Monthly Archives: May 2016

Outside Perspectives

Outside Perspectives by Cindy Carpenter

In April, after months of sporadic communication, a production crew from Mexico came to my site, the Cradle of Forestry in America, to interview me and film for a documentary. I had carefully prepared answers to questions sent to me a week ahead and had them approved by my agency. I had reminded their contact in the United States to apply for a permit to film on the Pisgah National Forest several times since the first communication the previous October.  I had altered my schedule, including vacation time, around filming dates that kept changing. But I had not prepared myself for how their project, The American Miracle, would enrich my perspective on the Cradle of Forestry’s significance.

The film crew consisted of five talented professionals who travel the world documenting stories for Televisa’s Por el Planeta. They are passionate about their work, bringing to the masses special places and cultures and issues affecting them. The American Miracle project traces our nation’s conservation story that led to the establishment of our National Park and National Forest systems and the preservation of species and ecosystems through the will of its citizens and government. They hope the documentary will be an object lesson for places and natural resources around the world they have seen degraded over the years through lack of management and provision for people who are often just trying to survive.

As interpreters we are always learning from our audiences. This experience energized in my mind the relevance of my site and its mission. I don’t know how many seconds of my interview will make the final cut. I was disappointed in my performance despite preparation, experiencing a sudden nervousness while being filmed and uncomfortable in bright, hot sunshine. The American Miracle is expected to be broadcast on Univision in late summer. I hope it accomplishes what the writers intend. For me, it gave me a patriotic feeling, as well as an enhanced perspective of the Cradle of Forestry’s conservation story. It also reminded me that in addition to reviewing the facts relevant to a place, valuing and pondering the perspectives of minds other than my own will make me a better interpreter.

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Summer: An Interpretive Track Meet


Memorial Day Weekend  is here and many of our centers are will be serving highest volumes in terms of visitation, camps, tours, and programs.

Like running the mile on a track (4 laps) there are stages throughout the summer that an interpreter or your interpretive program will experience.

May (The Start, Lap 1)

You’re rested, fresh, and ready for the journey ahead. You’ve been planning, practicing, and setting goals. New staff and programs have brought excitement and energy to the starting line.  There is a ton of anticipation and the crowd/audience awaits. You start strong, it’s fun, but beware you don’t want to go out too fast and run out of gas.

June (Lap 2)

You find a comfortable pace. Everyone is packed up together competing with same end goal in mind and you’re plugging away as expected hitting all your marks. The group is in rhythm and the crowd/audience cheer you on.

July ( Lap 3)

Half way there! Fatigue begins to set in, some folks begin to struggle a bit.  You can physically see and hear people begin to struggle. This is where you really count on coaches and teammates giving you feedback to keep you pumped and focused ahead. This is the point that tests you. Do you push through and refocus on that end goal? Will you reinvent, regroup, or regurgitate? The choice is yours. Are you feeling boxed in or getting frustrated with others around you? The crowd/audience is watching.

August (The Final Lap)

You’re tired and can see the finish line (maybe its Labor Day). This is where you have to gut it out, focus, and push through. This is the point you have to mentally focus on the little things like form and function. Pump those arms, and lift those knees. Remember those key techniques that you were trained on early in the season? Have you thought about Maslow’s Hierarchy? Is the sun in the visitor’s eyes? Do I have a theme? Am I provocative and using props? Am I engaging, or a monotone bore? Am I keeping my audience safe? I recall many years ago at an outdoor center reminding staff to double check knots and life jackets at this point in a season.

Finish Line

Before you know it, it’s over. You catch your capture the sights and sounds of a cheering crowd/audience, catch your breath, celebrate high fives with others around you, reflect, and begin planning your next race.


Wishing you wings on your feet and the wind at your back through the rest of summer!

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The Know-it-All Kid

by Marisol Castro


Portrait of George Washington Taking the Salute at Trenton by John Faed (1899)

When I was about seven years old my parents took my brother and me to a bastion of U.S. history: Mount Vernon, famous home of the nation’s first president, General George Washington. And his white horse. How did I know that he had a white horse? Because my beloved 1980s-era age-appropriate book of American presidents told me, that’s how. If you can’t trust a children’s book of crucial historic facts such as the color of apparently the only horse that the president owned in a time of horse-centered transportation, what can you trust? My mental image was set: the father of our country, the epitome of honor and truth, and his trusty white horse. The author additionally provided me with a name for the horse, but after 30+ years my brain has decided to let that piece of knowledge go the way of my icloud password.

So there I was, excited way beyond what a normal seven-year-old should be to see the stables of Mt. Vernon, when the heritage interpreter leading our tour, the very guide we depended on to give us the best, most accurate picture of 18th-century life in the Washington household, started telling the group an anecdote about the President’s horse. His BROWN horse.


