Our family spent the last week in Washington DC. The Husband had a work-related conference so the boys and I tagged along. The boys learned very quickly how to navigate the city on the Metro, and we saw nearly everything on our list and then some.
One of the highlights for me (although no one else in my family had any interest in this whatsoever and will not even recall my excited gestures and hopping around in glee) was seeing one of Aaron Arrowsmith’s maps framed and hanging in Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, which we visited on our way home from DC. No photos are allowed in Monticello, but in the age of the internet, I bring you this map, so pivotal in the lives of Lewis & Clark, whom Jefferson commissioned to find a water route to the Pacific and explore the uncharted West.
In 1803 this map was the most accurate map of its day. East of the Mississippi River, from Lake Superior to the Gulf coast, cities and towns dotted the landscape. The California coast was likewise known and mapped. Both the mighty Mississipi and the west coast were carefully inked in vibrant greens and yellows, the glowing edge of known territory, a threshold between worlds. Between the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean stretched a vast expanse of uncharted territory; Gods country waiting to be explored by the newest Americans. It was speculated that the Corps of Discovery (as Lewis and Clark’s group styled themselves) would find woolly mammoths, skirt active volcanoes, and encounter numerous tribes of native people. In actuality, the unmapped territory was home to more than 300 species previously unknown to science, the magnificent mountain range known as the Rockies, and almost 50 different tribes of First Americans.
I’m certainly no Meriwether Lewis or William Clark (my family and friends will quickly tell you how much I hate to go without a shower), but when I first saw Aaron Arrowsmith’s map, I immediately understood that call of the unmarked map, the desire to be the first across a boundary and into the new. The phrase “the glowing edge” was not Arrowsmith’s, or Jefferson’s, or anyone else’s from the Corps of Discovery, but it was the phrase that repeated itself in my mind and heart after I first saw that wavy green line of the Mississippi river on this iconic map, beyond which lay the uncharted terrritory of so many people’s lives and dreams.
Other new DC finds for me included Mt. St. Sepulchre, the Franciscan monastery just a six block hike from the Brookland-CUA Metro stop. I decided to pass on the Exorcist Stairs (too creepy), but we did manage to find the less-well-known Einstein memorial at the National Academy of the Sciences. And of course, all the standard stops and sights (which you can view in exhaustive detail — repeatedly — on my Flickr slideshow) were new to the boys, and that made it fun for me.