Monthly Archives: July 2012

Different Perspectives

Moving from an eastern park to a southwestern park, I definitely anticipated a complete change of scenery and weather. Having previously visited Zion, Bryce, Arches and several other national parks in this area I had some idea of the terrain. What I hadn’t considered, and am discovering, is the different perspective visitors from western states might have on various topics.

 When discussing possible ideas for my evening program with my supervisor, he thought that it would be great to do a program on wilderness, but to be sure to include multiple points of view. So in prepping for my program, I did research other opinions about wilderness and ownership of federal lands. I like to be prepared in case of questions!After my supervisor came to my evening program, he commented the next morning that he had gone home and thought about wilderness all night! I laughed and commented that that is a sign of a good interpretive program! I had “provoked” him into thinking about his personal definition of wilderness! After discussing my program with him further, he encouraged me to add a little more about some of the local’s point of view. I did, while continuing to explain what the term designated wilderness means and how the park manages its wilderness areas. At my next program, I did indeed have someone whose idea of wilderness included the use of motorized vehicles such as off-road vehicles. By acknowledging his viewpoint, I could elaborate on the different land uses and thus different ways of managing the land to meet various needs. While this young man’s definition of wilderness is different from designated wilderness as defined in the Wilderness Act, it is his way of enjoying the outdoors and getting away from it all. By including his perspectives in my program, I can discuss other land uses in the vicinity that meet his needs while also elaborating on the need for designated wilderness to provide experiences for those who wish a more quiet and primitive atmosphere.

Likewise, in discussing the reintroduction of the California condor and the leading cause of mortality – lead poisoning from ingesting lead bullet fragments found in discarded carcasses – I have had to be sensitive to hunters. I have had hunters at my programs and have asked them to share with us. In prepping for my program about condors, I had the opportunity to meet with the director of the AZ reintroduction program who himself is a hunter.  He had some great stories to share about how conservation and hunting organizations can work together to preserve an amazing species.

Being in a desert climate in a canyon is completely different than being on the top of an Appalachian mountain ridge.  I have adapted some of my daily routines and have had many new experiences. Similarly, I continue to adapt my programs to allow for a wide variety of visitors’ perspectives. In an earlier posting Steve Dimse recommended seeing your site with fresh eyes. The same is true for your programs. Take a closer look at your audience. Is there another point of view? Have you researched all sides of a topic? Are you presenting all sides of a topic and allowing the visitor to form his/her own conclusions? Have fun exploring all perspectives and be “gutsy” in your programs. You may be surprised at the connections you make!

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Interpret your passion

When are little kids we start developing preferences, what flavors we like, what we don’t like, favorite colors, playing outside or inside, reading, singing, dancing, sports, etc.

As adults we are even more incline to our favorites food, places people and activities. Most people do not have a passion for their job, interpreters on the other hand are usually a different breed. We love what we do, talk to other people about what we like.

Sometimes interpreters forget what their passion is and think about work like “work”. If you have a true passion for interpretation and do what you love it will be a lot easier to translate that to very powerful programs with high energy by sharing that passion with your audience.

On my first year as interpreter I was trying to come up with a nature-based program that would sound interesting to visitors and that I could “share” my passion for remote control planes. A few days later at a local flying field one of my flying buddies brought a new “toy” and it automatically hit me, not literally but it was the answer to my question. After asking about the setup on his plane and a few technical questions I had my perfect program. “How can they fly?” I did not have a bald eagle at the time but this was perfect to show principles used on airplane design and construction and compare to them with their natural counterparts.

Remember to bring you passions and apply them every day into your programs.

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Writing Songs for your Interpretive Program

“Can we sing that again?”… and, “I didn’t know you was going to flip mode like that now”… were some of the reactions I received just after finishing my symbiotic relationships rap song during my Nature’s Relationships: Everything’s Connected guided hike program.

In this blog post, I want to share my approach to writing a custom song designed for your interpretive program. For me, the process usually takes several days, and usually follows these few simple steps:


1. Print out as much research as possible on the topic:

I know it may be wasteful to print off lots of paper, and that in this day and age files can be stored electronically… however, in this situation you are going to want hard copies that you can write on, mark-up, highlight, and spread out on the floor in order to find the content, rhyming words and “themes” that will fit together to make your song. Once you have all your research marked up and you feel like you have a good understanding of the content:


2. Play a beat (i.e. song without lyrics), on repeat

I tend to write rap songs for my interpretive programs – even though I’m not even a huge fan of rap music – and therefore choose a hip-hop beat to write my lyrics to. I choose rap songs because: they’re easier to write (all you have to do is rhyme words on beat) than other genres of music; I can’t play a guitar and sing simultaneously (if I could, I’d write other types of songs too); and because kids (of all ages) like them.