I’d like to point out that at this age I was in that strange childhood state of shyness mixed with a blurry concept of social boundaries. I remember attempting to bribe my brother to order for me at a burger stand because I couldn’t handle walking up to the cashier and telling him my order, to which my brother kindly replied that I needed to stop being a wimp. If anyone had told me back then that I’d end up publicly speaking to large groups of strangers as my career, I’d probably have hit them with a book and run.

But, like most kids, if you trigger their passion in just the right (or wrong) way, a verbal avalanche of information and opinion can come unexpectedly roaring down on top of you. I don’t know what that poor guide had intended with their benign quip about Washington’s horse, but what they got was a passionately verbose little girl correcting their woeful misinformation. The tour ground to a halt while sources were identified and summarized, complete with paraphrased quotes from that unknown children’s author. I’m pretty sure I wound up this earnest tirade with a coup de grace: the maligned horse’s actual name as it actually was written in the actual book, thank you very much!


“Nelson, the “splendid charger,” as Washington referred to him.” Photo c.o. Flickr. com.

That poor, poor guide. I really hope they got a laugh out of it afterwards, or at least fantasized about leaving me under a historically accurate haystack. A couple decades later, during an interpretive training session in Seattle, our group was asked about our first strong heritage interpretative-oriented memory and this little scene came tripping forward through the decades. I wanted to go back in time and smack myself. I was one of those kids. The Know-It-Alls. The ones who smirk when they seem to catch an authority figure in an error, the ones that cop an attitude that’s encouraged by doting parents so everyone could appreciate how bright and knowledgeable their child was, while what everyone really wanted was a conveniently located historically accurate haystack to stuff the kid under. At least, that’s how I felt at first.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that the whole scenario wasn’t about appearing smart and sassy, or showing up the adult with my “superior” knowledge. It was about holding on to a sense of the truth, which can be a tricky proposition for a seven-year-old. Kids depend so much on cues from trusted resources in order to make sense of an impossibly huge, confusing world. Children are inundated with new information which constantly yanks the rug out from under what had been accepted as gospel the day, or week, or month, or year before. Whatever your classmate told you in recess gets debunked by your parent; your sister’s words of wisdom come into conflict with your teacher’s lesson plan. For me, books were sacrosanct. Who would put actual misinformation into print? Who could I trust: the stranger before me, or my beautiful book full of facts, written in a way that would most effectively reach young audiences like me?

I recently brought up the trip to Mt. Vernon with my father the other day and he, a veteran educator, laughed with sympathy for both his vocally righteous daughter and the beleaguered interpreter. I realized that encounters like this have helped me remember the feeling of what it’s like to be young and excited about those pieces of knowledge hoarded and displayed like newly found treasure, and how difficult it can be to see those treasured pieces tarnished. I’d like to think it’s made me more sensitive to not only to my fellow Know-It-All kids, but also to the adults that may have their own version of George Washington’s white horse lurking behind their “Well, I read in an article…,” “That’s not what I learned in school,” or “Actually, heave you heard about…” And maybe I haven’t heard about it. Why don’t you tell me more?

(By the way, I looked up George Washington’s white horse. He did in fact have a notable one, a beautiful warhorse name…Blue Skin. And some historians claim the Blue Skin was more gray than white. He also had a brown horse named Nelson. I’m just going to go ahead and call this one a draw for seven-year-old me and the Mt. Vernon tour guide, ok?)


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A slow drive to Coon Dog Cemetery in Colbert County, Alabama

One of the reasons that I love living in the South are the two-lane country roads, which were shown as blue lines on the old highway maps. The best day off to me is to fire up the Ford on a hot summer day and hit the road to parts and places unknown. You will see things that you never imagined –like the two story concrete tepee in Pocahontas, Mississippi; the world’s largest peanut in Ashburn, Georgia; or the giant chicken in a chef’s hat that welcomes visitors to the Shady Lawn Truck Stop in Elkton, Tennessee. I take to this stuff like biscuits take to gravy, or how gravy takes to my shirt.


On a sweltering August day a few years back, with my windows down and the radio loud, I wandered eastward into the state of Alabama. When you don’t have a destination or a deadline to meet, your car just knows where to go–it just feels right. There’s plenty of time to ask yourself, “I wonder what’s down that-a-way?” Partly dreaming and partly driving, I found myself stopped at a red light in Muscle Shoals. It’s a little burg of a town that meets the Tennessee River in northwest Alabama. If you are a music fan, you’ll know that Muscle Shoals is the home to both FAME and Sound Studios, which together recorded the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, and about a million other music legends. So I did more than stop at the light, I genuflected.


