We finally got out of the Birmingham area this week – one day - one day – without basketball, scouts or music…so I grabbed it, and we traveled….to ANNISTON. ALABAMA.
It’s about an hour from here, a little less than halfway to Atlanta, so we pass it regularly, but had never stopped. In reading all of my “Alabama Day Trips” blogs and such, I had often run across mentions of the Anniston Natural History Museum, and all of those mentions had been positive – and without reservation. As in, no well, at least they’re trying. Two points for that None of that.
And “they” were right!
I mean, it’s not worth flying down from Bismark for, but really, for an off-the-beaten-path museum, it’s rather impressive.
As the name indicates, it’s all about the nature. So yes, dinosaurs, minerals and volcanoes, as well as a condensed journey through Alabama’s various ecoystems (biomes? habitats? I get so confused. So much lingo.). But what impressed me were two particular exhibits. One was on predators and prey – a big draw for young people, naturally. But it stood out because of the pedagogy behind it, which results in a substantive and clear exhibit. Attacker and defender behavior was identified by one of three colored stripes, each representing a particular tactic: behavioral, physical or chemical. The subject matter was interesting to the boys anyway, but the whole stripe thing gave it a puzzle aspect that cemented the learning.
What was really lovely was the Birds of America exhibit. I’m quite interested in the history of museums and collecting, being so appreciative of the efforts of single-minded and sometimes eccentric collectors and “amateur” scientists whose passions form the nuclei of so many museums worldwide. The Anniston bird exhibit is one of those. There is unfortunately, not much about the history of the collection on the museum’s website, but the Atlas Obscura tells us:
The Anninston Natural History Museum holds one of the oldest taxidermy collections in the United States, created by H. Severn Regan in 1930 with a donation of over 1000 birds, nests and eggs arranged in dioramas.
Today, the museum has over 400 species of birds on display. Of special interest is the museum’s collection of passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius). Formerly one of the most common birds in North America, passenger pigeons could once be seen in migratory flocks a mile wide and 300 miles long, containing upwards of a billion birds. There are tales of pigeon swarms darkening the skies for days at a time. Due to wide-scale commercial hunting and deforestation, the passenger pigeon is today extinct, but it and several other extinct species are still preserved in this small natural history museum.
The exhibit is very well done, with attractive retro signage and an easy educational aspect, highlighting the various aspects of avian physiology. As the entry above indicates, the dioramas were painted by Regan himself, and they are beautifully and faithfully preserved. A really pleasant surprise.
Right next door is the Berman Museum, which features the collection of a local couple (not originally from the area – she was French). It held a large collection of weaponry, and some interesting pieces – the boys were most interested in a number of weapons hidden in smaller objects like belt buckles. But there was oddness like a toiletry set and camp plate of Napoleon’s, a crown from Czech royalty, some Mussolini gear and such. If you are interested in military history, it would be a good stop. We ended up not having to pay because of our McWane membership, so go us.
Started the Taming of the Shrew. We started fairly lowbrow, with a read through of this kids’ version, and then, this evening, watching the “Atomic Shakespeare” episode of Moonlighting. I mean…it’s not faithful or anything (especially the ending), but it’s fun. We’ll watch the BBC animated version tomorrow and then start our more serious read-through, probably along with the Taylor-Burton version. And then at some point watch Kiss Me, Kate. And I will get out the photos of Padua and sigh.
(My goal? To enjoy Shakespeare. We talk about some themes - but I don’t go hard core. I basically want them to not be intimidated by Shakespeare, to offer them this really profound and rich window through which to view the human experience, and just….enjoy. I could do more “analytical” stuff, but you know what? I don’t want to. Our conversations and bit of memorization here and there are good enough.)
Both the Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival are performing this play over the next few months, and I’m not sure if we’ll go to one or both. I love the Tavern, but we’ve never been to the ASF, so I’m leaning that way.
Tomorrow (Friday): a school performance of the Koresh Dance Company from Philadelphia.
They are thrilled.
A quick word in favor of formal prayer.
I wrote a whole book about this, I know, but our experiences with Morning and Night prayer have just deepened my appreciation and convictions on this score.
It can be done, you know. Even with children, we can frame our prayer in terms of our own intentions and needs. We can offer up our relatives, friends and enemies, we can pray for the suffering throughout the world, we can offer God our own personal gratitude, hopes and sorrows, and then, stepping into the liturgy, join them to the prayers of the whole Body of Christ. When we do this, we who “do not know how to pray as we ought” learn how to pray and are shaped by the Spirit in that prayer.
When we reflect on how the Holy Spirit acts in our lives, I think we should be wary of an overly individualistic take. The way I have come to understand it is that the Spirit was poured out on the Church – the Church as a whole – and that the primary way that I, as an individual, encounter the Holy Spirit is through the prayer, works of mercy and big T Tradition of that Church.
So in that light, it just seems to me that praying the amazing and rich liturgical prayers of the Church – from the Mass to the Liturgy of the Hours and other forms – is an encounter with the Holy Spirit that shapes me, if I am open, at my deepest level.
So, for example, Compline or Night Prayer. We don’t have the patience to pray all of it, focusing on one Psalm, the short reading, and the prayers at the end. Believe me, praying those prayers every night, puts everything in context much more than our own meanderings would:
Reading 1 Thessalonians 5:23 ©May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Short ResponsoryInto your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.– Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.You have redeemed us, Lord God of truth.– Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.– Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.
Canticle Nunc DimittisSave us, Lord, while we are awake; protect us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace.Now, Master, you let your servant go in peace.You have fulfilled your promise.My own eyes have seen your salvation,which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples.A light to bring the Gentiles from darkness;the glory of your people Israel.Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,world without end.Amen.Save us, Lord, while we are awake; protect us while we sleep; that we may keep watch with Christ and rest with him in peace.
Let us pray.Lord our God,restore us again by the repose of sleepafter the fatigue of our daily work,so that, continually renewed by your help,we may serve you in body and soul.Through Christ our Lord,Amen.
The Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end.
Lex orandi, Lex credendi. That’s what it means.
I think our next major day trip will be down to Montgomery, even aside from the ASF. Joseph did the state capitol on a school field trip,I’ve been to Hank Williams’ grave, but I’d like to go to the art museum, the zoo, and some of the other civil rights sites down there – the King parsonage and the Rosa Parks Museum. Maybe the Fitzgerald house.
Leave it to the Brits….isn’t it good?
Lent is late this year, but it’s still coming….if you’re looking for resources for your parish, I have a few:
This Bible study on the Passion narrative in Matthew from Loyola Press. (For some reason I’m not listed as the author on the Loyola website but…I am.)
Contributions in the Living Faith Lenten devotional.
John Paul II’s Biblical Way of the Cross , with paintings by Michael O’Brien (there’s also an app for that – linked on that page)
And then The Power of the Cross, which is available for a free download. There are a few used copies available on Amazon.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!