Sometimes, things in Omaha defy common sense. Take the drive to the airport.
Driving east from the downtown Omaha area, the road careens northeast and suddenly, a sign heralds “Welcome to Iowa!” or some such thing. If you had a road map in the car, you would probably bust it out post haste because if you have spent any time at all in Omaha you would take pause. You have not crossed the Missouri River. Yet on the map, Nebraska and Iowa are indeed separated by the Big Muddy. Hm. You, however, have not crossed a river of any kind.
So you get out your Smartphone and look up Eppley Airfield and there it is. 4501 Abbot Drive, Omaha, NE. The plot thickens. Then, almost as quickly as the sign for Iowa sprung up, there’s a “Welcome Back to Nebraska!” sign. There’s not really such a sign. But seriously. WTF? Apparently because of a flood in 1877, Carter Lake, which is an oxbow lake, which is formed after a river changes course, was formed when the course of the Missouri redirected to where it is now. Fair enough. That solves that.
Council Bluffs was named so by Lewis and Clark. Actually, I don’t know if the name came directly from Lewis or Clark. Probably one of their party. But then again, maybe not. See, the thing I always come back to when it comes to the whole prospect of explorers is the sheer wonder that must have dominated the heads of guys like Lewis and Clark and Cortez and Magellan and all the rest of them. I know there was a lot of guys that did this kind of thing because in 6th grade we had to memorize the names and expeditions of all the world’s great explorers. And for Lewis and Clark, I imagine them seeing the Bluffs in the distance (probably the short distance because they are not very big) and wondering for half a second if maybe, just maybe, the Pacific Ocean was on the other side. They sent one guy to the top of the Bluffs after a hard day of exploring and this guy went up to the top, came back down and said “Nope. More grass.” Dammit. But hey, um, what the fluck is that?! they declared and proceeded to snare their first beaver.
But that point brings me to another one. Their party. In the Spring of 1805 when the Corps of Discovery set out for the West coast there were only 33 people including L & C themselves and a priest, Sacagawea and a French kid. Not a very large band of explorers and you gotta think that, considering the Frenchman was just an infant, most of the guys would just as soon left his crying little ass in a Big Muddy puddle and soldiered on. Anyway, the boys had heard there were some Otoes in the neighborhood and wanted to seek their council (Oh, I get it now) about how best to proceed.
Given my affinity for things both common and sublime, I looked out on the expanse of the landscape that is the Bluffs and appreciated the total experience one of those explorers had upon waking to that scene without all the advances of the years. And one thought came to mind:
What do you suppose that guy did when he had to crap?
I mean, it must have been a perfect moment for reflection, looking out and wondering what lay beyond as a soldier sipped his coffee. And a short time later, I imagine that same soldier wondered where best to take a dump. I’ll admit, this has become an unhealthy obsession of mine since the first time I faced the prospect of the “b.m. in the rough.” In 8th grade, one of the assistant coaches on my peewee football team told us that when you are playing offensive tackle or guard, you square down on the line of the scrimmage “like a bear taking a shit in the woods.” However, that may have been a very risky proposition on the Great Plains, what with waist-high switch grass and the ever-present possibility of one of those beavers jumping up and biting you in the ass. And in my research for this post, I learned that the Corps of Discovery reached the west coast with only one member succumbing to the perils of the journey. That probably meant that all but one of them got to Fort Clatsop in Oregon with sore asses from all the beaver bites. Incidentally, I’ve been to Fort Clatsop, nestled on the banks of the Columbia River, and isn’t much of a fort. Truth be told, when my Da and camped out there one summer (definitely a story for another post as it involves a boy and his father camping outside together for the first time and a mishap with some vodka), we toured the broom closet of a barracks and I wondered how in the hell those people waited out the winter there. Maybe a lot of beaver steaks preserved in salt from the trek through Nebraska a few weeks back).
But back to the Bluffs. L & C and their posse spent about a week there and had a pretty Nebraska kind of time. They sat through a “harican” (tornado), they snacked on beavers, and they must have had questions of the “who’s in charge here” nature when no less than 6 Chiefs of the “Otteau & Missourie Nation” showed up to find out what the pale faces were up to. They also had a Frenchman or two that had gone AWOL to live with the Indians, which means that the Frogs have been surrendering and jumping ship for over a century.
“After Brackfast we collected those Indians under an orning of our Main Sail, in presence of our party paraded & delivered a long speech to tiem expressive of our journey… ”
To which I imagine the Native Americans simply looked at each other befuddled by all the formalities and wondered if our boys had any baubles or guns they wanted the trade for beaver pelts. Whatever the result, we do know that L & C pressed on northwest under a hot Nebraska sun in August having no idea that in a few short weeks, they would be face-to-face with Rockies and thinking “Crap, now what?”