By Amelia Traylor
Biomechanical Engineering, 2020
Curatorial Museum Intern
Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center
“Treat every object as if it were irreplaceable and the most valuable piece in the collection.”
As I sat down on my first day to read the list of guidelines that govern artifact handling, they all seemed to boil down to that one rule. Every one of the artifacts in the Heritage and Research Center’s vast historical collection was to be handled with equal, painstaking care. I myself am a person who greatly values efficiency and it took me some time to adjust to the carefully slow pace of cataloging after the constant bustle of freshman year.
Now, seven weeks into my adventure through curatorial museum work, I have lost the hurry that I brought with me. To build a properly fitting box for an object, I carefully measure dimensions and carve foam pieces to support any handles or other protrusions. Labeling requires either painting or sewing the catalogue number on some unobtrusive part of the artifact. Every move is slow and considerate to avoid scraping or otherwise damaging the object in any way.
The formerly torturous, now comforting, pace of this environment is slowly seeping into the other aspects of life here in Yellowstone National Park. Just yesterday, my boss was generous enough to let me attend a wildlife field seminar in which our guide taught a group of park employees how to identify signs of wildlife, including tracks and scat. As I observed the scarring patterns on the white aspen trees around me that were left by climbing bears, I realized that I had been approaching my time off in the park with the same haste I left behind while working at the HRC. I wanted to experience as much of this vast park as I could and I believed that in order to do so, I needed to hike as many miles of the endless trails as I possibly could in the weeks of my internship. However, this seminar opened my eyes to how poorly I understood and interpreted what I was seeing on my many hikes. Perhaps, truly experiencing Yellowstone is more about taking the time to interact with the environment around me instead of tromping along a trail, already preoccupied with what my next day of exploration would entail.
A woman who also participated in this field seminar was much more clear about what she wanted out of the day than I was when I arrived. She told the instructor immediately that she was interested in the stories told by the objects and wildlife around her. Looking forward, I hope that I can learn to see the world through this woman’s eyes. After all, stories provide the context through which we can judge the value of an object. Many of the artifacts that I deal with in the HRC are seemingly worthless, but they tell a portion of the story of this incredible park, which is why they are treated as valuable and irreplaceable. Similarly, I cannot expect to experience Yellowstone in all its glory without taking the time to examine the stories told by my surroundings.
As I have learned to treat every collection object as precious, I am learning to treat every hour I spend in this park and every new environment I explore the same way. With only three more weeks left in my internship, I certainly plan to appreciate every second of the relaxed, reflective pace this position has set for me before diving right back into the hectic schedule of a Stanford student. Even then, I hope that I can remember to take the time to appreciate the incredible people and opportunities around me.
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