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.

Monday, July 20, 2009

'Tell All the Truth But Tell It Slant'--Exploring What's Inside the Florida Natural History Museum

"Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind--" (Emily Dickinson, c. 1868)


Front and center-stage, a woolly mammoth's skeleton captures your attention as you step inside the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. You cannot resist its allure--unless, of course, the bathrooms off to the right don't grab your attention first. A museum's curators can't help but try to draw you into the mysteries they have to offer. It's the nature of the beast, so to speak. Untold fortunes are spent to make you wonder the time-tested question: "Is it real, or is it Memorex?"

This museum even has a cave of sorts, painstakingly replicated from someone's impression of a cave. Does Florida have caves? Of course! Some are wet and only accessible from underwater, but there are dry ones for the not-so-daring-or-young-at-heart ones among us. Marianna, just west of Tallahassee in Northwest Florida, has a fine state park in which to explore the real thing.

Bringing us back to the topic at hand, some of the scenes depicted at the natural history museum can really stir the imagination, if you are so inclined. Some Native American tribes, apparently, trusted women to lead them and establish trade agreements. I'm glad the exhibit's artisans ask the all-important question: "How do we know?" Some children visiting the museum might be thoughtful enough to ponder the possibility of a thriving, prosperous matriarchal society.

This collection of once-living creatures is real. I imagine this display is truly indicative of what goes on behind the scenes in the museum. Animal, plant, and mineral specimens--all carefully identified, catalogued, and shelved. It's a good thing that museums employ creative, poetic souls to depict what might have happened in the past.

Maybe the Calusa had some insight into the current global circumstance of diminishing returns...

maybe they had too many layers of onion to shed and never got to the center in time...or was their concept of man's development (evolution) not in line with what progressive thinkers had to say along the way?

I wonder what future generations will think of the styrofoam-plastic-food-container and cast-off-plaything "middens" we have created--the ones we call landfills?

I'm glad that the museum has something in place to take your mind off landfills, at least until early September. Entering the Butterfly Rainforest was like stepping into another dimension. Blue Morpho butterflies, not a common sight in Florida by any means--except artificial ones like enclosed rainforests--were not easy to capture in flight. I happened to find them occasionally at rest on some sort of succulent plant...

or high up in the branches, away from the throngs of people crowding the paths below.

I don't know the names of most of the butterflies that I managed to capture on our visit to the "rainforest." My Audubon Society guide only offers help for identifying North American species, and I'm too cheap to buy a guide for species I'll only see once or twice in a lifetime. Perhaps someone would be kind enough to identify them for me?

Whatever this orange butterfly with the fuzzy body is called, it seemed to be nearing the end of its life's work. Its wings were torn and tattered, and it rested on this leaf for a long time, not eating, not flying, not curious at all about the strange person closing in on it with a new kind of net.

I am glad that this kinetic piece, Jonathan Borofsky's sculpture of the Hammering Man was resting for the moment outside the museum. It actually stands between the Museum of Natural History and the Samuel P. Harn Art Museum on the UF campus. Secretly, I had hoped that SAM would suggest visiting the latter museum too, but I know better than to push my luck on a short visit to Gainesville. One museum at a time...


  1. The museum looks like a fun place to visit. The butterflies beautiful. Maybe next time you can visit that other museum. Sure looks like fun.

  2. I would love to see the butterflies. I love natural history museums. Chicago has a nice one too--but no butterfly forest.

  3. you go on such wonderful adventures... I need to take my students on more

  4. Tina, the whole place is amazing. You and the Ramsey gang should come to Florida sometime for a good long visit and see the sights with us!

    Marnie, I think I visited that museum in Chicago when I was a little kid. I seem to remember a lot of jars like the ones in my pic. I'm sure the place has improved a lot since then.

    Wayne, the adventure started out as a job interview for SAM and ended up as a definite fondness for Gainesville and UF. If you get a chance to take your students on some kind of outing, especially to a museum, go for it! Experiences like that create deep impressions and can sometimes influence career choices.

  5. I like museums of most any kind and this one looks very interesting. The butterflies are wow!

  6. It wouldn't be surprising to learn that the phrase "blinding truth" may have originated from one of Ms. Dickinson's poems, don't you think?

    You're not one to shy away from showing your age using quips such as "Is it real, or is it Memorex."

    There is a huge cave in Kentucky, Mammoth it's called. I've never been, there are many such attractions in the state of my birth (if you read ambiguity into that, it's intriguing to think about, is it not?) that I've never had the privilege of visiting. I remember the J.B. Speed Museum in Louisville, KY; I remember it as a young boy, perhaps 10 or 11, it was the occasion of a class field trip. That one visit had a huge impact on my love of history. It's evident you have a similar passion for the past.

  7. I love the live butterfly exhibits; I find myself flitting here and there, just as they do, trying to get one in a stationary pose. I'm no help in identifying them, though; so many species look alike to me.

    I am so glad, too, that there are museums like this, preserving the lost artifacts and history of the past. It's amazing some of the advanced ideas and knowledge the Native Americans had; too bad the early settlers didn't recognize this. Maybe one day we'll realize we're not as smart as we think we are:)

  8. Troutbirder, I think that the UF museum directors are doing a smart thing by recruiting and training high school volunteers for the summer. They were helping out all over the museum, and their enthusiasm was infectious.

    TC, I think Miss Dickinson's influence on modern thought and expression is still pretty profound. So caves fascinate you too? We visited Mammoth Cave years ago. I still get chills remembering the slippery descent and the press of other people on the tour, crowding each other's space along some dimly lit passageways. I felt like I was part of a herd and wondered a few times what might happen if the lights suddenly went out or the entrances were sealed off by an earthquake. I don't think I would have made a good submariner. My hat's off to you! And I would like to read more about your childhood impressions of museums as well as nature--peel off a few more layers of the "onion," if you care to.

    Rose, I so enjoyed your posts about butterfly exhibits. They inspired me to try my hand. Although I did feel a few of the butterflies landing on my hair or back, I was not so fortunate as to have them land on my hand like Frances did. One must possess a certain sweetness for that kind of magic to happen.

  9. Your museum reminds me of our own museum..The butterflies are beautiful, but I can't help you out on the names...

  10. Michelle, museums are great places to visit no matter what state (or state of mind) you're in. If nothing else, those recent, silly movies about spending a night in a museum might have encouraged people to consider revisiting some of these special places. Thanks for taking a look at the butterflies. There was actually a "menu" given out to visitors for help in identification, but I was too busy taking pics to take notes, and the menu had to be returned when exiting. If only I had a photographic memory!

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