National Geographic : 1998 Oct
WILLIAMCLARK,MISSOURIHISTORICALSOCIETY,ST.LOUIS(OPPOSITE);STEPHENSHARNOFF,NGSIMAGECOLLECTION "With apparentunconcern," as Lewis wrote, bighorn sheep cross a cliffface in South Dakota. The explorers often saw the creatures-"akind of Anamale with large Circuler horns"-inplaces where "had they made onefalse step the[y] must have been precipitated"at least 500 feet. knowledge, they reasoned, should be put to practical use for the betterment of mankind. So Lewis and Clark continually quizzed the Indians about the uses to which they put var ious plants; they looked for mineral deposits; they mapped the heaviest concentrations of beaver for future trappers; they noted lands suitable for farming. In the spring of 1806 the corps started for home. And on September 20 they spotted animals that thrilled them as much as any they had seen-domestic cows. It meant they were nearly home and "Caused a Shout to be raised for joy." Well before they sent the prairie dog to Jefferson from Fort Mandan, they had sent cuttings from several plants, including Osage orange trees. Today there are trees at the Uni versity of Virginia in Charlottesville thought to be growing from those nearly 200-year-old cuttings. I see them with Jeff Ertel, the univer sity's landscape superintendent, one chilly day in January. The most impressive grows near a house where visiting professors stay. "I love this LEWIS AND CLARK, NATURALIST-EXPLORERS old tree," says Jeff, touching its rough bark. "It has character." It's gnarled and ancient, its trunk twisted around upon itself, blackened scars showing where limbs have been removed. A cardinal chirps in its uppermost branches, and ivy grows up its flank. Osage oranges the size of grapefruit lie scattered on the ground, many chewed by squirrels. "They sit on the ground and gnaw at the balls until they have them down to a size they can carry aloft," says Jeff. "They sit up there and eat them." On overhead branches little piles of nibblings show where they have perched. The tree is scarred and bent but tough. It survives today alongside other less tangible leg acies of the Corps of Discovery-competence and strength, discipline, enlightened curiosity, and the priceless capacity, when confronted with new wonders from the natural world, to be dazzled.  Journey online with Lewis and Clark at www .nationalgeographic.com/features/98/lewisclark.