A juicy peach

"Gaffney Peachoid" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gaffney_Peachoid.jpg#/media/File:Gaffney_Peachoid.jpg

“Gaffney Peachoid” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Have you watched “House of Cards” on Netflix? Remember the episode during the first season when Congressman Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, has to return to his home district to settle a controversy over a giant peach towering over the town of Gaffney, SC?

Maybe, like me, you’ve driven by this Southern landmark many times on your travels through the Sunny Southeast, or maybe you even live nearby, but you and I (and the producers of House of Cards) probably have this in common: we see , in this roadside peach, an object “ripe” for interpreting (pardon the pun).

Personally, my thoughts don’t go first to the peach growers’ industry (and the startling fact that the Palmetto State grows twice as many peaches as the Peach State), or a Roald Dahl story, or even the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company who built the peach in the 80s but “isn’t in Chicago, doesn’t build bridges and doesn’t use iron.” Though these are all intriguing, my own connection to the Peachoid lies underground.

In my day job, when I’m not webmaster and blog coordinator for the Region or volunteering at the Cradle of Forestry in America Historic Site (the place that got me interested in interpretation), I’m Assistant Director of a small nonprofit called Clean Water for North Carolina. I wear many hats, including a few that involve outreach and education on that most unsexy of topics: groundwater.

Groundwater model

Modeling groundwater contamination in a classroom.

Many resources have an instant “wow” factor, something to provoke a sense of curiosity and grab the audience’s attention right away: surface water woos them with waterfalls, streams, and lakes; forests have trees and wildlife, mushrooms and hidden trails; rocks and minerals can be handled and observed. People naturally gravitate toward that which they can see, hear, touch, smell. Those of us who interpret groundwater belong in the same category as oceanographers and astronomers – we have to find ways to shine light on the distant, the unseen, the dark depths. Groundwater educators are often relegated to classroom tricks: pricy mail-order model kits, demonstrations with sponges and jugs of water; the ever-present blue and red food coloring.

And that’s what makes the Peachoid so “juicy” to me. Like other water towers (though with much more sweet southern flair), it is one of few visible signs of the vast, underappreciated, precious water resources beneath our feet. The columns of water reaching skyward remind us of the plentiful water underground but also of our utter dependence on it. Once tainted, even our human ingenuity may not be enough to clean it up again.

So next time you’re driving by the Peachoid with others, strike up a conversation. Yours might be about agriculture or iron; mine would go something like this. “Hey, look! A giant peach! What could it be doing in the middle of upstate South Carolina? Have you ever seen something like this?” Before you know it, we’ll be deep in conversation about the aquifers that millions of southerners rely on to supply water to their taps.

What landmarks near you are jumping-off points for interpretation?

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Categories: Discussion topic, Interpretation tools | Leave a comment

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