Monthly Archives: June 2014

Never too young

by Helena Uber-Wamble

How I became an interpreter:

When I was just a young toddler, my Dad and Mom took me and my older sister fishing. It was his philosophy that if we were old enough to walk, then we were old enough to hold a fishing pole in our hands and catch our first fish. We waddled around the shore in t-shirts and saggy diapers and our very own bamboo fishing pole. Dad would show us the worms and put them on the hook and show us how to fish. Mom and Dad helped each of us. We spent time by the lake and played in the grass. Mom and Dad would tell us about the birds like the Canada Geese otherwise known as “those stupid birds that were in the way,” and the red-winged blackbirds who called out “konk-a-ree.” Dragonflies, damselflies and turtles were always around and we learned quickly that they were part of our outings. They became our “outdoor friends.” We knew we were going to see them at some point when we were at the lake and it became a game to see who could spot the first turtle, insect or bird. There were some areas that were lined with rocks and these became our fossil treasure hunting places as we got older.

When I was 12, my Mom announced that she was going to have a baby. I already had two younger sisters, but we were excited for a new baby. We waited in anticipation for the birth of our sibling and back then there was not an option to find out if you were having a boy or a girl – they were all a surprise! My Mom gave birth to my only brother, who was certainly going to be spoiled by his four older sisters.

Dad took us fishing most weekends and Mom would bring my infant brother along. By the time he was in diapers and walking, we were all ready for him to catch his first fish. The tradition continued, and he was given a bamboo pole at the lake too. Fishing opened up his curiosity about other aspects of nature too. He would bring bugs in the house and ask what they were and Mom would send me to help him identify it.

Now this was way before Google, so I would go to the complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica in the basement. I’d open up the book and look up the information about the insect and read it for my brother. He’d sit quietly next to me and listen. I would look up from the book and translate what the encyclopedia said in easy-to-understand terms. We’d look closely at the insect or object we were learning about, then release it.

This was the beginning of my career and the open window of opportunity for both of us to expand our love of the outdoors. It became a weekly sometimes daily routine to visit the encyclopedia together. My brother had a lot of questions and he loved to explore.

Fast forward to 2013! My career as an interpreter has changed a bit. I interpret the world of birds, their habitats and how they adapt in this ever-changing world. This still includes fish and aquatic critters, as they provide some birds their dinner. I interpret the ebb and flow of the food chain and that every action creates a reaction. Students learn about migration and the challenges that birds face while on their journey and how some birds have made great come backs from their low numbers. I continue to teach younger children, offering programs for pre-K up to adults, because we are all young at heart. Interpretation is always changing, and teaching all ages is challenging, but it keeps me on my toes.Fishing

My brother has changed a lot too. He is thirty-three now with his first child. Not too surprising, one of her first words was fish. My Mom watches her a lot and she shows Riley the fish in the aquarium in the dining room when she eats her meals. They also watch the birds at the feeder and naturally Riley will tell Grandma, “bird” whenever the feeder is being visited.

FishingRiley turned one recently, and my brother bought her a pink child’s fishing pole. (Oh how times have changed.) The next day they all went fishing. Riley has not mastered walking yet, but she sat calmly in my brother’s lap and watched the water. He and her Mom talked to her about the water and the birds and the worm on the hook. Then they cast out her line. Riley held the pole and waited in my brother’s lap. He helped her catch her first fish! When they reeled in the line, Riley got really excited to see a fish on the hook and reached up and grabbed it. She kept saying, “fish, fish”. No fear, no fuss – just reaching out to connect with nature. It was a successful day. A day where another window opened and a child’s curiosity was fueled even more.

It all started with “a little interpretation”, just pointing out the animals around her are and naming them for her so that she would recognize them anywhere. Another generation’s interest sparked because those around her interpreted for her. Maybe she will become an interpreter too! The tradition of taking young children out and exposing them to nature is being carried on and I am lucky enough to help with that as her Godmother, I can only hope that this tradition continues on for many generations to come because no one is ever too young to explore through curiosity and connect with nature.

Categories: General, Interpretation tools | Leave a comment

Choose to Get High

Choices confront us daily, sometimes crowding our consciousness with anxiety and despair, sometimes filling our calendar with personal and professional priorities, and sometimes satisfying obligations while satiating our desires. These choices- born of a deeper psychological construct of attitudes, beliefs, meanings, and values- are expressed by the decisions made and the subsequent actions taken. They are the footsteps of our lives, mapping the essence of who we are. Unfortunately, in today’s harried world of doing more with less, many interpreters find themselves wearing multiple hats. Whether they are administrative, resource management, law enforcement, or supervisory responsibilities, many find their professional hours chalked full of non interpretive duties. And, many agency employees must choose to present interpretive offerings rather than fulfill other obligations. Fortunately, for those who make interpretation priority one, fulfillment, productivity, and congenial working relations result. Those who make interpretation priority one, experience an interpretive high!

Recently, I accepted a challenge from a former peer- a park ranger with Tennessee State Parks. She organized a Couch-to-5K (C25K) program with the hope of encouraging park patrons and local community members to become more active at the park. Being sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, I attended the informational meeting. Inspired and jittery were just two of the many emotions flooding my body as I read the nine week schedule. I signed the roster, purchased new running shoes, and marked my calendar for the first of twenty-seven meet-ups to come.

