Monthly Archives: May 2014

Interpreting with Instagram?

Cindy Carpenter

I’m surprised at myself. After resisting for years, I have entered the world of social media. This happened just after I entered the world of smartphones in January. This non-digital-native figured it was about time I experienced firsthand what today’s media is about, and I am happy I did. I am having fun combining my love for photography (and my awesome phone camera) with sharing my passion for natural and cultural heritage through Instagram. Some of you may be there, too.

I first learned about Instagram during a new media session by Ken Mayes at the 2012 RIW. Last summer I queried my 27 year old niece about it as she snapped photos and posted them. This past February at the RIW in Alabama I jumped in, posting a photo of a fern and mushroom growing on a tree on the WAU campus. You can imagine my excitement when I received my first “like,” this from one of my two followers at the time, my 11 year old niece.

When I saw her in March she gave me a tutorial on hashtags, and a world opened up. I was hooked.

Bird day warbler neck Instagram photo

The Instagram description for this Bird Day at the Cradle of Forestry photo reads “Birding is fun, even with warbler neck. #cradleofforestry #internationalmigratorybirdday #birding.”

I started my campaign to contribute to substance on Instagram after seeing a lovely photograph my cosmopolitan elder niece posted of an Anthropologie store window awash in blue light being decorated with bright orange and yellow butterflies. Knowing she has over 500 followers as opposed to my 10, I commented, “Lovely! Imagine seeing it in nature.” and hashtagged “make way for monarchs.” A search of the slogan brought up a photo from a California museum’s monarch waystation and an organization that promotes gardening and conservation to children. It was on from there.

Since then, through Instagram, I have discovered individuals and organizations engaged in the beauty and wonder of the global natural world, the enjoyment of public lands, museums and gardens, and in conservation efforts. I see how people are enjoying special moments in time and special places, including my interpretive site. I connect with my young loved ones I live far away from through images of what impresses them and learn also about their audiences. The words on Instagram are few, but the photos are worth thousands. I hope those who find my posts and the exploration opportunities I present will find some meaning and inspiration. Maybe you’ll find some, too.

Categories: Interpretation tools, Social media | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

ODE OF PERKY (to be sung in rodent pirate voice)


A simple pirate rat I be

With a toothy shameless grin;

I was rescued from the Pirates Royale

And days of vice and sin.


I came to the Sunny Southeast

And have traveled far and wide;

This suits my pirate nature

And my wild adventurous side.


Each year I travel state to state

To visit the parks and museums;

I love the food and friendly folks

But not your cats and no-see-ums.

(You try rhyming with ‘museums’)


So remember if you are so lucky

To win me with your bid,

Provide me with lots of insect spray

And of all cats be rid.


Suppress the urge to dress me

In your sport team’s red and gold;

Just keep my bowl in catfish

and all me ales cold! Arrrr!

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A Sense of Belonging

Photo Credit: Watsonville Wetlands Watch

Panorama of the wetlands of Watsonville (Photo Credit:

“I knew this place would feel like home.” 

A decade ago, when I was the coordinator for the Wetlands of Watsonville Nature Center in the central coast region of California, there were two volunteers I could always count on. They’d show up regularly to help me open the center and put out the welcome signs. They’d patrol the connected park to announce events and educate visitors. They’d participate in programs and linger behind to help with clean-up. What drove their devotion? As much as these two had enthusiastically absorbed the center’s interpretive offerings, it wasn’t an in-depth love of estuaries and marshlands that brought them to the door every day. The center had become a surrogate home, and that’s what opened their own doors to loving and caring for the land it stood on. 

Elías* was ten years old and one of five children to an overworked single mother. He was a good-natured but hyperactive boy who needed “cooling off” periods to regain focus and stop driving everyone crazy with his need for attention. He also, having studied every bit of information he could find in the center, knew to catch and deliver to us a feeder mouse that had been released in the park by some well-intentioned teenagers. Lionel “El Magnifico” (AKA Fluffy) became the center’s mascot and a lively teaching tool on issues with pet store animals vs the great outdoors. Sarah* was twelve and in a group foster home after being removed from an abusive family situation. She came in daily with self-inflicted injuries, looking for someone to patch her up and give her another lecture on safety. Neither of them quite knew where they fit in. The kids, these two and the others that came trooping in from the small city of primarily migrant farm workers we were centered in, helped make it more than a set of engaging exhibits and instructive demonstrations. That inspired all of us, staff and volunteer alike, to make the nature center a place that felt like home.

My old office corner, the most intriguing spot in the center for our young volunteers.

My old office corner, the most intriguing spot in the center for our young volunteers.

This understanding began to shape our programs. The foundation of our lessons on water conservation and habitat protection was the message that animals, birds, plants, and people have been living in these lands together for thousands of years…have known this place to be home. Our visitors were part of this long line of residents, and could see themselves in the description of a child from the local Ohlone Tribe knowing where to find the freshest cattail stalks in the slough as well as they could find the milk in the supermarket the next street over. Or that both children could laugh at the antics of a cantankerous, green-footed mud hen even while separated by hundreds of years between the sightings. When you see a place as home, a good home, that knows you and welcomes you, there can be such pride and joy in taking care of it. Habitat restoration projects became more than weeding and planting, water conservation became more than a vague sense of doing something right for the world as a whole. It was taking care of your own. 

Over time, Sarah found fewer reasons to crash her skateboard into posts, and Elías began speaking more slowly and thoughtfully. They both spent less time hanging around alone at the center, though they rarely missed public programs or events. Things were never perfect, and eight years later I wonder where they are now. I hope they have good memories of those times and the work we all did. This was our moment in time to protect a place that, whether perceived by its inhabitants as welcome haven or a worthless swamp, never once stopped offering itself up as a home. 

*Names changed.

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Hide and Go Seek!

Pop quiz: Which holiday is also known as el Día de la Batalla de Puebla?

Hint: It has nothing to do with any country’s Independence Day.

The answer: Cinco de Mayo.

Yes, the holiday known in much of the United States by its calendar date is also known by another, more descriptive Spanish name, which translated means “the day of the Battle of Puebla.” The battle is significant because the Mexican army defeated the more capable French army. In the 152 years since the Batalla de Puebla was fought, the holiday’s significance has evolved to its present-day celebration of Mexican culture in the United States.

The original cause for celebration behind Cinco de Mayo is now obscured by present-day reasons for celebrating. A full interpretation of Cinco de Mayo, then, incorporates both the original event and the present-day celebrations. Cinco de Mayo’s original meaning is hidden, but that meaning can be made relevant to the public in a number of ways. For example, the Cinco de Mayo con Orgullo campaign aims “to promote the true meaning of the Cinco de Mayo holiday, while reducing incidences of violence and crime.”

So, go play hide and go seek! What hidden meaning will you find behind something accepted as common knowledge?

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