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A Brisk March 1 in Denver

March 1, 2020

Fossil lab at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science; Volunteers are working on a triceratops fossil

A brisk morning with temperature in the 30s and a forecast for snow later in the day.

We decided to get out and head to the Museum of Nature and Science as early as we could to avoid the crowds and we made it by 10 am. Didn’t matter. We didn’t avoid the crowds; the parking lot was full and we had to park outside, in City Park, still a short walk from the museum. And the museum itself was packed. We asked when the museum might not be so mobbed with people. Wednesdays after 1 pm we were told…or in October.

Together Nancy and I decided to look at an exhibit with which we were unfamiliar – we decided on insects, me in part because a friend of mine in Kansas has taken a great interest in spiders. But other than appreciating the difference between moths and butterflies – and their considerable diversity here in Colorado – yet another example of Darwin’s natural selection at work – I have to admit that my interest was not piqued other than in a general way. Part of the problem was absorbing, once again, the great detail involved in learning about yet a family of living things. More interested in the general patterns. My ability to absorb too many details has become quite limited

There was another reason to study the insects. We both remembered and commented upon articles about plummeting insect populations that appeared about a year ago. An article in The Guardian is enough to give us chills:

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century

So out of respect for insects and understanding that for so many living things on land that they are the basis of life and the food chain itself, we stayed there for a while contemplating the collapse of all living things, and were reminded once again, that good as this museum is – and it is very fine – that it lacks any collection, any serious attention to climate change and the current climate crisis, which is at the heart of the insect collapse.

Then we went our separate ways.

There is an exhibit on extreme sports that Nancy wanted to see. There are few things I am less interested in more than extreme sports, maybe the stock market. Skiing is extreme enough and I see no reason to test personal levels of endurance, strength and balance – other than if it might contribute to making a socialist revolution. So I had no interest in such an exhibit (for which I was criticized for my narrow-mindedness – once again). Besides wishing that my grandson never gets a tattoo, I worry that he will be attracted to extreme sports and break a limb, or worse. Can’t help thinking of Auschwitz whenever the subject of tattoos comes up.

So you can take your tattoos and your extreme sports and well… you know the rest. No, for me, the best of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is the evolution collection tucked away on the second floor.

I have a theory on why the museum has such a decent evolution collection with fine fossils but gives no attention to climate change: simply put – the sizable contributions – mostly in tax deductions – the museum received from the state’s powerful oil and gas industry and the legal firms and geologists that defend it. Geologists use evolution every day in looking for oil and gas to frack, and other minerals to mine. Pretty much all modern mining is based on knowing different geological strata that are associated with different fossil collections. Many geologists might be religiously conservative but they know where their bread is buttered and simply accept Darwinian evolution – either as a fact or act of God – but it is on big deal, as reflected in the museum collection.

Which reminds me – Nancy and I have taken to wearing our Bernie Sanders’ buttons wherever we go in public. She forgot hers, but I sported mine on my vest. She worries that I will tell anyone who sneers at it to fuck off but I’ve become so mellow in my later years (ha!) that I merely think about telling off whomever but remain a paragon of Buddhist calm. Well not really and there were a few sneers or what I interpreted to be unfriendly staring.

Paleozoic maritime landscape 400 million or so years ago at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. How it all began.

Focused my attention this time on the museum’s Paleozoic fossil collection which I greatly enjoyed as well as the fine paintings of the changing Denver area landscape some 400 million, 300 million years up to the birth of the late Rockies 80 to 55 million years ago. Then a tour of Tertiary mammals, against a fine collection my favorite being the 30 million year old carnivore pig, ancestor to either Donald Trump or Mike Bloomberg, I couldn’t decide which. It gave me great pleasure to think that the pig had gone extinct and that Trump and Bloomberg would follow in its footsteps, hopefully before doing much more earthly damage.

I’m good for about an hour at a museum and in this case had stayed for an hour and half. Nancy and I reconnected. I wanted to go visit the nearby Denver City Park Duck Pond (that is how it is named), Nancy didn’t because of the cold. She stayed in the museum reading her (highly recommended) High Country News and I went off for an hour to check out the Duck Pond.

Was not disappointed.

Golden Eye male on Duck Pond

 

The double crested commorants are back as were an assortment of golden eyes, rednecks, northern shovelers. Rather modest sized pond butting up against the Denver Zoo, but plenty of activity. Although I wasn’t certain, there was one male golden eye zipping around making what seemed to be a mating display although I could not make out the female he was trying to impress. In any case he was quite active.

In my own mind I call this place Henry Feldman’s Pond, because Henry comes here so often and is, to my mind, like an Duck Pond, City Park Redneck ducks unofficial caretaker to the place. And, as I was returning to the museum to meet Nancy, who do I meet, none other than Henry himself on his (almost) daily visits to “his” pond. Informative as always. Only yesterday, Henry related there were only four commorants in the little artificial island in the pond. Today there were thirty, forty maybe more who were busy repairing old and building new nests. There were some ducks – I wasn’t sure if they were canvas backs or redheads; Henry thought the latter and he is right.

Duck Pond, City Park Redneck ducks

3 Comments leave one →
  1. William Watts permalink
    March 1, 2020 3:23 pm

    Great post. I have a friend who feels, and claims, that the reason that NOVA doesn’t do climate change stories is the same as you pointed out.

    On Sunday, March 1, 2020, View from the Left Bank: Rob Prince’s Blog wrote:

    > Rob Prince posted: ” A brisk morning with temperature in the 30s and a > forecast for snow later in the day. We decided to get out and head to the > Museum of Nature and Science as early as we could to avoid the crowds and > we make it by 10 am. But we didn’t avoid the crowd” >

  2. China Smith permalink
    March 1, 2020 4:41 pm

    Right on, bro !

  3. Gene Fitzpatrick permalink
    March 1, 2020 6:57 pm

    I’ve found that keeping a reasonably attentive eye on the Berkeley Park pond in NW Denver through even just one four season cycle yields a decent augmentation of one’s ornithological ‘have-seen’ list.

    Linking up with the avian world is to find a surprising way to help cope with the detritus of Homo sapiens. Along these lines it kinda reminds me of the quip I just saw on a coffee cup —— Dogs. Because humans suck.

    Gene Fitzpatrick

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