This Martin Luther King Jr. Day we headed to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. We have an embarrassment of riches in Boston, when it comes to great museums, which is my only excuse for never before having come to this particular museum. Also, there are no mummies. There was a time in my life where this meant a great deal. (See also: last year.) But finally the right moment came to take the trip to Cambridge and check it out!
The trip started, as most trips to Cambridge do, at Alewife. The kids still find the T to be an enjoyable and novel experience. Tragically, they do not have the cultural background to spend the entire T ride humming “Charlie on the MTA” the way I did for the first, oh, five years I lived in Boston.
Adam works in Cambridge, and I have been there pretty often. It was therefore quite surprising to realize neither one of us had ever been to Harvard Square. We walked through it – as the fastest way to get to the museum. I kept waiting to feel smarter. Instead, I mostly felt like a Japanese tourist.
The museum was a delight. It was 50% modern museum with excellent interpretations done by people with PhDs in interpretations designed to be interactive for the target demographic. Basically – a great modern museum. But the other 50% was the creepy, paper-noted, formaldehyde-ridden, dusty, wooden, ancient and slightly menacing type of museum right out of Lovecraft. The air smelled of ancient radiators and the banisters were worn from use and there were rooms with mysterious brass plaques on the front door. One of the volunteers admitted her entire motivation was to get into the back rooms – closed to the public – and see what was there. It was very cool.
There were also lots of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are really cool. Oh, and a coelecanth! (Not living, obviously. But, er, recentish?!)
After we did the “dead animals” side of the museum, we went over to the “interesting rocks” side. Bridging the gap between the two was an amazing room full of glass flowers. The crazy thing about these flowers is you would never ever ever believe they were glass. They were astonishingly realistic. Such a thing was a vast labor. It will never be done again – we have no need. We can photograph and freeze dry and sequence dna and do all manner of communicating and saving information on plants. But this tremendous artistry attempted to faithfully reproduce the ephemeral. It’s remarkable.
The minerals rooms was particularly fun since we’d just seen a very similar (much more modern) exhibit at the Tellus museum. Adam liked the natural fiberglass best. I liked this stunning piece. I’m pretty sure that my mother-in-law would turn it into a necklace if she could
In the final room – about climate change – I actually learned something completely new. I had no idea that earth’s orbit was erratic over tens of thousands of years. I thought our orbit was pretty stable – other than annual variations.
We did wander a bit through the Peabody Museum (they flow into each other), but lunch beckoned. We found ourselves with two rather tired hungry kids at a local Cambridge landmark.
We ended the trip just sitting on these really cool old shoeshine booths in the Starbucks at Cambridge Square – just sitting together and talking and watching the world go by. I need more days like that in my life.
You can see all my pictures of the last, um, week here!