1. 1.
    traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods.
    "the peripatetic nature of military life"
    synonyms:nomadic, itinerant, traveling, wandering, roving, roaming, migrant,migratory, unsettled
    "I could never get used to her peripatetic lifestyle"
  2. 2.
  1. 1.
    a person who travels from place to place.
  2. 2.
    an Aristotelian philosopher.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Looking-Glass Insects

"I know you are a friend," the little voice went on: " a dear friend, and an old friend. And you won't hurt me, though I am an insect."

"What kind of insect?" Alice inquired, a little anxiously. What she really wanted to know was, whether it could sting or not, but she thought this wouldn't be quite a civil question to ask...

--Chapter III, Looking-Glass Insects, from Through the Looking-Glass in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland--

Though the insect pictured above looks a little unfriendly, a "bug" expert at the Shawnee Audubon Society's Insect Awareness & Appreciation Day this past Saturday informed us that it is merely a moth masquerading as a wasp. I wish I could tell you its correct name, but my hands were too busy with the camera and a water bottle to write down any notes.

I love a welcome that includes a picket fence, and we felt welcome indeed to the diverse gathering of insect aficionados. They included university professors, graduate students, ordinary folks like us, children, and even an Illinois Department of Transportation biologist. I am glad to know the highway folks are concerned about the little critters. I wonder if they have ever thought of doing a random dead-bug count on cars as they leave the state. It would be interesting to find out if vehicles like Hummers or Navigators could perform a really useful service like mosquito abatement.

Now this garden looks like an insect paradise, and in fact it was.

We split up into groups of 10 to 15 people and wandered about the property, guided by some of the experts. They were kind enough to scoop up some of the property's diminutive denizens and display them for our inspection. The children were by far the most enthusiastic participants in the bug safari, not afraid at all to take a step into the tall grass or wade into the water to look for unusual specimens.

A shallow pond added a different dimension to the various areas available for insect habitation.

No, the water was definitely not potable, though I am sure it was not as contaminated as many lakes are these days by farm chemicals. This farm property, which has been donated for the Society's use, has not been sprayed or treated for a very long time. You can be sure we practically bathed in insect repellant before we even stepped foot outside of the car. We have soothed the few, itchy chigger bites that have appeared since Saturday with lavender essential oil.

In addition to the little excursions around the property, we were treated to mini-lectures and insect displays brought by various experts and members of the Society.

If there were names posted somewhere for these specimens, I failed to see them.

"What sort of insects do you rejoice in, where you come from?" the Gnat inquired.
"I don't rejoice in insects at all," Alice explained, "because I'm rather afraid of them--at least the large kinds. But I can tell you the names of some of them."
"Of course they answer to their names?" the Gnat remarked carelessly.
"I never knew them to do it."
"What's the use of their having names," the Gnat said, "if they won't answer to them?"
"No use to them," said Alice; "but it's useful to the people that name them, I suppose. If not, why do things have names at all?"

Of course, the first thing to do was to make a grand survey of the country she was going to travel through. "It's something very like learning geography," thought Alice, as she stood on tiptoe in hopes of being able to see a little further.

Several paths mown through the tall grass beckoned to us to follow them, but the wonderful smells of a potluck dinner being set up on long tables behind the barn convinced us to stay nearby.

After a delicious meal, some entertaining insect jokes, a raffle of donated prizes, and some humorous folk music provided by RognboB, we headed to our reserved room at The Mansion in Golconda. We thought it would be a nice place to stay, and it certainly seemed that way at first glance.

The room was spacious, and the bed looked inviting, that is until I pulled back the sheet and found a wolf spider hiding there. You would think I could appreciate it after the kind of day I spent outdoors, but its presence was not at all welcome. Let's just say I dispatched it quickly with a little help from my shoe.

"Better say nothing at all. Language is worth a thousand pounds a word!"

"I shall dream about a thousand pounds tonight, I know I shall!" thought Alice.

We really should not have been surprised to find a bug or two since the house is an old one, but there seemed to be more than just one or two creeping or flying about the room during the night. The next morning we discovered why they seemed so prevalent. The window behind the bed's headboard had a big hole in the glass which was not covered by anything more than a poorly fitting piece of plastic. That fact explains why it seemed like we were camping outside. The insect noises from outside were quite loud, and there was a dampness in the air even though we could hear the air conditioner running.

