Synopsis: Lewis and Clark entered the last phase of their journey to the Pacific in October of 1805. Whether they had endured an ordeal or had a great adventure was open to interpretation. Investors too have a choice in how they interpret their own journey and the hardships along the way.
The giant Newfoundland dog’s bark thundered and echoed down the canyon of the Clearwater River. Slobber was whipped from his jowly face and flung backward in the stiffening breeze to land among his boat mates. No one noticed or seemed to care much. The sun was low in the October morning sky and the temperature high enough to create a sweat as the men paddled hard with only their breathing audible above the rush of water. The lead canoe smelled of unwashed bodies and wet dog.
“Easy boy,” said his owner patting his tangled mass of fur atop the Newf’s wide forehead. It had been another difficult morning of travel, much of it spent freeing their canoe from a tangle of rocks. They’d worked at it for over an hour and everyone was tired and irritable, even the normally upbeat canine. Now their canoe slid easily along with moderate exertions through the middle of a wide expanse of water.
The dog bellowed again, a reverberation like a cannon booming, it brought the weary travelers to their senses. The sounds and smells had changed. Fire was on the breeze and something was cooking. They heard low sounds of human voices and felt eyes on them. As they rounded a wide bend there were warriors pointing towards them. Suddenly from both sides of the river men, women and children were gathering to look, watch and evaluate. Were they friend or foe? The river grew tense as the canoe continued its path forward.
On shore, the site of a black bear in a canoe was enough to make the Native Americans gathered on either side of the river take notice and stare in awe. They watched as the men and a woman with a baby drifted by. And they shook their heads in amazement when the bear barked like a dog. Eyebrows were raised, low discussion were held. But everyone seemed to agree, no danger here. One of the children waived and smiled. Then everyone was doing the same, content to watch the unusual floating party make its way downriver.
The dog, satisfied, nuzzled down in the canoe at Meriwether Lewis’s feet and promptly began to snore. Lewis patted his massive head and murmured, “Good boy Seaman, good boy.”
For months Lewis, his associate William Clark, the men and one dog of the Corps of Discovery had endured the privations of living wild and crossing an occasionally unfriendly continent. They’d gone hungry, crested mountain passes in the snow and the Newfoundland named Seaman had almost been killed when a beaver bite severed an artery in his leg. But by October of 1805, they could sense their goal, the Pacific Ocean, nearby. Indeed, within a few days they would be on the Columbia River. By early November 1805, William Clark was able to pen his most famous journal entry: "Ocean in view! O! the joy."
The adventures of Lewis and Clark came to mind recently while attending a presentation by a noted economist. (Newfoundlands, by comparison, come to mind daily when ours competes with me for space on the couch). He told a harrowing story of fishing on a remote and frigid lake in South America then summed up his point with the sage words of his Kiwi guide: “Know what the only difference between and ordeal and a journey is? Your attitude, mate.” One can well image the two explorers agreeing once safely ensconced in Fort Clatsop on the Pacific during the winter of 1805.
And for clients and investors, the last few years have certainly been adventurous, though not life threatening. The usual ups and downs have been supplemented by flash crashes, Brexits and election shenanigans taxing even the most upbeat of us. Have we been on a journey or endured an ordeal? Well mate, that depends a lot on your attitude, doesn’t it?