Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Sick days

Have caught a cold or something, so posting will be light for a while. Not as bad as poor Eve, apparently, but my brain is blurry...

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Natural history

Since I didn't have anything special to do on the long weekend, I took myself to L.A.'s Natural History Museum today. I grew up loving the science and nature museums in San Francisco, so I was pleased to find that L.A. has some good ones. The NHM is in a big, beautiful 1930s-era building, and has a large and interesting collection of stuff. My only complaint is the sloppy upkeep -- some of the displays are unlabeled and many are underlit. But overall, it's a neat place to be.

Not surprisingly, I was sharing the museum with an awful lot of small children. I've wondered before why it is that, while art museums remain firmly adult territory, science museums have become so heavily child-oriented. There's nothing inherently childish about being interested in science, or wanting to see artifacts of nature. It's true that as I've grown older my scientific pursuits have gotten more intellectual and theoretical, but reading about, say, a T-Rex isn't the same as actually going and seeing the skeleton of a T-Rex looming over you.

It does seem that a lot of children are interested in animals. They figure heavily not just in things like science museums but in children's books and TV programs. I was certainly fascinated by them when I was a kid. Yet for a lot of people this interest is temporary. In our industrial world animals aren't part of most adults' lives -- except the occasional house pet -- and they ignore them. I've wondered if people are born with a natural interest in animals, but most lose it from disuse. There's also the odd business that happens to a lot of girls at around age 10 or 12: they become fascinated with horses. It didn't happen to me, so I really can't explain it. I suppose you could go all Jungian about horses as an image of masculine sexuality, but I wouldn't bet the bank on it.

I'm not one to idolize nature. My mother likes to go off camping in the boondocks, hiking and swimming in freezing lakes and that sort of thing, but I was never much into that. I like my creature comforts -- that's the sort of animal I am. But I do feel a deep connection to it; I'm aware always that it's out there, far bigger and far older than our human doings. I feel awe in the presence of its more impressive feats, like the windstorm a couple months ago. And I do feel a peculiar sympathy with animals, who occupy the same space that we do and yet live in different worlds. If I find God, I know he has to be big enough to encompass it all -- not just people and what we do to each other, but the whole thing, huge, ancient, complex, and awesome.