A Morning at the Museum

A few years ago, my family went on a school-sponsored trip to New York. It was a canned

Times Square
Wretched hive of crass and tawdriness.

trip, with a local guide taking us to see things tourists like to say they’ve seen. The timing was off, though. When the ferry landed on Liberty Island, the guide told us to be back there in 20 minutes. Just long enough to say you’ve seen the statue, but not long enough to reach the statue, explore the island, or talk with the staff who wandered around in period outfits looking for interested tourists to expound to about the Statue’s history.

There were several days of this sort of thing. Our group glossed over historical sights, while giving considerable blocks of time for shopping experiences. I remember my wife almost sobbing as we passed the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on our way to spend hours at Time Square.

On the final day came the highlight for me: the American Museum of Natural History. The labyrinthine buildings and grounds take up four city blocks, with the oldest structure opening in the late 1870s. Once we were let in and giAMNH facadeven tickets, we took in a show under the planetarium dome before winding downstairs to admire the Williamite Meteor. After that, we went through a couple of the nearer rooms before realizing that time was ticking away. Narrowing our sights, we headed to the Pacific Northwest Indian room; my wife had read some of the works of those who had added to that collection. Then we searched around and eventually found the one thing I really, really wanted to see – the Hall of Human Origins. There I could gaze on many of the displays that one sees in paleoanthropology texts, and I took copious photos of the bones, tools, and works of art.


venus.jpgI have to say, the museum was oddly laid out. Figuring out how to get from points A to B was daunting, as several places were only accessible through a particular room, and we wasted a good deal of time getting to certain exhibits.

While we were sitting down and trying to get our bearing with the map, a family from the school group came by. They said they saw the dinosaurs, then went out to get some ice cream and hang out at the dog park; they were just wandering back in. I didn’t know what to say. I have come to the realization that these folks not only don’t come to a museum to learn, they probably don’t know how to learn. They’ve heard of dinosaurs, so they go see them and say, “Wow, they’re big… so, what do you want to do now?” My wife and I knew enough history and natural history to not only want to see what we’ve read about, but rather be ready to expand what we know. My son wasn’t as well-read, but he’s the sort who will study an exhibit, read the interpretive text, and glean what there is to glean.


After a quick lunch, we gave a few minutes to the eastern woodland and plains Indians – which should have gotten an hour – and wove our way through prehistoric mammals and then one of the halls on dinosaurs. If I was ten, I would have spent the whole trip in those halls. As it was, I was practically photographing at a walk. And then our time was up, so we met back at the bus and headed to the airport.

The Takeaway

Unfortunately, we are trained to skim. Our eyes focus on movement and flash. We experience exhibits at a walk. Our eyes register the views, categorize them as “interesting,” “not interesting,” or “something I’ve seen before — must be important,” and then move on. When the museum opened in the 19th century, I expect exhibits weren’t good for much beyond that. In the 21st century, museum exhibits provide context, explanations, and interpretation. They invite the patrons to do more than gawk–they invite them to learn. Yet so few do.

My Advice

When you go someplace new or interesting, be there. Give it your attention. Research beforehand, if you can. If not, stop by the visitors’ center, or at the very least, read the signage!  Don’t sleepwalk through an experience,. Be aware. Don’t rush. Always be learning.




The Forest and The Trees

While perusing the UGA Extension website,  I came across the following:

Georgia forests, located in the heart of the nation’s “wood basket,” cover some 24.8 million acres…Forests now cover 67 percent of the land area statewide. 

In a land where cities continue to grow towards each other, maintaining – increasing, even – the amount of forest is a positive sign, right?

How do you define a forest?  Most of us will agree that trees are a necessary component.  But are they the only necessary component?


I see too many pine plantations that are little more than wood fiber croplands; it is a crop that grows over decades rather than months.  In such situations, timber managers make no provisions for anything except maximizing wood fiber.  Often, they will do their best to eradicate anything in the field that isn’t planted pine.  After using chemicals, followed by bedding or scalping the soil with tractors, they plant seedlings so close together that in less than a decade the pine tops touch; this closure of the tree canopy makes it difficult for anything to grow beneath the pines.  Green needles above, and a brown needle carpet below – all available resources go to the crop.

Am I saying this is wrong?  No; if your top priority is to growFBM_rich spp mix pines, then this is an efficient way to do it, so long as disease and beetles are kept at bay.  But I don’t really think of a crop field of trees as a true pine forest.  I’ve seen living pine forests, their boughs swaying in the breeze, with scores of plant species carpeting the ground beneath.  Yes, and the air filled with bird song, the rustle of squirrels and rabbits, the crash of running deer.  As an example, look at the photo to the right: I couldn’t count the number of different species shown in this understory, but I know I liked what I saw.  Broomsedge, ragweed, partridge pea, goldenrod, wiregrass – all these and more provide seeds for birds, nesting cover, flowers for pollinators, and fuel for the fires that keep the habitat open and vibrant.  The pines in this stand weren’t slacking, either.  The well-thinned pines in open stands will be healthier, more resistant to insect infestation, and will increase diameter faster than more crowded stands.

Some who own their tree farms live far away from them. Others are listening to the timber buyer’s top offer.  They have no use for bird song, and gain no pleasure in the land apart from a balance sheet rich in digits.  But for the bird watcher, the hunter, and the curious naturalist, decades of enjoyment in their woodland is more than worth the price of a reduced payout.  Proper management of a forest results in a living community of flora and fauna, peace and recreation for landowners – and yes, a source of income.


For More Information:

Know Your Forest: Thinning

To Thin or Not To Thin

Thinning for Profit, Health, and Wildlife

Basal Area: A Measure Made for Management