As we left Portland , I suggested we make a run for home. Michele suggested wine tasting in the Willamette Valley and then sweetened the deal by mentioning that the town of McMinnville was home to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. I had never heard of the Evergreen Museum but I love airplanes and was immediately sold.
To back up a little, I went to Washington in 1976 to see the newly reopened Smithsonian. I had been there a couple of years earlier but most of the Smithsonian had been shut down for a major remodel to celebrate our 200 year anniversary. After my first visit, my two favorite museums were The National Portrait Gallery and the Corcoran Craft Museum and I assumed that, once they were opened, the bigger, more famous Smithsonian galleries would be much better. They weren’t and I was very disappointed. At the time, I didn’t know why.
Maybe three of four years later – maybe ten, but later – I read a column by Stephen J. Gould that explained everything. I don’t remember if I fell in love with Gould’s column, This View of Life and then subscribed to Natural History Magazine to get them or the other way around, but, either way, I subscribed to Natural History and anxiously awaited each month’s Stephen J. Gould column. Gould wrote about evolution and I was deeply involved in trying to understand it.
As an aside, I never did understand Darwinian evolution and still have grave doubts about it. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the fossil record, the facts of change, and the fact of change. I believe the earth is about 4.5 billion years old. What I don’t understand is the how of evolution and Darwinian Evolutionary Theory doesn’t satisfy me. Survival of the fittest seems to be a tautology explaining nothing; how do we know they were the fittest? because they survived! What is left unexplained is how everything, including Homo sapiens, evolves against the Second Law of Thermodynamics which says that everything moves towards equilibrium. The evolution of the universe is away from equilibrium. The Big Bang Theory – I think the Great Unfolding is a better name – says that the Universe went from nothing to a plasma of subatomic particles, to simple atoms, to molecules. Many of those molecules evolved into cells – life – and increasingly more complicated plants and animals. Eventually, those cells evolved into flatworms, and sharks, and frogs, and monkeys, and, eventually, us. That is a constant direction away from equilibrium. End aside.
Back at Gould’s column, he wrote about how museums have gone from being depositories of organized stuff, to teaching about the stuff. The example he gave was of a museum that had a display of beatles. They had several cases of hundreds of beetles carefully laid out and a sign that said something like A sampling of the many beetle species beetles found within fifty miles of this museum. The new display shows several beetles and a large plastic model showing the different parts of the beetle and how the beetles have hard wings that act as covers over their delicate flying wings. Gould liked the first display better and thought it gave more information especially showing the wild variation and number of different kinds of beetles (there are more different beetles than any other kind of insect and more different insects than all other animals, leading the British biologist J.B.S. Haldane to say to a group of theologians, when asked about God, He must have had an inordinate fondness for beetles).
I am with Gould on this one, I like the old museums, that featured collections of stuff, much better than the new museums and the remodeled Smithsonian is a new type of museum. One of the things I was especially interested in on my return visit to Washington was the Smithsonian Railroad Collection that I had heard about. But – when I was there, I hope it has changed – there were only two engines, beautifully restored but, come on, only two engines! The Evergreen Museum is old school with airplanes jammed everywhere.
Great planes, famous planes, most of which I haven’t seen before. There are German and British planes of the kind that fought in the Battle of Britain, the Supermarine Spitfire and the Messerschmitt Bf 109,
and there is the ultimate WWII fighter, the mighty Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe which was the world’s first operational jet with a top speed of 530 mph. I was surprised to read that the Germans actually built 1,430 of these planes but there are not many left and this is actually a recreation (accurate enough so that the factory gave it an authorized serial number).
behind that is a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter in NASA livery.
There are even drones, featuring a Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, unironically posed above us with a backdrop of an American flag.
In short, this is the kind of old timey museum that the visitor can spend days wandering around. And when you get tired of airplanes, you can go wine tasting at one of the sixty – or so – nearby wineries.