A Proper Response

Hey there every peoples!
I know I said I was quitting The Grand Vision for good, but I was weak. My depression got the better of me, but thanks to the support of my parents, my therapist, Meredith Riven, Traumador (everyone’s favorite stuffed theropod), and even Mrs. Olson herself, I have come back into the fold.

You may remember my little piece about the fossil whale brains found here in SLO County. Well it seems it got a response from Peaches Olson (the woman whose daughter was in the accident and sister of the woman who found the fossil). I have now come up with a proper response.

Although, I understand your wish for these rare finds to reside in their “home land” and in a museum of their own……….you have two problems. We do not have anyone qualified to study the calliber of these fossils and WHO is going to FUND this kind of Museum?

First off, this woman is not a paleontologist, so I shouldn’t expect her to understand how the science works. Paleontologists do a lot of traveling. No matter how big a museum’s collection is they don’t have everything. Paleontologists often have to travel to multiple museums for the specimens they use in their research. So obviously scientists could come to our museum to study the brains. In fact I think the Central Coast is an optimal place for a museum. Berkeley and Los Angeles, two world renowned museums, are each 4 hours away. That’s well within arm’s reach compared to some other museums they’d have to go to. What is more, because we would be between these two hubs, it would be easier for paleontologists to visit our collections in one fell swoop (start at Berkeley and go south and vice versa). Even if we wouldn’t have someone qualified, they could easily come to us.
And I’d find a way to fund it. It may not be easy, but I’d find a way. I’ll have a bake sale, I’ll get two jobs, I’ll get a loan, I’ll apply for grants, I’ll set up a donation stall at Farmer’s Market, I’ll sell a kidney, I’ll rob a bank, I’ll black mail a rich person. Whatever it takes, I’ll find a way (although I’m obviously kidding about some of those). And if we had such a rare and valuable fossil we could use to garner attention and support.

Although, I appreciate your passion for our past history, I need to emphasize how little credit or notice the central coast gave us of our finds…..Only until, the LA Museum of Natural History, were we even able to get anywhere. This is also true for the McGilvray Brain as well.

All the more reason the Central Coast could use a museum.

Most people who are in our shoes can not afford to go to these facilities for 3 weeks of their lives and with their loved ones who also miss work. We began to think, what are the odds of this spectacular find of a fossilized whale brain providing for a neuro center to help people regain their lives.? What is wrong with giving people a chance of possibilities, they thought would never happen.

Too true. Well I remember reading that the ideal situation is that someone buys the fossil and donates it to a museum. Who knows how long it could take to sell. What if I got an organization up that the fossil could be donated to? Again, we could use such a rare and important find.

here is an article coming out in the Naturalist and National Geographic. Reading about these great finds and their historical studies is often HOW we learn…..it’s OK that they do not reside right here.

She’s right. I mean, Los Angeles has a a museum for it’s fossils. As does San Bernardino County. Barstow’s “Miocene Motherland” has that museum and the Raymond Alf Museum. San Diego fossils have a home right in Balboa Park. A great deal of Montana’s and Utah’s dinosaurian wealth are nestled in their native range. As are the fossils of New Mexico, Oregon, and northern California. Orange County has the Cooper Center to salvage and preserve their rich paleontological and archaeological past. The tar pits, Diamond Valley, and the Fairmead Landfill all have museums built on site to house their spectacular finds. Nebraska and Florida, two of the best states for Cenozoic fossils, both have committed museums of their own. And don’t forget the Royal Tyrrell Museum. I mean really, why should the Central Coast have one? It’s not like there are any fossil whale brains, butchered mastodons, remains of ice age megafauna, a Miocene version of the Serengeti, the denizens of a sub-tropical rainforest, the transition into open landscapes, a unique island fauna, or dozens and dozens of marine organisms from around here. Nope, nothing that needs an outlet of its own (ok there is the museum in Santa Barbara, but they don’t have much in the way of Central Coast fossils. I would try to realize my dream through them, but they seem happy doing what they are doing and probably don’t what to get caught up in my ambitious delusions).

Why do all those other fossils get to stay in their native lands while ours don’t? I don’t get it. But Meredith Riven of the Cooper Center suggests one possibility:

Another issue is the curatorial crisis – all museums are out of space. LACM, UCMP, SDNHM all have issues finding room for more collections. So at least we can help with some of that. Of course, we are out of space too but since we didn’t start with much at least we have room to grow. Funding that is the next challenge.

