Friday, August 4, 2006

Fiction Fridays: Darwin After Dark

The exhibit was very crowded. At each station there were at least five people gathered around under the concentrated light breathing, leaning and straining to read the text about how Charles Darwins life evolved.

The American Museum of Natural History is a place that invokes focused and essential thought and you simply cannot leave without feeling enriched and inspired by the grandeur of the natural world. It is one of my favorite places to be, and I am saddened by the prohibitively high entrance fees to special exhibits, which is why I hope you wont balk at my risky and possibly illegal behavior, it was all for the love of evolution.

I learned that it can get pretty hot hiding behind plywood exhibit walls. The museum was closing at its disappointingly early time of 5:45, but on this particular evening I was happy that it did. The guards raised their voices that the museum was closing and I was almost scared into submission, but then I stood there as still as the old and serene dioramas. The guards walked nimbly around the exhibit, checking for people. I wished that the guards had had a heavy obvious clip-clop step, so I would know where they were. But I guessed that their shoes were a comfortable and supportive rubber so I could not hear them walk, only sense if they approached, like a bat. They never found me.

I waited a solid 30 minutes after I heard the last door close before I emerged from my secret shelter. The air was cool and placid and an opaque darkness drenched the room. I could not see anything at all, I even wondered if my eyes were closed, so I blinked a few times to check their status. I took out my tiny flashlight, its thin and intense beam did not light much peripherally so I had to swing it widely to piece together the view of what was in front of me.

Darwin's magnifying glass flashed under my light and invited me to intimately experience the patient and purpose-driven vision with which he saw the world.

I began reading about Darwin's life and looking at his private journals which were decorated with quick and elegant hand writing in brown ink. His intensity as a naturalist was evident even before his comprehensive theory emerged. He wrote, "One day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one."

I came upon a replica of The Beagle, the ship that took him around the world to discover new species and ideas. Recreations of iguanas, crabs and birds stared knowingly back at me as I moved slowly closer to inspect their impressively real habitat.

Orchids and fossil hominid casts greeted me in the darkness. There were finches, finches, finches. All the videos were turned off and the live animals removed, so I just had to imagine their educating presence. Darwin's study was constructed in loving detail, glass jars and tiny tools for dissection and inspection collected on a table and books and books.

Darwin's theory of evolution toiled and bubbled in his head for years before he revealed it, he was not a man thirsty for controversy, just fervently dedicated to a belief. I imagine that he would be proud of this exhibit about his life.

I would not be doing the work that I am had it not been for this man. Sometimes I dont know how things will turn out for me, but I am comforted by the idea that the biological success of a species is not a linear and absolute progression, it branches and risks and fails and changes and lives, which is what I can only hope for myself.

My mind sailed away on an idealistic kite of inspiration. I sat down in the carpeted orchid room, rested my head gently on the ground, proud to be among such diversity and motivating passion and feeling enlightened and satiated, I slept.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry, I had a typo on that last one.

    John and I went to see this exhibit last weekend. It was a designer's dream as well as educational. We had an amazing time.