Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lost In The Science Center

My love for science runs deep. Maybe it was because I was a curious kid who spent the majority of my childhood stuck within a thirty minute drive of my house. I always wanted to know what was going on miles away and years ago. In the absence of travel our house was littered with books. My mother read me stories that were age appropriate and full of beautiful pictures to fuel my imagination. My father had volumes of assorted, thick books with yellowing pages. Illustrations were reserved solely for the covers. Those book didn't fuel imagination but they did provide the ammunition for an endless supply of questions. I'm sure there were evenings when he would look forward to reading by himself until my little head poked out from the door frame - "Daddy, whattcha reading about?"

Shows like Nova and Nature were on the television just as frequently as the cartoons. We would watch shows about uncovering nomadic mummies from the steppes of Russia, the forests of Alaska, or tribes that line the Amazon River. At a very young age I realized that really wasn't much going on within thirty minutes of my house. There was so much out there that I wanted to see for myself.

My family hardly traveled so some of the most exotic, captivating places to be in were in museums and science centers. In elementary school the MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry) was one of favorite field trips. When I was six years old the science center in St. Petersburg had an exhibit of prehistoric sea monsters. My favorite was a model of a megalodon shark with motorized jaws. Other small children would be clinging to their mothers in fear. I stood there in awe watching its enormous mouth open slowly. The teeth would pull forward right before the jaws slammed shut. I could have easily fit into its hungry mouth. And while mothers were consoling their tearful children behind me I couldn't get close enough. I remember looking up and thinking "I can't believe that used to be alive..." That was the moment I heard my mom scolding me for leaning on the ropes in an attempt to inch closer.

When I was seven my family went to visit my grandfather in Wisconsin. One of our day trips was to the Milwaukee Natural History Museum. Unlike most of the museums in Florida, this one had several stories which accommodated a much larger collection. The dinosaur exhibit blew me away. A ferocious T-Rex was standing over it's next meal - a terrified looking triceratops. Plastic plants covered the walls and turned the room green. A fake river was made out of glass which had prehistoric fish molded inside to look as though they were swimming in crystal clear water. Most dinosaur reconstructions I had seen were of the animal isolated on a platform. This display was made to look like you had literally stepped into another world. I still remember the pebbly texture of the T-Rex skin and how badly I wanted to touch it.

I recall taking my sweet time in the gift shop. It was the only place I was free to touch the replicas but I was also trying to convince my parents to take me back through the museum.

Years later that love and curiosity is still running strong.

I found myself in the Orlando Science Center trying to acquire tickets for a DRIP fundraiser. It was a sleepy Friday afternoon. I waited at the desk for a few moments but no one showed up. I decided to find another staff member. I ended running into a nice woman who answered all of my questions. When I was done talking with her I paused for a moment to look around. I was in the middle of the science center at the base of the stairs spiraling up to more exhibits. "Well" I said to myself "If no one wants to charge me admission..." I took one decisive step towards the stairs and away I went.

The Orlando Science Center is home to several live turtles and alligators. They are all comfortable enough with each other to lay in piles. 

There was a cross-section on display to show how the rings of a tree can be used to identify its age. This tree sprouted in 1698, right before the formation of the Seminole Indian Tribe. 

This beauty was set up to educate about the internal workings of the human female body. Posed like ancient Greek sculpture, her glossy skin reveals everything. 

A view of the downtown Orlando skyline from the balcony of the Science Center. 

This fossilized turtle is preserved so well you can clearly see the puncture wounds left by the crocodile who was able to hold on to him for just a little while. 

The tail of the T-Rex skeleton set against the industrial ceiling. At first glance it almost looks like a screen shot from one of the Alien movies. 

One of the long lost loves of my childhood. Its teeth contain a grove that may have helped distribute toxic saliva into its prey much like the lethal bite inflicted from modern day Komodo Dragons. Yet despite their enormous size and power, science has proven that their closest living relative is the chicken. I look up at the massive skull and try to imagine him moving, not as a slow giant but more like a flinchy chicken with eyes darting back and forth. 

I love the way the diagonal track of lighting reminded me of a falling asteroid crashing down to earth. I lean in closer to get a better photo. Sometimes I can still hear my mom telling me to quit leaning on the ropes. 

And in the middle of my busy day I am reminded of the joy of getting consumed by the world. Not as it exists for me in the here and now. I'd rather take it all in and see the bigger picture. 

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