On Friday, my family visited the Indiana History Museum. The museum had a couple special exhibits that we were interested in seeing. I was looking forward to seeing the one about poison and venom. Lisa wanted to see geofest, and all of the rocks that would be for sale. The children, I think, were most interested in having a field trip instead of their normal school routine.
We spent a good amount of time going through the poison exhibit. It seems that the Amazon is home to many of the most venomous things, though there are of course venomous animals and plants all over. There were a few examples of pairs of species that had co-evolved to produce either combative poisons or a poison and an antidote. For example, there’s a shrew that can be stung by a really deadly scorpion. If I remember correctly, the shrew has its own venom that the scorpion is a bit resistant to. And it turns out the shrew likes to eat said scorpion. There’s a venomous snake that likes to eat eels, and the eels are mostly resistant to the snake’s venom, which makes it so that the eel can sometimes fight off a snake that’s biting it. Over time, nature has refined some pretty potent compounds. People have taken advantage of that. There are obvious applications, like killing other people or animals. One that I learned about is that early anesthetics were often naturally occurring poisons. When they are delivered in a small dose, they immobilize their victim (er, patient). So the trick was to deliver the right dose. Eventually, people started synthesizing these compounds so that they could be used more consistently. This is a good example of how a lot of modern conveniences are an incremental improvement over some more primitive technology.
We visited an exhibit about fossils. Southern Indiana has lots of limestone. A large portion of the US’s construction limestone comes from Indiana. If I remember right, it was 80%; regardless, it’s over half. Anyways, limestone has fossils! Lots of sea animals are enclosed in Indiana limestone. The kids spent a little time sifting through rock particles from a southern Indiana quarry, looking for microfossils.
Finally, we went through an exhibit that talked about the building of Indiana. The saddest part of it was the part about Native Americans. The exhibit described the tribes that peopled different parts of Indiana before European settlers moved in. It reinforced the idea that what we know as the US is largely based on land that was forcibly taken from other people. That’s the way the world has kind of always been, but that doesn’t make it right.
Here’s a bit of a tangent, about bikes and vacations and weather, but I’ll bring it back to Native Americans at the end.
A few weeks ago, we went on vacation to Florida. We went to southern Florida because it’s been really cold up here, and it’s much warmer down there. Winter in the interior of the US is usually pretty hard, with temperatures below freezing for long amounts of time and nothing growing. Everything hunkers down and waits for spring. Freezing and thawing is really hard on things, like Keystone Avenue. This year was particularly cold, but not too much worse than normal. We’ve had a couple of mild winters recently, and that made this year feel worse. Homeschooling gives us the opportunity to take vacation more or less whenever we want, so we took advantage of that to spend Groundhog Day down south, wearing shorts and getting sunburned.
Last week, I talked to a coworker who lives in Copenhagen. He does not own a car, and rides a bike most places he goes. A bike sounds great! Good exercise, low emissions, etc. Except… we live in the interior of the US. Population density in the US is relatively low, compared to most other peopled places in the world. So things are more spread out. I live in a rural area and the nearest store of any kind is a 15 minute drive in the car from home. On a bike, that would be at least 30 minutes if I was going full tilt. The other thing about a bike is that the temperatures are inhospitable for bike travel for a good portion of the year. From November or December through April or May, it’s just not nice to ride a bike. We bundle up to walk the dog, and biking would take a few degrees off of that for wind chill. The summer is generally good, but afternoons can be hot and humid, which is its own challenge. Anyways, being outside here means dealing with more extremes than being outside in other parts of the world.
So, back to North America’s First Peoples. The thing that they figured out, that we’ve only kind of figured out, is that the right way to live on this land is to come north in the summer and move south in the winter. Retired people of means do this. We did this, this year. But Native Americans had an entire way of life built around this idea. Maybe they were on to something.