C.Kimberly Toms and photographer Nicholas Crawford explore the Virginia Living Museum in Hampton Roads.
As adults, we tend to become set in our ways. Many of the curiosities of youth fall by the wayside, leaving unanswered riddles and questions that plague us no more. We stop trying to find answers, as we have bills to pay, dogs to walk and children to rush off to school.
Can We Reignite Our Own Curiosity?
Roulez Media’s creative director Nicholas Crawford and I took a long photography walk down an isolated beach months ago, at the southern end of Virginia Beach and beyond the touristy area known as Sandbridge. There, Little Island State Park provides some of the most pristine beaches in the country for quiet enjoyment, completely untouched by human inhabitants and infrastructure.
On our walk, we came across little dried-up black pods with tendrils. When Nick asked me what they are, I told him I heard they are a seaweed pod of some sort. We both accepted my answer and moved on.
Then several weeks ago, we happened along the Living Museum of Virginia and learned that these pods are actually skate egg sacs, also referred to by locals as a “Mermaid’s purse.” I was surprised to know that each of these pods I have picked up and tossed aside once held living creatures.
This made me realize how far I have strayed from my roots as a biology major, to a point of accepting what I know and what I do not know. Has my curiosity in life died? To answer this question, Nicholas and I decided to dig into the Virginia Living Museum and find out more about where we live and work.
A Museum for All Virginia Creatures Great and Small
When I first heard about the Virginia Living Museum, I feared we were headed into a kids’ petting zoo. But both Nicholas and I gasped as we turned the wooded corner into this Newport News treasure. We suddenly found ourselves off the main road and out of city hub-bub, in a lush niche of green into which an unimposing structure is nicely tucked.
I could only say, “I had no idea this place existed!” The museum is so neatly placed that you do not really notice it from the main boulevard, until you seek it out.
Your second thought, besides the inquisitive one of how you missed this place in the past, is one of, “I hope this is not just another children’s museum?” You are, after all, an adult. I am an adult and can honestly say I do not want to spend my days off hanging around where children run, scream and touch everything in sight. I typically like quiet days off enjoying nature of a no-legged sort or, at the very most, of a grown-up two legged sort, like maybe for a social connection.
In the Virginia Living Museum, the VLM, you find exhibits dedicated to five key aspects of Virginia’s natural realm. These include animals, plants, geology, the cosmos and sustainable living. All creatures great and small, in a fashion that would make James Herriot proud. But here, instead of reading of moors and animals with flop-bott, you walk through a range of habitats and see contented and healthy creatures of many kinds.
Let’s wander a bit, shall we? Nicholas – with his camera always in hand – and I took a tour of the Virginia Living Museum with the VLM’s marketing director, Judy Triska.
All Things Wet and Wonderful
Within the interior of the VLM’s main building, we found ourselves staring into massive aquariums of sharks, crabs and other sea life, as much as we peered into every small encasement for signs of snakes, lizards, frogs and other creatures living in Virginia’s wetlands, woods, rivers, lakes and seas. It was a pleasant foray into all things wet and wonderful and living within the state.
It was a Friday morning during a new school year. While the galleries of aquariums occasionally featured a couple of stroller moms with their young, we were not overwhelmed by screaming children you typically expect to see running laps around the tanks, pressing faces to the glass. Instead, the Living Museum enabled a nice, introspective stroll from exhibit to exhibit. Of course, one must expect differently during summer or Saturdays. But this day, when everyone else seemed engaged at work or school, the atmosphere proved peaceful like an art museum.
Later, as we moved downstairs and through other exhibits, we learned why we so easily found quiet among the living creatures. The VLM has included into their floorplan several interactive rooms that prove magnetic to little biologists-to-be. These rooms literally teem with children, all engaged in thoughtful activities.
The balance between adult enjoyment and occupation of even the tiniest of children is fantastic. I could actually see enjoying another visit for a first or second date, either during a work day or for some of the museum’s evening events. It sure would beat the stiff routine of going to a restaurant or pub, where the noise always seems to drown out any potential for interest. Besides, would I ever want to spend time with someone long term, who could not embrace my outdoorsy side? Yes – the Virginia Living Museum offers some grown-up potential, despite tiny tots running in circles around the moms who sit huddled in circles of strollers and Starbucks coffees.
Each Little Flower that Opens, Each Little Bird that Sings
Outdoors, behind the museum’s main building, you enter another world of wildlife. This part of the museum is a series of elevated boardwalks, providing a bird’s eye view into animal habitats. Here, you find foxes, wolves, otters, beavers and birds.
Not a zoo, the VLM bills itself as an open-air museum. They provide an educational realm for people to see many of Virginia’s native animals. But most of these creatures find their way here after difficulty in the wild. Still, they are not broken and bandaged. The vast majority have no discernible signs of issues and seem happily engaged within their own little kingdoms, beneath the boardwalk gazes.
One of the best aspects of the Virginia Living Museum is its outdoor walkways. You wind your way through habitats, into an aviary and out again. The boards lead you into the Living Green House exhibit I found pretty interesting, a self-sustaining tiny house 100 percent powered by nature. You also amble through dinosaur replicas and a geology park, an area where kids certainly seem magnetically drawn.
Another wonderful grown-up facet of the VLM is its plant life. Not only can you learn about native plants that thrive in the Commonwealth, but you can use these exhibits to plan your own landscaping or garden. Grounds feature fantastic shade trees, evergreens, flowering bushes, small mammal sheltering plants and attractors of butterflies, hummingbirds and feathered species of all kinds. In April and September, you can even benefit the museum by buying nursery-propagated native plants for your own home, lawn and garden.
Reignite Your Inquisitive Nature at the Virginia Living Museum
After leaving the Virginia Living Museum, I feel much closer to the lands and waters around me. I better understand the wildlife, plants and landscapes here, not to mention what lives beneath our waves. As an adult, I see that – while the VLM offers so much for kids and families to do – this museum is one highly enjoyable and educational as an adult.
When in Hampton Roads of Virginia, venture into the Virginia Living Museum, even if to escape an office workday. In the process, you can reignite the inquisitive nature of your mind, that one so many of us allow to dim as we amble through our 9-to-5 lives.
The Virginia Living Museum is located in Newport News, Virginia.