Fireflies, motorcycles, and Sacajawea

Eleven years ago, my husband and I rode our motorcycles into upstate New York. We’d driven about 3,000 miles from Washington state and were greeted by a species unseen in the desert region left behind, lightning bugs. Each year since, these fascinating fireflies gently, unknowingly, remind me that my motorcycle trip across the United States was amazing but not as amazing as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s trek, more than two hundred years earlier.

In 1804, Lewis and Clark and company launched their mission to map out land west of the Mississippi River, the Louisiana Purchase. After making their way to North Dakota, Lewis and Clark had the foresight to hire an interpreter and his wife, Sacajawea, a Shoshone.

With baby in tow, Sacajawea and the others traversed a segment of the northern Rocky Mountains now known as the Bitterroot Range. For more than a week, they carried gear while wandering through thickets and snow, suffering terribly through hunger, fatigue, and severe freezing temperatures. They killed a horse to eat for survival.

In comparison, on my trip across the states, I drove my motorcycle north of the Bitterroot Range over the snow-covered Glacier Mountain National Forest, on clear paved marked roads, in decent weather, wearing heated gloves, and stopping to eat a doughnut, with coffee, for a snack at a café. A leisurely day.

While living in Washington, I frequently crisscrossed the Lewis and Clark trail. I grew up learning and wondering about the human attitude that yields to majestic possibilities, rather than self-loss. Oh sure, those pioneers weren’t perfect and had inner demons to fight off, but they did and accomplished a noteworthy task.

With this knowledge, it felt natural for me to employ admiration for Sacajawea. Our family picnicked and played in Sacajawea Park, a land parcel where the Snake River flows into the Columbia River, seemingly losing its identity.

But the Snake River’s comings and goings taught me that identity isn’t lost because it isn’t gained as something to keep. Identity exists as a verb.

I’m not talking about identifying people and trying to be like them. I’m not talking about identifying with a career as if it’s our life.

I’m talking about identifying with life-giving attitudes and meaningful characteristics.

Sacajawea teaches me to identify with, and mirror, mettle and might. To identify with solutions, not problems. I learn from Sacajawea to identify with ongoing spirit, instead of a fear of life and death.

Thankfully, in 1898, the 1.6 million-acre Bitterroot National Forest was established, and in 1910, about 1,500-square-miles of wilderness area was established as Glacier National Park, to intrigue millions of visitors with its grandeur, daring, and lessons of promise.

And here I sit, experiencing floating bioluminescent lightning bugs in upstate NY.

The 2020 Farmers Almanac says that some fireflies can synchronize their flashes. I’ve never seen the phenomenon but try to imagine a species identifying with and mirroring light and peaceful movement.

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