Saturday, October 31, 2015

Back to regularly scheduled programming: Lists, Parts the Fourth and Fifth

In anticipation of Simon and Ivan reuniting next weekend, from which maybe a blog post will result, and maybe not, depending on how much time we spend in a food coma doing nothing; and because it is Halloween; I am re-animating this blog, not unlike Frankenstein's monster. It may lapse into death again shortly thereafter, but for now . . . it's aliiiiiive.

In truth, I've also been inspired by two lists that I have collected recently. I was developing a love of lists when we left off, and it has not waned in the intervening . . . erm . . . years.

List the Fourth
It's a little-known fact (I'm guessing) that the village hall of Wyoming, NY contains a shockingly large natural science collection for a place with a population of 500 people in the middle of nowhere. It's a very nice middle of nowhere, and I grew up in the middle of nowhere so I know from middles-of-nowhere, but still: it was unexpected. The collection was created by one Henry Augustus Ward, a professor at the University of Rochester from 1860-1865 among other things.

This is one of those weird instances when a bunch of previously unconnected things suddenly come together and you realize the world, or at least New York State, is not very big.

The day before Matt and Adam and Rachel and I stumbled on this little museum in Wyoming, Ivan and I happened to be at the Genesee Country Museum for dinner, which is another post entirely, involving drinking maple whiskey from a flask behind an outhouse like very naughty nineteenth-century schoolboys, now enshrined as one of my most favorite memories ever. It wasn't really an outhouse but it's a better story if it's an outhouse so I choose to remember it that way. Moving right along: between dinner and dessert we went on a tour of the village, and the guide happened to point out a "Ward's box" in one of the houses. How she could remember a single historical fact with sleeves that puffed I really don't know - I would think she would have to devote 90% of her brainpower to the engineering conundrum of how to fit through the next doorway - but I'm glad she pointed out the Ward's box (we would call it a terrarium these days), because it stuck in my mind. The next day, of course, I realized it was the same Ward - in addition to being a professor, he owned a company that shipped scientific specimens all over the world. You can still get microscope slides and live butterfly pupae and whatnot from Ward's Science, and they are still based in Rochester.

So that was a funny coincidence. Then, just now when I was looking him up, I noticed that he was buried in Mt. Hope cemetery and my brain went bing bing bing! and yes, as it turns out, his is the enormous pinkish gravestone with the enormous granite boulder sitting on top of it that I have passed many times and thought, "Ugh, what an ego."

And not only that, but Matthew Vassar hired him in 1863 to create a collection for the then brand-new Vassar College. Frankly, at this point, I kind of feel like Dr. Ward is stalking me.

ANYWAY, the collection is upstairs in the stately Wyoming village hall, in a medium-sized room lined with old glass cabinets and display cases full of every kind of thing you could imagine: birds, fish, mammals, shells (except for rocks, curiously enough) (and, happily, nothing preserved in formaldehyde), all with their original labels. Everything screamed Get your scrumptiously authentic nineteenth-century natural history here! and I was very happy. I sincerely wish I had brought my camera, but in any case, I liked reading the labels one after another in all their seeming randomness. Or maybe I just like nature words. Or Latin. Probably a combination. Here is a very limited list that I jotted down:

skin of alligator
skin of crocodile
chipping sparrow
goldfinch nest
assorted unidentified eggs
northern shrike
red-bellied woodpecker
downy woodpecker
sandhill crane
hummingbird nest
blue grosbeak
blue and yellow macaw
great blue heron
saw tooth fish [Editorial note: now known as a sawfish; all they had was the saw part, which was initially confusing]
puffer fish
Rhinoceros beetle
argonautica argo (Mediterranean)
nautilus pompilious
comus gubernator (India pacific)
Cypraea annulus (Singapore)
Helicostyla collodes (Philippines)
Solarium perpectiuum (Zanzibar)
Strombus gallus (Bahamas)
Cypraea eburnea (Philippines)
Fusus distans (Pacific Ocean)
Fasciolaria trapezium (Mauritius)
Lady Amherst Pheasant (Eastern Tibet)
Simin Satyrus, Orang-utan [Editorial note: taxidermy... it doesn't last forever.]

List the Fifth, which could not be more unrelated to all the other lists 
Scene: dinner
Status: full of sushi
Present: Adam (instigator), Matt (victim), Simon (recorder)

Jennifer Aniston as herself
April . . . O'Neil?
Gale Weathers
Courteney Cox
Schand'ler [Editorial note: the spelling was specified for me; motivation unclear]
Anton for short
Is it really not Antoinette?
Are you sure?
Mega . . . ?
Oh, it's Monica.