After we visited Palouse Falls in the morning, our second adventure on our Eastern Washington list was to visit WSU in Pullman, WA. This is where Sylvan spent his childhood, both on and around campus. We wanted to see how much had changed since he was there last and we were excited to visit the handful of museums on the WSU campus.
Our first drive through was a trip down memory lane where we visited his childhood home and neighborhood. The space hadn’t changed much but the size of the neighborhood had, at least in Sylvan’s eyes. Seeing parks, street curves, and steep hills that were once huge, fun, and thrilling, now seemed normal, and almost non-existent in the sense of size. Ahh, the joys of having eyes of a wonder child. Revisiting the past brought a lot of really fun stories to the present and I got to hear about bicycle accidents, adventures in the park, neighborhood friends, zooming down hills, faerie gardens, and visiting the creamery on the WSU campus.
After a stop for coffee, campus maps, and a stroll around the downtown area, we headed up the hill to start exploring the campus. It was huge and beautiful, with a lot of traditional buildings and stone work. The campus seemed so much bigger than Oregon State. (I googled the two schools when we got home and found out that the two university populations are close in numbers but the WSU campus sits on 640 acres of space where as the OSU campus covers 400 acres. I think the difference is definitely noticeable.)
We visited the museum of Anthropology, which was quite small but had some unique collections of Native American artifacts and interesting historical accounts. Our next stop was the Charles R. Conner Museum of Natural History. This collection exhibits more than 700 mounts of birds and mammals, and possesses more than 65,000 research specimen. We were in awe of all the mounts, running around like two kids in a sweets shop. My favorite display was the huge bird collection, with so many diverse and colorful displays. They ranged from tiny hummingbirds perched on a branch, to large pelicans and flamingos taking on a typical stance.
We ventured on to the Museum of Art which which exhibited a modern style. The space is beautiful, with tall ceilings and large gallery spaces. It seems as though the students have free range on most of the interior space for their installations, as each wall was covered in one art form or another. The ceilings were covered in multi-colored strings forming geometric triangles and 3D objects. I’m guessing it was a student project of sorts, as it was everywhere, including the restrooms. It was actually kind of magical to be surrounded by the geometry and color, as it almost put you in the perspective of an insect in a massive spider web.
Our last museum stop was the Marion Ownbey Herbarium. It was extremely hard to find, and when we did finally see a door that stated it was possibly a herbarium, it seemed more like a hall closet door or a storage entrance. As we entered the space, we were surprised to see a huge room with row after sliding row of filed plant specimens. It was a collection of nearly 400,000 vascular and nonvascular plants and lichens. We didn’t really know what to expect or what to do since it wasn’t your typical museum, but we were quickly greeted by the assistant curator, Mare Nazaire, a PhD research student with a love for Alpine Flora. She was such an amazing wealth of information and I am so glad we had the opportunity to commune with her! We learned all about the Herbarium, its history, WSU’s relationship with the OSU Herbarium collection, and some of Mare’s own interests in botany and art.
The Herbarium includes plants from around the world, although those of the Pacific Northwest, Northern Rocky Mountains, Great Basin, and California form the majority of the collection. You can take a look at their extensive online database and more interesting plant and botanical info here. We had a peek at the lichen collection, which included thousands of specimens dating all the way back to the 1800s! It was so amazing to unfold the little paper envelopes to find a preserved piece of the past. She talked about how all of these specimen plates teach us so much about history, including changes in growth cycles and seasons, changes in environment, and how pollution has affected our living systems.
Mare had never experienced anyone coming to the Herbarium for anything but research reasons, let alone non-students visiting for pure pleasure. It was surprising to hear, but also sort of made sense, seeing that it took us quite a bit of investigative searching and peeking into unknown rooms. I hope that more people look into visiting the Herbarium. It was unlike anything I have ever seen or experienced and I am so happy that we didn’t give up searching for this secret treasure!
After we talked with Mare for a spell, she invited us to stay and check out their personal botany library in the back corner of the space. It consisted of two narrow reading nooks, both lined top to bottom with books, new and old. We sat for a bit and read our favorite finds and took note of books we would love to come across another time.
We concluded our campus trip with some delicious ice cream, made right there at the WSU Creamery, one of Sylvan’s memorable childhood treats. As we enjoyed our two scoops, we watched the student workers through the creamery viewing window as they cleaned and prepped the machines. After ice cream, we headed to the lookout on campus and took a walk up to the Jewett Observatory. Sadly, it was closed for the day but we were still able to steal some beautiful views of the Palouse Hills from the top!
We made a pit stop at Brused Books to buy a few reading delights and rounded out our Pullman experience with a brew from Paradise Creek Brewery, which has taken over the beautiful, historic Post Office, a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.