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{field trip} UofM Exhibit Museum of Natural History—Behind the Scenes Day

What was I just saying about having so many great field trip opportunities so close to home?


This one was only fifteen minutes away, which was a good thing when we were leaving the house this afternoon with only about that much to spare. The Exhibit Museum of Natural History at the University of Michigan has already become a favorite stopping point for us, but today they opened their wings and offered a special glimpse of their behind the scenes work as well.

bird specimen collection

There are a few things in this world that fill me with great warmth and joy simply at their mention. I'm sure this is true for most people—our minds tend to link the feeling of comfort with certain experiences, this being the basis behind the pacifier, the trusty blanket, a hug from a loved one, and, of course, comfort food. For me one of these moments was an entire semester, later in my college years, spent studying the object of my desire: evolutionary biology and animal behavior. I spent an obscene number of hours studying that term, and most of them were spent in room 303 in the Natural History Museum: the Museum Teaching Collection and Lab. Mere memory of that lab and its professors is enough to fill me with an inner peace and longing, a pang of nostalgia.

room 303

Calvin and I have been visiting the museum several times annually for a couple of years now. Of course he loves the museum. The countless hours we have spent pouring over books on prehistoric life are made real there, as are a number of rare and/or local species he has never seen alive himself. He loves the rotunda, and the selection of reading materials available in the small library on the main exhibit floor. We both enjoy the dioramas of ancient life, and the murals, which are ancient in their own right. And every time we visit I feel a pull from the authorized personnel only doors off to the side, or turning a corner in the specimen hall will fill me with nostalgia for days of packed lunches eaten on the benches there while pouring over notes on the identification of lagomorphs based on dental orientation, or something of the like.

in the exhibit museum

Today was a chance for me to return to those moments, and to share them with Jon and Calvin. The rooms looked the same and smelled the same and I could not contain the smile that crept onto my face when we entered them. We took four tours, the one in the bird and mammal wing being the most important to me, but we also toured the paleontology, invertebrate, and anthropology wings. Aside from rare views of rooms full of specimens, we were also treated to the exuberance of the true scholars of each field, professors and graduate students, all being thoroughly in love with their fields and more than eager to share their love with the public. Though the event was free, groups were kept to manageable sizes by requiring pre-registration and tickets, which also helped limit attendees to those were actually interested in an hour's worth of lecture on the subjects.

scarlet tanagers

in the mammal teaching specimen room

in the Paleontology wing—mammoth study room

in the basement...the Paleontology collection

in the mollusk wing

viewing a butterfly's wings under a microscope

a pretty private look in the anthropology department

Calvin says his favorite moment was the Paleontology tour, and possibly making a cast of a Clovis point in the anthropology wing. Jon, who had yet to even visit the museum with us, says he enjoyed everything. For me, the greatest moment was just walking into room 303, and getting to see the cabinet of bat specimens, my favorite creature of study from that year so long ago, was just icing on the cake.

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