It’s not every day you come face to face with a moose. Even in Maine where the tourism board spends a small fortune to make sure our tourists survive their nighttime run-ins and mating season muck-ups with the enormous critters, most individuals do not come face to face with a moose every day. In fact, having lived in Maine for nearly a quarter of a century before our move to the city, I have only seen a moose once, and then only from a safe distance. Today, however, in the middle of a bustling little city, I had the pleasure of standing not two feet from a moose to confront him head on.
He was, of course, stuffed. Not in the sense of cute, cotton-stuffed approximation of a moose, but in the moth-ball fragranced, taxidermied carcass of a moose. It honestly should have been a more disturbing experience than it was.
John’s dad and stepmother are visiting us this weekend, so we took them over to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. The unique attraction is the collection of glass flowers—an exhibit I won’t try to do justice with words. It must be seen.
I’ve been to the HMNH a couple times before, and I always find something new to be entranced by. The display that caught my eye today hasn’t been open when I’ve been in the past. It’s a collection of fossils of large, extinct hoofed-critters, creatures that you never see in films or novels and therefore manage to be even stranger than dinosaurs. Consider the giant armadillo—weighing in at around 2,200 pounds, it could probably win a wrestling match with a small car. Or the big horse-like thing with claws. Just add fire-breathing and you’d have a beast to bear in the apocalypse. My personal favorite, however, was the enormous sloth. Seriously—this thing looked like it could have given T-Rex a rough time if it ambushed him, although I have to wonder if perhaps the curator was struck by a touch of whimsy to pose a ten-foot sloth rampant.
The special exhibit at the moment is also worth a look. A photographer, collecting stories from people who have noticed wild animals interacting with the modern world in a surprising way, used taxidermied specimens to capture impressively life-like images of the tales. The photos capture a strange sense of lonely beauty that, for the most part, feels like a reminder from the natural world that we are not the masters of the universe. One image stood out in juxtaposition to the rest, showing not so much an incidence where society and nature overlapped, but one where humans deliberately antagonized an animal. It showed two boys waving a roman candle at a raccoon who was cornered against the fence of a basketball court. A little girl walking through the hall felt the violence of that photo the same way I did, pausing to point and say in horror, “Oh, Daddy, that poor raccoon!”
Her father replied, “It’s okay, honey. It’s stuffed.” I had to wonder at that comfort though. If the little girl had an understanding of “stuffed” in the sense her father meant it, would she be soothed by the reassurance?
We did get to enjoy less problematic sense of the word a little later, after we left the museum, and I may now have a new favorite restaurant in Harvard Square. Grendel’s Den (very much a den, but much cozier than a place I would imagine Grendel inhabiting) is friendly to diners at every point along the spectrum of “I don’t eat honey because it exploits bees” all the way to “What’s a vegetable? Bring me cow.” Their fare has a mild touch of the exotic here and there, with plenty of options that would undoubtedly meet the approval of the picky eater. The prices were good (and half off at certain hours with $3+ in drinks per diner), the placement of wall mirrors was clever, and the portions were plentifully delicious.
When we left, I was most contentedly stuffed.