I drove south of Muscle Shoals on Hwy 247, mostly because I haven’t taken it before. The road rose steadily up into the Appalachian hills and was blanketed in oak and pine forest. I had just passed the Rattlesnake Saloon when I saw the sign for Coon Dog Cemetery road. Not one for missing an adventure, I swerved onto the two lane gravel road that seemed to rise up into nowhere, and kicked up dust and gravel. The four mile long road felt like it stretched to forty, and a little metal sign with a painting of a dog announced that I had reached the “Coon Dog Cemetery.” I’m in the middle of nowhere without a building in sight, perched at the top of a ridge with stunning views of the Alabama countryside, at a lonely roadside monument dedicated to a man’s best friend–ah, this is the South. The cemetery had a little gravel parking area and walk that led me to a two-story concrete statue of a tree trunk surrounded by two life-size baying hounds. It was a work of masonry that would easily surpass, let’s say, a giant chicken in a chef’s hat. And surrounding this monument were dozens of handmade headstones and monuments. Some markers were ornate statues of sleeping dogs, complete with biblical quotes, made as well as one would find in the fanciest mausoleum; while others were simple plywood signs scrawled upon with Sharpies. The landscape was littered with fading blue and pink plastic flowers, sandwich bags wrapping photos, and cast off dog collars. ‘Hammer Tyme Red’ was memorialized on an engraved native stone that read “If he treed in a mailbox you’d better open it and look because he’s got em;” while “Bragg” was simply described as “the best east of the Mississippi River.” It was a heart-rending tribute to the loyal dogs who would risk life and limb to hunt for their owners, and the grief-stricken men who deeply loved their best animal friend. Oh all right, these dogs weren’t friends, they were family.


Author William Least Heat-Moon wrote in his travel book Blue Highways, that there’s a “rule of the blue road: Be careful going in search of adventure—it’s ridiculously easy to find.” Maybe that’s why I like taking these two-lane roads, some story always unfolds that will later be told. And as any storyteller knows—called an “interpreter” by some, or a “liar” by others—you need stories to tell. And, by my experience anyway, truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Especially when it comes to the South– you couldn’t possibly make this stuff up. So the next time that you have a choice between the red line or a blue line, choose the backroad. As David Mitchell wrote “…there ain’t no journey what don’t change you some.”


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I scream, you scream….

You probably want me to finish that with “ice cream” but that is not the subject of this post. Although, a cup of ice cream sounds good about now. Recently I feel like there is never any peace and quiet. When I’m sitting at my desk at work, I hear the sounds of kids exploring the exhibit hall. It is usually the excited buzz of seeing something new or watching an animal move that has been sitting in the same place for hours. Then it happens, the shrill, high pitch wail. The scream. What has broken up the joyous sounds from before? Most likely, a parent telling the child it is time to go home. I sometimes pass these sad faces as they are leaving, tears running down their red cheeks. Despite the interruption to my serene environment, I smile a little thinking that someone is enjoying our center so much that they don’t want to leave.


My serene campsite until the scouts arrived.

I went camping a week ago and at 7 a.m., I hear the shouts of a group of Boy Scouts that moved into the campground after dark. At first, I can’t understand why they are up that early. My second thought is why are they yelling? Then they begin beating a pan. If I had not been so comfy, I would have marched over to the beat of the drumming and done some yelling of my own. Later in the day, my friend and I went for a hike. Being a beautiful April day in the mountains of north Georgia, we expected the trails to be busy. As we stopped to enjoy a few scenic views along the way, what do we hear? The yells and screams of the Boy Scouts. We kept hiking to try to escape the verbal barrage that seemed to surround us. As I hiked, I thought to myself about why they were so loud. For one thing, they were pre-teen boys and I am sure that most of you that have worked with this age, know that they get louder as they get excited. It occurred to me that they probably don’t have the opportunity to be loud when at home or school. I see AND hear the same thing when I lead a group of school children on a trail hike. During the spring, they are required to stay quiet for hours while others are suffering through the standardized tests that happen every April. When the kids get outside, they don’t have the confines of a room or a group of testing students down the hall. They probably don’t even realize they are being that loud. Although I may not have appreciated the interruption to my sleep and hike from the Boy Scouts, I understood why they needed to let out that noise.

The last category of screams and yells is from those that are afraid. I accidentally grabbed a wasp on a door handle and, even though it didn’t sting, I let out a shriek. The surprise of touching something that I didn’t notice followed by the thought of getting stung on the fingers was enough to elicit a scream.  Wasps don’t bother me normally but the unexpected close encounter did. A teacher hiking with me had a similar reaction when we unexpectedly found a snake slithering through the bushes next to the trail. She let out a little expletive and ran ahead. The kids were distracted enough that they didn’t notice. When we arrived back to the building, two lizards were sitting on the sidewalk. At that point, she had enough and yelled out “OH NO! This field trip is NOT for me! You have turtles, snakes and GEICOS here!” I couldn’t help but laugh a little, mainly because of calling the lizards “Geicos.” After she was safely inside, I made sure she was ok and to warn her that there were snakes in the exhibit area so she wasn’t surprised again. It was my reminder of how important it is to have places, like nature centers, for people to have close encounters with things that may be frightening to them but in a safe environment. Be aware that they may not sit quietly!

Since everyone else is doing it, why not you? Letting out a little yell, scream, shout, squeal, or squawk. It may be what is needed for the situation.

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