Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Change is the only constant

When I first started in the field of Interpretation, 1992 in Cleveland Metroparks, I discovered an amazing new way of gathering information.  The internet ("Cleveland Freenet", at the time) provided me with lyrics and background on a song I had been searching for.  One response came from Texas, another from New Hampshire, and I was so excited that I could hardly contain myself!  Now, I can do this same thing on my phone, and download a copy of the song as well.

Sure, this may not seem like a big deal, and I take these things for granted most of the time.  It has been interesting to jump back and forth between the 19th and 21st century this summer, and try to not let the time periods collide.   But collisions are inevitable, and we can only approach "living history", never really to reach it.

In the bigger picture, however, there is an overarching theme we all interpret.  Things change. Whether it is the slow geologic change in landforms and rocks, the incremental evolution of living things, or the seasonal changes of creatures striving to survive, they are all fodder for our storytelling. Time is one unstoppable force, and marches on whether we like it or not.  Sometimes it is welcomed, sometimes fiercely resisted, but ever moving to sweep away the old, and make way for the new.  It is the very essence of virtually every story we tell.

Today will be a big change for me, as it will be the last day I will call myself a Hocking College employee.  For over 18 years, this place has become a part of who I am.  Hocking has changed me, and I have changed it, I think.  Every student, co worker, trip, trail, building, etc. has left an impression.  And while I spend a good deal of time looking back (as an Historical Interpreter),  the only way to personally deal with change is with a forward vision.  Personally, I don't believe in any grand design, or fated destination.  We make our future out of the present that is dealt to us.  And, for an Interpreter, it sure makes for some great stories!

Stay tuned..........

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tilden revisited

Years ago, in our fervor to cut costs for students, it was decided that Interpreting Our Heritage by Freeman Tilden was no longer needed as a required textbook for Interpretive Methods class (now called "Interpretive Guide Techniques").  The book was originally written in 1957, and never intended as a textbook.  The examples presented are a bit dated, and the photographs are amusing and quaint.  They hearken to a time before the computer, internet, cable television, smart phones (or cell phones of any kind), and immediate gratification.

While we still use the 6 "Principles of Interpretation" outlined in the book, and students are required to at least recognize them, the words of Mr. Tilden have been paraphrased, updated, modified, and expounded upon.   The class is offered to students from many different programs, and the meanings have different significance for an NR Law student aspiring to be a Park Ranger, and an Ecotourism student wishing to own a dive shop.  Perhaps the exposure to the ideas is more important than the original intent.   In my own way, I have come to understand the application of the principles as they relate to my interests and experiences, and taught them filtered through that lens.

For those of you who aspire to inspire, however, there is nothing like the original writings of Freeman Tilden.  His observations of good and bad techniques are timeless, and his reference to classic literature and other authors is moving.  Interpreting Our Heritage is a book that every interpreter should re-read on a regular basis.

Straight up.


Like the childrens' "telephone game", the original message may get lost along the way. Go to the source, and find out what has inspired interpreters for several generations, and why the name "Tilden" is still spoken with reverence within our circles.  It is a great way to recharge, and to place your work in a context that will inspire you, and hopefully your audiences.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Keep Looking Up!

Just a quick note to encourage everyone to view the night skies this week.

Tomorrow morning (just before dawn) is the peak of the Orionid Meteor Shower, which presents a light show based on the earth passing through the remnant leftovers of Haley's Comet.  Like an automobile passing through a cloud of insects, our "windshield" of the earth's atmosphere gets hit the most when it is moving directly through the objects.  This occurs just before sunrise, as we turn toward the same direction as the planet is moving in orbit.  If that doesn't make sense, check out the NASA website for more information.

Also this week, on Thursday afternoon, the new moon will partially eclipse the sun, right around sunset.  While you should NEVER look directly at the sun, you should be able to observe some funky shadows, or even create a pinhole viewer that will allow you to safely watch the sun turn into a crescent shape, as the moon takes a "bite" out of its spherical shape.

As Interpreters, we have so many stages to choose from, and some of those occur when our planet is facing away from the sun.  While a frightening time for many, night affords so much more than the mythology of ghosts and spirits.  Reality is much cooler!!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Keepers of the Fire


Sorry this has taken a while, but the last few weeks at Robbins Crossing have been a bit overwhelming!

As we welcome all kinds of visitors to the village on campus, I find myself answering the question (as I have for the past 30+ years) "what is an Interpreter?"

While I have the usual short, concise answer, it is helpful occasionally to step back and look at the bigger picture.  Not only does it focus attention on the task at hand (creating signage, planning programs, engaging visitors) but it also helps to recharge the batteries.  To realize that we are part of a tradition that pre-dates the terminology and professional designations, and that grows ever more necessary as we wade into the future.

The Potawatomi People of the Great Lakes region were known as the "Keepers of the Fire" among the Council of Three Peoples (which also included the Ottowa and Ojibway Nations).  While I may be unclear as to the literal meaning, to me the "fire" is an eternally burning reminder of our shared experiences as humans, and of the lives and stories that have come before.  As a storyteller, I once kept a small pouch with ashes from every campfire I told stories at, and placed ashes from the pouch into every fire I stood in front of.  This was my way of maintaining the chain of tradition that was important to me.

Interpreters are the "Keepers of the Fire" within our culture, as we strive to connect people with natural and cultural heritage.  We have inherited the privilege of carrying the flame forward.  In the words of Enos Mills- "May the tribe increase", (from Adventures of a Nature Guide, 1920)

Check out the NAI video of Interpreters from around the world illuminating their vision of the profession, click here.