While in the Race to the End of the Earth exhibit, I never paid much attention to the pre-recorded soundtrack that looped through the gallery. Ambient and atmospheric, the sounds of blowing wind, growling mammals, cawing birds and cracking ice seemed natural. Little did I know how easily those seemingly innocent sounds could turn into deafening noises, and become the culprits for a terror-filled night at the Royal BC Museum.
I began volunteering at the museum in May, 2013 as a gallery docent in the Race exhibit. Once a week, I imparted my knowledge of Antarctica, penguins, and twentieth century explorers with visitors from all over the world. When I was asked to take part in Night at the Museum, a sleepover program for families, I couldn’t be happier. What a fun chance to share my love of museums with others while fulfilling a lifelong dream to wander the halls after dark.
The noise of the night was just what you’d expect: the sounds of raucous kids playing tag in Clifford Carl Hall, the exasperated sighs of parents lugging enough camping equipment to sustain life for months up to the second floor, happy shouts during a penguin racing game, and soft sobbing during the end of the IMAX showing of Shackleton.
With all participants tucked in their sleeping bags throughout the gallery, it was time for me to finally find a place to rest. After a full evening of exploration-themed activities, I was feeling hearty and well deserving of a good night’s sleep. In the dark, I quietly unrolled my sleeping bag next to the replica of Scott’s Cape Evans hut. Expecting to fall asleep immediately, I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag for what felt like hours. The sounds, which I never gave any serious thought about during the day, were now invading my ear drums. “Stop complaining,” I thought. Scott and his crew endured the real Antarctica, and chances are it wasn’t the sounds of simulated waves crashing that kept them up at night. But it seemed with every loop the soundtrack got louder. It was no longer atmospheric background noise, but the sound of real ice breaking away and shattering into the ocean. The seals barking and growling were no longer in the distance, but moving closer and closer. The birds flying overhead were now swooping down towards my head, cruelly laughing at my inability to stop listening.
I couldn’t bear it any longer. In my exhausted state, I packed up my belongings and just like Scott and his faithful four, I set out on a journey for a location few had found but many had coveted. Not for Queen and Country, but in the name of sleep.
I scurried past the snarling mammoth, thinking the forest would be my salvation: how much noise can fake trees make? The creek gently trickling was indeed a much welcomed sound and I curled up next to the rainforest stream. Within seconds my peaceful solitude was interrupted with the sounds of every creature in the forest and sea diorama coming to announce my arrival. The rustling of my sleeping bag echoed throughout the gallery, the gentle stream turned into shrieking waves and glowing yellow eyes peered at me through the darkness. Birds called at me, the sea lion roared, and the wind cried through the trees. In my deprived state, I knew no matter how unpleasant the forest may be, I wouldn’t survive a journey through the hallway of shadowy terrors (also known as the invasive species display), nor could I cross the path of the mammoth I could hear trumpeting in the distance. In the dark, sleeping bag in hand, I was paralyzed in front of a wall of sound.
No time to think, I hurried out of the forest, down the hall, and nearly missed the charging mammoth. I tripped, triumphantly, on an out turned stool only to stumble into the silence that was the second floor foyer. Safe, but exhausted, I retreated back to Antarctica. I reclaimed my spot by the hut and accepted the sound of icy waves as they engulfed me. Like the mighty explorers before me the cold took over me, I closed my eyes, and began to feel myself finally fall asleep. Suddenly, somewhere in the gallery a sharp noise cut through my icy nap and invaded my ear drums once again. A sound, not terrifying, but so offensive it made my head ache. A snore so loud, so full-bodied, it sounded as though the mammoth had followed me into the gallery. It wasn’t too long before I identified the noise as a fellow adventurer, passed out somewhere near Amundsen’s victory tent. While I lay awake, lamenting my loss, I realized whether mighty adventurer or overnight volunteer, preparation is necessary. Next time I trek out into the vast auditory wilderness of the museum, I will remember to bring ear plugs.