11 Jun 2009, 10:49pm
animals & children nature

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Striped African Tree Rat

Last month my dad had a Realtors’ conference in DC, so Matt and I decided to make a vacation of it, which gave us a chance to actually see my parents this year (it’s not easy to get to Oregon).

dino_6 Dad didn’t have a whole lot of time for touristy things, but he was able to join Matt, Mom and I at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum before the conference started. Everyone else wanted to see the rocks and gems section. I wasn’t too enthused about that part, until I remembered that it’s only gems I could care less about. I actually quite like rocks. In the display I was especially fascinated by all the cool rock formations, the amazing variety of shape and texture. The above reminded me of nothing more than an alien city, and I though several crystals made such pretty patterns that they’d also make excellent computer backgrounds.

dino_5I didn’t need to warm up to the rest of the museum, I mean, who wouldn’t love looking at deep sea animals, frozen hunting scenes, and dinosaur bones?

dino_1I guess my dad loved it even more than the rest of us.**  I enjoyed the bones, and they made such cool light patterns in on the floor that I think I’m going to need to draw them at some point, but my favorite part of the museum were the current animals. True, they’re dead, but it’s pretty rare that you get to look at animals up close, to get a sense for their details, scale, and posture. We have a natural history museum in Cleveland, and it’s actually quite good, but it’s hard to compete with the National Museum.

** I am SO not responsible if you try to kiss the T-Rex and get yourself kicked out or arrested.

I probably spent far too long in the mammal room, taking photos of creatures great and small. When I get an opportunity like that it’s hard to think about anything but how many great photo-references I’m getting for drawings.  Natural-ish zoos are great, but sometimes the animals move too quick to capture, or don’t appear at all. When they’re stuffed, it’s not exactly a problem. I especially liked the bats. I don’t often get to look closely at bat wings, and I can’t wait to do some sketching.

dino_3Now for an apparently unrelated aside.

I have to tell you a story.  Almost ten years ago, I started my first year at the University of Notre Dame. There are small differences in the natural worlds of South Bend and Eugene, possibly caused as much by perspective, my newfound freedom, as distance. I saw birds hopping around amongst the fall leaves and noticed that the way they moved made them blend perfectly with the leaves rolling in the wind, effectively hiding them.  Some differences however were not due to mere observation. The climate in South Bend is more extreme, there aren’t as many evergreens. And within my first few days there, I started to glimpse a timid little creature with dramatic markings on its face and sides, which I didn’t recognize at all.

It never occurred to me to ask anyone what they were, instead I referenced my mammal book, which I’d conveniently brought from home.

dino_4It took me a while, but I eventually found an entry that seemed to match the creatures. After closing the book I immediately forgot what they were called, confusing several adjacent pages, and mentally labeled my find the Striped African Tree Rat.  I couldn’t imagine how they’d made it all the way to Indiana. Possibly they were an invasive species, brought over in fruit boxes. There certainly seemed to be a lot of them.

I didn’t think too much more about it.  The world is flat does not just apply to computers and germs, little creatures can get all over the place thanks to our carelessness, so really, it seemed only mildly strange.

About a year later, I went on a week long trip to Sunriver, Oregon with a couple of my fencing buddies and my godfather Mike. We’d been there for a couple days when the four of us were hanging out on the second floor porch, among the pine trees. I looked out at the endless poles of tree trunks, and on a tree just fifty feet away, I saw one of my Striped African Tree Rats.

They’ve spread, I thought, and before I really had a chance to think, I pointed it out.  My godfather gave me his best incredulous look.  “Meagan. That’s a chipmunk.”

I know. You’re thinking I’m a moron. Maybe I am.

But last month, with Matt and my parents, I was wandering around the small mammals exhibit when I came across unexpected redemption. In fact, I came across a chipmunk. Behold:


*Ok, yes, I know Cambodia is nowhere near Africa but you have to admit, it’s a freaking chipmunk.

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