Monthly Archives: January 2017

Interpreters we are, students we are always

As interpreters sometimes we can temporarily lose sight of just how much we impact visitor perception of our site, state, region, or even our country. My most recent trip to Nicaragua spawned reflections regarding this importance. Some of the most memorable “interpreters” I have met while traveling probably wouldn’t consider themselves more than educational guides having never heard of the concept, let alone our holy book of Tilden’s guiding principles.

Here are some of my thoughts and experiences with education and interpretation in two very different countries:

South Africa: I spent a total of 4 months in South Africa. In 2014 I volunteered on a nature reserve for 3 months, then in 2015 returned for a few weeks to celebrate my friend’s marriage and explore places that I couldn’t afford as a volunteer. In both years I visited iMfolozi-Hluhluwe (“hl” together form a sort of shlurping sound) Game Reserves. A summary- there are trail guides, and then there are phenomenally outstanding interpretive trail guides. I took this message home after my second visit. My first visit to the game reserve was through the Wilderness Leadership School’s trails program. Visitors are guided into the wilderness areas of the reserve by foot, camping and taking turns to keep watch for sneaky, curious lions at night.


Mandla Buthelezi passing out white rhino dung samples to show the plant types white rhinos prefer versus the black rhino.

We spent 3 nights, 4 days in the South African wilderness and it was an experience that forever has connected me to the rhythmic beats of the African bush and its wildlife. Falling in love with the wilderness does not take much more than a sight of a journey of giraffe at dusk, or rhino wallowing in mud just across the river. The connection, where it deepened for me, was in the interpretive quality from my guides (both named Mandla). Mandla M. was quieter. Not able to speak English fluently he kept watch for wildlife as Mandla B. used charisma, theatrical animal impressions, and passion to guide us through everything from rhino dung and courtship to conservation issues of Africa. Their personalities were polar and where most participants I imagine connect with Mandla B. and his love for riddles around the campfire, I found enjoyment in Mandla M.’s company and introspective feelings for life in the wilderness. Never would I have imagined squatting in the middle of a river scrubbing dirty pans with elephant dung while having life altering conversations with Mandla M. Even before I had learned about interpretation myself, I looked up to the way these men connected with us and shared their universal love for conservation.

Fast forward one year and 3 months.


Sleepy white rhino became a road block at 4:30 am on my drive to meet my trail guide.

With a rental car and solo freedom I drove into Hluhluwe near dusk. I signed into my rondavel just after dark, and scheduled for a guide to take me on an early morning walk through the bush. Excited, I barely slept and promptly woke up earlier than my 3:30am alarm. I drove to meet my guide, who was an hour late. No mind, it’s South African time. He answered my questions very simply and would listen for bird calls to promptly identify the voice’s owner. He barely spoke, which was okay, I allowed by mind to wander in keen observation of each dung beetle, flower and slight movements, with the safety of someone holding a rifle for those “just in case” instances. We hardly connected, and I felt that I could have been replaced with any other group and the walk would have been identical. We sat for a break (actually, we were hiding downwind from an agitated rhino) and listened to the birds. My guide, with me sitting between him and his rifle 20 feet away, fell asleep and began snoring. (Just imagine Tilden’s horror!) Whether his knowledge was competent or not, I stifled further questions and simply reconnected emotionally with the bush after my year’s absence. I no longer trusted my safety to this man nor any info he could offer me.

Fast forward one more year to western Nicaragua.


Me during a 2-day hike thru Las Penitas volcanic range. Volcan Momotombo is behind me and Volcan Momotombito behind that.

Language barriers often are hurdles in education. An exceptional interpreter I find somehow manages to reach beyond that barrier. Their intuitive observation tells them your interests and they do what they can to adhere to that. Take 20-year old Kevin for example.

While in Esteli, Nicarauga I signed up for a one night homestay in Miraflor Nature Reserve. In addition to the homestay their son, Kevin, offered guided walks. Kevin spoke almost solely Spanish and although I studied the language I am by no means fluent and maintain a mediocre vocabulary. Kevin and I immediately established a connection over reptiles and amphibians, and he quickly attuned to my love of plants. (Granted, I’m fairly easy to read due to the fact that I kept falling behind to crouch to the ground and admire a plethora of tiny plants.)


