Some people just live large. Jedediah Smith was one of those people.

He had three ambitions which were to:

Serve his God 
Provide for his family, and
Become a great American Explorer

He succeeded at all three and much more. He lived large. He changed Oregon.

No roads, no path. (Image Royalty free

You might wonder how a person, who lived back in the 1800’s, might have impacted our lives today. Let me tell you a short story about Jedediah Smith.

Oregon didn’t achieve Statehood until 1859, and we might not have if it wasn’t for explorers like Jedediah Smith. Smith was one of the first, and maybe the most important, trapper/explorer back in the 1820s.

Hearing the stories

He was born in 1799 and at 13 worked as a clerk on a Lake Erie freighter learning the basics of business. Smith undoubtedly had heard the tall tales the trappers brought back from their trips.

Jedediah most likely did what every normal 13-year-old would do… hang on every word and develop an intense interest in wilderness trade and nature. This interest was kindled even further by friend of the family Dr. Titus G. V. Simons, a pioneer medical doctor.

According to legend, Dr. Simons gave Smith a copy of Lewis and Clark’s journal from their 1804-1806 expedition to the Pacific. Smith carried this journal throughout his travels to the American west.

The Lewis and Clark journal demonstrated what Smith needed to do to be a successful explorer. He needed to report what he saw, draw maps, write letters, and create a journal of his own.  

As it turns out, Smith’s journals, maps, and letters were key to kindling interest in the new Oregon Country. A place few Caucasians had ever traveled to, that almost fell into the hands of the British.  

Shared occupation

The Treaty of 1818 allowed joint occupation of the Oregon Country between Britain and the United States. The region was dominated by the British’s Hudson Bay Company (HBC) at Ft. Vancouver on the Columbia River.

At this time, the British Chief Factor at HBC was responsible for one-quarter of the North American continent. Smith and company represented the American contingency.

From 1823 to 1828, Smith traveled extensively between South Pass in Wyoming to the Oregon Country, and twice south into Mexican California and back.

There was a lot of unrest on the west coast and conflicts between explorers, British and American, and Native Americans in 1826.  Smith noted that beaver were becoming scarce in the region.

The 1828 trip from California to Oregon was fraught with escalating mistrust and violence between the explorers and Native Americans. Coastal tribes closely monitored the arrival of all newcomers to their region and were very wary of visitors. Violence was common.

The Umpqua Massacre

The story goes that Smith and company camped on the Umpqua River. Smith and three others left camp to scout the trail north.

A scuffle began when one of the Natives stole an axe from the Smith camp. Some of Smith’s party treated the Umpqua very harshly to get the axe back.

The violence erupted in the early morning of July 13. Coquille (Na-so-mah) tribesmen murdered the remaining 15 members of Smith’s group, and stole furs, horses, and gear.    

Smith learned of the massacre and headed north to the HBC in Fort Vancouver for shelter and respite. In the fall, he mounted a rescue mission and was able to bury the dead, and recover 700 beaver skins, 39 horses, and journals.

In gratitude, Smith presented the HBC with a copy of his master map of the west which he had created over the years. (NOTE: This map was rediscovered in 1953 and subsequently published a year later.)

Smith was well connected and authored many letters describing his travels and observations. In 1830, Smith wrote then Secretary of War John Eaton of his concerns that the British were alienating the indigenous people against the Americans. He also felt that the British were attempting to establish a permanent settlement in the Oregon Country.  

The last trip

Smith returned to St. Louis with hopes of drafting detailed maps and going into the mercantile business. That goal was not to be. An associate convinced him to take a load of supplies to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The company did not take adequate water supplies from St. Louis and was not able to find water along the way. Scouts were sent out in search of water each day.

Smith was scouting for water on May 27, 1831 when he was killed by a Comanche hunting party. He was 32 years old.

The story is not over

In 1836, President Andrew Jackson launched a Federally funded expedition. The expeditions goals were to explore the Pacific Northwest and lay claim on the Oregon Country previously explored by Smith.

This is not a story about how a brave explorer survived three massacres and a horrific grizzly bear attack or of how he explored and mapped much of the Rocky Mountains, American Southwest, American West Coast, or discovered the first east-west crossing of the Great Basin Desert. It is about the key role that Smith played in the development of Oregon as a State.