The proprietors were nice people, but I don't think we will be staying here again.

After a hearty breakfast at the local saloon in Golconda, the only place serving food so early in the day besides an ice cream place (the saloon is for sale, by the way), we drove a few miles east to Cave-in-Rock, which overlooks the Ohio River. We had not been there since the kids were small.
To get to the cave itself, you have to descend these steps. It feels and looks like you are going down to a hidden grotto filled with cryptic messages.

Chert nodules like this one might not seem like a cryptic message, but there is apparently some mystery as to their origin. Scientists still are not sure what they are or why they adorn the rock. My husband says they might be remnants of ancient sea creatures, since microscopic examination suggests that they have a spicule-like structure.
This passageway was provided by fractures in the rock, which were probably precipitated by an ancient earthquake.

Over time, flood waters have carved out a spacious cavern, supposedly used by river pirates from time to time. If you listen closely, you can almost hear the clink of coins and drunken laughter echoing off the cave walls.
I wanted to explore the back part of the cave, but for some reason the batteries in my camera showed signs of weakening, which was strange because I had just replaced them a week earlier. I had to seek out some light to preserve what was left of the battery power. Fresh batteries, of course, waited for me in the car. There were just too many steps between us to even think about going to get them.
It's too bad this cave floods every now and then. Otherwise, it would be valuable as waterfront property with a breathtaking view of the river.
My husband has told me some wild stories about his spelunking adventures before we met. I'm just glad he doesn't get excited by those kinds of activities anymore.
We left the way we came. There is no other passage in or out of the cave large enough to accommodate humans.
Just above the opening of the cave, we spied this name and date carved into the rock ceiling. The Coles must have either used a very tall ladder or been standing in a boat during a flood.

Outside and back on top of the bluff, we saw a barge being pushed up the river.
I wonder if the crew members ever think about the pirates who once hid out in the cave nearby.

At least these days, river workers have cell phones and radios to keep in touch with family and the authorities during the long periods of time they have to be on the water.

The scenery here is quite beautiful and unlike anything else in this Land of Lincoln.

I guess Sunday was too muggy for many people to be visiting the park or having a picnic. By noon, we were ready to head back north and take a nap in the air-conditioned apartment.

Before we left, hubby spied an unusually colored caterpillar in the grass beneath our feet. I wonder what its final form will be after it undergoes metamorphosis. Will it become a simple moth or a gorgeous butterfly?
"Crawling at your feet," said the Gnat (Alice drew her feet back in some alarm), "you may observe a Bread-and-butter-fly. Its wings are thin slices of bread-and-butter, its body is a crust, and its head is a lump of sugar."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hills (Do Not) Like White Elephants (in the Room)

A white elephant is a valuable possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) exceeds its usefulness.

--Wikipedia, 8/21/08--

The elephant in the room (also elephant in the living room, elephant in the parlor, elephant in the corner, elephant on the dinner table, elephant in the kitchen, and horse in the corner) is an English idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. It is based on the idea that an elephant in the room would be impossible to overlook; thus people in the room who pretend the "elephant" isn't there might be concerning themselves with relatively small and even irrelevant matters compared to the looming big one.

--Wikipedia, 8/21/08--

I am glad about a little mishap yesterday because it provided me with direction for disparate thoughts which wandered among Randy Pausch's book The Last Lecture with its references to elephants in the room and head fakes, some apparently taboo subjects, and a weekend trip to Millstone Bluff Archeological Site in Pope County, Illinois. I encountered a problem getting to the local library's book club meeting. My car battery was not only completely dead, but some of its acid had also leaked out and corroded one of the battery cable connections. Luckily, the car was sitting in front of the apartment, and my husband works nearby. He graciously sacrificed his lunch hour to fix the car. I missed the noontime club meeting and discussion of Pausch's book, but I got something equally, if not more, valuable to replace it. As I neutralized the acid on the engine block with some baking soda and water, I gained some serious insight into what my next post topic should be. (Please note that some of the sign photos below may be difficult to read so you may need to click on them to enlarge the details.)

