Sweet Nothings

Makeshift Museums

Shipping container chock-full of polar bears and deer heads at The Corner Shoppe Mall in Austin, TX

Isn’t there something about March that makes you feel like taking a school field trip? I’m not sure I actually went on a lot of field trips at this time of year when I was a kid, but there sure was an undeniable urge to break up the monotony of Massachusetts’ winters with a little something out of the ordinary. Despite the fact that I was no science whiz, my favorite destination for those chartered yellow buses was always the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Within this Cambridge gem, you could find display cases of giant gemstones, rare insects, glass flowers and a jungle’s worth of taxidermied animals. I always saved the animals for my last stop, knowing that a certain mammoth boa constrictor was bound to haunt me into every strange corridor I walked down for months. There was a thrilling rush to the way this petrified snake gave me the willies, however, and a part of me relished the fearfulness that all the looming, stuffed animals brought out in me; in fact, I think that thrill was part of why this was my favorite field-trip spot.

I recently came across a treasure trove that rivals Harvard’s collection of taxidermied animals (at least as it exists in my memory), only this array of beasts isn’t behind glass – this animal kingdom is displayed in the open air of several shipping containers and prefabricated homes. I spotted the setup on the side of a busy street in Austin, where it sits amidst a dirt parking lot of mobile vending carts, and when I hopped out to take a closer look I was transported back to the days of yellow school buses and snake-filled nightmares. You can seriously just walk in off the street to find dozens of lions, tigers and bears staring you down, and I double-dog dare you not to let the peach fuzz on the back of your neck stand up the way mine did at this sight. There’s just something primal about the way these animals’ eyes and teeth fill your stomach with fear, even though you know perfectly well that they’re stuffed and harmless. And, it’s this reminder that my fears are not so different now from what they were when I was a youngin’ that made this roadside excursion quite the field trip indeed…Is there anywhere near you that serves as a makeshift museum or cabinet of curiosities in this way?

Brown bear ready to attack anyone who removes the longhorn mountings from the wall behind him

If this were the Harvard Museum of Natural History, this leopard would be perched on a large tree limb waiting to pounce

Taxidermied tiger and an array of other stuffed wildlife

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