Monthly Archives: September 2016

BioBlitz Bliss

BioBlitz Bliss by Cindy Carpenter

This past weekend we held the first ever and long awaited bioblitz at the Cradle of Forestry in America, Pisgah National Forest. The Pink Beds BioBlitz, named for a high elevation valley that, as folklore goes, settlers named long ago for flowers, was a great success. This success was not due to the number of participants or the number of species recorded, but that it happened at all.

I have been intrigued with the concept of bioblitzes since reading an article in an NAI Nature Center Administrators section newsletter a decade ago. It described engaging scientists and other experts in an all-taxa kind of survey over a 24-hour period. This year timing and capacity aligned grant funds from the US Forest Service recreation program and the energy of an imaginative co-worker, Courtney Long. Courtney dealt with many moving pieces while leading the effort to engage youth and adults alike in observing nature and learning about a southern Appalachian forest ecosystem while spending time on their public lands.

The Pink Beds picnic area served as the center of operations for the bioblitz. Here participants visited booths staffed with specialists on fungi and bryophytes. They learned about the hemlock woolly adelgid threatening biodiversity. They browsed a vast selection of field guides at an identification assistance booth. They learned about the iNaturalist app, a tool for recording findings and getting help with species identification, and won items in raffles to help them explore the world around them.

During the Pink Beds BioBlitz forest visitors joined guided walks and activities at selected locations along a trail from the picnic area. An all-species guided walk was led by volunteers from the Blue Ridge Naturalists. Other walks and searches focused on birds, reptiles and amphibians, trees and shrubs, aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish. The leaders of these experiences humbly conveyed their passion, knowledge and love of learning about the natural world, and their enthusiasm was contagious. They recorded results on a large white board visible to all attendees.

Surprises were the number of salamander species found on a single stump during a night time exploration. A highlight for me was witnessing in late afternoon light a bat catch insects active over a stream and dipping for a drink on the wing.

This first bioblitz in the Pisgah National Forest showed that natural resource partners and specialists welcome the opportunity to interact with the public and engage them in discovery and discussion. Although we were prepared for many more participants than the approximately 60 who attended, Courtney’s plans, equipment purchases and networking laid the groundwork for future endeavors to engage the public in nature education.
Time invested in nature study is time well spent, and technology tools common today add an entertaining and meaningful dimension that did not exist a decade ago. From our public lands to our backyards it is fun to learn and share the diversity of life around us every day. Bioblitz bliss!

Stream explorers observe the behavior and characteristics of aquatic invertebrates during the Pink Beds BioBlitz in the Pisgah National Forest.

Stream explorers observe the behavior and characteristics of aquatic invertebrates during the Pink Beds BioBlitz in the Pisgah National Forest.

Nature enthusiasts learn and share along the "all species" walk during the Pink Beds BioBlitz this past weekend.

Nature enthusiasts learn and share along the “all species” walk during the Pink Beds BioBlitz this past weekend.

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Autumn perspective

by Helena Uber-Wamble

Autumn gently lulls us to a slower rhythm as light begins to slowly fade from our days. The chill in the air slips in gently over the evening skies to prepare our bodies for the colder days ahead, yet the afternoon sun warms the earth as to promise that there is still time to enjoy before the winter chill seeps totally in.

Leaves are turning colors and falling to the Earth in their last spectacular show before they dry up and crumble to renew the soil below. The summer crops are putting forth their last fruits: some flowers are fading and sunflowers are going to seed. Morning glories are blooming their last few weeks of vibrant hues of purple, lavender and blues, while persimmons are dropping to the ground the soft fruits that can no longer hang on to the branches from which they have swelled. Butterflies sipping the dropped persimmon’s juices while coyotes are consuming all they can of the fruits that are not completely rotted to mush on the forest floor.


Pokeberry. Image from

Roses are putting out their last buds hoping to bloom once more before the frost comes. Okra blossoms are at the very ends of their stalks signaling the last of their crops are ending soon too. And yet — autumn is still abuzz with life. Hummingbirds sipping nectar at the feeders defending their food source and fattening up for their journey, visiting several times an hour to make sure their tummies are full. Swallows and swifts gathering in large numbers and roosting together as they make their way south. Beauty berry clusters turning a vibrant lavender color against the deep purple tones of the pokeberry that towers over them—fruits that will provide much needed food throughout the winter for the birds that stay here all year long.

Squirrels are busy gathering nuts and storing them, and bees fill their combs with honey in preparation for the months ahead. The chill in the air has us stepping a little quicker, prodding us to start preparing too, while the warmth of the afternoon sun allows us to slow down enough to notice the warm hues of rosy-orange streaks that become the most brilliant sunsets yet. The full harvest moon reminds us that there is a lot more work that needs to be done before we can rest and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

The transition from one season to another paces us for the ebb and flow of work and rest. Each season brings us through that transition gently with plants and animals giving us cues to prepare for what lies ahead: store food, reseed for the next crop to come, go dormant and rest to revive yourself. Remember to have balance – we must all work and rest, work hard, play hard. Gather nectar for the great big journey, then rest awhile before doing it all again. Sleep through the winter with stored banks of sap so when the Earth finally soaks your roots with water you are able to sprout new leaves. Take a moment to pause and just breathe, it is in these moments that we hear the rhythm of the Earth’s heart beat and when we become attuned to its natural force. It is then when we walk in the brisk fall air that we feel alive again and allows us to dream and plan for what is to come.

