Monday, August 16, 2010

`O! the Joy"

I took a great knight’s jump across the country – five and half hours from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles and a little more than two hours from Los Angeles to Seattle. It’s still seems a miracle to span the continent and more, effortlessly and quickly and in such comfort. Late in the first leg the captain announced we were passing over the Grand Canyon, visible through the windows on the right. I was on the aisle seat on the left and the view was blocked by a wing and three heads. The woman across the aisle took a picture with her digital camera and showed it to me. The image resembled a colorized photo of Manhattan Island from the air but I was grateful.

By education and experience John Wesley Powell was a soldier (he lost an arm at Shiloh) and a geologist, not a poet. In 1869, Powell led the first passage by Americans through the Grand Canyon. In Canyons of the Colorado (1895), a mingling of geology and romantic adventure, he writes:

“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.”

On the northerly third of the trip we followed the coast out of Los Angeles. Most of the time, the Pacific was a hazy glare on the left. The mountains of California looked gray-green or blue-green. Agriculture from thirty-five thousand feet looks like shards of pottery and broken mirrors. We bypassed a thunderstorm over Oregon and at some point crossed the Columbia River. In his journal for Nov. 7, 1805, William Clark wrote after he and Meriwether Lewis saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time:

“Ocian [sic] in view! O! the joy.”

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