Being a former trail runner, I was jarred running on pavement; however, I chose to not focus on my jiggling cheeks. And, being a former half-marathon runner, I chose not to scoff at 90 second intervals or to beat myself up when I realized that 90 seconds meant 90 lashes!

Weeks passed. Intervals turned to miles. And, the long forgotten runner’s high re emerged. Thankfully, it did so at what would have otherwise proved a very humiliating moment!

Taking the dog for a run, I was confident my companion would stretch my stride and quicken my pace. I met the final hill of an extra hard run, glanced up at the approaching summit, and gave it my all. Then, it hit me: the dog was walking. I laughed at myself once I caught my breath and marveled at the feeling. It was the same feeling experienced following a successful interpretive program. As I cooled down, I recalled those wondrous moments of clarity when I revisited my interpretive offerings. Yes, it seems the same endorphins that kept my legs pumping stride after stride are the same that helped me hone my craft through informal, self-evaluation.

No matter if it’s running or interpreting, remember: it’s your choice!

4k photos

Left: The author (far right) on race day. Right: April and her 3-year-old daughter Arwyn nearing the finish line.

Categories: General, Jobs / Professional Development | Leave a comment

“Summerzilla”-The Roller Coaster

“Summerzilla”-The Roller Coaster

Many of you are quickly approaching one of your busiest times of the year…SUMMER. Summer brings many opportunities of engaging visitors and staff. Across the Southeast families are planning to visit our parks, zoos, camps, aquariums, museums, beaches, and historical centers. Kids are lying awake at night with great anticipation of their summer adventures. Some seasoned interpreters might even say that the summer season is a “rollercoaster!” With that spoiler alert I thought I’d take a stab at relating our summer season as interpreters to a rollercoaster experience.

The Wait and Anticipation – Recall the feelings of waiting in line for the coaster ride, what did you feel?
For first time visitors and interns it’s the nervousness or excitement of the unknown experience. To the return visitor or camper it’s the opportunity for another positive experience that has brought them back to create more memories. For managers and directors it’s the months of planning, hiring, and preparation to pull off the experience and serve your vision or mission.

The Attendant and Onboarding- Making sure it’s a safe environment so that you get the most out of your experience. How would you feel if there were no attendants to get you properly onboard?
This person or team makes you feel safe, they buckle you in, assure you it’s safe, and are the first to share your excitement when you’ve arrived back from the adventure. They’ve seen riders who were scared going into it and by the end wanting more. They’ve also seen folks who made it but might prefer another ride. If you need someone to talk it through and coach you through it, or an extra hand their job is to take care of you. These are your directors, managers, coordinators, counselors. Directors, managers, counselors be there for you riders.

The Climb- There’s no turning back you’re committed at this point. You’re at the top of the roller coaster and have a good view of what your about to get into. What are you feeling now? Queasy?
For the intern it may be the feeling you experience in your stomach may right before your 1st public interpretive program. For the visitor their winding drives into your park or walk from the parking garage to your admissions area. For the Day camper the moment Mom or Dad drop you off with the counselor.

The Drop and Loop- It’s all about soaking in the experience at this point. It usually involves some laughing, looking ahead, and maybe even closing your eyes from time to time. There will be unexpected twists and turns for all. What does it feel like after that 1st big drop?
There are no “typical days” in our line of work. Weather, bee hives, lost children , government shut downs, low staffing, low funding, large crowds, insects, first aid calls, ill visitors are just a few of the twists and turns we may deal with and roll with.

The End- Like a roller coaster it’s over before you know it.
It’s up to each individual to evaluate their experience. With each experience comes some sort of learning from the rider (camper, visitor, and inter) as well as the attendant (coordinator, manager, director) to apply to their next adventure.

How do you relate your summer to a roller coaster? Please share.
Wishing you all safe adventures this summer!

Categories: General | 1 Comment

Spartina Fey and Jimmy Fouling present…

by Ashley Bradt

Most people are familiar with celebrity names like Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon. Saturday Night Live and late night talk shows come to mind for me. These are names that I associate with laughter and funny TV moments. At the South Carolina Aquarium, we hope to spark that same comedic entertainment with one of our recently implemented shows, the Salt Marsh Show. With the hosts being “Spartina” Fey and Jimmy “Fouling,” guests are sure to make the connections with their favorite TV comedians while getting educated on the “Beachend” update.

This is a way that we can engage our guests while targeting something that is relatable to those that are familiar with these TV entertainers. For those that are not, it will still be an entertaining show where two goofy interpreters aim to entertain while educate.

During the Salt Marsh Show, kids are asked to feel a bucket of “pluff mud,” pull props from a “mystery bag,” and watch Brown Pelicans catch smelt with their giant beaks in mid-air. The sounds of the birds, splashing of the fish, and smell of fresh smelt are all around them. It is an engaging, informal, interactive show in which guests are immersed in a salt marsh habitat.

Categories: Interpretation tools | Leave a comment

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