Haibun for a museum

Perhaps it was the migraine, but our visit to the newly refurbished natural history museum in Bordeaux left me with a sense of a missed opportunity. Everything was dead, looked dead, and so many of the exhibits are of species that have since disappeared into extinction, though no mention seemed to be made of that detail. I’ll probably write more about it when I get my wits back.


The natural history museum has had a make-over, ten years of make-over, but it is still no more than a collection of dead birds and animals, bones and fossils. Extinct birds stand next to rabbits, pythons swallow endangered toads, and the same unrecognisable brown, sausage-shaped creatures, their fur dulled in death, grimace through the glass in utter silence. Children marvel at the polar bear, ask to touch its cuddly, acrylic whiteness.

In the misty morning

a heron lifts from the pond

a family of deer

raise their heads

to watch the swallows gathering.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

42 thoughts on “Haibun for a museum”

      1. That is what we call “museum”, and what we learn our kids. 😉 Murdered animals, and in war museums murdered humans. Therefore i – sarcasm on – love documentations about tanks, and military aircraft. Michael

      2. It’s more infantilisation than dumbing down, reducing the whole of the natural world to something static that is either soft and cuddly or ugly and ferocious. Telling them what they all eat and how they eat it is interesting, but unless you also add, these animals unfortunately don’t get enough of whatever to eat because 80% of their habitat has been destroyed/been poisoned by pesticides or 80% of their numbers have been killed by legal hunting and illegal poaching. Mustn’t upset the little dears though, especially not when they’re on holiday and we want mummy and daddy to bring them back again next year.

      3. Because even murderers have votes. Try to take their guns away or put up the price of a gun licence and they’ll vote for the opposition. One of the disadvantages of democracy.

      4. There are millions I’d like to deprive. Thank goodness nobody’s going to let me do it though. Not until someone thinks up a better system than democracy. I’m not ruling out that possibility.

  1. You’re brave going to a museum of dead things with, or having recently had, a migraine. Hope you’re feeling better now. Your verse about the living is so much nicer (than looking at anything dead could ever be).

    1. I thought it would be different. They’ve hyped it up so much about being more ecologically aware, but there’s still no indication that most of the ‘exhibits’ are either rare, extinct or abused. It’s geared mainly to tourist families, so the message is for tiny tots, cuddly touchy feely rather than scientific and hard-hitting. Disney science. Migraine hasn’t gone but I’m at home in the peace and quiet, so infinitely better, thanks 🙂

    1. If we all stopped eating meat that would make s huge difference. It would halt the cruelty of the meat and dairy industries, stop massive acreages of farmland being given over to cattle feed, and it would stop people like Brazilian landowners burning down the rainforest to graze even more cattle on. If we carry on eating meat we’re accomplices. I know I’m guilty. We eat a little meat occasionally and some cheese. I’d welcome legislation banning it so I’d be forced to do without altogether.

      1. We’ve also cut back on the amount of meat we eat. I only have one small portion a day. I love veggies, beans, and fruit, so that all works for me. I don’t do much dairy either. America was founded on the beef industry. We’ve all been manipulated for years. ❤

      2. Our department of health advises meat only two or three times a week, and red meat not more than once. That’s for health, not the environment, the only way to get around the outrage of the farming lobby. They are trying to get the message across, though, as you say, the farmers do their damnedest to put a spanner in the works.

      3. He’ll probably leave pretty soon in a huff. He’s already had his nose put out of joint by the Danes over Greenland, now Donald Tusk has told him his idea of getting Putin back into Europe is a non-starter. Possibly the next time he opens his mouth will be the clincher.

      4. None of them are out and out eco-warriors, they all want trade deals and peace so they can do business. The Mercosur deal is unpopular here and with a bit of luck it will be scrapped. The Ceta with Canada is the same, but that will probably go ahead. Trump is just intellectually out of his depth at a summit. It involved discussion among equals. He can’t do that, doesn’t understand what they’re talking about. He just likes to bang his fist on the table, say, this is what we’re gonna do, and his groupies go wild with applause. It don’t work like that here.

      5. Sounds good to me. Trump is the most ignorant president this country (or Russia) ever elected. The trade war is horrible and will drag us all down but he’s not smart enough to know that. 🙄

  2. Doing anything with a migraine seems unimaginable to me. Hope you feel better! The museum does seem very sad. I always thought the dead animals part of the Philadelphia natural science museum was sad, but there is definitely more to that museum.

    1. Migraine is less today thanks even if it hasn’t gone. I think these tablets have stopped working.
      It wasn’t the best frame of mind to visit the museum, granted, but we had the day out planned and when the youngest leaves (very soon!) we won’t want to leave the house unattended. I wouldn’t count on Finbar to deter a burglar, and he’d be out of his mind if he was left with just the cats all day.
      It seemed to be geared to small children, with lots of stuff on screens and things to touch and drawers to pull out with racks of seashells and feathers to look at. All very new and shiny, but so many of those creatures I remember from the old museum, things that had been stuffed to look like draught excluders. Terribly sad, but no word about their conservation status. That’s the kind of thing you need to teach children, not the tiny tots experience of touch the soft feather and the scaly lizard etc etc.

  3. It’s interesting, the natural history museum here has started to be pushed into explaining all the context for their exhibits. They are collaborating with native peoples to update that hall and correct misrepresentations, and they’ve updated the climate change hall. I’m sure more will follow.
    The real thing is, children today don’t grow up playing outside like we did. They don’t see the world and its creatures in a context where they live together with humans. Part of it is that every place is built up unless you live as you do, away from everything. The places I played as a child are now industrial parks. A museum is no place to see the natural world. (K)

    1. That’s a great initiative. Everything has a context. We’re bringing children up, as you say completely ignorant of the world outside the urban landscape. Their contact with nature is through cuddly anthropomorphised Disney-type characters or as cuddly pets in zoos. The awful thing is that I’ve seen comments from mature adults who think zoos are good things because they preserve species that are extinct or almost in the wild, so we can still gawp at them. The only point—entertainment.

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