Not Even To The West Coast Yet

Yesterday, at the laundromat, I was really getting into Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival, by Peter Stark. And it’s a shame, because I’ve barely gotten into it. It expires in two days, and I’m only 13% of the way into it.

I look at it in another way, too: Even if I hadn’t devoted the early part of the library check-out to How I Live Now, I doubt I would have finished Astoria. It’s an enjoyable book, and it’s well-written, but it’s a little more detailed than I was prepared for. 13% of the way into it, and neither of John Jacob Astor’s first scouting parties have reached the west coast. I suppose I was prepared for something the speed of Free Boy – and that’s no fault of the book.

Yesterday, at the laundromat, I became confused about something in the book. There were two scouting parties at first: one travelling by land from New York across North America, and the other sailing from New York to the mouth of The Columbia River. I was pretty sure that I’d read that the ship was sailing down along the coast of South America, around Cape Horn. That made sense to me. But then I read about the ship sailing close to Cape Verde, and about members of the crew wanting to go ashore, so they could say they’d been to Africa, and the captain refusing the request. Africa? Why did they sail to Africa? Did I miss something? Did they abandon the South America route? Did I mis-read the earlier pages? I became even more confused when I read, later, that the ship had reached Cape Horn. I lost some reading time as I skimmed the pages back and forth.

When we got home, yesterday, I looked at our Peters Projection world map and discovered that the New York-Cape Verde-Cape Horn route is not as convoluted as I’d imagined. It actually makes sense. Besides, I don’t know what the winds and currents were like.

I won’t finish this book on the history of Astoria, Oregon, but I have learned something.

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