Without his work documenting and mapping Oregon we all might be drinking British tea right now. Would Oregon have become a State without the fur trade and emigration routes? Would there have been an Oregon Trail without Smith’s work describing the South Pass?

Tipping the balance of power

Jedediah Smith almost singularly tipped the balance of power to the United States leading to the permanent settlement of the Pacific Northwest and later to Oregon’s statehood.

His was not an easy life. It was harsh and full of danger, challenges, and wonder.
Fortunate for us, it was large.

–Oregon Encyclopedia (
–History (
–Wikipedia, Jedediah Smith (

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859).

A clue to his wide impact is in the many things named after him…probably more than any other person.

Humboldt did not consider himself an explorer,
but rather a scientific traveler, who accurately measured
what explorers inaccurately reported.

Humboltian Science

A few examples: Humboldt County, CA, Humboldt University, The Humboldt Current, The Humboldt Grove of Sequoia and the Humboldt neighborhood in Portland, OR….Andrea Wulf counts almost 300 plants and more than 100 animals named after Humboldt.

Given his love of mountains, it is perhaps not surprising that 18 peaks and three mountain ranges are named after von Humboldt. At 5020m, the Peak Alexander von Humboldt in Kyrgyzstan, is the highest mountain to bear his name. Feb 10, 2020 -Storymaps

He was a Prussian and grew to be a naturalist and geographer and adviser to many. He explored Latin America extensively, and made a trip to the United States and advised fellow natural philosopher (and President) Thomas Jefferson in 1804.

Thomas Jefferson remarked “I consider him the most important scientist whom I have met.”

Inspiring Others

Humboldt was a generalist who was able to connect ideas related by many disciplines. His work and dedication inspired many well-known scientists, writers, artists, and intellects of the time such as Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and many others.

Charles Darwin, for instance, referred to Humboldt as the “greatest scientific traveller who ever lived” and made frequent reference to Humboldt’s work in his Voyage of the Beagle.

Passion for Travel

Humboldt from OSU Archives

Some might say his special talent was curiosity about the world we live in, others his love of travel and science, and still others in his ability to communicate what he discovered. Perhaps it was his ability to cultivate and maintain long-lasting relationships with others or his ability to nurture respect and admiration from the common man and foster a vision of what science could do.


At one time, Humboldt was considered to be one of the most famous men in Europe. His works have been translated into almost every language in Europe. Humboldt and his labors have been celebrated in many countries including the U.S.  

If you had been around in 1869 you might have attended one of the many festivals celebrating the 100th year of Humboldt’s birth. If you were in New York City that year, you may have been able to witness the unveiling of a bust of his head in Central Park. Maybe next year on September 14 we should have a birthday party to recognize Alexander von Humboldt.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once dubbed Humboldt as “one of those wonders of the world… who appear from time to time, as if to show us the possibilities of the human mind.” 

Describing and Measuring the World

Humboldt would travel and conduct scientific studies as he traveled. He would tote along equipment to measure everything in multiple ways. He would collect information about population, economics, weather, plants, mineral, agriculture, etc. often using this information to create maps. Expeditions typically included naturalists and artists who were creating some of the first visual images ever captured for a region.

Humboldt was adamant that everything should be measured using the best techniques and tools available and that this collected data should be the basis of all scientific understanding. He traveled all over the world conducting studies, mapping, creating travel diaries, and often consulting with world leaders (who might help sponsor an expedition).

In one expedition in Cuba, Humboldt conducted extensive scientific and social research. He began by surveying cities and towns, and collecting statistical population information.

Humboldt often made suggestions related to his observations. One suggestion in Cuba, for instance, related to the potential for developing the market for guano. Guano was eventually exported to Europe.

Thirst for Knowledge

Alexander got off to a rough start as a sickly child, who, at first, was a poor student. However, Humboldt earned a diploma from the Freiberg School of Mines in 1792. Even though he attended three universities, he did not earn a degree at any (Frankfurt [Oder], Göttingen, and Berlin). His focus was preparing for scientific travel.

Humboldt’s unending thirst for knowledge was sparked while attending Freiberg where he began his interest in botany. There he studied mining and plants found around mines, created a safety light for miners, and started a school to help train miners.

