Natural History

Yesterday began with a trip to the Park during off-leash hours.

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The park was green and bright and beautiful, and we bumped into Rebecca and Henry, and our friends Amy and Chris, and their dogs.

We stood around talking, the dogs at our feet, the slight morning gloom overhead as we basked in the stillness.

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After a beautiful morning, and a quick run, my friend JRA and her toddler, Miss H, came over for brunch, and pedicures (for the grown-ups), and a jaunt to the American Museum of Natural History.

I love the Natural History Museum more than breathing.  And so when JRA said: Don’t feel obligated to join us!  I almost didn’t know how to protest strongly enough, and to explain that it would be my pleasure to join.

So we crossed the Park; made our way from East to West; walked up Central Park West and to the Museum.

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The Museum, founded in 1869, is a beautiful, messy amalgam of buildings, and exhibits, and children and adults.  It is world-renowned for its various specimens of animals, minerals, and vegetables on display at any one time, but it is perhaps best-loved by nostalgic New Yorkers-of-a certain-age for its dusty (and vaguely racist; indubitably hegemonistic) dioramas of the native peoples of the Americas.

There were several notable forefathers of the Museum, but notable (and perhaps, predictable) in leading the charge for the institution of such an…institution…was Teddy Roosevelt, whose words are inscribed all over the main entry hall:

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Though TR was a known natural history enthusiast for nearly his entire life — this has been documented ad nauseam by biographers — he is often mistakenly credited with starting the National Parks Service.  That was Woodrow Wilson, and later, strengthened by Roosevelt’s fifth-cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

(The story of the National Parks is another series, for another time.)

(I digress.)

JRA, and Miss H, and I made our way into the belly of the beast, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

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The main attraction was the whales exhibit.  The Museum sponsors over 100 travelling and special exhibitions each year, and the item on offer right now was Whales: Giants of the Deep.

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In theory, you were not supposed to take a photo of the sperm whale skeleton.

In reality, I was not not going to take a photo of the sperm whale skeleton.

Special exhibitions and collections aside, if you ask any New Yorker, or even any visitor, I think everyone has a piece of the Natural History Museum they love best.

For some, it is the Great Canoe.

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(Source: American Museum of Natural History)

For others, it’s the dinosaurs:

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And for others, it’s the gems.  (For me, it is the gems.  And the Pacific Peoples.)

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(Source: American Museum of Natural History)

I think what is so remarkable about the museum is its vastness; its appeal to all ages; the way it changes and grows; they way it stays the same.  Over my years in New York, in times of trouble, I have sought refuge in its galleries — looking for answers to my questions in its collected bits and pieces of the natural world…

…And finding a little bit of humour and irony in its sometimes unnatural representations of “nature.”

So after an hour or two of whale hearts and dinosaur bones; dioramas and dust, JRA and I had had enough.  Miss H was a bit tired, and so we were.  So we headed back into the Park, back to the greenery and playgrounds, and all of the wonderful things about a New York summer evening.

As we walked from West to East, we passed the Conservatory Pond, where I’d just been that morning, admiring the stillness:

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Now the sailboats were out, and kids were playing, and the people were chattering, and everything was just lovely.

JRA and Miss H and I parted ways just beyond the Pond, with me heading home, and them heading for the swings.

Naturally, it was a perfect day.

(Throughout the month of June, I’ll be writing a series of New York-related posts, and/or inviting some friends to guest post about their New York experiences, to celebrate my eight years in New York City.)

1 Comment

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  1. The Gems! And the dioramas! I think that the Natural History Museum made me want to be an anthropologist. Now that I think about it, the fact that my inspiration came from a 19th century perspective on humanity may also have a lot to do with why I dropped out of my PhD program. Post modern frenchmen have nothing on the great canoe.

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