Lewis & Clark

What an amazing story! This was the America of Thomas Jefferson. Two thirds of all Americans lived within 50 miles of the Atlantic.

lewis-clark-dvd.jpgLast night, after Helaine had gone to bed and with Stef upstairs watching some form of modern day reality, I sat on the couch looking for something to do. Netflix was fresh on my mind because earlier Helaine and I had blown through a Garry Shandling DVD. I loaded a browser and began to check its online listings.

Old topic, but Netflix ability to stream video to my PC is great. I’m even willing to look beyond the incompatibility with Firefox and terrible search interface. It’s marketed (when it’s marketed) as an adjunct to the DVD service, but it’s really no different that buying a premium channel like HBO or Showtime, except the selection sucks. For that reason alone, no one in their right mind would buy this as a standalone package.

After searching for a few minutes, I came upon a PBS documentary on Lewis & Clark. It looked interesting, so I fired it up. What began to stream was a two part doc, narrated by Hal Holbrook and produced by Ken Burns.

What an amazing story! This was the America of Thomas Jefferson. Two thirds of all Americans lived within 50 miles of the Atlantic.

keelboat_s.jpgOnce Lewis & Clark headed west on the Missouri River, they were fading into an unknown void. Simple things, like the stark magnitude of the Great Plains must have been as overwhelming as they were unanticipated. The year round snow caps of the Rockies were unlike anything any of the expedition’s members had ever seen before. How could they not be frightened or discouraged or both.

For a large part of the trip food was plentiful. By and large, the Native American tribes were friendly and helpful, trading for and sometimes freely providing, provisions. But, the expedition was heading upstream, fighting the current with nothing more than their muscle and sporadic wind.

Are there still trips of exploration to be taken? With every passing day I am more enticed by the prospect of exploring. But this is different than anything I could do today. Lewis & Clark were heading beyond the knowledge of white men. The astronauts on the Moon knew more of what to expect than Lewis, Clark and their expeditionary force.

I was puzzled by the use of photographs to illustrate people and places. The first photographs weren’t taken for a few decades after Lewis & Clark. Even then, cameras weren’t easily transportable. Did these shots represent what was in the narration, or were they just reasonably close analogs? What are the specifics of the shots Burns used and why those particular photos?

I wanted to ask but his production company, Florentine Films, claims they don’t have an email address. OK, they don’t have an email address for me – I get it.

That Lewis & Clark traveled all the way to the Pacific while keeping detailed drawings, charts and journals and then returned to tell their story, was an incredible achievement. Actually, it was the least likely outcome of their journey, which presented them with more peril and challenge than they could have anticipated.

Just one man died along the way. It is likely his death was from appendicitis and unrelated to the challenge. He wouldn’t have fared any better had he been near an early 19th Century hospital.

The full documentary ran 3:30. That’s quite a commitment. In retrospect it was well worth while.

4 thoughts on “Lewis & Clark”

  1. Geoff-

    This is unrelated to your post! Still I thought you might enjoy the quip – as you are also a techie (if you have not already seen it)!

    I was having trouble with my computer. So I called Noah, my 9 year old grandson, whose bedroom looks like Mission Control and asked him to come over. Noah clicked a couple of buttons and solved the problem.

    As he was walking away, I called after him, ‘So, what was wrong?

    He replied, “It was an ID ten T error.”

    I didn’t want to appear stupid, but nonetheless inquired, “An, ID ten T error? What’s that? In case I need to fix it again.”

    Noah grinned…. “Haven’t you ever heard of an ID ten T error before?”

    “No,” I replied. “Write it down,” he said, “and I think you’ll figure it out.”

    So I wrote down: I D 1 0 T

    I used to like Noah………….


  2. Found this on an L&C Google alert…we started our company at the inspiration of Lewis & Clark (live in Astoria, produce Lewis & Clark maps among other things) and found your review very inspiring, itself.

    Will try to find that documentary to review as it’s one I have not yet seen.

  3. I am a documentary nut and Michael bought this one for me years ago – I LOVE it. I have also read a few great books on the subject and have been amazed at the accomplishments. Another thing we have in common – no wonder we are friends as well as relatives.

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