon the flies had sent him off his trolley.

Addendum: It has been suggested that the little critters had been migrating and swooped in to visit with us at the lakeside site for just the one night. How lucky was that?

We kept finding the odd dead fly for weeks. After the trauma had worn off, the sight of their little lifeless bodies would raise a fond smile of remembrance.

Thomas Jefferson, Exposed!

As we stumble on the Lewis and Clark Trail again and again I thought it behoved me to look into the back story. It reads like a political thriller.

Lewis & Clarcktrail
Lewis & Clarcktrail (Photo credit: Gerard Stolk (marche vers Pâques ))

In 1803 Thomas Jefferson paid Napoleon Bonaparte $15 million for 2.14 million square kilometres smack in the middle of the now United States, The Louisiana Purchase. Worked out roughly on paper, because the number is so large that my calculator keeps showing an error message, that’s over half a billion acres. It works out at acres per dollar, not dollars per acre – less than three cents an acre! What was old Bony thinking of letting that land go for pennies? Or did he just pocket the cash? Would anyone back in France prior to phones and the internet have known?

Stranger still, France helped themselves to the land in the 1600’s, didn’t want it, gave it to Spain, Spain didn’t want it, gave it back to France, France got rid of it again but for big bucks (or so they thought, not realising its potential), then Spain declared they’d been cheated. The U.S. only wanted to buy New Orleans and shipping rights on the Mississippi but ended up buying the best part of what are now 15 states!

English: I created this image to be used as a ...
English: I created this image to be used as a locator map for Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lewis & Clark were commissioned by Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and author of The Declaration of Independence, to explore the Louisiana Purchase and on across to the Pacific. They set off on foot to map TJ’s bargain buy, study plant and animal life and set up good relations with the native Indian population.

TJ had an ulterior motive when using taxpayers’ money to pay Lewis & Clark to risk their lives on a mapping expedition. They brought back horticultural specimens for his private garden. TJ was educated in architecture, literature, horticulture, philosophy, history and science. He created his home, Monticello, a popular tourist attraction, in a complex design incorporating Greek and Roman styles. His collection of the Classics formed the beginning of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. TJ was treating his term of presidency as a sideline.

And one more thing you probably didn’t know – Jefferson tied for first place with his opponent Aaron Burr but won the presidential prize in 1800 after 36 ballots in the House of Representatives. The deadlock went on for weeks while deals were made, bargains were struck and candidates lobbied for votes. The media campaign, in the written press then, bandied terms of cowardice, atheism, radicalism and being unprincipled.

English: Cropped version of Thomas Jefferson, ...

The parallels between TJ and a more recent president – risking lives and using taxpayers’ money for personal gain – are rather disappointing. TJ set himself apart, however, by being known as a great intellectual unlike that other one known by just the one initial.

But that’s just my opinion.

Here We Go Again, Homeless!

From an email to those back “home,” wherever that is.

Dear All,

A room with a view, but only the one room.
A room with a view, but only the one room.

I can’t quite believe we’ve made ourselves homeless for a second time. The first night in our new “home” has just hit me after the anxiety of moving out of our apartment. There will be no going back to comfort: long hot baths, endless running water, a forceful toilet that doesn’t store its contents for us to deal with later, a dishwasher, washing machine and dryer, thick pile carpet, rooms with doors that slam satisfyingly when annoyed, ample electricity (Ha! Lots of amps. Geddit? ) a swimming pool and space – lots and lots of space. Even a two-bed apartment seems roomy now compared to our all-in-one bedroom, dining room, sitting room and kitchen, with a bathroom in a cupboard.

We stuck it out for a year-and-a-half in Washington and witnessed torrential floods which caused millions of dollars in damage, wind storms prompting kamikaze conifers that took down electricity lines and left us in darkness, and day after day of grey skies, cool temperatures, drizzle, showers and cats-and-dogs rain.

The weekend we chose to move out of our apartment boasted sunny skies with a temperature of 101°F. Unhelpfully, a neighbour commented, “At least it isn’t raining so you get all your stuff wet.” Well we didn’t think of it in those terms when drenched in perspiration as we packed boxes and half dead with the heat we got a bit snappy with each other.

“Do you have to stand there? I can’t get past.”

“I’m standing in front of the fan.”

“I can see that. Can’t you move the fan?”

“No.” And that was that. There was no more energy to argue.

Now our second lot of big “stuff” is in storage and our trailer is crammed full of little stuff, not necessarily stuff we want but what was left after the removal guys took away our carelessly packed boxes. Tomorrow we’ll drive along the Columbia River which forms the border between Washington and Oregon. We’ll cover part of the Lewis and Clark trail, only in slightly more comfort than them (central heating, hot and cold water, sprung mattresses, a gas cooker, a toaster, paved roads, a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, reliable maps albeit with an unreliable navigator) when they wintered there in 1805/6 having trekked from St Louis to the Pacific.

