CAMBRIDGE - DAY THREE

There is something absolutely magical about being in a completely empty museum, especially one filled with taxidermy dating back a century and a half. There are, of course, jokes to be made about what I do for a living. Still life. Dead silence. A dying art. I’ve heard them all and they still vaguely amuse me, but those puns just don’t compare to how spellbound I feel surrounded by these glass cases.

From behind the glass, eyes stare at me and teeth are bared. While some of the mounts have endured some suffering over the decades, others are so pristine I feel that they may jump out at me. The glare of the overhead lights is one of the only things reminding me that I’m standing in a gallery and not on a savannah somewhere as my mind starts wandering.

For most people, the smell of moth balls mixed with the smell of dry skin and old feathers sounds like an absolutely disgusting thing to endure. For me, it’s what makes me feel alive and reminds me that I possess the skills to make dead things look alive again. Creating a well-done taxidermy piece is the closest thing to actual witchcraft or necromancy that I’ll likely get in my lifetime, and I’m alright with that. Combined with the sound of the heels of my boots clicking as I walk to my classroom, I've never been so pumped up for a class before.

Teaching at the Harvard Museum of Natural History is an honor like no other. In 1998, it was established to effectively combine the collections of three natural history museums on campus - the Harvard University Herbaria, the Mineralogical and Geological Museum, and the Museum of Comparative Zoology. The MCZ is the one I am most interested in, for obvious reason, and it was founded in 1859 with some collections from the 1600s onward.

I had already set up for the classes the day prior, and had taken a suitcase full of frozen rabbits home with me to time their thawing correctly. While the museum was still quiet, I set out the rabbits and prepared my presentations for the day.

After around five hours, we had fourteen finished bunnies. Everyone learned how to skin, clean, and preserve the skins before mounting them on hand-carved and wrapped custom mannikins. I had such a blast and it went by so quickly!

After leaving for the night, I grabbed some extra supplies from the store and then headed back to Zach's place. Once he finished work, we went to the Friendly Toast. It's a pretty cool restaurant, decorated in all kinds of old things but not in the way Applebee's is cheesy. Their wallpaper has Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Tom Swift books printed all over. All of their food is great (I've visited before) but I settled on some type of awesome boozy-minty-milkshake-y thing from the specials menu and a fish burrito.

The rest of the night was spent watching Master of None before I passed out HARD. If you're a fan of Aziz Ansari, it's a must-watch.

Mickey Alice Kwapis is a Chicago-based taxidermist and craftswoman.
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