[Lions and Dinos and China, Oh My]

The Field Museum in Chicago has a pretty solid reputation in the natural history community. After spending a good five hours there today, I can vouch for it. But boy, I am footsore. It just keeps going. Exhibit after exhibit, all with different focuses and new information. And, of course, there’s the visual aspect as well. So much to see, and there’s rarely enough time.

We ducked into the museum just as it opened, escaping the increasing heat outside (it reached into the mid-90s, and we weren’t going anywhere without A/C). From there, we really didn’t have much of a plan, just walking through the halls and trying to figure out what exhibit(s) to visit next.

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Our first stop was to the exhibit from China focusing on the 1974 discovery of the Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty (the first emperor of China). The scale of the discovery is massive. Thousands of terracotta statues, all handcrafted, stood ready in an entire household prepared for the afterlife — warriors, diplomats, stableboys, and acrobats, to name a few. Breathtaking. And really, really impressive. (Though we did notice that the horses, if created to scale, were generally smaller than the horses we commonly see today, which makes sense. Two thousand years of breeding can change the size and shape of a horse pretty well.)

Next up was Ancient Americas, focusing on the migration of peoples from Asia (there is believed to have been several mass migrations, though scientists have yet to confirm the exact methods and routes), and the histories of the developing cultures in the Americas. We ended up skipping over most of the displays on the Plains Peoples because, to quote Darell, “I’m from South Dakota. There isn’t much I don’t already know about this.” To be perfectly honest, I had much of the same feeling. Between the museums in Nebraska and South Dakota growing up, and my visit to the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City just this March, I know quite a bit about the Plains peoples. But I did enjoy learning about the other cultures.

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We also walked through the typical natural history displays of birds and wildlife. The raptors are by far my favorite birds, but I learned a single ostrich egg omelet is equivalent to using 27 chicken eggs — not that I encourage using ostrich eggs, since they’re quite a bit more difficult to obtain. Zebras are not related to horses, but wolverines are related to otters. (The giant otter can grow up to 7 feet — nearly two feet longer than I am tall. Yipes.) And the man-eating Tsavo lions were actually much bigger than their displays suggest because the skins had been cut into rugs and damaged before being restored for taxidermy (but they were plenty big as is, which is intimidating).

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After the animals, we headed upstairs and checked out the halls of shiny things (gemstones and jade), the two rooms on Tibet (they put butter in their tea, which sounds intriguing), and then went through a hall on the changes the planet has gone through, including the many mass extinction events that have occurred. Some of those sketches of prehistoric sea creatures are alarming, given their sheer size. And, of course, that exhibit went straight through to every kid’s dream: the dinosaurs. So big, so amazing, even as an adult (though I didn’t have to crane my neck quite as much to see the tops of the skeletons).

Our final exhibit of the day, because you save the best for last, was the one on Egypt. Mummies, folks. Actual mummies! And, y’know, pottery and models and history, but … let’s be real. We all like mummies (if you don’t, I’m curious as to why not).

After the museum, we initially planned on visiting the Shedd Aquarium, but for some reason it was closed. Sad day. So we went home instead, put our feet up for a few hours, and worked out a backup plan. And then we headed out to the circus … Cirque Italia, to be precise.

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Oh. Em. Goodness. Those folks are ridiculously talented (and I’m sure they practice for hours upon hours). I was spellbound. Although, as you might see, not spellbound enough to resist snapping some photos (sorry about the quality, given the lighting situation).

We ended the day at a bar, sipping a few beers (Darell) and vodka cranberries (all mine) while chatting with a friend. It was a nice winddown to a long day.

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