Thursday we took a family trip to the Science Museum of Minnesota. I had emailed earlier this week asking if someone there might be able to email me some information on taxidermy, because I have a weird phobia of taxidermy animals. Perhaps having some more information would help keep my brain busy thinking instead of panicking when I saw the big bears (or the birds hung overhead). Much to my surprise and delight (and a little bit of terror), I got an email back from Dick O., the biological collections manager. He was intrigued with my fear of "objects that can not harm you" and offered to give me a brief behind the scenes peek into the biology portion of the museum.
I have to say a big thank you to Mr O. for being patient with me and explaining things, answering questions, and taking time out of his day to show me around. I took #1 and #2 with me (they wanted to come for this rather than explore the museum with Dad and the younger kids). We got to see a taxidermy baby penguin, lots of native birds, small and large, we saw mice and reptiles stored in jars of alcohol, dried plants from not far from our own home, fossils, butterflies, insects, an elephant skeleton, a tiger's skull, a taxidermy rhinoceros head (terrifying), and we got a glimpse of some artifact items (pottery and such) as we were walking too. It was really an amazing opportunity. He showed us a golden eagle, and a bald eagle, and discussed the difference between them. He showed us hawks and discussed their hunting tactics. We learned that the butterflies are not actually blue, but iridescent and we just perceive them as blue. The native birds here also have no blue pigment - it's just how we perceive them with the refraction of light. Isn't that awesome?
Armed with this pre-adventure and some new information, I made it a point to go and visit every taxidermy animal I could find. The exhibit of a lake shore scene with birds, turtles, fish, and a porcupine up in a tree - no issues. The big white birds (are those Trumpeter Swans? They look too small to be Trumpeters) scared me - I didn't want to walk under them... But I did. Twice! I got right up to the glass where Kuma, the zoo polar bear is on display and while I wasn't comfortable, I wasn't terrified either. They had moved Don the gorilla to sit beside Kuma (he wasn't there on Sunday when I'd been there before). I thought he'd be scarier. I had looked up information about him before coming to the museum, and the tour had included viewing the plaster cast of his face before they skinned him (so they could make him look more lifelike with the taxidermy mount). I didn't get right up to the glass, but I was closer to him than I thought I'd get. I was close enough to notice that the insides of his elbows were mostly hairless. I don't know if this is how all gorillas are, or if it's a side effect of his particular taxidermy journey taking several years and his fur falling out during that process. We went to visit the male polar bear, and he is still scary enough to keep me well away. I even had #1 go over and read his placard to see if that might helm me, but no... that bear is just plain terrifying. Try as I might, I couldn't get near him. Not to give up, we went and found the big brown bear that had scared me last Sunday too. I kept reminding myself - he's just an item. He's just a decoration.. like a piece of art or furniture... And wouldn't you know it, once my kids got me past him (there's an elephant skull hanging behind him, some birds in a glass display case, and a window to see the dermestid beetles at work cleaning bones), he wasn't nearly as scary. I still didn't want to go right up to him, but the blind terror was only when viewing him from an angle near the front. I ended up laughing walking away from him because his eyes are very close together, which gives an awkward appearance - aggressive from the stance and the open mouth and teeth, but somewhat bewildered with the close-set eyes. We visited the male polar bear one more time, and I still couldn't manage to get near him. I still count this one as a win though, because I've never gotten so close to taxidermy without a complete meltdown before - and I didn't even have nightmares about it!
We also explored the dinosaur exhibit, the sports exhibit, the gaming exhibit, the body exhibit, we saw a mummy, went through the Native American exhibit where we saw a bison skeleton, learned about weaving using little bits of wool, and got to see jingle dressed up close. We went to the Omnitheater National Parks presentation. At the end of the day, aside from food places and a couple live shows that weren't open when we went by them, we had pretty much explored the entire museum. There were two exhibits we somewhat skipped over - the medical devices (lots of reading, I saw it Sunday and kids weren't interested) and the hands-on stuff outside of the dinosaur area (kids were hungry and wanted to find food by then). All said and done we stayed for seven hours with no food breaks. We arrived just before noon and decided to check out the gift shop just after 7pm. Each of the kids picked something from the gift shop to bring home. #1 picked a lined note book to write in, #2 picked a shirt with minerals on it, #3 picked out a ring and some rocks, #4 picked out rocks and then used her own money to buy some suckers with bugs in them, and #5 picked out a backpack (really expensive but he's excited to go to school this fall, so this will be his school bag). I bought a deck of cards with native fruits and berries on them. I figure it might be a good way to help me identify some plants here.