Autumn lulls us to that slower rhythm as light begins to slowly fade from our days, slow to its pace and enjoy the brilliance around you before the Earth falls into its slumber.

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There is No Failure, Only Feedback.

Failure.  Something we all dread.  Not only in our personal lives, but work as well.  However, I am here to tell you failure in interpretation is good.  No seriously, it is good thing.  How does an individual become proficient at task?  Repetition.  Football and lacrosse players, weightlifters, dancers all practice their craft repeatedly to become better.  Just like those athletes we need to be seeking new ways to engage audiences.  Two excellent examples of this is Museum Hack and Nina Simon’s work.  Museum Hack purposely seeks to engage people who do NOT like museums.  They work to get those individuals to buy into their tour through audience centered interaction plus relatable themes for their two hour tours.  Awesome how they are able to get great results from people who previously cared very little about museums.


Students at UWA learning about chocolate. Something we all love, yet we got only minimal response compared to the amount of time invested.

Then again with tour names such as “Bada** B*tches of the Met” you are going to garner more attention.  Their sharing of experiences on social media (Facebook, Instagram) to create a personal advertising for their tours to the friends of people already in the museum.  Even better for museums is people can see pictures of individuals having fun in museum.  A feeling not always associated with these “ivory tower” institutions.  THOSE pictures are worth more than a thousand words to me.  Nina Simon focuses her work on bringing the community into a museum and providing relevance to the people surrounding your institution.  Her most recent book The Art of Relevance is an excellent read for anyone in the field of interpretation.  Better yet, she is the speaker for NAI’s book club of the month on September 23rd.  Contact Emily Jacobs to see if you can join the group.


A individual learns about the life of 18th century French Marines. One of our most popular programs.

These groups are celebrated for successes, but that does not mean there are no failures.  In a webinar with Museum Hack, Dustin remarked how they are trying out new tours or new ways to engage audiences on their current trips.  Not all of them work out, but it is ok.  “There is no failure, only feedback” he said.  If no one laughs at your new joke or pun then cut it out.  Visitors are not interested in your talk on anatomy of dinosaurs of the Black Belt?  Time to scrap it and move on.  Experimenting in themes, talks and ways of engagement are great ways for you to grow as an interpreter along with making the field of interpretation better through trial and error.  So do not be afraid of starting a institutional Instagram account or advertising an nontraditional tour idea.  The audience response will provide the feedback you need to decide if you are on the right path or not.  Just remember, no failure, only feedback.

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Assumptions can be deceiving…

Let’s talk about assumptions. I’m going to make one right now and assume you’ve all heard of the famous saying regarding assumptions. I’m going to move on with my blog post, blissfully unaware that I may be leaving some of you behind, confused and bewildered. You poor souls grin nervously and look around as the rest of the audience smiles and nods, clearly understanding my reference perfectly. You think that surely you know this saying, everyone else does, why shouldn’t you? You rack your brain, desperately trying to recall anything about assumptions and you miss everything I’m talking about now. By the time you give up and mentally check back in, it’s too late. The rest of the group has moved on and this post is now an utter failure to you. And I say an utter failure to you because I, as the poster and interpreter here, have failed you.


As educators, we love talking to people and teaching them everything we possibly can about our favorite subjects. For the educators at my Nature Center, this means we’re constantly talking about snakes and turtles, trees and lakes, hiking trails and canoeing. However, when talking to our visitors, we make certain assumptions about them: their level of education, their prior knowledge, their ability to process certain vocabulary words. This is a common occurrence that happens nearly everywhere you go. But as interpreters, we need to step back and reevaluate these assumptions. You cannot assume that everyone possesses the same seemingly basic knowledge that you might have. When presenting a talk on snakes, for instance, I cannot simply assume that everyone in the crowd knows what reptiles are. No, I have to start at the beginning for each and every group by building a solid foundation of knowledge for my talk to build upon. Yes, this takes more time and yes, I don’t always get to cover as much as I want to about the snake, but my audience walks away with having understood everything in my talk.


Appearances can be deceiving and can lead an interpreter to make embarrassing mistakes; never trust your eyes! Looking at me, a young person in today’s society, you might assume that I know all about every new piece of technology that appears. Not so! To this day, my personal phone is one of the old-school flip phones. The first time I was handed an iPhone by my organization and told to turn it on, I sat there in mute befuddlement until the IT Tech took pity on me and taught me how to operate the phone. Had he taken the time to speak with me beforehand, he would have known that technology and I have a very rocky relationship. When looking at participants for a program, you as interpreters cannot rely on what your eyes tell you. Your lecture hall could contain visitors who don’t speak English or speak it as second language-have you provided visual stimulation and interpretation for them? Your hike could include participants who have non-visual medical conditions or physical disabilities-have you planned an alternate route to allow for slower hikers in the group? Many times, our programs can hold participants we never expected! And what about your surroundings? As an interpreter whose programs mostly take place outside, I have learned NEVER to make assumptions about the environment around me; a fascinating plant that was on the path a week ago may not be there today. And a sunny day on Thursday could easily devolve into a hurricane on Friday.


As interpreters, we are constantly faced with challenges, some harder to overcome than others. Sit back and take a look at your site: what assumptions do you make about your visitors and program participants every day? Are there ways to reevaluate those assumptions or test their validity? Work with yourself and your team to shake up those preconceived notions and develop all-inclusive programming to open up opportunities for all of your visitors, even the ones you didn’t know you had! And remember, nobody likes being made an a**, especially not you and me.

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