Experiencing the Florida Museum of Natural History By: james donnarummA

Nature on Display: While I found the most immersive experience at the Natural History Museum to be the Butterfly Rainforest, another exhibit that really piqued my interest was the prehistoric section of the museum. From recreations of skeletal structures to illustrations, there were some really interesting visuals to show what the animals of the past might have looked like. In addition to this the exhibit caught my attention due to it having its own distinct look to it, in comparison to the other exhibits. This section was less lit, had most of its figures in the center of the room, and opened with giant jaws of sea creatures near the front. But despite the visual intrigue the room created, what made me really investigate this section was the information it held. I read about giant tigers, sharks, sloths, and other prehistoric animals that I found very interesting. These animals were vicious, powerful and looked different than their descendants today. I am a visual learner so reading the information combined with recreations of these beasts really helped me understand how they lived. These prehistoric tigers had huge fangs that they used to hunt while chasing prey, shown in those illustrations. Seeing how large some creatures could have been during their lives helped add to the power they possessed and the danger they could have posed other animals. This exhibit had an amazing sense of imagination as these recreations might not have been completely accurate but still helped me visualize what these animals could have looked like. It made me visualize the past, the world before humanity was the dominant force on the planet and how it was dominated by these creatures, which was an awesome experience.

Nature and Ethics: Leopold’s message of appreciation for our world really resonated in me during my time in the butterfly exhibit. I feel that society today focuses on monetary success to define happiness. As a result, we become so orientated towards ourselves and disconnect from the beautiful world around us. While I was in the butterfly exhibit, especially in the Butterfly Rainforest, I was able to take a step back from the stressful aspects of my life and really appreciate what was right in front of me. Seeing butterflies fly around, eat food, and interact with each other was an awesome experience. Instead of just looking as these insects as something we as a race have “conquered” I saw them as free creatures and a part of our environment. I felt at peace in the Rainforest as I was surrounded by the pretty insects and beautiful plants. The waterfall area brought a sense of peace and tranquility, enhancing my experience. I smelled the aroma from the plants and was able to appreciate the beauty of the exhibit. The Rainforest was definitely my favorite part of the Museum as it put a spotlight on these magnificent creatures that we take for granted on a daily basis. I felt this was the most successful exhibit in the Natural History Museum in regards to allowing visitors to connect with nature. Instead of just reading some text or looking at some illustrations, you actually got to see dozens of butterflies roaming around and there is real beauty in that. Just watching them fly was so interesting and the exhibit made my mind wander and think more about the natural world as a whole. I would say my experience instilled in me the ethical responsibility to take in nature as Leopold describes as I found a new appreciation for the small things in nature and thought about new ideas.

Nature and the Human Spirit: A few sculptures of Native Americans made me think about Heschel’s argument about the Universe. Thinking about how past civilizations connected to the majesty and mystery of the Universe is truly a different type of lifestyle than the ones we have today. As mentioned previously, I feel that people today are disconnected from the world around them and this clearly opposes the way of life being represented in this diorama. The Native Americans are gathering, giving thanks to the world around them and appreciating the beauty of our world. They felt all life had divine aspects and that through nature they could connect with a higher being. On a previous project, I investigated the Lakota people’s Vision Quest ceremony, a coming of age process where a young male would venture off into the forest to communicate with nature and become a man. These statues reminded me of my past research and it just shows how valuable the natural world was to them, that it was a crucial aspect of being a member of society. I feel the Natural History Museum helps us step out of our ordinary lives by experiencing aspects of past civilizations and seeing how the world was centuries before we were born. It can make us think about the history of Earth, from primitive sea life, to powerful beasts, to early human culture, to us today. It helps us put nature in a more appreciative perspective. I feel the Native American tribes had a truly inspiring view of the world and I feel if we incorporated the majesty and mystery of the world today, we could better connect to other people and to our religious beliefs. We do not know everything about the world around us but everyday we are learning more. That does not mean we should stop caring about the amazing life surrounding us, from insects, to plants, to giant creatures. There is so much beauty in the world and sometimes we cannot but help to keep looking at our smart phones rather than to just enjoy life in different forms. With this perspective, we can all grow and begin to appreciate how amazing and diverse Earth is.

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