Lucky for us, those intrepid archeologists are in hot pursuit of answers to our burning questions about prehistoric people. I, for one, will rest easier knowing that I do not have to worry about anything of consequence now. The past as well as the future have been taken care of for me. All I have to do is stay on the path in front of me.

It's easy to feel chills running down your spine when you read a sign like this while treading the same "path that prehistoric Native Americans most likely used to enter the settlement on the bluff." I could almost hear their spirits moving about in the trees, sighing in the rustle of the leaves.

Abraham Lincoln had some profound thoughts about preserving the past. The sign pictured above in this historically significant, Land-of-Lincoln landmark is a little hard to read because of the light available in the forest setting and the deteriorating quality of the paper beneath the glass. He noted that "a country with no regard for its past has little to remember in its future." Well, Abe, we have a lot to remember, and sometimes it does not make for a very pretty picture.

I find it interesting that the "settlers" who quarried the stone to make their corn-grinding implements never built dwellings up on the bluff formerly occupied by earlier, native residents. Maybe they felt the same thing I did. The natives seem restless.

My husband noted--I sure could not tell--that this millstone is mostly sandstone impregnated with bits of limestone. I guess this composite stone made for a more durable and useful tool. The sand provided grist for the milling of the corn, and the limestone imbedded in it lent its strength to the stone.

Warning signs like this one seemed completely unnecessary, at least to us, for this time of year. I could not resist showing this picture twice in the same post as we had passed by it going up and back down the hilly loop trail. We would not have wandered off the beaten path anyway. Ticks and chiggers keep us on the straight and narrow--actually winding and somewhat broad at times--path now, when we hike in Southern Illinois forests. Fears of itchy skin eruptions or of contracting strange, blood-borne diseases should be enough to keep anyone our age from straying.

We got excited about possibly finding these shapes in the rock along the trail and then ended up using our imaginations instead. The designated trail kept visitors far enough away from the rock to prevent touching the figures and possibly wearing them away but also far enough away to make seeing them impossible. The lichens growing on the rock also obscured any possible viewing.

If not for the helpful signs along the way, we would never have known the significance of the various petroglyphs, even if we had been able to see them clearly.

At the end of a trail, it is good to find one of these structures, especially if you are a woman.

This picture brings me back to the subjects of white elephants, leaking batteries, and Randy Pausch's book, though the connection may not seem immediately (if at all) apparent. If you have read the book, you know that Pausch was a bonafide tech wizard-guru and believer in the power of positive thinking as well as remembering. I enjoyed the book immensely and shed some tears at appropriate points throughout the reading. To not cry while reading this book is not humanly possible, as far as I am concerned. In fact, if I was a high school English teacher or college professor, I would make it required reading for my students. It makes salient points about teaching, learning, and living life as it is meant to be lived: with few, if any, regrets. It also leaves some questions unanswered and worth noting, and that quality about it makes it good fodder for an essay or a class discussion about human progress and future quality of life. The white elephant in the room depicted above is a good case in point. I am not sure what it says about human progress, except that maybe years from now archeologists will be astounded at how arrogantly consumptive and wasteful the human race has become in the past hundred years or so. Believe me, I am as much a participant in that race as anyone else. I shed old batteries and computers too, just not in outhouses. Another question that Pausch's book raises--though this one is not as discernible--concerns the affordability and availability of quality health care in this great country in which I live and how those aspects affect most citizens' quality of life. One thing I do not find in Pausch's book is any mention of worry about medical expenses. Why would he need to be concerned, anyway? He was a full-time, tenured professor at a major university and therefore entitled to excellent benefits. There was never any doubt in his mind that he would get the appropriate and necessary medical tests and treatment. He never had to argue with the insurance company about where he could go for treatment or have to face the fact that he might be responsible for a good percentage, if not all, of the cost. The white elephants of today's health insurance and waste management dilemmas were both looming large in this reader's crowded mind by the time she finished the book yesterday. She started reading it Saturday, the day she went on the hike and took the pictures you see here.

(I sincerely hope no one is seriously offended by the use of the following quote which may be considered as having been taken out of context.)
The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.
"And we could have all this," she said. "And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible."
--from Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants"--

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Water to Wine

....We cannot make bargains for blisses,

Nor catch them like fishes in nets;

And sometimes the thing our life misses

Helps more than the thing which it gets.