As I lose the skin off my knuckles once again making up the fiendish bed I am unable to appreciate their hardship.


Your pathetically indecisive homeless friends

Pain and Pleasure is a Matter of Opinion

Disregarding difficulties with hitching up, puzzling over the microwave, burning my hand on the oven, setting off the gas alarm, fighting with the fitted sheets, draining the batteries, differences of opinion between the navigator and pilot, tolerating the roar of our blast-furnace central heating and getting the fridge to freeze, our first junket in the new trailer was a great success.

Unsure of my adaptability in a new kitchen, I took a tin of beef stew as a reserve meal. It had the look and smell of dog food when it erupted from the tin and plopped into the saucepan. Jimmy was gracious and soldiered through the meal without comment. But we had a great time. We really did.

Imagine our surprise and consternation every time we drove past a sign saying “Leaving tsunami hazard zone” not realizing we had entered it.

A scrap of paper taped to a shop door informed us it was “Closed till the 14th. On vacation. Gone elk hunting.” Lying on a tropical beach is a vacation. Can anyone really relax and unwind while elk hunting?

A sign to Dismal Nitch couldn’t be ignored. It was named by Lewis and Clark who were trapped there for several days in the winter of 1805 by ferocious Pacific storms after the arduous east to west leg of their exploration of the unknown wilderness west of the Mississippi River. The name seemed apt even without the storm so we hastened back to Cape Disappointment, so named by John Meares in 1788, an English fur trader. He was disappointed not to find the Columbia River. Can’t think why. It’s right there. Perhaps the scene was blurred if he arrived in the rainy season – which is most of the time.

We may have endured some pain, suffered some surprises and eaten dog food for dinner but we began to appreciate the luxury in which we were travelling.

Only beautiful when you have a cozy trailer to live in.
Only beautiful when you have a cozy trailer to eat and sleep in after a long day’s drive in a warm, dry car.

Uuuuun-cllllllle! Ryyyyy-aaaaan!’s Birthday

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!

Wildflowers in a peaceful setting

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.

Tranquil river trip without the benefit of Uncle Ryan’s family

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.

Lewis and Clark as Property Consultants

In our quest for a place to settle down in the United States we were attracted to Last Chance Gulch – or Helena as it is now known, the capital of Montana – where prospectors took one last chance at mining for gold before moving west.

The other attraction to visit Helena was to follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark by taking a boat trip (yes, I know, oxymoron like baggy tights, Congressional ethics or European Community) down the Missouri River. This longest river in the United States is worryingly known as Big Misery but behaved for us as we puttered downstream on the Sacagawea, an open-topped tour boat named for a Shoshone Indian guide who served as interpreter for Lewis and Clark. As we came across the L & C’s Trail again and again in this rugged and formidable part of the country, we never ceased to be amazed at the tenacity of the pair who trekked 8,000 miles through the wilderness for two years with no maps, no apps, no radio, no GPS and no spouse to blame for a wrong turn.

The Lewis and Clark trail, 21st century style

We witnessed the site of the August, 1949 Mann Gulch Fire which burned 3,000 acres in 10 minutes claiming the lives of 13 smoke jumpers – men who parachute into fight forest fires when there is no other means of access.  Two of the only three who survived the fire sprinted for 60 seconds out of the canyon to safety with the fire chasing them – a feat never equaled to this day, even by professional athletes.

One year previously, a fire had torn through our destination picnic area, but when we disembarked we witnessed all the devastation that had happened just three days before when torrential rain had flooded down the gulch. To walk up the washed out path we were forced to leap a stream (with the grace of two arthritic elephants) that hadn’t flowed in 50 years.  The forest reeked of burnt timber, refreshed by the recent downpour. The sight of fallen burnt out trees was disheartening.  We sat on a boulder to eat our lunch and take stock of both the beauty and the destructive forces of nature.

The downside of nature

Our captain and river guide had apprised us of all these facts as well as the record low temperature for the area of -70°F – that’s 102 degrees below freezing if you haven’t already worked it out.  “It was just the once in January 1954,” Jimmy reminded me.

“I know.”

“That’s 54 years ago.”

“I know.”

“It normally doesn’t dip below 0°F.”

“That’s comforting.”  That’s still 32° below freezing.

Wildfires, desperately cold winters, floods, no more gold. We won’t be living there.

FYI – My favorite oxymoron was nixed by him indoors. It involved a well-known computer company’s tech support.