Notes and Wonders from The Fernskull Conservatory
What is Here?
A Collection of Spring Marvels
by Natalie Anne Helser of St. Ignatius, MT, aged 16
A delicate butterfly wing, creamy-white coloured. A yellowing vole skull. A tin dish full of dried scraps of lichen. These rest below a string of dried flowers – pansies, calendula, chamomile, strawflower, pearly everlasting. And below that, on an old, rubbed-smooth shelf, sit crystals and rocks – dull pumice and lava rock, shiny quartz, ethereal satin spar and fluorite. Other curiosities – fragile bird’s nests, aquatic exoskeletons, elegant pheasant feathers – fill the gaps, each one labelled with a date, an observation and a note or two, and two names – common and scientific. This is The Fernskull Conservatory, a museum of naturally-found curiosities. Fascinated by the minute details of our ever-changing world, I created this wall-sized collection of specimens to document the abundance of life and wonder that fill our world.
Too many times, I find myself totally absent to what I am doing. A mindless task, the world around me forgotten. If I really stopped and listened, what would I find? Even in a bland, stubby field, life teems. Grass grows, bugs flitter and hum, roots push deep, searching for silvery-cool water, the sun beats and birds dance and sing to the rhythm of life. So that is why, two years ago, I created The Fernskull Conservatory – to document the every-day passings of time, life’s soulful cadence. The exhibits change seasonally, with new flora and fauna and wonders to match. This season: Spring.
What is Here?
What world would ours be, if we could not love?
What world would ours be, if we could not enjoy?
What world would we have, if we could not wonder?
A winding glance,
A mindful ponder,
A yearning question,
A curious dream.
Stop and stare, stop and glance, stop and wonder,
At all things Here.
In your head, in your mind, in your thoughts,
In your hopes, in your dreams.
What world would we have, if we could not think and dream?
If we could not ponder?
Take a look, dear friend, at where you find yourself, and wonder:
“What is Here?”
Late May, Afternoon.
The horses have gone out to graze, the duckling’s pond is refilled, and they joyfully splash about. The chickens cluck contentedly in their nesting boxes, and the abundance of house sparrows and starlings twitter away to the breeze. Spring, the season of green and new beginnings and life. Of a doleful hum of insects and the flutter of aspen leaves, and the absolutely incessant chirping of baby birds (seriously – we have a million nests in our eaves – it’s peacefully obnoxious). A huge, fluffy bumblebee hovers near a hound’s tongue, searching for the perfect bloom. Flowers, ready to stretch weary stems after a slushy, bitter winter, rise from the ground once more. The lupine explodes in bursts of watercolour purple, the dandelions blossom in the thousands, looking as if the sun has rained drops of gold across the valleys. The apple tree mushrooms with velvety flowers, and the joyous lilac overwhelms yards and markets with their fragrant, lacy blooms. One of my favourite flowers is Moss Phlox – a low-growing, lavender-toned flower that spreads everywhere. With little, spiky leaves and a love for sun, our once-tiny Phlox plant has exploded across the front garden bed.
Another favourite spring green is aspen. Of course, the symphonic flutter of the leaves is infamous, but there really is nothing like it. Casting dappled, warm light over me as I sketch one of the intricately- veined leaves, I watch as a little ladybug climbs her way up to the top.
A magpie pair in the nearby seaberry bushes chirp to each other, each debating over the best way to artfully craft their spiky, domed nest. Magpies nest in a curious way – building an eggshaped nest with a hole in the middle. They tend to prefer thorny bushes or trees for nesting – the several nests on our property are all in thorn-covered seaberries or hawthorns.
Remember – enjoy the content, golden spring, enjoy life, and most of all, wonder. Document and arrange, ponder and intrigue. Sketch and write, read and sing. Feel spring’s ebb of life, listen to what the birds and plants must whisper to you. Create your own conservatory. Find your Here.
Please note – all specimens gathered for The Fernskull Conservatory are collected in an entirely respectful and non-harmful manner. Insects, bones, feathers, animals, and other living organisms are found and only used for the conservatory if they are already dead. I never use live pinning for the insects, I only pin the insect if it is already dead. Living animals are never displayed, and nothing (with the exception of the occasional flower for pressing or drying) is killed for the purpose of The Fernskull Conservatory. Thank you!