Natural History Museum

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I knew immediately what the first museum I had to go to after actually retiring was. It had to be the Natural History Museum. We lived just close enough to D.C. growing up that we could make a day trip of it. So my mom would often drive me an my sister Kara up to D.C., and the Natural History Museum was a common destination. I have only flashes of memories of those visits: the triceratops statue out front, the elephant in the main hall, the blue whale statue hanging from the ceiling, the cockroach kitchen, the mural of human mutilations, and the tyranosaurus rex skeleton.

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This was the view at the front of the museum when I went there after retirement. The triceratops statue I remember from my youth used to be out there, but it isn't now. What made it so cool was that you could climb on it. It was the second coolest piece of playground equipment I ever played on, after the decommissioned jet fighter we used to have in McIntire Park.

I believe the triceratops is still around, just in a different location. A few years ago I went to the National Zoo and saw it there, but you couldn't climb on it any more. I will watch out for it and be sure to get a picture of it when I go back to the Zoo.

The elephant was still there, but they have trimmed down the display a lot. It's a lot smaller, and a lot of the information about the elephant is up on the balconies.

Mammal Hall

After scoping out the banners from the main hall, I decided to start with the mammals first. I was a bit shocked at first, because evolution was front and center. The first thing you see going in is something like "Meet the mammals, your closest relatives." I guess Bible thumpers hate this museum. Having recently been rejected (as a boyfriend and a friend) by a Bible thumper, I found this rather comforting. I guess that is not very compassionate on my part, but that's what I felt.

One thing I really liked about the displays was that they done by biological groups of animals (for the most part). Each one had a formula showing the defining characteristics of that group. Mammal = Hair + Milk + Special Earbones. Carnivore = Shredding Teeth + Claws. Primates = Gripping Hands and Feet + 3D Vision + Complex Brains. It really gave me a good feeling for the scientific categorizations being shown, and the reasons for those categorizations. I don't remember the science being this prevalent when I was a kid, but maybe that was because I was a kid. Seeing this as an adult I was really struck by it being a hardcore science museum.

Now, the Mammal Hall is where the blue whale statue used to hang from the ceiling, which was one of the coolest parts of the museum. Alas and alack, it is no more. And at least one of the exhibits (two lionesses taking down some sort of ox) looked to be decaying. I think that might have been part of the larger elephant display of my youth. On the other hand, I thought the giraffe display was very cool. I mean, you know they're supposed to be tall, but it's not until you're standing next to one that you realize what 'tall' really means. And then there's the leopard way up in a tree with some antelope-type kill. That one is awesome. The internal little boy is willing to give the lack of a blue whale a slide.

Hall of Human Origins

That is, the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. Yeah, one of the Koch brothers. It really made me think about how rabbidly the Koch brothers are hated on the left. But I believe understanding how evolution has shaped us is essential in understanding the problems facing us as a human race. That makes funding an exhibit on human evolution an incredibly important thing to do. Thinking about this made me realize that the sort of black and white thinking that totally villifies the Koch brothers is one of the ways that evolution shaped us. It is one of the things we need to get beyond in order to solve the problems facing humanity. The Kochs are not purely evil, and the free market is not purely good. Trump supporters are not all idiots, and Bernie supporters were not all enlightened.

The thing that struck me the most in the Hall of Human origins was the diplay showing our genetic similarity to other animals, such as our 98.8% genetic similarity to chimpanzees. I did like the emphasis on the point that we share 99.9% of our genetic material with any other human being. We really are much more alike than we are different. But what struck me is that we share 60% of our genetic material with a banana tree. Which of course, brings up the question of how much of our genetic material do we share with minions?

But seriously, it makes me rethink what the baseline is for these comparisons. I'm very curious now about the closest within categories. If chimps are the great apes closest to us, who is the wet nosed primate (Haplorhini, our suborder) closest to us, besides the great apes? Who is the non-ape primate closest to us? Who is the non-primate mammal closest to us? I did a web search for this information, but couldn't find anything useful. While looking up the scientific classification of humans, I did find that our conservation status is "least concern." I don't know if I find that funny or overly optimistic.

After the Hall of Human Origins, I skimmed through the Ocean Hall to get back to the other side of the Mammal Hall (going past a Narwhal exhibit in the works that is opening August 3rd). That's where the South American and Australian mammals were. It's also where my camera died, mainly because I misread the battery reading for leaving home. I also need to use the flash more, as several pictures came out too dark. The camera is still set on no flash after some art museum. Of course, a lot of the exhibits were in glass cages, so that might not work either. I took some more pictures later after I realized I could just use my cell phone, even if it's not a smart phone.

