They say that hindsight is twenty-twenty. Even in a well thought-out action like the American Founding Fathers scribing the Declaration of Independence, creating a nation may have been monumental, but it also began the reduction of the long-standing British Empire. The statement of freedom became a single step towards the formation of a superpower despised by upstart countries throughout the world. And even worse the pronouncement based on liberty looked the other way as the basic liberties failed to extend to American Indians, women, African Americans, and an expansive list of religious, sexual, and, ethnic citizens. Nonetheless, two hundred and thirty-seven years of educating ourselves and analyzing the actions of those men allow us to consider better courses of action for the future. We’ll always be reevaluating our choices, from everyday decisions to life-altering choices.
That’s what interpreting history does: allows a three-hundred-sixty view of circumstances that may have barely had a fractional view of all the facts at the time they occurred. I’m sure General Custer thought he had everything under control at Little Bighorn (see “Cornered on a Hilltop,” July 2013). Attacking Russia worked so well for Napoleon. Jailing Nelson Mandela quieted the world on the issue of Apartheid. It’s always easier being the armchair quarterback than being the guy in the huddle, even if it ends well for the guy in the huddle, it may just as likely end poorly. Just ask Joe Theismann – I’m sure he didn’t plan that.
Stuck in the Snow
Visiting the Sierra Nevadas in eastern California treats any visitor to a spectacular range of environments from cold winters to brutal heat. At a height of more than 14,000 feet, the range’s highest point, Mt. Whitney, straddles Death Valley (see “Desert Dust,” October 2011) and Sequoia National Park. The snowy range includes an abundant source of water to support the megalopolis of San Francisco and Los Angeles. And tucked high above Truckee, California far uphill from the resorts of Lake Tahoe lies the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort built in the early twentieth century to entice the citizens of San Francisco area to enjoy the snowy, winter wonderland between Mount Judah and Mount Lincoln.
In November of 1846, without the benefit of hindsight or of a full-circle view, a group of eighty-one west-coast bound settlers discovered the downside of the Sierra Nevada winter wonderland and only forty-five descended the mountain pass to the pleasures of the California coast, with some horrifically poor dietary decisions along the way. When I drove the path myself, I enjoyed the benefit of knowing what could occur when unprepared, and yet I still had to leave my vehicle to help push a fellow driver out of the snow bank in which he had found himself trapped. And the view from the summit reminded me that even when we learn from history, it may still be hard to see where we are going. Thank goodness the fog finally lifted.