Jan 21, 2023
Photo by Sarah Hatfield A natural history collection is full of memories, connecting the collector to the collection.
Let’s take a tour of my desk at work! You’re thinking, “this is a strange topic and sounds boring.” Perhaps! You’ll have to read on to find out. But it was my turn to write the article and I forgot, and this is what my brain can do today. As a preface, I’ve worked at Audubon for a bit over 18 years. A few of the things on my desk have been there the entire time. Others have been added and exchanged over those years. All reflect me, somehow, and the stories and time I’ve put in. So let’s look!
First, it is dusty. Very dusty. I don’t clean it often. I’m doing valuable work! I have cleaned it though, and maybe this article will inspire me to refresh the display. Let’s start with the items I display and keep because I like the texture or shape. There is a vase with some grass and sticks. I like the chaotic curls of the grass, the softness of the pussy willow, the pale yellow and mottled leaves of the gum branch. Textures combine to form moods and atmosphere, as any home decorator knows.
Color is another important factor, best represented by the feather collection. Some rest in a chewing gum tin, others in an old, glass milk bottle. And a few more scattered among nests and skulls. They are all sizes and shapes; some large and plume-like, other sleek and sharp. Many have a bit of color, mostly brown but they include bright red, yellow, tan, black, blue, gray, white, and rusty orange. Feathers are lovely because they are both fragile and tough, warm and waterproof. They are the epitome of being two things at once, and remind me that whatever I am, it does not exclude me form being anything else.
Follow the feathers with eggs. I have eggs that represent 10 different species, mostly birds with a couple turtles. Again, fragile, but designed to protect the life within. There are some with dimples, swirls, speckles, spots, and solids. They are small like the House Wren egg, and large, like the ostrich. I also have a dragon egg (not real, sorry) and a regular pale blue plastic Easter egg. Because whimsy!
Prominently featured are skulls: there are 20 of those. They are mostly birds. The delicate structure of the beak and the eye sockets fascinate me. I have songbirds and raptors and shorebirds, in addition to a groundhog, raccoon, and pine marten. The smallest is a vole, it’s skull not much bigger than the wren egg. Life is possible in such small and complex forms; all have their niche, their place, and little adaptations that allow them to thrive there.
There is a collection of plant items — mostly because when it comes to variety and beautiful little pieces of nature that one can pick up and put in their pocket, you can’t beat plants. A couple different kinds of acorns, some acorn caps, pine cones, dehydrated pears, a Pawpaw seed, a squirrel-chewed walnut, a stalk of swamp milkweed pods, and the smallest hickory nut I’ve ever seen. I also have acorns, acorn caps, or hickory nuts in every pocket of every jacket I wear. They are like worry stones; small items that I can roll in my fingers, trace the edges of, or manipulate to engage fingers, mind, and soul.
A few other natural objects to note are bird nests (the Marsh Wren nest still woven into the rushes — it is so cool) which remind me that complex architecture abounds and spending the time to do it right is worth it; rocks, because who doesn’t like a good rock?! And they are the foundation upon which we form everything. Literally. There is a snake skin, porcupine quills, a flying squirrel tail, and some dried-up insects. Fragile now in their state of preservation, but the makings of protection and survival in life.
Finally, scatted between the natural things are Lego minifigures, decorated pine cones called ‘Peeps’, thank you cards from friends, animal figurines and models I was given as gifts by coworkers both present and past, and a few craft samples with some personal touches that make them important. These personal and non-natural items bridge the outdoor and the indoors, the personal and the worldly, the individual and the collective. Together the collection connects a person and nature, which is the mission of Audubon. Looking at it daily gives me joy, makes me smile, and surrounds me with all that I find important: nature, friendship, love, hope, craft, and connection.
What does your collection say about you?
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk and birds of prey can be viewed anytime the trails are open. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.
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