Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Very Big Shoulders

A few weeks ago we went to the big city of Chicago.
Under normal circumstances I have little reason to go down there, my parents notwithstanding. Although they have lived in the suburbs in the same house for some 53 years, they come up to the northwoods on regular and frequent intervals, sparing me the agony of a trip through urban blight. Yes, I admit it, some swear by the big cities, but I reserve my most bitter invective for them. I have little stomach for thrill of a high speed chase after a comfortable living that is just out of the reach of my increasingly diminished capacity, just like those shining lakes that appear in the distance on a highway in the hot summer sun and stay in the distance no matter how fast I drive or how long. Once darkness sets in, they elude me completely and by then, I am exhausted like all the other people who have been racing along, unaware that maybe they aren't running toward something, but away from something. And all that driving through a dense automobile matrix that displays no pattern, solution, or objective. At least any that I can determine, from my vantage.
So I digress and should have put that on the Parallel Planet, but the borders between these two blogs are inherently fuzzy; maybe this garden spot of the universe is no longer the place we imagine it to be.
Anyhow, this proved to be one of the most delightful trips to the Winded City that I can recall. And it was largely the result of a visit to the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum. And the company of some good friends, but I will spare you those details.
I had been to both places with Amy back in 1992, but I remember little from then. No matter, my memory has been filled with some astounding displays from both theatres. The Shedd gave a magnificent replication of the South American rain forest ecosystem, demonstrating the variances in ecology as the seasons progress from dry to wet. And the coral reef displays were great fun with sharks swimming overhead and bazillions of impossibly colorful fish. And plenty of knowledgeable volunteers and employees on hand. There were admirable attempts to educate the public about alien fish and plant species in North American waterways and lakes. We spoke with one staff member, Kurt Hettiger, who volunteered much information about his work in the aquarium and was enthusiastic about his projects dealing with the threat of alien species. Big thanks, Kurt.
Go, have a look.
The Field Museum was equally engaging, with Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex fossil from South Dakota there to greet you with her big toothy smile as you enter the front doors. We had the pleasure of following a well-versed tour guide through the Egypt display. As a matter of course and professional interest, we gave time to the botanical, bird, and mammal displays. They hadn't changed much since 1992. This made me think about what it must cost to run the place. I noticed that a lot of the funding was voluntary. But the best displays of all were in the fossil alley, called the Evolving Planet. I could have stayed another day or two there if I had the time. They have some very impressive original and replica fossil dinosaurs there, from the Cretaceous period. Then there were the Megafauna, those super-sized Pleistocene epoch animals, many of which died off rather suddenly not many thousands of years ago. I stood before the Short Faced Bear and did not flinch. These were the marquee players. All were of interest to me because of our work in the western Dakota badlands where I have seen and handled both Pleistocene and Cretaceous fossils. I suppose this means that I can say that I have walked all the way to Hell Creek and back.
Go there too, if you can get through the gauntlet of traffic and haze. Maybe it isn't a big deal to you. Perhaps you have superior adaptive traits.
But my return to the city might be delayed for another 15 years. I realize that my metropolitan survival skills have atrophied through disuse and disinterest. In the concrete environment, being without natural defenses, I am vulnerable to many threats, much like the Mexican Hairless Dog that has wandered into the arctic tundra. Viral, animal, climatic, any force would overwhelm me. I tremble at the sight of a mere taxi. Voles gather at my feet. This is not good. There may be no place left to hide. As resources continue to dwindle, the monster of competitive economics will break out of the developed zone and lumber into this primitive landscape and tear apart my way of life. Doom peers over the horizon.
I should buy a factory-scented air freshener for my car.