By Kerstin Heinrich
Anthropology 2020 (minor in Theater & Performance Studies)
Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center
Even though I arrived at work seven minutes ago, I am still in my car. A mama elk and her calf are hanging out in the parking lot. Again. I am forced to just sit and wait until they get bored and meander away towards Gardiner High School to join 20 of their relatives lounging on the football field. When they wander out of range, I am free to head in through the basement and up to the curators office.
Once I am out of my elk jam, I get to plot my own project itinerary. I am one of three people in the museum office for the summer; the other two are my co-supervisors and one of them is usually absent at any given time. Therefore I am almost completely autonomous in what I choose to do for the day. As the museum intern, I am responsible for cataloging, housing, and maintaining new accessions into the collection, completing the annual accession and collection inventory, creating the fall showcase exhibit, cleaning our vehicle storage center, and rehousing our wolf skulls. Though it sounds like I might talk to objects all day (…no comment), I also engage with researchers and local artists and give public and private tours of our facility. As I say on our weekly public tour, the Yellowstone National Park Heritage and Research Center (HRC) was completed in 2004 with the purpose of housing and maintaining museum, library, and archival materials. However, saying the HRC is just a storage facility is a bit simplistic. The building also houses the Herbarium, the Archeology lab, the Wildlife Health lab, the Geology lab, and quarantine/processing/analytics areas for all of the listed disciplines. Even though I am technically the museum intern, I have engaged with most departments in the HRC in one way or another. I spent my entire first week working on an archeological field site a few hours away digging test sites and collecting artifacts with the park archeologist.
The Chief of Cultural Resources took the HRC staff out to lunch recently, and asked me not what I had learned, but what I was most surprised to learn. I had a few joke answers immediately: “how to avoid potholes,” “how to dramatically roll backwards at my desk when the motion-sensor lights turn off because I’ve been still for too long,” and “how to check for elk when I leave my house.”
However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to reflect on the beauty I had encountered. I knew Yellowstone would be beautiful, but I didn’t expect Montana to be beautiful, or to drive deeper into the park every night to watch the sunset over the mountains, or to laugh so hard with the library staff. I came here to study the beauty and importance of objects, but I know I will leave the HRC with a reverence for the people they belonged to and the places they were found more than I could have ever imagined.
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