Nature on Display
A section of lush plants in the Butterfly Rainforest
The Florida Museum of Natural History has many fascinating displays, but it is most well-known for its Butterfly Rainforest exhibit. In my opinion, there is good reason for this fame. The museum does a good job immersing visitors in replica environments, from caves to grasslands, to shell mounds, to an estuary. But the Butterfly Rainforest is special among the exhibits because it situates museum goers in an actual ecosystem. Why I chose the picture that I did is because it shows a swath of the enclosed environment that is sustained for the butterflies. In fact, the rainforest part of “Butterfly Rainforest” was just as striking to me as the butterflies themselves. Not to say that the butterflies, birds and fish are meaningless to the display; on the contrary, these animals animate the exhibit, bring to life, literally, the natural environment that is being emulated. The exhibit served as a path through the wilderness, allowing guests, myself included, to learn by seeing, hearing, smelling and, in rare cases, feeling the environment showcased there. Being situated in such a way allows guests to consider information about butterflies and their environment in real-time, with their own senses. As touched on above, the immersive process of the museum exhibits, especially the Butterfly Rainforest, was aesthetically pleasing to me and a tool of enhancement for understanding the concepts presented at the museum.
Butterflies in the Butterfly Rainforest Exhibit
Me in front of a large scale model of a butterfly, just outside of the Butterfly Rainforest
Nature and Ethics
A butterfly in the Butterfly Rainforest Exhibit
The Natural History Museum provided several excellent opportunities to, as Leopold put it, learn to “love, respect, and admire” the land. Again, the Butterfly Rainforest pops out to me as a poignant example of an exhibit presenting direct, tangible links between people and nature. After all, people and nature are not actually separate entities. The fact is that humans, even with our enormous capabilities to influence the environment, are still part of said environment. The winding path through the Butterfly Rainforest help to bring about a sense of connection to the lust, beautiful landscape. Outside of the butterfly atrium, the North Florida exhibit was also particularly impressive to me in its immersive power. Personally, I like caves and particularly enjoyed the recreated cave setting to be quite fascinating. The Butterfly Rainforest and the cave exhibit gave me similar feelings of being part of the environment where I was (despite only being in a museum replica). I thought about this feeling of connection and considered environmental responsibility on a personal level in order to sustain these type of environments in the natural world. Others seemed to react, to the Butterfly Rainforest in particular, with joy and a sense of peace. Inside of the atrium, most people seemed to be as one with their surroundings. Given the connection to the environment that visitors are provided through interactions with the sights, smells, etc., it is no surprise that people seem to connect with nature here. I try to be environmentally conscientious in my daily life, but the reminder to be ethical in my interactions with nature through immersive displays is always useful.
A butterfly on a pathway; a reminder to mind our environmental actions, a misstep could spell disaster
Nature and the Human Spirit
Me in the Butterfly Rainforest
Life at the University of Florida is one of hustle and bustle. If not classes, homework, sports, clubs and partying, chances are an average student is sleeping. Is it bad to be busy? I would argue no, but there is an advantage to slowing down from time to time, just as Heschel discusses regarding the Sabbath. The Florida Museum of Natural History offers one escape from the drone of ordinary life. In large part, I believe FLMNS’ success in this regard stems again from its fairly realistic displays, especially the actual contained ecosystem that is the Butterfly Rainforest. Escaping our normal environment and exchanging it for that of those on display at the museum is a form of catharsis. By stepping outside of our normal, hectic lives to resituate in another environment allows us an opportunity to reflect on our lives and on how our lives effect and are in turn effected by the environment. After all, strictly regarding nature, it is difficult to appreciate what one does not see. The Natural History Museum thus opens our eyes to the world around us, giving us a glimpse of our place in the mysterious realm of nature.
A butterfly in the Butterfly Rainforest