Yesterday, Mélanie and I spent a few hours at Ottawa’s Museum of Nature. We saw exhibitions on mammals, fresh water animals (check out this video of a blue whale skeleton being put together), and dinosaurs.
While standing next to a huge fossilized dinosaur skeleton, I was struck by a realization that somehow had escaped me thus far. I know a fair bit about dinosaurs, having been fascinated by them as a young boy like many others of my generation, but all that knowledge has always been very abstract. “X million years ago, Y tons, Z meters high, etc.” I can’t even blame it on not having seen the fossils in person, because I had been at that very museum at least 2-3 times before.
But yesterday, I stood there and took the time to think about what this mountain of bones represented: “These fossilized bones were part of a living creature a 100 million years ago, they were part of a unique individual, and it moved around, reacted to its environment, did its best to stay alive. There were many like it, but this one made it to this museum somehow and I’m looking at it.” It all seemed a lot more real, what could be a called a “gut level” understanding that I didn’t quite have before. (“feeling these old bones in my bones”)
What I’m trying to keep from this experience is not so much about dinosaurs per se but rather about taking the time to get that visceral understanding of things that I know in the abstract. I already try to do it, but I think I could do better, so I’m going to try to develop the habit of taking the time to reflect more on things that I can only know indirectly (via old bones, war stories in a newspaper, photos from a space telescope, etc).
Photo: Durocher1766, Flickr, Creative Commons.