Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dinosaurs (Act II)

We headed north again today, and spent the afternoon with the dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural History. I was kind of expecting them to hot-foot it in to the big dinosaur hall and spend most of the time there. I was surprised by side halls.

If you have never been to DC, and never seen the dinosaur exhibit (or not recently), then you're probably saying "Wha?" so let me take a little detour for you. The Museum of Natural History has changed dramatically from when I was young and wandering along the halls. For one, most of the exhibits have been scrubbed to unmerciful and character-less sterility, or tossed altogether. All of the exhibits my great-uncle Watson set up are gone, so that none of the animals in the mammal hall have any sense of habitat or context, the stuffed examples are stuck on glass shelves in glass cases. Being in the art business, this is exactly what most art and cultural museums are trying NOT to do. Why it has become fashionable in the curating of natural history, I haven't the slightest clue. Anyway, the dinosaurs have been partly spared this catastrophe, and whomever was in charge of scrubbing at least, for the most part, understood the idea of context and why it is important. The old hall retains interest. It is split into four main sections, three halls backed by a fourth. The three halls have ancient oceans and ancient forests flanking the main dinosaur hall, and then in teh back are the ancient mammals. A new cafe has been set at the far end of the dinosaur hall. The big fossil bone collection- things like brachiosaurs, tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops, stegasaurus, etc.- are in that middle main hall, will a very high ceiling (and a loft area for pterosaurs). The Oceans and Forests halls flank this main exihibit, but are seperated by walls, and have lower ceilings; so you can sometimes glimpse into the great dinosaurs from the side halls, but mostly, they are seperate exihibits with more carpetting and fewer echoes.

Another difference from when I was a kid is the sheer crush of people. When I was young, you could walk into the museum on a Sunday afternoon and have the place almost to yourself. Just not a popular day to go museum-hopping. Now, there is never a dull moment there. The crush of humanity is incredible. With the crush of human life comes the noise. Now add the echoes. It is enough to make me frantic. You can imagine what this is like for my guys.

The side halls, however, do not have the echo, or the draw. It still is crowded, but not the great, noisy, echo-y crush of the main dinosaur hall. To my surprise, despite the draw of t-rex and allosaurs, the boys made for the side halls. Quieter. Softer surroundings. Movies about fish mouths being made for sucking in worms. This is where they chose to spend the majority of their visit.

Yes, we did go out and say hello to the bones I consider old friends. My brother used to love the pteradactyls, hovering overhead, running up the stairs and reaching to as if we could touch them. Brachosaurus arching over the walkway, so it towered over you, the empty sockets gazing into space as if back to its flesh, long lost to time. But we spent most of the time exploring the world of the ammonites, the mosasaurs, and ancient mudpuppies.

These boys have a talent for finding what makes them comfortable. This is a good thing.


mcewen said...

We see some of that too. It's great when they're able to 'self protect.'

bigwhitehat said...

I take my own crush of people with me.