See, another reason my museum could be of use. I know museums like to brag about their vast collections, but when does it get too big to manage? Some of these large museums have had new species named from their fossils because they just sat around for 50, 75, even 100 years but because they were “lost” amongst such vast collections they just gathered dust until someone came along. If we were able to bring the fossils of the Central Coast back home, the big museums (Berkeley and Los Angeles) would have some room freed up for their current and future collecting activities. And as noted above, they would still be a relatively short distance away. It’s not like I’m trying to relocate them across the country.

Might I suggest that you volunteer at a Museum or that you further your career in one of these arenas of study?
The archeology at Cal Poly could use a little help……you could start there.

I have tried that. Santa Barbara doesn’t have an active paleontology program. I tried talking to folks at the LA Museum. But apparently I can’t go down for one weekend a month and volunteer there. I have tried going on their field trips to Red Rock Canyon, but those don’t really do much in the way of actually exercising my passion. I mean, yeah I found a fossil, but i couldn’t partake in digging it out or jacketing it, even though I have read about the process all my life, watched countless videos about it, and even practiced it on cow bones in my backyard. Plus, i never really felt like i fit in there. I tried to mingle with the people and the scientists, but i just never felt accepted. Unlike so many of the people there, I haven’t this trip year after year after year (some of the younger folk there are even going to college, or plan to, to pursue a career in paleontology.) so i don’t know many people. I just felt like that weird, stupid, bumbling kid who all the other kids in class just put up with because they are forced to be in proximity to each other. I have done that and trips with the San Bernardino County Museum. But it’s never anything substantive, just pay them and go on a little field trip, nothing like what volunteers and scientists get to do.

I have tried talking to a paleontologist at the LA museum about trying to access their Central Coast material so that i might try to publish a paper on some of it. I thought this would help me get into a university, get to exercise my passion for paleontology, learn more about my home region’s rich fossil record, and share that information with the world. But nope, it got shot down. Apparently community college students don’t count in the grand scheme of things. I have a learning disability and have always struggled with school. God knows if I’ll be able to even get into a university, let alone survive one. All the while i get to sit back and read day in and day out about people going out into the field, finding, and working with fossils. I even read about small museums who managed to create successful paleontology programs but apparently they got something i don’t. I have tried desperately to get off the sidelines but my efforts have for the most part been futile (cause who wants to help a failure like me pursue a career). I am nothing more than a fossil fanboy. I don’t find any fossils, I don’t publish any papers, I don’t volunteer, I don’t teach people about paleontology. I am a ghost in the paleontology community.

People keep telling me that I should to be a teacher. Well i thought with this museum idea of mine, i could not only go into the field and build a collection of fossils, but also share them with the community, teaching people about the science of paleontology, the fossil history of the Central Coast, and the world beyond. It sounds unrealistic, but again Meredith Riven shines some light:

Anything is possible. If brains can fossilize, you can be a paleontologist

The Museum of the Rockies started off with only 3 dinosaur fossils and now they house the largest collection of United States dinosaur fossils known. The little Burpee Museum in Rockford, Illinois was just another small, unknown local museum and now they have a successful paleontology program going. Xiaoming Wang didn’t think there were any fossils in the cliffs above our campground at Red Rock Canyon and yet I managed to find bone fragments up there. And yes, fossilized whale brains. So don’t say something is unrealistic.

The Grand Vision may sound unrealistic, but I’m only 23 (closing in on 24), so who knows what I can pull off in the next 5, 10, 20 years? The Marmarth Research Foundation managed to garner enough funds to build a field laboratory for fossil prep and curation. Marmarth is out in the middle of nowhere. San Luis Obispo County is a well populated, well traveled spot in the most populous state in the country. Who in the world could predict who may show up in support of such a project? Only time will tell.

So I’m back in the game loyal readers. It’s time to stop moping and focus that energy instead on working to bring the Grand Vision to life!

Till next time!

One thought on “A Proper Response

  1. One idea you could do is start a foundation and raise funds and spread awareness about the fossils of Central California. If people knew more about the types of fossils present in their part of the country, they would be more interested in building a museum for housing these finds, and perhaps be more supportive of the idea that Central California fossil finds stay in California. Also, starting a foundation means that people have an non-profit organization that they can donate fossil too, rather than an individual. Worst case scenario, if the whole thing goes under (again, in a worst case scenario), then there is a large collection of fossils available that can be donated to a museum from the Central California area for scientific study and whatnot. Best case scenario, you raise awareness about the fossil resources of Central California and increase the desire of the local public to have a museum built in their part of California.

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