Monthly Archives: August 2013

Interpretation in the rain

How is your site affected when the weather turns gloomy?

Falls - Dupont State Forest

Waterfalls can be at their best during rainy years. What’s your favorite “silver lining” to above-average rainfall? (Photo: Dupont State Forest, North Carolina)

Here in the mountains of North Carolina, 2013 has been a soggy one…to date we are 24 inches ahead of our normal rainfall. It seems there hasn’t been a sunny day in the forecast for weeks. While attendance may be up at indoor museums and exhibits, campgrounds, outdoor interpretive sites and public lands may see a downturn in casual visitors. How can we, as interpreters, draw folks out to our programs and activities despite the drizzle?

Rather than attempt to answer this question, I’ve listed some ideas below. Which do YOU find yourself using the most?

  1. Advertise! Get the word out that programs are still going on – many folks seem to have the mindset that everything is cancelled on the first sign of clouds. Make it clear in your program promotion what the contingency plan is if it rains.
  2. Special offerings – if you’re flexible, perhaps you can offer some special programs on the importance of rain to your area. Highlight natural occurrences that will be especially visible in the rain or during a very wet year – mushrooms? Shifting habitats for certain creatures? Engage school groups in citizen science monitoring to measure rainfall or infiltration. The cloudy sky’s the limit!
  3. Teachable moments – along the same lines as number two, what can you do to point out interesting features that the rain brings to the forefront to visitors? How about placing a roving interpreter near a creek that’s out of its banks, or near the site of a lightning-caused forest fire from a previous year to explain the role fire plays in the ecosystem?
  4. Get indoors! – Take advantage of the wet weather if you have indoor activities and exhibits, as folks may be flocking your way with their families.

Catching up on planning and other “behind-the-scenes” tasks can be great for the occasional rainy day – but when that rainy day turns into a rainy year, it’s time to break out the umbrellas and get creative!

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Unleash Your Inner Book-worm!

Be inspired by the written word!

Whether it’s a need to recharge your interpretive batteries at the end of another busy season or a need to escape into the solitude of a relaxing, rainy afternoon, curl up with a modern-day “classic”. Winner of the 2013 Reed Environmental Writing Award, the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist for general non fiction, The Forest Unseen, is a must read for every interpreter!

The Forest Unseen provides a rich view, through a hand-lens of consciousness, where meditative senses reveal intricate relationships within nature. By exploring one meter of old growth forest, a calendar year’s periodic observations come to life in millennia of natural selection’s evolutionary connections. Haskell’s specimen, akin to a Buddhist’s mandala, unravels scientific mysteries in biodiversity’s wonders. Like the great naturalists before him- Carson, Emerson, Leopold, Mills, Muir, and Thoreau- he blends history and economics, philosophy and religion, and science and culture, into illustrative prose rich with analogies and metaphors. Organized by date, the book traipses through seasonal changes within the mandala’s ecosystem yet throughout its timeline, ecological and evolutionary tenets perpetuate the holistic approach to a naturalistic investigation. From Kepler and Lao Tzu to Darwin and Lorenz; from Leopold and Linnaeus to Jefferson and Lewis and Clark, audiences as vast and as diverse as our evolutionary tree will connect with the revelations of “a year’s watch in nature.”

As the meter’s mandala metaphor implies, a holistic interconnectedness weaves plant physiology, communication, and dispersal mechanics; social constructs, predator- prey relations, and symbiotic marriage; and energy, arrangement, and values into a fascinating journey through complex labyrinths about humans’ affiliation with nature, the biophilia hypothesis, and our species’ egocentric unseeing eye. Haskell’s intimacy with the mandala flourishes within each layer of life. Chemical bonds are broken as individual sand and shale grains separate by transecting fungal hypha rescuing minerals for vascular neighbors. Slope erosion is controlled and air is purified by moss’s microscopic meniscus. Microbes survive oxygenated environs and thrive within anoxic herbivore rumens. Individuality is lost as mitochondria evolve inside into horsepower. And, cooperative farming ventures form unions between algae, bacteria, and fungus on lichen landscapes. Even seasonal adaptations within the mandala, typically escaping human consciousness, create an epic saga within botanical, cellular confines. Haskell portrays these invisibilities as “the engines of decay, keeping nutrients and energy moving through the forest ecosystem” and reminding readers that “unseen does not mean unimportant” (136).

The quest continues with a glimpse into arachnid behavior of blood thirsty ticks. Millions of survivors whisper their secrets within the mandala as natural selection greets mankind’s unnatural manipulation of time intruding on the slow progression of genetic history. The most unobtrusive of daily activity alters nature’s odyssey. Sunflower seed offered as a backyard banquet means less migration for birds of prey. Consumptive behaviors drive short-sighted economic markets expressing utilitarian values diminishing moral fortitude and ethical balance. Science imposes rigid frames on a thriving, changing world sometimes separating self from science and sterilizing society from splendid synergy. By tuning into our genetic code, our evolutionary heritage, and our surviving prodigy, the simple truth of science, self, and the sacred are revealed. Just as Haskell compares a tick to the Knight’s quest for the Holy Grail, so too does he impart the importance of returning to our roots embedded within Wilson’s (1984) learned rules of biophilia and Kellert’s (1996) human values relating to nature.

Ironically, in our emancipated culture, focus rarely falls on the confines within the whole, but Haskell nurtures a moral call to action by saturating our sense of fragile stability into his description of ecological efficiency. Sustainability feeds every layer of life as minerals, nutrients, and energy weave throughout the mandala of our lives. Nematodes beget new discoveries as morning sunflecks illuminate a shadowy future. Haskell’s hopefulness encourages quiet contemplation by inviting sensory stimulation and thought-provoking presence in nature as we rediscover ourselves, our environment, and our heritage.

So, if after visiting Haskell’s mandala, the book-worm within still hungers for the written word, join NAI’s Book Club: contact Emily Jacobs at for upcoming texts and discussion gatherings. Better still- suggest regionally specific “must reads” by commenting on this blog!

Happy Reading!

David George Haskell. (2012). The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature. New York, NY: Viking. 268 pp. ISBN 978-0-670-02337-0.

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