Kevin “playing” the Angel’s Trumpet (Datura sp.) during our walk through pastures and forests in Miraflor Nature Reserve.

Kevin has lived in Miraflor his entire life and since he knew I love snakes he shared many stories of personal encounters. The memories he shared of boyhood in Miraflor and the ways he connected with the forest pulled at my heartstrings and reminded me of the connections we individually and as a society have with our forests. Kevin and I do not share the same culture, the same traditions, the same upbringing. But we both shared our love of the wild places we grew up and live in. That evening Kevin took me to a nearby pond where as a boy he would catch frogs. We spent a couple of hours on the water’s edge discovering invertebrates excitingly new to both of us. Through the light from my headlamp I watched a hummingbird get attacked by a bat and found some of the largest toads! Nature play is the universal language.

nicaragua-frogNo matter the certifications we gain or the classes and workshops we attend, the real driving forces for a successful interpreter is passion and an ability to look beyond another’s culture, beliefs, language, or status. The Mandlas and Kevin made me feel equal in a country that wasn’t my own and afforded the opportunity to see the natural world through their eyes. To reach a shared interest, whatever that may be, is up to us as interpreters. These lessons are things I am continually reminded of at the Cradle of Forestry in America. In a single day I may speak with children, young married couples, retired foresters, or international travelers. And in this next year I aim to ask myself more, “Is my language (body, actions, words, etc.) universal?”

Categories: General | 1 Comment

Register NOW for the 2017 Sunny Southeast Workshop

by Wren Smith and Whitney Wurzel, workshop co-chairs

Registration is open for the 2017 Sunny Southeast Workshop!

On behalf of the workshop planning committee and Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, we invite you to visit the workshop page to review the workshop schedule, registration fees, lodging information, and more. Options to register online and by mail are available, but everyone is encouraged to download the registration form for full details.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest – Rock Run Creek

The Paroquet Springs Conference Centre in Shepherdsville, KY, the site for most workshop events, is a convenient 25-minute drive from Louisville and less than a 10-minute commute to Bernheim. Workshop participants will have ample opportunities to socialize and optimize in the spirit of camaraderie that always prevails when interpreters congregate to share ideas, research, and interpretive tips.

We are thrilled to offer a terrific line-up of special guests, concurrent sessions, and field trip options. Among them is Keynote Speaker Martha Barnette, a Kentucky-native turned nationally-acclaimed writer, radio host, and word-origin enthusiast. As Wren describes:

Martha’s love of wild lands and language, and her passion for word roots and all things etymological fits well with our workshop theme: Rooted in the Land. I got to know Martha over two decades ago when she was researching her book, A Garden of Words; now I often listen to her NPR program, A Way with Words, on my drive to work each Saturday morning. Each episode leaves me with a deeper understanding of where and how our language moves, evolves, and reflects our changing times.

In my last Legacy article, Observations Ecology (March/ April 2016) I wrote, “Most interpreters have a world view shaped in part by the vocabulary or the language of the places we love. This place-enriched language forms a positive feedback loop that helps us experience details and underlying processes that we might otherwise miss.” I also ponder what happens when our observable world is reduced to a flat screen and devoid of sensory rich encounters and the words that root or etch those places in our hearts. The words we use are chocked full of history, linage, stories and interpretive potential.

In addition to her keynote address, Martha has also generously agreed to lead a concurrent session on using improv as an interpretive tool. Details regarding this and other sessions will soon be added to the regional website. In the meantime, we can confirm over 30 engaging sessions, lead by a variety of skilled presenters from across the Sunny Southeast and beyond, including NAI Deputy Director Paul Caputo.

Bernheim Visitor Center

Bernheim Visitor Center

While the workshop kicks-off Tuesday, March 7 with an evening reception at Bernheim* and continues through mid-day on Friday, March 10, participants are welcome to arrive early or stay late to explore the Bluegrass State. If your travel plans won’t allow for that, no worries; the workshop includes six unique and affordable field trips. Participants should register early, though, as spaces are limited for many excursions.