Gems and Minerals

I'm not sure why I keep going to this section. I'm not really too interest in rocks. I don't remember being too interested in rocks as a kid either. Not that I have the greatest memory.

It was again very hardcore science. This time it was the origins of the universe. I didn't pay too much attention, thinking I knew it all, but I did see a bit about the origin of the Moon. Theories about co-formation of the Moon and Earth and the Earth capturing the Moon have be found to be highly unlikely, if not impossible. The current theory is that there was a collision with some Mars sized proto planet, which sheared off a chunk of the Earth, which became the Moon.

I found this very interesting. A while back I read Red Pine's translation of the Tao Te Ching. It's not my favorite translation of his, though he is my favorite translator of Chinese religous texts. Anyway, in it he talks about the theory that Taoism is actually Moon worship. Which gives new meaning to the idea of the finger pointing to the moon, and Toaist wisdom like "Strength is weakness, weakness is strength." Ever since then I have been getting more and more fascinated by the Moon.

One other interesting thing I saw was a time elapse map of the U.S. showing all the earthquakes in the past couple decades. I watched to be sure, but it did show the Lake Anna Earthquake in 2011 that totally freaked me out while I was at work. It turns out that while Bethesda, Maryland is in one of the lowest frequency areas for earthquakes, much of central Virginia (including Lake Anna) is in the next highest frequency range.

Nature's Best Photography

Next I went to see the exhibit on the Windland Smith Rice awards for nature photography. There was some really beautiful stuff there. I took a lot of pictures on my flip phone, and remembered to take pictures of the cards so that I could give credit where it is due. However, upon coming home I found no way to get them off my camera without wasting pay as you go minutes. I'll post them later if I can get something to work with bluetooth.

Apparently I really like musk oxen. However, a musk ox would be over the weight limit for pets in my condo.

The Orkin Insect Zoo

I found the idea of this to be hillarious. Oddly enough, I couldn't find any living insects in the insect zoo. And certainly it was nothing to compare with the old cockroach kitchen. When I was a kid, they had an exhibit of a kitchen with cockroaches glued to every surface. It was what your kitchen would look like if you left some cockroaches alone in it for a month.

Dinosaur Hall

To the dismay of many, the Dinosaur Hall was closed. However, I was trying to find a place to sit down so I could decide what to do with the rest of my day, and I found a "Lost Dinosaurs of America" exhibit. I decided to go through there and then head to Union Station for lunch.

I'm not sure what it had to do with America. Maybe I was too distracted by the usual suspects: the tyranosaurus rex and triceratops skeletons. They were mighty fine, as usual. They also had three bronze casts of various ideas about how the triceratops looked, some of them based on very early skeletons. One of the more interesting things to me was that the two older casts had credit for who came up with the designs, but the one that was less than a decade old had not credit given.

Another odd thing about the exhibit was that it had the "Dino Lab." This was a space where two guys were working with telescopes to clear away rock and dirt from fossils. TV monitors showed what they saw through the microscope. As someone who can't stand working in cubicles, I found it really disturbing, like the workers were the ones under the microscope. I did not stick around to watch.

Bones and Mummies

So as I left the dinosaurs to go to Union Station for lunch, I saw a room labelled "Bones and Mummies." How could you possibly resist such a room? I do not know, and was unable to even formulate the question before I was inside.

The bones were far more interesting than the mummies, I thought. They had displays by animal group, showing skeletons of several different animals in that group. Again, lots of pictures that are stuck on my phone.

There was also something from my childhood in the Bones and Mummies room that I had forgotten about. There was a round piece of furniture with insets for chairs facing out, totally in a 70s style and looking like a UFO. I know without a doubt that my sister Kara and I must have sat in that thing when we were kids.

Heading Out

After that I was tired and hungry. I walked down a stairwell with three totem poles that rose several stories. Then I browsed the book store, and found one about social behavior as an evolutionary advantage, which piqued the interest of my abstract packism obsessed mind. Then I walked to Union Station and had me some Bojangles. Nothing polishes off a nice day of museum hiking than some good fried chicken.

While the museum was missing some of my childhood favorites, half of them are still there. And there was plenty of cool new stuff too. I really thought that the newer sections were really well designed for the flow of people past the exhibits. I think that was a large part of the reason the elephant in the main hall has a smaller exhibit, so that people can gather there more easily.

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