Museums: repositories of historically important cultural material. Natural History Museums: catalogues of animals and bones, plants and seeds. Think of both of them as books, that you walk through. They were born in the same age as public libraries.
Museum of Nature, Gotha, Germany
The goddess leading the lion? The lion leading the goddess? Not to mention the big question: Is nature a museum?
Maybe the idea is. What the entrance to this building (in the East German state, it was refurbished to commemorate the evolution and extinction that lead to the pinnacle of evolutionary process: Homus Sovieticus.) Don’t worry, the German state is redoing it all, so it’s completely modern and all that history is forgotten. In the meantime, a bit of it remains:
If you back up a few spaces from the 19th Century entrance to the Museum of Nature, the Soviet War Memorial to the Great Patriotic War of 1939-1945 is looking a bit tattered after the revolution of 1989.
And if you back up a bit further and step to the side? Ah, Nature herself.
…after a period of sovieticization and abject poverty (of both economy and imagination.) There is a direct line in places like Gotha from the Garden of Eden to medieval castle gardens full of roses, monastic gardens full of medicinal plants, aristocratic collections, botanical classification and the first modern universities, but all that’s broken now. Nearly dead roses are all that’s left.
We need a new idea. What of a museum of the earth? Now that the needs of the earth are foremost and it is clear that we are telling the earth’s story (badly), don’t we need a museum to tell it clearly? The human story is looking a bit tawdry, after all. Here’s one possible exhibit:
This Old Growth Cedar from the Rain Forest on the British Columbia Coast …
… has been dead since the 1960s. There are hardly any of those ancient trees left. This one is siding on a pre-fab house in Keremeos, in the dry, Interior Grasslands. It won’t be long now before it is taken to the dump.
Should it not be honoured, as one of the old ones, still with us?
Tree That Was Dropped in the Wrong Place, Cape Scott
And while we’re at it, we might as well honour the farmer who has lived among this old tree’s bones, in his haphazard mammalian way for all these years. Isn’t that part of the story?
A Mammal Tries to Fix an Idea that Never Did Work Out That Well
And fails, beautifully.
Here’s more of that farmer’s art.
Our museum could double as an art gallery.
As for humans, well, let’s stop telling their story and set them loose to celebrate the trees.
Sorry, the cedars are gone.
With any luck, soon we will be telling stories of humans in the language of trees.
Cedar Spirit, Campbell River, Vancouver Island
Returning a Power Pole to Glory
After all, if humans cut off branches, they have a responsibility to the life that still flows through them. Every board is a museum. Every board is art. Let’s honour that.