Mark your calendar, make your plans, and register soon! We can’t wait to see you in March.

*Whitney notes: Our opening speaker is the Sunny Southeast’s own award-winning and nationally-celebrated Wren Smith. Don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind address, set at the LEED Platinum Bernheim Visitor Center during the twilight hours. Paired with local food, Kentucky spirits, a bonfire, and interpretive programming, it will be a night to remember.

Categories: Regional Workshop | 1 Comment

Renew with Nature

And so here we are…January, when many people have started to renew, refresh, and rewrite their resolutions. This prominent time of year that marks the cycle of trying to get into shape, renewing friendships and cleaning out the old so we can enjoy the new. Nature does not follow this calendar that we so love. It is in constant motion to renew, recycle and replenish itself.

All year long plants and animals are busy helping leaves decompose into valuable nutrients that can be used to grow new resources. Usually this happens quite nicely without the help of human interaction. Leaves fall, bacteria begin to break down some of its components, and worms chew away at the leaves and digest them into usable parts so soil becomes richer. Seeds drop and plunge into the new soft piles of earth and begin to sprout. Roots sink in and anchor themselves around this valuable resource that was left behind from piles of leaves that have been broken down. Strong trunks begin to form and branches reach out to the sun for more energy.

The woods are alive. They recycle each and every day without people intervening. Each animal, plant, insect and bacteria have an important role in making their community thrive. Left alone the forest develops and matures into a grandiose inviting place. A place where we can go and enjoy ourselves by exploring and taking in the beauty around us.

Walking through the woods is a full sensory experience. The crunching of the leaves beneath our feet. The spongy spring of the fresh earth recycled off the beaten path, rejuvenates us as we stroll along. The smell of crisp morning air and cool clean breezes that bring the earth smells right to us, filling our lungs with the purity of nature. The sounds of birds singing and the rustling of the left over leaves that still cling to the trees calm us as we walk. The blue sky still visible through the naked tree tops fills our hearts with hope and inspiration. While chattering squirrels bring us back to the reality that we need to protect these places as we are visitors that need these calm, quiet, open spaces. This is our role in nature, to protect.

boardwalkDo we have to wait until January to step outside and rejuvenate our souls? No, nature invites us daily to step into its secret places and explore. Nature: the forest, beach, streams call to us daily to step out for an adventure, to become aware of all those components of nature around you that are working hard to keep these places sacred. Observe the bee visiting the flowers, listen to its wings hum. Step into the cool stream and watch for crayfish crawling among the rocky bottom as the stream soothes your tired feet that have pounded the payment all day. Just sit with a cup of coffee in the early morning, watch the sun rise and listen to the birds celebrate the new day, then celebrate with them as your body is refreshed from the simple start to your morning. Make your daily routine one to renew, refresh and relax – don’t wait until every January to do so. What better way to renew friendships then a walk in the woods? A kayak trip? A shared cup of coffee while listening to the sounds of nature around you? All of this is good for the soul, replenishes the spirit and calms the mind. Nature provides an everyday opportunity to renew, refresh and replenish our outlook on the day. Take advantage of it. Enjoy it, immerse yourself in it. January is such a long time to wait to make resolutions. Why wait? Nature constantly invites us to slow down and refresh our minds and attitudes daily.

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2017, New Opportunities to Learn

Every January, the BEST month in case you were wondering, people make a verbal commitment to stop smoking, lose weight, start working out and/or traveling.  These are all popular resolutions individuals try to change themselves or life in a positive way.  By making a small positive change in our personal realm, we can change our overall outlook on life.  Last year I resolved to be healthier and more physically fit.  A year ago on January 12th, I joined a local gym to help with mobility and weight lifting, then in March got the best dog, Charlie (whom we all met last year) to help with cardio due to him being part greyhound and LOVING to run/chase anything.  Both of those additions to my life have worked out well.  Why not consider making some improvements in your professional life as well?  Over the next few months a number of CIG courses are being offered within our region.  Let’s check them out:

January 14 – February 4 (Saturdays only during time frame) Environmental Learning Center, -Vero Beach, FL

Janaury 18-21 Georgia Museum of Agriculture & Historic Village

January 24-February 3 Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, SC

February 6-9 Chattahoochee Nature Center, Roswell, GA

February 6-9 University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL

August 16-19 Georgia Museum of Agriculture & Historic Village

CIHT in the Region

January 24-27 or January 25-26 Fort Pierce, FL

CIT in the Region

January 9-13

National Park Service Outer Banks Group at the Coastal Studies Institute, Wanchese/Skyco, NC

Coaching Interpreters

April 11-13 Georgia Museum of Agriculture & Historic Village

Any of these courses are recommend for interpreters who seek to improve their skills and/or marketability for jobs.  They are great experiences for someone who has never participated in one.  If you have attained a CIG certification the NAI national office offers great webinars on a variety of topics from experts in the field.  You can also learn a great deal while attending the annual workshop.  Kentucky is only a few short months away and provides a great opportunity to participate in sessions, chat with colleges from across the southeast and meet your regional officers!  While you can contact us at any time, at the workshop we are in the flesh which can be easier to let your voice be heard.  There are also many other professional groups/organizations who offer professional development.  Personally I belong to ALHFAM (Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums), SEMC (South Eastern Museum Conference) and AASLH (American Association for State and Local History) who are offer more specific training’s to historical interpretation or museums.


Charlie learning how to be a good boy.

In 2017 commit to improving the professional you.  Who knows what you may learn, speak to or rediscover how much of an expert you are in interpretation.

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New Year, same old crazy

A very happy UN-holiday to you all! As we move into the new year, we leave behind the hustle and bustle of months of seemingly non-stop holidays and the insanity they bring. The caravans of travelers “just stopping in to see what you’ve got”. The parade of daycares and mommy-and-me groups showing unexpectedly for programs and tours. The frantic calls from hikers trapped by crazy raccoons…or maybe that’s just me…

My point is, many of us have just come through one of our busiest seasons for public visitors. And, if you’re anything like me, you may be feeling a little bit shell-shocked. But with summer quickly approaching, now is not the time to crash and burn! Before you can get your A-game on though, you need to………

  1. Take a minute to breathe. No really, breathe! Taking a few minutes a day to sit quietly and breathe slowly and deeply can actually help. Structured breathing slows heart rates and has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety. You don’t need to bend yourself into a pretzel of a yoga pose either. Just sit still and breathe.
  2. Go for a walk, real or metaphorical. If things are getting a little too crazy for you, excuse yourself for bit. If you have the time and space, go for a real walk! A little exercise and breathing room is a surefire way to calm yourself down and re-center yourself for work. If you can’t actually leave, take a lap around the office. You’ll achieve the same “chill” without ever leaving the building.
  3. Find a hobby! All work and no play makes for a nutty interpreter. Find something to focus on that doesn’t involve the workplace or housework (no matter what Mr. Clean says, scrubbing bathrooms is not actually fun). Maybe you’d like to take up knitting. Or gardening. Or running. Whatever it is, if it makes you happy then go for it!
  4. Turn. Your phone. Off. Folks, we’re not doctors here (unless you are. In which case, I feel like you might be on the wrong blog?) and we’re not on call 24-7. Knowing your phone is on and you are available for *anything* can be tempting, not just for you but for other people too. “Oh no! A glitter supply emergency in the craft cabinet! Quick, call Christine!!!” Uh, no thanks. Trust me folks, no one is going to have a dire interpretation emergency at 3am. You can turn the phone, and yourself, off.
  5. Let it go. Before you start singing, let me explain: many of us work directly in the public eye. We’re frontline for all of their questions, excitement, and sometimes their anger. The important thing to remember is that we’re usually not the ones they’re really mad at. The cause of their anger could be something completely out of our control, like the weather or sold-out spaces to a program. Or hey, maybe this person is just having a bad day. Don’t take it personally and don’t let them shake you, just let it go.

However you choose to do it, remember to relax and look after yourself this year!

Categories: General, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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