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 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"--


  1. You might be amused to know that there is an hotel on Nantucket Island called the White Elephant. It is a funny expression.

    I'm sorry to hear that you are having health insurance issues - that is one of the biggest head aches of illness. It was a welcome relief being on the National Health in England. It's a shame we don't have universal coverage in the USA.

  2. Hi Sarah. I'm not sure if we have problems yet with the insurance. The private policy we have now is a fairly good one but nothing like the one we had when my husband was employed by the state of Florida. When you have private insurance, the people who make the decisions on your coverage (whoever "they" are!) want to know every intimate detail of your past history and can exclude anything they consider a preexisting condition. So I guess with private insurance, it's best to not go to the doctor unless you are dying or have been in a serious accident. I have only been to a doctor once, over a year ago, for a back strain, but "they" will probably decide that means the ruptured disk was preexisting. I don't have much faith in the current health care system. It discourages people from seeking health care and makes them wait until they need disease management. You know, I bet if the legislators were suddenly deprived of their government insurance and had to obtain their own policies, universal coverage would not be left to simmer on the back burner anymore.

  3. When I saw your title on my sidebar, I was certainly intrigued--you always have some thought-provoking comments and weave various literary allusions together for an interesting post.

    Your last comment to Sarah was a good one--I wonder sometimes if legislators know how "ordinary" people live! I don't know the answer to the health care issue--reading some comments from Canadian bloggers, universal health care has its problems, too. But surely someone much smarter than I can find a solution; with all the baby boomers (like myself) aging, they'd better find an answer quick! This is one of the issues I'm looking at in the Presidential race.

    I had to look twice to see the "white elephant" in the outhouse; I'm trying to imagine the person's mindset who dumped it there:)

  4. This has been an intriguing post. I could not take my eyes of it till I had finished reading. I love history of this sort. I often wonder where & how the "peoples" of the past came from & lived. Very good post.
    As for the health ins. issue. If I did not carry a supplement I would probably have a lot of trouble. They may say that because I have rods in my leg/hip from it being broken is a preexisting condition. I have trouble with it all the time. No need for drs. as it is the best it's going to get.
    Have you tried a chiropractor yet?
    It took some time but it's doing ok now. I just have to be very careful & not do anything to mess it up. I can turn over in my sleep & throw it out. Pain in the tush but that is life.

  5. I'm speaking about my bad back problem in reference to chiropractor. He did help me a great deal. He kept me from having to have surgery.

  6. Thank you, Rose, for the compliment. So far, all that I've been able to glean from the presidential candidates' discussions about health care is a bunch of rhetoric that change needs to happen. But the problem continues its progress towards us like the train in Hemingway's story. Someone had better come up with a sensible plan soon and be ready to get everyone on board. Maybe we could isolate the legislators from the lobbyists by sending them to a desert island with a limited supply of provisions and not let them cme back until they come up with a workable solution...

    Lola, I am going to a chiropractor right now, and the treatments he is using (ultrasound, decompression table, and physio-ball exercises) are keeping me from having to go under the knife, at least for now. Thank you, too, for writing that you enjoyed the post.

  7. This is such a poignant post, and I refer mostly to what you said about the white elephant in the outhouse.

  8. Thanks, TC. When I saw that box, I remembered what my dad used to tell me about how frugal and careful with resources his parents were. From necessity, of course! Everything that could be recycled was, not to keep the landfill from growing, but to preserve what little money they had. Hemingway's piece presents a slightly different take on the dilemmas facing a throw-away, fast-paced society. His little story is a gem full of fiery facets that I like to take off the shelf and admire over and over.