The Northwest Passage. It was the ultimate goal of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s Corps of Discovery from 1804-1806. It had been Canadian explorer Alexander MacKenzie’s objective more than a decade earlier. For the previous three centuries Spain, France and Great Britain had pursued the Northwest Passage through men like Hernan Cortez, Henry Hudson and Martin Frobisher. In the years to come, it would be the goal of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845 in which all of its 128 members perished. Dozens of other attempts were made.
But not until 1906 did anyone successfully navigate the Northwest Passage by water – Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. Today, this famed passage – through the perpetually frozen waters north of Canada – remains a difficult and impractical route, even for the most formidable of ships.
But this was not the “passage” that men of history had in mind. For President Thomas Jefferson, the Northwest Passage was what he believed to be an easy water-route across the North American continent via the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. Finding it became the whole justification and impetus for funding and commissioning the Corps of Discovery.
But to Lewis and Clark’s profound disappointment, there was no easy and continuous water route across North America. The headwaters of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers were separated by 200 miles of towering mountains. The chief objective of the Lewis and Clark Expedition had ended in utter failure.
But no one today considers the Lewis and Clark Expedition a failure. Begun shortly after the Louisiana Purchase, which more than doubled the size of the United States, the Corps of Discovery charted more than 4,000 miles of waterways. They mapped thousands of square miles of unknown territories and established friendly relations with important Indian nations like the Hidatsas, Mandans, and the Nez Pearce – almost 50 such Indian tribes.
From a naturalist’s perspective, the expedition was the greatest adventure of all time. For Captain Lewis carefully catalogued and illustrated 122 new species of animals and 178 new varieties of plants. Lewis and Clark opened up a whole new world of unanticipated scenic beauty and wildlife. Somehow, along the path of scenic enchantment and discovery, the quest for the Northwest Passage became unimportant. The people, the wildlife and the land itself took on inestimable value.
Life is like that. We often find our primary mission frustrated again and again. We curse our circumstances, pound our fist on the desk, and vent our rage. But all along the journey for our “Northwest Passage” we find a beauty of people and a divine Providence that graces our lives. If we would only stop staring at the horizon, straining after that frustrated goal, to consider the blessings that God daily brings into our lives, we would see the real beauty.
The Scripture admonishes us: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits.” (Psalm 103:2)
PRAYER: Dear Lord, when circumstances frustrate my goals and keep me from reaching my objectives, help me not to lose heart. Give me wisdom and insight to make a necessary change of direction and help me not to overlook the blessings along the way. Help me to enjoy the journey. Amen.