Layers of Time Lived Through Travel and History: Nez Perce, Naples, and Okinawa

Travel Journal, 2021-05-19, Lewiston, ID

My wife and I recently toured the Nez Perce Reservation, east of Lewiston, Idaho. Here, members of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery passed through in 1805, Nez Perce Indians (they call themselves Nimiipuu) have lived for thousands of years, and mammoths once foraged, more than 10,000 years ago.

Nez Perce Indians gathered at Tolo Lake in 1877. Some of the young warriors—bitter at settlers and the United States government for forcing them off their land, for committing atrocities against their people, and for destroying their culture—attacked settlers, thereby initiating the Nez Perce flight, which involved several battles with the U.S. Army as the Indians unsuccessfully tried to reach sanctuary in Canada. (The visitor center at the Spalding Nez Perce National Historic Site, with its display of Nez Perce dress and artifacts and its informative movie, and the information boards posted around the sight, do an outstanding job of explaining this history.)

On this pleasant spring day, though, we gaze across quiet waters that have hosted mammoths, Nez Perce, and now us.

Regarding this layers-of-time theme, let me describe two other travel experiences:

While living in Naples, Italy (founded by the Greeks as “Neapolis” around 600 B.C.), I saw archeological excavations that revealed civilizations having been built one on top of another (as different building styles), ranging from the modern through Renaissance, Middle Ages, early Christian, Roman, and down to ancient Greek. Just as I breathed, ate, spoke, and worshipped on land adjacent to millions-of-years’-old Mount Vesuvius, generations of others had done so before.

When living in Okinawa, I hiked with Boy Scouts to the top of a heavily forested hill on an island where (per a plaque nearly buried in the thick vegetation) a brutal battle had been fought between U.S. Marines and Japanese soldiers toward the end of World War II. Except for the plaque and our knowledge of the history of the island, we would not have known that guns and cannon once roared and tore this forest apart. Instead, we experienced trails, trees, birdsong, and clear, blue ocean. Even the angers of many men are grown over by nature in nature’s good time.

“Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble. They spring up like flowers and wither away; like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.”
— Job 14: 1-2

I’m grateful for the information posters at such sites. Tolo might have been just another pretty lake, quickly passing my notice—except for my having learned the history from the posters and brochures . Travel and history enlighten and humble us, and they reveal that our presence is but a dab of paint on a large portrait created over eons.

We are “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
— James 4:14

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