Friday, May 14, 2010

Everything I Know I Learned from Sacagawea

Sacagawea joined the Lewis and Clark expedition in the winter of 1804-1805. She was hired as a translator. Although she was living among the Hidatsa, she was a Shoshone, and was therefore fluent in the Shoshone language. The captains knew they would have to trade with the Shoshone for horses to cross the mountains on their way to the Pacific, and they were most relieved to have her along to aid in the negotiations.

They would have been excused, though, if they were also a little apprehensive about adding her to the team. She was, after all, the only woman, the only teenager, and a mother with her newborn son on her back. Since they did not speak either Shoshone or Hidatsa, and she spoke no English, they could not communicate with her directly.

But on this date, May 14, 1805, Sacagawea proved herself a valuable member of the expedition. While Lewis and Clark walked on shore, she was traveling in one of the pirogues. The captains' important papers, tools, and medicines, were packed in the same boat. Sacagawea's husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, was at the tiller. Charbonneau was described by Clark as a "timid waterman," and actually comes across in the captains' journals as a bit of a buffoon. A sudden wind struck the boat, tipping it nearly over. Water began to pour in. Charbonneau panicked and could only wail in fear. Sacagawea, with her baby on her back, simply reached out and began scooping up all the expedition's precious cargo which was in danger of sinking to the botton of the Missouri River. The boat was eventually righted, but the captains were much impressed with Sacagawea's calm presence of mind. They made a point of describing the rescue in their journals, and a week later named a river in her honor. For two hundred years, readers of the journals have been impressed in the same way. Sacagawea's place in history was secured.

So many times, in our lives as writers, we encounter difficult times. We weather the storms of rejection and uncertainty. We feel pulled in opposite directions by the demands of family, and of day jobs, and our love of writing. When hard times rock our little boats, remember that wailing does no good. Instead, we must simply keep our eyes on what is important and hold on tight to it. We must rescue whatever it is that will keep us going on our journey.

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