When afforded a precious sliver of free time, some people like to head to the local coffee house; some like to slip into a warm bath, Barry Manilow on the iPod; some like to take a solitary walk in the woods, peruse the shelves in a book store, or meet friends for cocktails.
Me? I like all those things… but not as much as looking at old, dead stuff.
Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t become some kind of scientist. Maybe it’s because I sucked at science in school. If it weren’t for my friends David and Austin, I never would have passed high school chemistry (with a D minus, mind you). And no, they didn’t let me copy their homework–they actually made me learn the material. Which I couldn’t do very well (obviously), even though I really wanted to because they made it sound so cool. I just couldn’t get the information to GO INTO my brain.
Or maybe I didn’t become a scientist because I didn’t need to know why a fossil is cool. It’s cool enough as it is. And a bit of mystery attached to it makes it even cooler.
Anyway, getting to the point now, Brandy and I took the kids to the Hostetter Museum of Natural History, located on the campus of Eastern Mennonite University. At $12 for the six of us, it’s a cheap, educational, fun activity for cold Sunday afternoons.
The museum boasts 6000 artifacts and specimens of the natural world, including a fluorescent rock room, a Kodiak bear, zillions of bugs and birds, a live ball python, live star fish, a massive elephant skull, and tons more. As long as EMU is in session, they’re open Sundays from 2 – 5.
We started in The Discovery Room, which used to be the Brackbill Planetarium. Visitors can touch and handle specimens in there, like the live ball python (Cal showed off his smarts by announcing that snakes are “cold bloody”) and various star fish.
Or dead small mammals like possums, skunks, bunnies, chipmunks, and shrews. Of course Cal thought it was “funny” to pick one of them up and brandish it at Ella, to which Bree responded, “Don’t chase people with dead animals. You’re never going to get a girlfriend if you do that.” Cal put it back on the table, but then mumbled, “Good thing I don’t want one.”
There’s also larger (dead) mammals on display, like a black bear, an elephant skull so large Cal could’ve climbed up in there, and a beaver. I was surprised how large the beaver was. It could probably pull a small plow. Or you could put a saddle on it.
You know that eerie feeling you get when you walk by a mannequin? Like it’s a person, and you expect it to breathe or sneeze or scratch its chin, but it doesn’t, and then its lack of life force becomes creepily obvious?
No? Come on… surely someone out there gets the heebie-jeebies from mannequins.
Well, anyway, when you get to the 12-foot Kodiak bear, it’s that sensation times 100.
Rounding out the Discovery Room is a really nice fossil table; some skulls, like the jaguarundi and the nutria; and birds, like a barn owl and various birds in tubes.
In the other area of the museum, most everything’s behind glass. The collection is immense and incredible. My favorite part is the insects — beautiful butterflies and moths, beetles, grasshoppers, and my favorite, the praying mantis. Brandy loved the birds, including the American Coot and the Blue Heron. They even have a lovely collection of bird nests and eggs.
Of course, the kids liked the Disco Rock Room — this room full of fluorescent rocks and minerals and a black light. When we emerged from all the exhibits, the kids were in the mood for a bit of hide and seek. So we let them hide. And we let them think we were seeking. And we let them think they were very good hiders because we had not found them yet. In all honesty, we were tired and sitting on our backsides. Then a random group of kids showed up outside, and they all played together. I love it when that happens.
Now that school’s back in session at EMU, the museum is once again open, every Sunday from 2 – 5. Even though its winter, life abounds at the Hostetter Museum of Natural History. It’s a great place to take your kids, your friends, your spouse, or even your first date. See you out and about!
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