Before Louisiana, Jefferson signaled Lewis with a mirror to his home at Monticello,
the hilly path between plantations ten miles on horseback. Distance was a summons to
expand the language of one’s purchase, to annotate direction. Knowing the terrain was,
for many, second nature.
Lewis tracked veiny rust-colored routes that arced like hipbones in his drawings. Hazards
surfaced. Fallow trade posts. Weather changed and rivers flooded out, despite the
compass. Names now commonplace had meaning.
Do not doubt the frontier is a gift, the explorer might have said. A seedling of topography
can tie us tight, comfort us with contour as we feel across an area in which we are so
small. But it was the sea we were after.