Note: even though it may get old, it is important to use the same beat for the entire process. Using different beats will cause you to draft lines of varying length and rhyme timing, which will not be consistent across the entire song and become apparent when you sing them.

Need a beat? YouTube: “Beats for Rapping”… this will pull up a selection of beats for you to experiment with and choose from. Here’s one:


3. Begin drafting “sets” of lyrics

While the beat is playing, begin crafting “sets” of lyrics that you can later compile together and rearrange into a song. It would be nearly impossible to try to start with the first line of a song and write the entire song, line for line until it is finished. Instead, craft segments – 4 bars of content that make sense, are relevant to the program, and sound good together – that can be put together during the next stage to make the song.

For example… here are two “sets” of bars from my Symbiosis rap song:

“They search for the pines that are not that strong,

Cuz they are old or something else is wrong,

Like… overcrowding or root disease,

Fire, lightning, and other injuries”


“Once the tree has been infested,

Pheromones are sent out that are detected,

It’s a smell bark beetles can’t resist,

And thousands more come real, real quick”


4. Begin Organizing Content

The two sets of bars above were written independently of each other and, during the Organizing Content stage, later joined together with the phrase:

“These are the trees that get attacked,

Because they are too weak and can’t fight back”

Once you organize your sets of lyrics and they are compiled together into a song, it is time to:


5. Finalize your Song

In order to finalize your song, play the beat that you created the song with and begin singing the song over and over again… speeding up or slowing down, or adding or subtracting content in order to make your rhyming words land on beat. Once you’ve done that… do it again and again until the song is finalized.

Of course, the steps listed above are just a few of the steps involved in the process. Other steps might include: determining the theme of your entire program before writing the song, finding the right beat, creating a catchy chorus that participants to sing along with, singing the song for a friend or colleague, and of course practicing your song until you have it memorized.


Hopefully this blog post will inspire someone to write a song for their interpretive program… one that will have their participants saying, “Can we sing that again?”

If you have some helpful hints for song writing, share them with others by leaving a comment below:

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Travel Budgets and Recognition

I really wanted to call this post “Free Money” which isn’t quite correct but it does get people’s attention.  Then, I decided that the title sounded like most of the things in my spam folder.  I’m pretty new to the whole idea of blogging (and I’m already late on this posting) so I’ll try to keep this simple. I’ve been submitting budgets for quite awhile now and there patterns that emerge when you submit one.  First, you submit what you feel is a reasonable budget with maybe a little padding somewhere and you’re told to cut the budget down to a level that will only provide for basic needs if your needs happen to be one number 2 pencil to share among your staff for an entire month.

Okay, it hasn’t ever been that bad, but there are areas where cuts routinely happen and one is in “training” or “professional development” or “travel” or whatever you call the money that allows you or your coworkers to attend a conference.  Because it is often seen as “non-essential”, travel money becomes a common place to cut and has been zeroed in budgets I’ve submitted at several jobs.  So, how do you deal with this?

First, arm yourself with justifications for your request.  During the budget process, talk about the benefits to your site of you going to a workshop.  NAI holds workshops, not annual meetings or conferences.  Make sure that if you have something to present, you submit it.  That’s good for you, your site and you peers that might learn something.  Now for my big pitch…

Apply for a Region Three scholarship!  I’m always amazed that we don’t get more applications for scholarships. The scholarship committee has several times in the past few years, had fewer applications than scholarships. Look on the Region Three website ( and you’ll see the applications for our current scholarship competitions. By the way, if you still can’t travel and like to give away money, join the scholarship committee and help us pick the worthy candidates.

The other area that seems to go underfunded is staff recognition.  So how about nominating a coworker or colleague for an award?  We get very few applications compared to the amount of great work I know is being done in this region.  Don’t be shy, let us know.  We give awards for members of Region 3 in three main categories: Outstanding New Interpreter (under five years service), Outstanding Interpreter, and Outstanding Contribution to Region 3.

I’m asking all of you to make the Scholarship and Awards committee more work but that’s why we signed up for this committee, so please, APPLY!  Your budget may be happy with you!


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