Today we took a field trip to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. We went once before, several years ago. I think Anthony was a baby then. So it’s been a while.
I’ve been meaning to go for a while but it was hard to figure out the logistics. You see the first time we went it was the day after Thanksgiving so the museum was open, but it was school break and most of the Harvard students weren’t around. We got parking right out front and it worked out perfectly. But the last time we tried to go there was no parking and we gave up and went for a picnic instead.
Then it occurred to me that we live not far from the red line and it’s a straight shot to the Harvard Square T stop. We could park and get on the T and not have to change trains and then have just a short walk to the museum from Harvard Square. It suddenly seemed much more fun than driving into Cambridge. The kids have been wanting a chance to ride the T again and this seemed a fairly easy trip.
So I picked a day with a nice forecast: mid 60s, sunny. We were all up early anyway because of the time change. I got the big girls to help with making sandwiches and filling water cups and getting Lucy dressed and oh that made such a difference! We were out the door by 9:20, which isn’t super early, but is pretty early for us. We drove to the Quincy Adams station because that’s the closest one that’s likely to have good parking. As it was I think we got the very last parking spot. Our guardian angels were looking after us. We squeezed in between a jeep and a pickup truck, the kind of space where you have to suck in your gut to get out of the car. But we made it.
I put Lucy in the stroller along with the big bag that held out lunches. The kids held hands. We had a little fumbling at the turnstile when it turned out that both my Charlie cards had insufficient funds on them and the station attendant took pity on me and waved me through for free. So kind.
The kids were so well behaved on the train. Bella and Sophie sat apart from the rest of us for the first 8 or 9 stops and then moved to the seats across from us. I worried about Bella’s wiggling. She almost kicked or elbowed the people next to her several times. But she managed not to do any real damage. Lucy and the boys squealed and well actually Bella and Sophie squealed too. The train is fun. For the first few stops it’s above ground and you can see the highway and the water and all sorts of cool things. And of course there are people to watch. (There’s a guy on a bike in the next car!) Going over the Charles River was a highlight of the trip. “I see two duckboats!”
The kids kept track of the stops and we all left the train at Harvard Square with no problems. The elevator up to the street level was remarkably smelly, but we survived. Then a not very long walk across Harvard Yard and up Oxford Street to the museum. I did not get disoriented and head in the wrong direction, even though it’s been more than a decade since I’ve wandered about that area on foot and the kids did not get separated. It was a little weird being among all the college kids as a mom with five little ones. Last time I was here I was a grad student and much closer in age to these kids who now look so young to me.
We had a little snack before we went into the museum. I should probably have given it to them on the train, but I was too busy worrying about missing our stop or something.
We found the accessible entrance without incident, I still remembered where it was. And navigated our way to the gift shop once inside so we could buy our tickets.
Oh so many things to see. We stopped and looked at the passenger pigeons. So sad. Then our first real stop was the hall of minerals. So many beautiful rocks. Gigantic amethyst geodes, gypsum crystals, meteorites. And a nice exhibit on Arctic geology which tied nicely in with our recent interest in things Arctic (thank you, Winter Holiday). There were some really nice video presentations from Harvard geologists talking about what they do. It makes me want to take a geology class.
After that we drifted back towards life sciences. The exhibits about Darwin and evolution pretty much went over their heads though they did listen to several video presentations. We looked at skeletons and stuffed animals and made some observations, though. A little peek in the arthropod room, looking at insects in amber, at an observation beehive, at pinned beetles and butterflies and scorpions in jars.
Then the room dedicated to native New England woodland ecosystem, plants and animals and fungi and lichens. More really good video presentations. Bella really liked the one on lichens. And it mentioned Beatrix Potter as one of the first proponents of the theory that lichens are a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae.
Then the rooms with all the stuffed animals. African animals: lions and a hippo and an elephant and gorillas and pangolins and all sorts of beautiful things. Then the great hall of mammals. Full size giraffes were a huge hit. So were the great apes, the shrews and moles and hedgehogs. The lemurs and monkeys and armadillo.
Then it was lunchtime. We went back outside and found a nice sunny spot with tables and big rock slabs to sit on. We ate our sandwiches and grapes and the kids had some time to run and jump and play and get the wiggles out. The weather really was perfect: sunny and warm but not too hot. A great day to sit outside and watch people.
I think some of them would have been ok with going home at this point, but I wanted to get our money’s worth and I thought they’d be fine for a little longer. We went back to the great hall of mammals and this time went upstairs to look at the birds on the balconies and to get a better look at the big whale skeletons. Sophie, it turns out, is a bit afraid of heights. I seem to remember this from Faneuil Hall too. She really did not like being on the balcony at all.
I went down with her and the others while Bella stayed a bit to look at the birds some more. She made a couple tentative sketches in her notebook. Claws and beaks and things. And copied out the scientific names.
Then back to the New England room and more videos. Then to the paleontology rooms. Those were fun. Then back to evolution and the skeleton of the dodo and finches and sparrows and snails and hissing cockroaches and all sorts of fascinating things. We could have spent much more time here. Really, everywhere. It’s not a huge museum, but it’s densely packed and you could linger in each of the rooms for much longer than we did.
We did look at some of the glass plants and the glass sea creatures. I don’t remember there being this separate exhibit in the hall before but it was really lovely. I was especially charmed by the octopi and squid and jellyfish. So beautiful.
The troops were flagging at this point so we headed to the gift shop where Sophie and Bella spent some of their savings. Bella bought a $2 peacock feather which pleased her greatly. Sophie set her heart on a huge stuffed snake. It cost $15, but she had almost twice that so it didn’t break her bank. Ben had lost his wallet before leaving the house this morning so he didn’t have money to buy anything. Anthony didn’t have enough in his wallet for the gorilla figurine he had his heart set on and I didn’t have any cash and neither of his sisters was in the mood to donate to the cause so he was a bit heartbroken. But Sophie later saw his tears and offered to let both Ben and Anthony share her snake. After the girls made their purchases we briefly poked our heads in to look at the glass flowers exhibit, but we were really all too tired to do them justice and so after a minute or two we left.
Time to head home. We set out back down the street and across Harvard Yard to the Harvard Square T station. There were many more people at this time of day and the crowds made me a bit nervous. I had Lucy in the stroller and Ben holding on the the handle. He, Sophie, and Anthony were all holding onto Sophie’s big snake. I’m sure they were quite the sight. Then Bella wandering about waving her peacock feather. But we got to the station and then onto the train with no incident. We all found a seat on the same bench and stayed put the whole way home. We were early enough that traffic wasn’t bad on the way home.
And when we got home the bean soup that had been in the crockpot all day smelled heavenly. I whipped up a quick brown bread and threw some more veggies into the soup and then vegged until Dom came home. I thought briefly about reading the kids a chapter of Winter Holiday, but I was too beat and starting to get a bit of a headache. All in all it was a wonderful day and a very successful field trip. I’m thinking we might do it again if we get another nice day. If we go in the next 30 days we can use this trip’s admission price towards a membership and then we can go back as many times as we want. Two trips pays for the family membership. That seems like a good deal. Even though it’s a small museum, we could have spent more time with various video and audio presentations and looking at things more closely. The kids could have spent time sketching. And with a membership we wouldn’t feel a need to stay as long. If we bring a lunch, then the only real cost would be the parking and the T ride, which is pretty cheap. So maybe I’ll roust myself to do this again soon, though I’m also dying to get to the Dutch Master exhibit at the MFA.