Wednesday, March 13, 2013

rules of the game

The longer you live, the more death you will encounter. Rules of the game.

At first death seems distant. You know it's out there, you hear about it in vague ways, in the news, from older people, someone else's grandma. Or maybe you encounter death at a very young age, and you carry that burden around for years and years until the rest of us begin to understand. Either way, death makes more regular appearances as life marches on. We, the living, march on, and the dead fall down beside us on both sides.

Until death knocks on your door, it remains a fuzzy concept. Of course death never knocks. Death slips in under your nose while you're chatting on the phone, or in the shower, or walking home from work. It doesn't wait for you to get ready. Sometimes it comes partly announced. Maybe you knew it was in the neighborhood and might be stopping by, but it's still a shock when it steps over the threshold. Often it comes completely out of the blue. Perhaps you witness it quickly move through the room and leave with your beloved. Or perhaps you simply hear that it came and went, and left your world forever changed without touching a hair on your head.

What is it about death that makes us look up toward the sky? That causes that primal wail to well up in our throats as the tears begin to fall? That forces us to clutch at our head in astonishment and disbelief, unable to contain the reality of its doings in our simple fleshy noggin? We don't weep for the dead, of course. We weep for those still living.

Do we become more sensitive to death once we've met it face to face? I've known of death for years. I've wept for lost cousins and grandparents. I've mourned their departure while knowing there were others who were grieving much more deeply than I. And so I mourned for the living and wondered at how they carried on with such a vacuum in their lives. But I didn't dwell on it too much.

Until it touched me directly. It knocked me down, and although I still stand, death has changed me forever, and each subsequent death builds upon the solid foundation of grief and disbelief that now resides within me. Sometimes I feel like I'm walking among ghosts, and that's a comfort, almost as if I can see through this mortal veil and have an inkling of understanding beyond my mundane corporeal self. Other times it's like a tidal wave of emotion that wells up in my tender eyes, constricts my aching throat, weakens my shaky knees, and refuses to accept a reality that cannot be escaped. Death cannot be escaped. It keeps coming, it keeps taking, until there is no one left.

Friday, February 8, 2013


The Cloverdale menagerie lost an extremely valued member last May (RIP, Zoe Topaz), but we have recently acquired two new members. Dharma and Karma are female leopard geckos. They've been here about a month, and I think they're doing well, but it's so dang hard to tell with reptiles! Are they happy? Are they sad? Are they healthy? Are they sick? Are they bored? Are they the same as they would be anywhere else, or are they miserable in captivity? Is there something more I could/should be doing for them? These are the dilemmas of creatures that you have to keep in a terrarium. Obviously they don't have the freedom that cats and dogs are allowed. But do they need it? Who am I to decide? I will always be torn between the desire to possess animals and the belief that they should all be free to live their own lives. It makes life interesting, I suppose. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Xander is doing great. Maybe he's a little slimmer, and a little slower now that he's 15+ years old, but he's still totally himself, and he snuggles and eats and freaks out like he always has. He was definitely "off" for several months after Zoe departed, but I think he's fine now, and I think having Marzoid around helps keep us all distracted, if nothing else. Marzipan is now 5 years old and has lived with me almost as long as she ever lived with Mom. She's come a long way, baby. She sleeps with us every night, and voluntarily climbs into my lap frequently. She's feisty as hell, but she's also smart and dynamic. I wouldn't quite call her my "friend," but we're closer than we've ever been, and she LOVES Mr. G. Sometimes, especially at night, I can't help dwelling on the image of her being with Mom when she died. I'm sure she was sleeping next to her in bed, and then wondered why she didn't get up in the morning. Or the next day. God, how horrid. But she's mine/ours now, and I guess I'm glad?


NHM Rocks. I've been working at the Natural History Museum for almost three months now, and it's everything I dreamed it would be. I love, love, love it! I can see myself staying here for a long time. It's still early days, but I feel happy and connected, like this is MY museum. And it'll only get better.

One of the coolest things about NHM is that it's the oldest museum in town. The original museum. It opened in 1913 as the County Museum of Science, History and Art. Some major things have changed since then, but this year is our centennial year. We still have the awesome original building overlooking the rose garden, beautiful marble staircases, funky old hallways and cabinets full of specimens, a gorgeous stained glass rotunda, and original diorama halls. Plus there's a ton of awesome new stuff too, like the dinosaur hall and age of mammals exhibit, and all the exciting new stuff opening outdoors this summer.

The halls are full of stuff like this thing, a giant ammonite. I can't pretend to know exactly what this is (yet), but it's old and it's awesome. We have dinosaurs, dioramas, one of the few active taxidermy studios, shells, gems and minerals, zuni fetishes, mesoamerican ceramics, skeletons, birds, live reptiles and insects, gardens, and some cultural stuff too.

The dioramas are my favorite. Many of them were originally created in the 1930's and they remain today, full of nostalgia but still educational and artistic if you give them a chance. Many people absolutely love them, but some folks probably think they're ratty old vestiges of days past. Take a closer look though. They're FULL of beautiful animals, preserved and posed just so in natural social groups, engaged in natural behaviors, with myriad details of foliage and other creatures throughout each display. They're freaking awesome!

And then there are details like the antique taxidermed parrot who shares our office. I have a great roommate already, but the parrot really make our house a home. Some folks are lucky enough to have offices within the old diorama halls. They have warthogs and snow leopards watching them as they type on their keyboards and have their meetings. How lucky are they? A secret (or not so secret) ambition of mine is to befriend the taxidermist. Also the guy with the big beard in Vert Paleo. I've always gotten on well with men with eccentric facial hair in the workplace.

I love you baby sloth who lives in the classroom where we hold orientations and training sessions. I love that I get to do things like help carry a donated bear skin upstairs; that people ask me to make signs that say "carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore"; that my office mate has a pile of insects and a human skull on his desk; that I get to work events like First Fridays, Bug Fair, and Reptile Appreciation Day; that POW stands for Pavilion of Wings; that people appreciate my desk echidna.

They sell dinosaurs in the gift shop AND the cafe.

And then you find random things like this awesome illustration just lying around the copy room.