The Mapmakers, Part 2
“Why they went west involves a complex of human drives, glory and greed, curiosity and escape, but most of them plunged into the unknown because they believed that there was something there worth knowing.” John Noble Wilford
I saw the word yesterday and I didn’t see it. In my rush to get to express that there was something worth knowing in yesterday’s post, I overlooked an important aspect. Wilford doesn’t just say that the cartographers of the early American west ambled or sojourned or wandered—they plunged into the unknown. PLUNGED.
The early explorers and cartographers of the continent faced many unknown dangers and unknowable peril. The ‘plunged’ into the unknown believing in the value of the risk. They believed in the value of their work. They also believed in the value of the promised payments for their services.
They did not plunge alone. They plunged into the unknown wilderness led by Native American guides. Sacagawea led Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean. Chagobay, a Chippewa chief, led Joseph Nicollet across the upper Midwest.
The unknown of the American west was diminished by those who knew. Their expeditions were still dangerous, but not as dangerous as we would like to believe. Meriwether Lewis either committed suicide or was murdered while trying to bring his journals to publication outside of Nashville, TN. Having survived five wilderness expeditions and the Civil War, John C. Fremont died of an infection in New York City.
I thought of the story of Joshua and the entry of Israel into the ‘Promised Land’. Even Joshua sent spies into the unknown territory in order survey the land and size up their competition. I really like the climax of the Exodus story. God tells Joshua, ‘This is the day.’ Joshua rallies the people. The Ark of the Covenant enters the River Jordan first, cutting of the current of water. When all the people have safely crossed, tribe by tribe, the ark is brought to the other side, allowing the river to flow free again. AFTER ALL THE PEOPLE HAVE SAFELY CROSSED, the water flows free again.
I am a human being. I have a short list of people I would like to leave behind—let them cross this unknown at their own risk. Some are ghosts from the past that I can’t seem to exorcise. Some are people that threaten me or my ego or my own contentment. Some are needed reminders of my imperfection. I would love to up and go on my own, but my faith permits me from doing so. I have an obligation to my family—to Jackson who turns 19 today, to Karen who works daily in a doctor’s office, to Harrison who steadily moves through his day. These are people who depend upon me. I have an obligation to you which is unmerited and unconditional. We will all safely cross this unknown, as long as we stay together.
I love you.
I need you.
I hope for you.
Please be safe.