Adventures of Lewis and Cork

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer March 11, 2013 10:07 am

Once, when we were both in fifth grade, my best friend, Mack, who was an even better friend of my older brother, Dug, became the proud owner of a plastic boat. 

The boat was being used as a feed trough for the cows that were eating his family into bankruptcy. 

Mack, being an improvising sort, thought it would make a great craft to ply to muddy waters of Beaver Creek, a tributary of Crooked Creek that ran past his house.

One spring day, when the snowmelt runoff was at its peak, we set sail in a large pool behind a beaver dam not far from Mack’s home. 

Our goal was to sail the craft to Crooked Creek, about a quarter of a mile through the alder-lined swamps, and then downstream the seven-10ths of a mile, over innumerable rapids, to Dug and I’s ranch home.

Mack said we were like Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea, and he claimed the role of Lewis right away, without tryouts, since he owned the boat, and said my brother and I could audition for Clark and Sacajawea. 

Both being manly boys, Dug and I vied for the role of Clark. But since my brother was three years older, he won the role not by virtue of acting ability but by virtue of age — and having larger, more powerful biceps.

That left me, the younger brother, with the role of Sacajawea. 

At first, I found it challenging to play the role of a woman. Sure, my voice as a fifth-grader was still high enough to play the part without too much trouble. But in these days, before the big push for equality and Title IX, which brought rights to women athletes, women were mainly known for their homemaking skills, not their skills of navigation. 

Maybe that’s why all the food we had brought with us — weiners and marshmallows — was soaked before we got out of the first pool and had carried the boat over the first beaver dam. 

Did I mention the boat was a bit tippy?

Our matches were disintegrating, too, which I was OK with because I wasn’t totally sure Lewis and Clark had carried matches, so the possibilities of our using matches to light a fire to cook the weiners and marshmallows seemed remote.

By playing Sacajawea, I was able to help guide the expedition. Somehow, though, I got out of a lot of the work. I made Lewis and Clark carry the boat on portages while I sought the most propitious path. I found high ground while Lewis and Clark, or as I liked to call him, “Cork,” slogged through boot-sucking mud.

Before we even got to Crooked Creek, I could see why Lewis and Clark, during their winter encampment at Fort Clatsop in 1805-06, were despondent about the constant rain. 

We were despondent too. Five storms had lined up off the Pacific Ocean waiting to come inland. The one on top of us, stalled out in the Crooked Creek box canyon, was dumping copious amounts of rain. We were soon soaked to skin, just like our marshmallows.

About a half day later, we finally arrived at our destination, Fort Ketchup. No, our ranch home did not resemble Fort Clatsop, the destination for the intrepid explorers Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea, much at all. Our ranch home was in the middle of a prairie, not carved out of a cedar forest, and we could only hear the rushing rapids of Crooked Creek from there, not the Pacific Ocean. 

Still, never had the smoke curling out of a chimney looked so inviting.