Expeditions helped feed the thirst for knowledge and were typically funded by state-sponsored enterprises and wealthy patrons. The expeditions were often lengthy and expectations high for information that might boost a country’s economic possibilities.


His extensive travels provided many opportunities to learn more about the generally unexplored world, and aggressively push this information out through printed publications and lectures. Unlike many other scientists of his day, Humboldt published information quickly and in great detail.

Map and one of five Kosmos titles (royalty free image from Shutterstock)

His publications demonstrated his universal belief in the “unity of nature.” This belief encompassed a holistic relationship existing between all physical sciences (such as biology, meteorology, and geology). He tried to explain natural phenomena through observation and data rather than religious dogma which was common at that time.

He was the first to take on the study of interactions and relationships between organisms and their biophysical environment (later known as ‘ecology’). Humboldt is considered be the ‘father’ of ecology, particularly for his work describing vegetation zones (geobotany) and climate using latitude and altitude. He also put forth far future concepts such as human-caused climate change, geology and formation of stars.

On many explorations, countries were particularly interested in having Humboldt look into natural resources such as mineral deposits. These minerals and materials included things like gold ore, silver, platinum, and eventually led to the discovery of diamonds in the Ural Mountains in Russia. Perhaps the most important thing about this discovery is that he was able to accurately predict the presence of diamonds based on his measurements.

A Visit to the U.S.

Humboldt frequently wrote letters to various leaders looking for exploration opportunities or areas in which help was needed. One such leader was then President Thomas Jefferson on the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.

The then Spanish minister in Washington, D.C. had not furnished the U.S. with information about the actual southwest border let alone other details such as population, military, and economics. Humboldt was able to provide that information and more to Jefferson, who was also a scientist.

During that trip Humboldt was able to meet with some of the major scientific leaders of the time including chemist and anatomist (Caspar Wistar who supported compulsory smallpox vaccination), botanist (Benjamin Smith Barton), and physician (Benjamin Rush who was researching South American cinchona bark as a fever cure).  

Thomas Jefferson remarked “I consider him the most important scientist whom I have met.”

Humboldt Lagoon State Park in North California (image courtesy of California State Park).

Challenging and Wondrous

The exploring process was undoubtedly challenging and wondrous. He is known for several mountain expeditions, and conquering tall peaks. These expeditions and amazing feats are not what people may generally remember him for.

What makes him truly memorable to many was his writing and communicating. Humboldt took extensive notes during his travels on what he learned and saw, and created multiple volumes of travel diaries and publications.

Not only was Humboldt a good writer but also a good artist. He would often capture images of what he saw (such as plants and animals), and create first ever maps from the measurements he took and landscapes explored.  

He was able to explore continents and create maps so more research could occur such as in central Asia, new Spain (Mexico), and Russia. Not many could have done this exploration and documentation better than Alexander von Humboldt.

Be inspired to observe the details of our world in your travels and share it with others! Even if you don’t get the credit!

“There are three stages of scientific discovery: first people deny it is true; then they deny it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.”
― Alexander Von Humboldt

–Encyclopedia Britannica, Alexander von Humboldt (
–Wikipedia, Alexander von Humboldt (, Botanical Geography; Alexander von Humboldt (…History_of_ecology#The_botanical_geography_and_Alexander_von_Humboldt); and Humboldtian Science (…Humboldtian_science)
–Good Reads Author Quotes (
–Images: Flickr ( and Oregon State University Archives (

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We are in a time of great stress and anxiety. This is not the first and will not be the last. Perhaps it is time to do like the Greeks and Romans.

Early Greek and Roman physicians recognized the healing powers of nature and water. Even nineteenth-century industrial workers were advised to “take the waters” by the seaside or at natural springs to recover by connecting with nature and water.

Connect with Nature

Mental health experts say getting outside and connecting with nature is more important now more than ever… especially if you have been clustering in an apartment or home where there is limited exposure to nature.

Even just looking out the window or nature scene displayed on your computer screen can help. Several studies related to physical activities showed that “Exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depress, and increased energy.”

Move activities near water and one’s self-esteem and mood will also be enhanced.

Measuring and Proving

Modern-day science can now measure and backup those early healing theories and practices as indeed healthy and as an answer to problems created by our fast-paced culture.

