Natural History Museum

Sitting back taking a break to scribble down something for my blog later at home, here at the NHMLAC, where I’ve been doing specimen processing of microscopic sized foraminifera from ocean floor core samples, previously gathered by remotely operated submersible vehicles; now down in the processing facility in the bottom of the 1910 museum structure with a ground level view of the Rose Garden, I recall that many of the high points of my life growing up were family visits to natural history museums. Buildings filled with objects enticingly placed for view to evoke meaningfulness tantalizingly gathered in the images, each a bit of history pulled out of some now-unseen place, time, and context to be seen here and now, imagination now activated to evoke the long-gone context in which each almost magical thing was produced by nature. Those museum visits stimulated me to collect things too, such as insects and mineral specimens I found along the way, each a reminder of its piece of the world. History is the lineage as the past brings to play out in the here and now, headed somewhere into the future. People’s history is woven out of natural history; the wooden chair and table so re-shaped as to almost forget the trees which originally made that wood during their slowly busy life in the sunshined forest rains. Above my head, above the old concrete ceiling, is the floor which now houses the exhibits from American Indian life ways much simpler and closer to the natural world, than that I encountered this morning riding the city buses on asphalt streets for two hours to get here, some trees and the sky all that remain visibly unshaped by the hand of mankind along the way. As we gather the stuff to make our comfy nests, seeming by changing it from natural history, to human civilization history, the place is no longer the same, for the next go-around. The earth with vast oceans had seemed an endless source of materials and room to dump our wastes. But it seems now to have been territorailized, marked off in real estate for buying and selling, each parcel of land built upon with homes or stores, no heed to the original inhabitants there, the trees and birds and insects who had found homes there, but no more. Years ago, before the associated Page Museum was built, the museum floor above where I sit writing this on my breaktime, held skeletons of mastodons and sabre tooth tigers found at the La Brea Tar Pits some miles from here, reminders of the creatures that claimed this very spot as their territory, mere thousands of years ago. Their tusks and sabre teeth carved at this world, as surely as do our shovels and laser beams. The separation between natural history and civilization history blurs, maybe there really is only “Natural History” as seen in the overall context of the flows upon this planet. Am I, are we, going to like the tomorrow’s world which infills out of today’s? What are we doing anyway, what is going on? Seeing the history, best as can be determined, can see the flight path of the arrow, better to guess its impact. Heads up, time to make our nests to make peace with the future.

Jim Cline


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