Susan Silas: The Specimen Drawer

THE SPECEMIN DRAWER by Susan Silas, AIRIE Fellow

THE SPECIMEN DRAWER © 2013 by Susan Silas
THE SPECIMEN DRAWER © 2013 by Susan Silas

The South Florida Collections Management Center is tucked inside Everglades National Park at the end of Research road. Inside its temperature controlled and darkened drawers, birds that inhabited the park as far back as the 1960’s are laid out, each with a handwritten tag carefully tied to its feet, in much the same way that corpses are labeled at a morgue. Some of these birds were road kill, and a few sad specimens have labels indicating that they starved to death. They are, collectively, a part of the record of upheavals and changes in management techniques that have beset the park for over a century.

THE SPECIMEN DRAWER © 2013 by Susan Silas
THE SPECIMEN DRAWER © 2013 by Susan Silas

While the park may seem abundant in nature, with careful inspection one can see that no corner of it has not been subject to the intrusive plans of politicians motivated by development interests, the demand for water in the ever more populated pockets of South Florida and the follies wrought by the Army Core of Engineers. At first the park disappoints. It is a scruffy landscape without the obvious glamor of Yellowstone or Yosemite. A rise of 4 feet in elevation is mountainous here. But with repeated exposure to the “river of grass” the eccentric and subtle beauties of the place begin to impress themselves on the psyche.

THE SPECIMEN DRAWER © 2013 by Susan Silas
THE SPECIMEN DRAWER © 2013 by Susan Silas

Opening one of the Center’s drawers, I momentarily imagine Lenin resting in his glass mausoleum in Red Square in the middle of Moscow or Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi—a place from which he was conspicuously absent during my visit to Hanoi—he goes for a makeover to Moscow once a year, where the technology exists to spruce him up for future visitors. Some of the birds at The South Florida Collections Management Center, their bodies stiff and their eyes stuffed with cotton, have resided here as long as Ho has sat in his tomb at Ba Dinh Square. And like their human counterparts, these specimens may be as arbitrary a sampling of their kind as Lenin and Ho are a sampling of ours.

THE SPECIMEN DRAWER © 2013 by Susan Silas
THE SPECIMEN DRAWER © 2013 by Susan Silas
THE SPECIMEN DRAWER © 2013 by Susan Silas
THE SPECIMEN DRAWER © 2013 by Susan Silas