Friday I transplanted the bare-root strawberry plants that came in the mail. I had ordered them last year and received dried up dead roots. I followed their instructions and planted them and waited, but nothing ever came up. When I went to dig them back up to plant something else in their place, some were entirely rotted away, and some still had desiccated dried up roots, but no signs of growth. The trees they sent were similarly dead - no roots, just a cutting that never grew. I followed the instructions to get a replacement (one year guarantee), and never heard back from them. Then I got a shipping notification. I figured they'd sent the replacement order. Nope, just the strawberry plants... but at least this time they had some green! So I got them put into soil in cups indoors right away to make sure they had the best chance (it's still too cold outside to put them in the garden). Some of the plants looked like they had mold on them (fuzzy and white on the green growth portions), and most of them were already starting to rot (black and squishy just above the crown making the green growth above it die). Since planting them into cups, almost all of them look pretty rough. All of them with the black rot are dying back. I'm hoping it's just from being in the plastic shipping bag and the long journey (seriously, over a week in the mail - FedEx surely you can do better). I'm excited to move them outside when the weather warms up in a couple more weeks (I hope).
Today I spent most of my day cleaning, but we all played outside for a while. It was 65 degrees today and warm enough to go out without a coat on. The kids gathered sticks and played a game, I sorted through the old bird cages to see what all matched up and what I could use for scrap. I found a bunch of wood that would look really neat in a reptile tank. #2 figured out how to open the metal door to the cistern, so we peeked in there (but did not go in). The kids and I caught Sherlock and loved on him for a while before letting him go again.
My parents stopped by today to bring over the big outdoor cage that came with Hazel. Hazel has already been transitioned to a smaller cage, so she won't be going back to that one. We do plan on using it as a grow-out pen for the bunnies. It will allow them a lot more space than our other cages. The only down sides are that it's big enough to be difficult to reach them if they're not tame, and the hardware cloth it's made from is too small to let poop through so it has to be scooped out regularly. It will not be suitable for winter housing as everything would freeze on (we don't have a heated barn) and prevent proper cleaning.
Taking advantage of the warm day, #3 went out and sprinkled about a dozen packets of mixed flower seeds all over the septic mound. We can't grow anything edible up there, and it has to be something that will be self sustaining, as we really don't want to be walking up there at all. Why waste it with grass? Make it a mound of flowers to feed our pollinators! She also took four packets of Hungarian Blue Birdseed Poppy seeds and sprinkled them along the far edge of the driveway where our driveway meets the road. With any luck it will make a pretty patch of flowers that will make the walk to the mail box every day that much more enjoyable.
And how could I forget!? The chicks arrived this week! Our first order of the year, we ordered 15 assorted rare breed chicks from Cackle Hatchery. They sent 18, but we lost one. His head feathers were stuck to the address label through the top air hole. I don't know how long he'd been like that. He was alive when he arrived, but he was clearly exhausted. He spent all day sleeping, and passed away that evening before bed time. Poor thing. The remaining 17 chicks look good. It looks like we have three Polish, three Golden Spangled Appenzeller Spitzhauben, two Silver Spangled Appenzeller Spitzhauben, four cochin (a buff, a splash, a red laced, and another one I'm not sure on), a Lakenvelder, two tiny grey chipmunk chicks, and a standard chipmunk marked, and I'm forgetting one... It's a nice assortment though. The Polish ones are for sale if anyone is interested. Looks like we have a Golden Laced, a White Crested Black, and the last one is probably a white (though it could be blue or splash, I can't tell for sure).
We're supposed to get our second order of chicks (from a different company) in another week and a half or two weeks (hatch date 5/15, anticipated arrival 5/17).