Today, there are many rehabilitation programs integrated with nature, and particularly with water- based activities. You might be familiar with “Heroes on the Water which has helped more than 3,000 veterans and warriors rehabilitate and reintegrate.

Hippocrates’s observation that “water contributes much towards health.”

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Always On

Are you or your clients “always on”? A lifestyle filled with Chronic Stress can eventually result in memory problems, poor judgment, anxiety, depression, and difficulty relaxing.

It is now possible to measure the damage that chronic stress can do to cardiovascular, immune, digestive, nervous, and musculoskeletal systems. Water can help us tap into our inner selves or break the cycle of traumatic recall that occurs with PTSD. It can also help with addiction, anxiety, autism, arthritis, asthma, depression, and more.

In England, it was reported that coastal communities may be able to achieve better physical health than those communities more inland, by spending their leisure time near the water.  

A New Prescription

It appears that living on the coast actually provides a cost-effective opportunity to improve our health by “taking the waters” by walking on the beach, flying kites, fishing, and more. Imagine your doctor writing a new type of prescription, something like:

Swim or soak in ocean or water twice a week.
Fish every other day for at least two hours.  
Walk barefoot in moving water 30 minutes each day.
Call me when I can come and observe your progress.


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The challenge might to be understand the science behind how water might make this a reality someday.  Enter the book by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols “Blue Mind. The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.”

Current research in cognitive neuroscience has brought some interesting techniques for improving our health and that of others. It might also provide ideas for expanding a guide business to help people learn and take advantage of several nature-based activities.  

Imagine making a living helping people learn how to [surf, wind sail, kayak, fish, …] to address their Post-Traumatic Stress Disease (PTSD) symptoms, stress, blood pressure, etc.  There are several organizations outside our area which do this very thing such as the Operation Surf, National Veterans Summer Sports clinics, AmpSurf, and Ocean Therapy (part of the Wounded Warrior Battalion).

Activities could, for instance, include walking barefoot in the surf, kayaking, diving, surfboarding, kite flying, wind boarding, sand yoga, fishing, paddle boarding, clamming, rafting, beach walks, and lots more. And after all of this… a great massage and a glass of wine would definitely be in order.

Doing It Anywhere… or Almost

Looking out the window us really just a start at the process. From the various studies it appears that the greater the exposure to nature (as for instance in going for a walk versus looking at a screen image) increases the positive benefits.

Even Plato asserted that ideas in your mind are like an aviary full of birds. If they are not calm, they are not accessible. The moments of calm will rejuvenate our thoughts and ideas and help us become more creative.  

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Albert Einstein

Getting Away from it All

To really rachet up the creative thinking, get “away from it all.” The National Institute of Health examined the brains of creative people and if there was a way to help an artist, for instance, access a more creative state.

For many, they found that areas with water (such as the ocean, lakes, rivers, streams… including showers, tubs, swimming pools, and even a floatation tank) can help reduce stress and anxiety, and increase creativity.

Being creative extends across our life styles and could include how to concoct ways to keep teens engage with something other than their phones or computers, and not just designing new bridges, products and services, or solving a problem.

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One more step

What if rejuvenating your mind through nature/water experiences could improve problem-solving? A recent Attention Restoration Theory study described how immersing oneself in nature for four days could increase performance in tasks requiring creativity and problem-solving by a full 50 percent.

Imagine guiding a small group through a Creative Problem Solving workshop on the coast. The session would include lots of time near the ocean, getting your feet wet in the ocean, communing with nature, and rejuvenating open minds. And then the best part… getting paid for it.

What will your next adventure be?

“Water is both the lover and mother, murderer and life-giver, source and sink. It is the endless mutability, the surprise and unexpectedness of its ever-changing colors and moods that stir artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, and thinkers alike. Water unleashes the uninhibited child in all of us, unlocking our creativity and curiosity.”

–Nichols Dr., Wallace J.  Blue Mind. The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.  ISBN 978-0-316-25208-9 (hard copy). Review the research at
Connecting with nature, even just looking out the window, can reduce stress and anxiety (
Nature at home and at work: Naturally good? Links between window views, indoor plants, outdoor activities and employee well-being over one year(
–Atchley, Ruth Ann, et al.  Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. (
The Healing Power of the Ocean (
The Healing Power of the Ocean and Why Its so Good for You (