The Glimpse (Monograph 16)

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Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

By Dr. William “Bill” Ambrose

Instant Assessment

Computers are tremendously fast at solving problems that can be “fitted” to a mathematical algorithm – much faster than the human brain.  Beyond that limited superiority, the human brain is far better.  In language use, creative thinking, and pattern recognition, the homosapien’s brain still speeds ahead of the best computers.  In combination with the human eye, even the shortest glimpse of a scene allows the viewer to instantly assess for safety or danger—a remnant of the homosapien’s interaction with lethal, wild nature across the millenniums.  Not yielding an omniscient assessment of reality, yet a glimpse can still portray an image sufficient to motivate the mind to yield a nuanced decision.  Perhaps humans have persisted over their many competitors because of the efficacy of the human glimpse.

Mt Pisgah, originally know as Elseetos.
Mt. Pisgah, originally called Elseetos by the Cherokee. Located at: 35.84361307216841, -82.28361078990766

Louis Houck’s 1908 “A History of Missouri” has the following quote:

“….before touched, and too often defaced, by the work of man, Missouri was a terrestrial paradise. Indeed, nature had done everything to make a landscape one of ravishing beauty. Nowhere else on the continent did she lavish more prodigally her charms, exceeding all that the highest art of man could create, on a scale magnificent and stupendous—soaring knobs, grassy plateaus, through which, in deep ravines, ran crystal rivers mirroring the varied sky, lined with odorous flowers and trees, forming a natural arch, and often an enchanting coup d’oeil, characterized the Ozark country.”

Houck uses the French expression, “coup d’oeil,” although he was of Dutch origin, to romanticize to enchantment the esthetic rendition.  “Coup d’oeil” means “stroke of the eye” or “a glimpse.”  The glimpse incited his mind to the early Missouri native, fire-tolerant, perennial, early-successional growth plant communities – wild flowers and prairie grasses.  It only required a glimpse to decide that the scene was dramatically beautiful.

Few Trail Remnants Remain

Today, extant remnants of the Trail of Tears walked by the Cherokees across Missouri are often only captured in a glimpse.  Many of these trail remnants are in very difficult terrain.  They might exist on field edges or in old fence rows, untouched by mechanized agriculture – just short or cloaked ruts.  Occasionally on pastures, where the land use has been restricted to grazing, the swales and ruts have been attenuated into the earth by cattle – the trail persisting as a not very dramatic disturbance of the ground’s normal contour but a subtle linear depression nonetheless.  In deep forests braided extant trail remnants exist—running helter-skelter, nonpatterned, through the trees.  The old trail was braided because of the trees, and because treefalls would force many repeated minor relocations of the trail.  Today, trees are growing in the footprint of those old braided trails, the glimpse causing confusion in the brain.

A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey

The Cherokees’ homeland at first interaction with European whites was in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  The Cherokees called their most beautiful mountain Elseetoss, and its ridge base Warwasseeta.  The ridge divided the watersheds of the Pigeon and French Broad Rivers, both rivers making up a portion of the Tennessee River, known as the “Cherokee River” by early explorers and settlers.  The earliest white expedition against the Cherokees travelled up the French Broad River valley and was able to get glimpses of the rich and abundant watershed toward the mountain.  From the Book of Deuteronomy 3:27 and 34:1, Moses was ordered by God to the top of Mount Pisgah to view the Promised Land, known from Exodus 3:8 to be “a land flowing with milk and honey” promised to the Tribe of Israel.  For the invaders while crossing the North Carolina mountains, the coincidence was too great to not name the mountain “Pisgah.”  To the white man, Pisgah became the name of the Cherokees’ homeland—a land that from the time it was first seen in mere glimpses by white invaders was coveted for their own.  Today, “Pisgah” is an attributive designating a faint view or glimpse of something desired and distant, a point affording an overview or glimpse of a future situation.

The Origins

Mere glimpses can evoke powerful emotions like fear, appreciation of beauty, deep historical awareness, or envy and greed.  Unlike the eventual positive result for the Tribe of Israel, a mere glimpse of the Cherokee Tribe’s homeland, a “Pisgah” view of Pisgah, led years later to a Trail of Tears.

Today, citizens of the Cherokee Nation pilgrimage to a portion of their ancient homeland in Pisgah National Forest to reconnect with nature and the essential balance nature provides in the lifeways and cosmology of the Cherokee people.

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