green river

John Wesley Powell was an American geologist, US Army soldier, explorer of the American West, professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, and director of major scientific and cultural institutions. As if that accreditation wasn’t enough, Powell was most famous leading an 1869 geographic expedition. The expedition was a three-month river trip down the Green and Colorado rivers, which included the first official US government-sponsored passage through the Grand Canyon. While it was successful, the expedition was not without issue. During the trip, three men became convinced that they would have a better chance surviving the desert than the raging rapids that lay ahead of them. So, a bit of a mutiny ensued, in which the three men left Powell’s expedition through the Grand Canyon and decide to scale the cliffs to the plateau above.

As with many mutinies, the men quickly found out that they didn’t necessarily know as much as they thought. In fact, theirs was a serious mistake. Still, their fears were not totally unfounded. The men feared that the plan to float the brutal rapids was suicidal. To make matters worse, Powell was a one-armed Civil War veteran and self-trained naturalist. One arm and those rapids could prove catastrophic. Powell was, however, accompanied by 11 men, which could have helped, but they were in four wooden boats, meaning that all hands were needed. Powell was fearless, and he led the expedition through the Grand Canyon and over punishing rapids that many would hesitate to run even with modern rafts.

For the group, the worst was yet to come. Near the lower end of the canyon, the party heard the roar of giant rapids. They decided to explore the situation further, before they took that plunge. The party moved to shore, and then walked down river to explore the river first. The men saw was could only be referred to as “the worst rapids yet” and Powell agreed, writing that, “The billows are huge, and I fear our boats could not ride them…There is discontent in the camp tonight and I fear some of the party will take to the mountains but hope not.”

Overnight, the fears grew, and the next day, three of his men left to take their chances in the desert above, because they were sure that the rapids an impossible barrier for the boats. So, on August 28, 1869, Seneca Howland, O G Howland, and William H Dunn said goodbye to Powell and the other men and began the long climb up out of the Grand Canyon. The rest of the party mustered their courage, climbed into the boats, and pushed off into the wild rapids.

Amazingly, all of the river crew survived, and the expedition emerged from the canyon the next day. The three men who left the group were not so fortunate. Upon reaching the nearest settlement, Powell learned that the three men who left the group, had encountered a war party of Shivwit Indians and were killed. While the killings overshadowed the excitement of the successful expedition, the next expedition through the Grand Canyon in 1871, was much better funded than had been the first. I suppose knowing that it can be done, made it easier to donate to the second trip.

Most days in our lives are normal…ordinary. We get up, go to work, cook meals, got to sleep. It’s all ordinary, and it could be boring, if we let it. I suppose that might be why we have a few special days that are all about fun. Saint Patrick’s Day is one of those days…at least in the United States. Here it is party day. The day of green beer, and a green Chicago River. It a day of wearing green, and getting pinched if you forget. It’s a day for green fingernails and green hair. It’s really just a day to party and have fun. There has to be a few of those kinds of days in life, or it all gets too dull.

Saint Patrick’s Day always reminds me of Spring, which is just a few days away. I suppose that is the main reason…that and wearing green. The days are getting longer, and normally there is less snow. This year seems a little more like April Fools Day to me, however. With a record snowfall of over 26″ and up to 38″ in Colorado, 2,300 flights were cancelled, and pretty much everything was shut down. People began to dig out of their homes and driveways, but where would they go then? The joke was definitely on all of us, but that is a story for another day, say…April Fools Day.

Of course, Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Lutheran Church. It is the day that commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, dances, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. It is also a time when Christians who belong to liturgical denominations attend church services and historically the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption. That the day is tied to the church is not surprising, but the fact that the day is far more celebrated in the United States than it is in Ireland, is at the very least, a little bit strange. Nevertheless, for all who celebrate, Happy Saint Paddy’s Day!!

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