Warning: This post includes references to dead animals in edible and inedible forms.
One of my regular duties as a student worker at the diner (aka the SUB) is making bacon on Friday mornings. The methodical laying out of sheet after sheet of bacon and putting them into the oven has turned out to be a perfect way to start out my morning. I was doing this last Friday when I had a weird, sleepiness-induced déjà vu moment, as if I had dreamed about these bacon pans the night before. A few minutes later it struck me that I had indeed been lifting pans of a similar shape two days before, except instead of containing bacon they were full of bats.
Let me explain. These bats were specimens that had been prepared for the Slater Museum of Natural History on campus. We had taken them out of their cases for Bat Night, an open house event where we showed off our many bat specimens, a live fruit bat from Pt. Defiance Zoo, and even some guano that visitors could look at under a microscope. It’s fun getting to be part of these events as a Slater volunteer, even if I felt a little underprepared for the questions of a few genuine bat experts. My station consisted of two large trays filled with big brown bats (eptesicus fuscus) from Oregon, most of them from 1974. Examining these preserved, stuffed skins made me wonder about the future of the skins I have prepared. When properly cared for, these specimens can last a mighty long time and hopefully be of service in education, outreach, and scientific investigations. Through natural history museums like Slater, scientists have a physical record of how species can vary over time and geographical location in response to changes in their environment.
The usefulness of natural history impresses me greatly, but I’ve been impressed by Slater since a friend who works there gave me an impromptu tour freshman year. There is so much wacky and beautiful and awesome (in the awe-inspiring sense) to be found in the collection that I knew I wanted to spend more time there, which is how I ended up volunteering. It’s always great to discover another little world inside the bounds of campus, and this has happened to me again and again. Working for the diner is another example. While I have obviously eaten there hundreds of times, I never had any idea who the chefs were or how all the food gets made. Outside of the kitchen, you only get to see small quantities of each dish at a time, and I never really thought about the mass of food consumed by the student body every day, the trays and trays of bacon, the spices that get measured in by the cupful rather than by the teaspoon. I’m sure that many students walk by Slater every day without having any idea of the trays and trays of bats and other animals inside. Our campus is not large, but there is so much that goes on unobserved by many, and much for the curious mind to discover.