For good lieth not in pursuing,

Nor gaining of great nor of small,

But just in the doing, and doing

As we would be done by, is all....

(from "Nobility" by Alice Cary, 1820-1871)

A Sunday morning walk at Rend Lake gave me a little taste of the beach again, although the salt was not in it.

The waves which appear to be rolling in from some tidal motion are merely the result of a boat which passed by a few minutes before this picture was taken.

By far my favorite amenity of all the recreational facilities at Rend Lake, the bike trail offers miles of paved surface for bicyclists as well as for us slower moving bipeds.

There are always curiosities to be discovered along the trail, some etched in place for all time (or until someone fills them in), like these tracks left in wet concrete by one of the many deer populating the area,

or left behind at the side of the trail, most likely by a large tractor disking up a nearby field. At first we thought that an animal or pack of animals had attacked the fawn, but a predator would not have left the carcass out in the open, neatly deposited next to the trail, and certainly would not have torn the head and front legs off the body. We noted some tractor tire tracks and a bloody trail leading up to where the body was found and surmised that the fawn was too frightened to run away from the tractor and got caught underneath where the blades did their deadly work. Yesterday evening when we walked by this same spot, the body was gone and so was any blood stain from the concrete surface of the trail.

This vine has always been a familiar sight in southern Illinois forests but is now becoming popular in a more domesticated version.

The wild version of the grapevine threatens the health of many mature trees like this one. The vines grow up the tree, using it for support but can end up weakening it by girdling the tree, damaging its bark, and essentially choking or starving it to death.

On a healthier note, we found some Hibiscus moscheutos growing near the disked field at the edge of the trail.

Some sort of beetles were enjoying a sip of dew on the flower.

This plant belongs to the family of mallows in the order Malvaceae. The mallows have been used extensively in the past for their healing and softening properties.

After lunch we drove a bit farther south on I-57 and then a little east on I-24 to visit Ferne Clyffe once again. We had walked about four miles in the morning so we decided to just take a leisurely stroll around the lake instead of tackling the trails in the cliffs surrounding it. Here I found another swamp-loving plant, marsh milkweed, or Asclepias incarnata. The Latin name suggests the legendary healer appearing in the flesh.

The monarch butterflies seem to think this plant is something special. I can tell you the smell was heavenly.

The lake from this vantage point, halfway around it, looks like silver.

Bald cypress trees adorn this side of the lake, seen from about three-quarters of the way around it. I did see a few knees sticking up close to the water but was afraid to get close enough for a photo. We could see tracks left there by snakes.

I think this columnar, flower-bearing stem belongs to a fine specimen of Lamb's ear or Stachys. The leaves are soft and silvery and supposedly distasteful to deer.

Not too many miles from Ferne Clyffe, Bella Terra Winery lives up to its name which means "beautiful land."

The vines here, a domesticated version of the ones we saw at Rend Lake, appear to be well-tended and healthy. They dominate the landscape which appeared to be pasture at one time. The cattle and horses seem to have done their work exceedingly well, spreading fertilizer for the new kid on the block, wine grapes.

I'm not sure what this particular variety is called, but my husband grabbed a small cluster as we were walking to the car and pronounced them to be quite sweet and tasty.

After leaving Bella Terra, we saw a sign for another winery close by, a fairly new one by the looks of it.

Windy Hill Winery might be a little short on class but has its own charms.

We found a quiet place to sit on the covered front porch and watch dozens of hummingbirds feeding on sugar water. I actually found this spot more relaxing than the other winery which hosted a DJ with his karaoke machine. It was kind of funny, though, watching the performers there stumble up to the microphone, full wine glasses in hand. Their first attempts sounded fairly good, but they sounded more and more off-key as they consumed bottle after bottle of the tasty stuff. I think they were probably more accustomed to drinking large quantities of beer. The wine goes down pretty smooth, but it can sure sneak up on you.

These hummers were a bit shy when we first sat down but got used to us and the camera after just a few minutes. I guess their appetite overruled their fear.

My beloved puts up with a lot of...well, you know, "fertilizer" from me. He never lets the wine or me sneak up on him.

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.
Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life's gall.
Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
--Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1855-1919--