Cannan, Megan. "In the Gardens." 2017. JPG file.
Nature on Display
During my visit to the Natural History Museum, I stumbled upon an exhibit called Wicked Plants. This exhibit was intriguing because it told tales of plants' incredible abilities in a wing designed as a mysterious, decrepit house. Often the power of plants are overlooked because society views that aspect of life as commonplace. I enjoyed the theatrical decorations the exhibit used to call attention to the darker side greenery. For example, one room had a model of a dead women and facts about plants around the room revealed her cause of death. This made learning a mystery game. Also, the quirkier the characteristics, the more interesting and memorable the plants became. My favorite plant was Christopher Columbus's "death apples." This is a Caribbean tree, the owner of sap with such strong poison that rain runoff causes blisters. Not only do I love how it has a historical connection but also how it has great power despite looking harmless. The display designed for the plant was perfectly spooky. The plant was behind bars and had a warning sign at its feet. I would not have learned about this plant if the display had not caught my eye.
Nature and Ethics
Aldo Leopold suggests viewing ourselves as part of the "biotic community" and learning to "love, respect, and admire" the beautiful planet. As I walked the museum, I tried to keep that in mind. The museum did a wonderful job building that sense of community by exhibiting natural environments not always available to be explored. This was most striking in the exhibits exploring evolution with skeletal models of the brethren animals of the past. I was most impressed by the giant ground sloth; imagining such a creature wandering through Florida was awe-inspiring. As I walked through the exhibits, my thoughts were underlined with sorrow and regret due to the destruction of earth's diversity throughout the ages. Now in the present, we are losing more wildlife by human activity. When I reached a wall decorated with photos of endangered life, it scared me. The long dead animals such as the dodo bird are often taught about in schools, but seeing names of animals that I have shared years with on a doomed wall felt unsettling. While some stopped and stared at the wall, others walked by, probably thinking, why worry about something beyond individual control? By having the freedom to wander at my leisure, I feel like the museum encourages the experience Leopold suggests. The museum embeds ethical responsibility in subtle ways such as indicating endangered aspects of ecosystems, but it fails to teach what an individual may do.
The most connected I felt to Heschel's "eternal" universe was in the Butterfly Garden. In my ordinary life, I do not have the opportunity to surround myself with so much consolidated wild life. To spend time with nature, it takes an effort, and with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, sometimes that seems impossible. Going to the garden was a wonderful separation from life's busyness for a while. Sitting there, I could marvel at the growth of the plants, the beauty of the flowers, and the majesty of the butterfly. I could think about their connections in an ecosystem and consider my own, whether on an environmental or social scale. Thinking about nature is overwhelming because there is so much about it I do not know, and even if I did study it, there is no way of completely understanding how a butterfly thinks or how it all started. Such mysteries emphasizes the importance of their conservation and protection.