Last night was our annual Members Holiday Night at HMNH, where we invite members to the museum for tours of one of the departments, refreshments, shopping, and a night of having the museum just to themselves. I really love working these events. Our members are great; a little zany, but then again, it is a natural history museum. The night started off pretty slow, as most of them signed up for the 5.30 tour of the entomology department, but once that tour came back, it seemed there was a nonstop flow of people in and out of the gift shop, all sharing stories about how fascinating the tour was and how lucky they felt to be able to go on it, and the general consensus was this: they all love the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
Well, I love them for that, too.
One of my favorite members, Julie (her last name will be kept secret), and her husband are always fun to talk to. They always buy something when they come to the shop, and they always make a point to mention how much they love the museum and how they wish they visited more often. Julie and I had a great conversation last night that started out with her talking about the tour, and she mentioned the enthusiasm shown by the entomologists and how great it was to see how much they loved their jobs. We talked about how that should be something visitors should be able to see more of in the galleries; wouldn’t it be great to have the scientists out on the gallery floors, talking about what they’re working on? Or better still, as Julie and I discussed, explaining just why we collect all these millions of insects? We both said that it might be a good way to explain just why natural history museums exist, and why the zoological side of HMNH is called the Museum of Comparative Zoology – we need 40 specimens of the same luna moth so we can compare them and look at evolutionary changes and mutations in the species! And that reasoning, of course, is the same for all the specimens the scientists in the MCZ collect. Without this range of biodiversity within our museums, we would never make new discoveries (y’all have heard of this fascinating little guy called the olinguito, right?!). The conversation moved on to how great the new geological timeline (installed in the Earth & Planetary Sciences gallery) is, and how Julie is always on the lookout for a ruler/yardstick with the timeline printed right on it, so she has an easy frame of reference. “But wouldn’t it be even better as a scarf?” she said, and I immediately agreed and took to Twitter in hopes that someone out there might have already printed one (alas, nothing yet). I would wear that scarf, and so would Julie and probably countless other geology nerds, so someone crafty needs to get on that!
Another one of our members is on the board at the aquarium, which I did not know before last night. The last time I saw him, he gave me the shell of a Haitian tree snail from one of his previous visits to the island. How cool is that? He said he gives them to everyone because of how pretty they are, but I still treasure mine, and will probably always remember the day that one member gave me a snail shell. Anyway, he’s on the board at the aquarium, so we chatted about how awesome the new(ish) shark and ray touch tank is. I mentioned (more like exclaimed with unironic enthusiasm) just how great the new interactive features at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank are (they really are quite cool, check one out on my Twitter feed). I also learned that he’s the associate director of the Environmental Management program at my school (man I’m really giving away his name now, so, uh, don’t go looking him up or anything, ok?), which is pretty cool! He was chatting with another member, so I didn’t want to interrupt, but I couldn’t help overhear him telling her about a program being hosted next week that has two ISS astronauts coming as part of the panel. What a great pre-Christmas treat for my boyfriend (he loves astronauts…a lot)!
Meanwhile, one of the members had brought some of her kids to the event. I mean, who wouldn’t? It’s not every day that you get to go behind the scenes of a natural history museum whose collection houses over 21 million specimens; not even I get to do that, and I work there! Anyway, one of her girls was wearing a Darth Vader tee-shirt, which made me very happy, and I said that to her. Well, I said, “I am diggin’ the Darth Vader tee-shirt. Good choice.” When she came back from her tour of the entomology department, I asked what her favorite Star Wars movie was, and she answered, “Umm…probably Empire.” My jaw hit the floor, guys. She couldn’t have been older than 12 or 13. It was a heart-warming moment in my small little nerd world. “Yes!” I exclaimed, “I was worried for a second you were going to say something like Attack of the Clones.” When I said this, she gave me the look I only reserve for those who think the prequel movies are on par with the original trilogy (they are not), and I laughed and gave her a high-five. When she left, I called, “May the Force be with you!” to her from behind the register, and she smiled, waved, and yelled, “You too!” as she was walking towards the stairs. It was an amazingly geeky moment at the end of a very very long day.
Members like this are what make me happy to work in a field where there are people so fully dedicated to giving their money (and sometimes their time) to making sure a place like the Harvard Museum of Natural History stays open and can continue to educate the public on the research being done behind the scenes. They are as curious and investigative as our younger visitors; they too seek knowledge from entomologists and biologists on what makes the world the way it is, and where we might be going in it. They come to our lectures, they shop in our gift shop, and they sing the praises of our little museum. And for that, I cannot thank them enough.
So thanks, members of HMNH. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.