austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Cross the river to the shore on the other side ...

I stepped back to the early afternoon and looked south, I'm pretty sure, to one of the Smithsonian buildings; it turned out to be that of Natural History where I resumed my ambling aimlessly. This lead me, as any venture into the Natural History museum would, into an exhibit about Rastafarianism. I admit I didn't know much about Rastafarianism going in --- mostly I know that it has something to do with Jamaica, and that there are a lot of tiresome pot jokes made in connection with it --- but I'm usually up for learning something new and maybe I'd learn what it was doing in the Museum of Natural History. (I didn't; maybe it just had the floor space available.) In particular I had no idea the religion was based on the idea of Haile Selassie being God reincarnate, which ignorance left me embarrassed.

I wandered around further with the idea of getting to a mammals exhibit, and ended up lost in prehistory and the many fascinating yet often disgusting creatures of hundreds of millions of years ago. Eventually I realized the museum is laid out in order that everyone is shuttled into a gift shop or a cafe, and the easiest way to get somewhere was to retrace my steps, get nearly out, and plunge in again, and that's how I got over to mammals. They had a pretty impressive set of taxidermied examples of animals, some of them posed as they might have been in life.

Also at one of the mammal exhibits I realized an odd bit of species stereotyping: if raccoons get on display, it's going to be in connection with their eating, particularly in eating (human) garbage. As an example there was a corner showing animals and liftable panels asking questions --- ``What's the bobcat hunting?'' (the sparrow in front of it). ``What's the mouse guarding?'' (``Winter treasure'', which looks a lot like food to me.) ``What's the shrew's secret weapon?'' (Poisonous saliva, by the way, so now I have to decide how much I want to fear shrews.) ``How do moles live underground?''

The raccoon's question? ``How does the raccoon make it through winter?'' He fattens up, of course, and it's explained how he eats garbage. It's admittedly not just raccoons who get their eating habits mentioned prominently. After all, pretty much every animal other than the robot squirrel is hugely interested in its food. See also the mouse question-and-answer above, or other examples like ``What's inside the chipmunk's cheeks?'' (acorns, other nuts, and seeds) or ``What's the flying squirrel hiding?'' (nuts and seeds). Still, the hungriness of raccoons takes top billing. But even the bit showing how raccoons teach their kids stuff like climbing and grooming points out the eating thing. Yeah, they dropped the thing about how 'procyon lotor' would wash its paws ... to eat ... but there are aspects of the raccoon besides eating.

Squirrels by the way get several displays, including one about the Eastern Grey Squirrel. The panel explaining squirrels there reported that ``Scientists call squirrels `living fossils' because their body plan has changed so little since the first squirrel evolved about 35 million years ago''. I assume that shortly after calling squirrels such the scientists are bitten on their ankles by squirrels who want to know who's calling who a fossil anyway, which is why high-heeled sneakers are growing so popular among scientists and 1986.

Anyway, after a bit of this I came to realize I didn't want to wander endlessly back and forth inside buildings all day, and wanted instead to go to the National Zoo and see some real live animals. I re-traced my steps and found my way out the other side of the building, toward the Metro station and by the way the hottest, muggiest Washington afternoon since the previous Washington afternoon.

Trivia: About 1.5 million United States soldiers arrived in Europe in the final six months of World War I; by the Armistice, 29 divisions of the 42 in the field had seen action. Source: The First World War, Hew Strachan.

Currently Reading: Second Founding: New York City, Reconstruction, and the making of American Democracy, David Quigley.

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