Henry David Thoreau famously observed, “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!”
I can date a new era in my life from listening to a radio program. Over a decade ago, I discovered Clay Jenkinson’s The Thomas Jefferson Hour on my local public radio station. I have long been a history buff, but Sunday evenings on my back porch I began to learn that Mr. Jefferson was much more complicated, intriguing, and relevant than I ever realized. I heard intelligent, rational, and civil discussion, something seemingly lost in our oversimplified-sound-bite, finger-pointing, name-calling world of today. I think more importantly, I was encouraged to read more and read more widely, not merely about the history and people of the American Revolution, but ancient history and literature and the classics. Though I have always been a reader, when I look back on my reading list since discovering The Thomas Jefferson Hour, I am astounded. And I am better for it.
But that’s not all. Clay cultivated not only my desire to read about the people and places that interested me, but to go actually explore those places. Read and explore. After years of hearing of Clay’s annual Lewis & Clark journey into Montana and Idaho, and longing to go, my loving wife granted me leave to find something important on the Missouri River and in the Bitterroots. She more than me will tell you that I did indeed find something there, and it opened yet another era in my life. Clay led us on an interesting and meaningful (and at times a bit rigorous) journey in the wake and footsteps of Captains Lewis and Clark. I communed, explored, and made friends with other interesting and intelligent people who read, listen, and contemplate. Clay encouraged us all to examine, as did Thoreau, why we came to the woods.
The effect of that trip on me was observed by one of my sons, who asked that I take him on Clay’s Lewis & Clark trip. What an honor and privilege! And since my wife loves my son, she again gave her blessing! To be able to share that experience with my son was … well, I don’t have the words.
I listen to Clay on the radio and podcasts. I have read his books, his articles, his essays, and those he recommends, and I look forward to what is coming next. I have watched him perform as Captain Meriwether Lewis and President Theodore Roosevelt, and even tried to cross-examine them both. All of this has broadened my scope and enriched my life. Clay’s interests and enthusiasm have captured my son as well, who has found his love of the Plains and gardening, thanks in no small part to Clay.
Ask any adult to identify the five most influential people in their lives, and they will undoubtedly name a special teacher. That is what Clay has been for me, even if mostly from afar. I look forward with anticipation to continuing that quest for knowledge and understanding, and greatly appreciate Clay’s role in helping to lead the way.