Monthly Archives: May 2017

Essence of Beaver – The Buck-Toothed Guru

by Doug Elliott
This post originally appeared on Doug Elliott’s blog

Down near the headwaters of Lake James the other day I saw lots of beaver sign. I love seeing their trails up and down the mud banks. The webbed hind feet are sometimes six inches from toe to heel. There were a number of scent mounds the beavers made by piling up small heaps of mud, twigs and grass and anointing them with an odiferous scent secretion called castoreum. I smelled one of these mounds. A pleasant, warm, musky, dark brown, leathery, mammalian aroma filled my senses. WOW! Essence of beaver! Quite a perfume.

The best way to see a beaver is to quietly wait near a lodge in the evening just before dark. A beaver’s first task upon leaving its lodge for an evening’s activities is a slow patrol around the pond to inspect the shoreline for intruders – perhaps a potential predator such as a bear, wolf, or other carnivore large enough to risk a beaver’s sharp incisors – or perhaps it could be a bumbling human like myself arriving late for the first feature of the evening beaver show. On a number of such occasions I have been the object of a beaver’s scrutiny. The first time it happened, I’ll never forget. The sun had just set behind a distant mountain and I was sneaking through the bushes hoping to slip behind the upturned roots of a fallen tree near the edge of the pond. I had my binoculars ready and I was hoping to get settled before the beavers emerged. As I crossed a clearing about fifteen feet from the water’s edge, a slowly swimming beaver materialized from behind the stump of a drowned tree. It was CLOSE, and it was swimming closer! I froze in mid-stride, trying my best to resemble a gnarled tree stump (with binoculars). With just its head and some of its back above the surface, the beaver was moving along parallel to the shore. When it came even with me, it paused. Then, like a toy ferry boat, it turned to face me. It swam closer and paused again, staring right at me. It lifted its nose and tried to scent the air. I stared back intensely. I held my breath and did not move. My legs muscles started to cramp. I gritted my teeth and held my position, determined not to even blink. As I stood there like a strained statue, looking deeply into those beady little beaver eyes, I realized that my psychic presence, that is, my stressed-out ego – that part of me that sees myself as separate from, rather than a part of, the environment – was probably much more disruptive to the peacefulness at the beaver pond than my mere physical presence. I knew I could fit in so much better if I could somehow soften the glare of this huge throbbing ego of mine. But how? I released my breath. I relaxed my eyes and softened my gaze. This felt better. I tried to release my thoughts and quiet the excited internal narrative rattling on in my busy little brain. I relaxed my leg muscles and allowed my body to float, ever so slowly, into a more comfortable position. The beaver just kept staring. It seemed like it was playing, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Something here just didn’t quite look right. Then KAPOW!! The tail came crashing down on the surface of the water, sounding like a combination rifle shot and belly flop. I about jumped out of my skin. Water splashed everywhere, and the beaver disappeared in the splash. I was so startled, that I completely lost my balance, and fell over into some brambles. The beaver surfaced a few seconds later. It was out a little further in the pond and it calmly surveyed the shore to see if the scene had changed.

Beavers are known for their ability to alter their environment with their dam building and tree-cutting. Here was another way. This beaver had actually altered my psychic environment and my consciousness as well. Not only had it induced me into the beginnings of a meditative experience, but with the help of this furry, buck-toothed psycho-drama coach, I had just acted out a personal existential metaphor — that of a startled being, falling out of control into the unknown. Life seems like that sometimes. This little flat-tailed guru transformed me from a poor imitation of a gnarled tree trunk into an embodiment of my true self, falling into a briar patch. With the help of this beaver, for a few short seconds, I had experienced eternity. I had been living purely in the moment. This living in the moment, or “being here now”, for practitioners of yoga, meditation, and other spiritual disciplines is the goal of years of devotion. This beaver brought me to that place with a mere tail slap. Not bad for a second’s work.

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Be the Critter Cam

By Cindy Carpenter

What a wonderful feeling it is when we discover something new and exciting, especially in a familiar place. Recently that happened to me in my own backyard, thanks to a trail camera. My husband Wade and I live on a wooded lot in lovely Transylvania County, North Carolina.  A few birthdays ago I gave Wade a trail camera, which he moves around from time to time. The camera has captured many a crow, deer, squirrel, occasional opossum, coyote, raccoon, even a bear’s butt. But never has this discovery tool done its job better than this spring, photographing activity around our property’s most popular critter hole.

This particular burrow is along a narrow trail on a steep slope, one side dropping to a rhododendron thicket and spring, the upper side shaded by mountain laurel. A buried rock supports the entrance’s ceiling.  Often the hole is covered with leaves, but when we notice it open we wonder what is in there. The first year’s camera photos revealed an opossum as occupant. Every animal that passed- a deer, raccoon, coyote, a cat- all stopped to sniff. So did I, and the smell coming out was horrible then.

A rather horrible cry came out of Wade a couple weeks ago while he was working on his laptop. I wondered for an instant what bad news had been sent, when he excitedly exclaimed “Baby foxes!! We have baby foxes in the critter hole!!” He was downloading nearly a week of photos from the trail camera. Over 3,000 of the motion-activated, mostly out- of- focus images revealed the activities of four baby gray foxes and their mother.





Most of the photos were of the kits playing, rolling around each other in front of the hole (no wonder the trail was hardened there and leaf free), nipping each other’s ears, playing with twigs. Now and then the mother brought food- large eggs held gently in her mouth (turkey?), unidentified shapes, one that appeared to show a white squirrel’s tail hanging out of her mouth. A male fox stopped by occasionally, too.  Stamped dates and times showed the family outside the burrow when I’d be drinking my morning tea at 6:00 a.m., getting ready for bed around 10:00 p.m. and almost any hour, day or night.

Now that I know the fox family is there, I listen for unfamiliar sounds. Last week, about 6:00 p.m., I was outside at the right time to hear an odd “yip yip” and rustling in the woods. I grabbed binoculars and walked down the yard toward the woods in time to pick up motion. Two kits walked across a log and nestled under a rhododendron. I watched them chew twigs and play with each other for several minutes. Soon a sharp “chi-chi” sound got their attention, and off they trotted, presumably to their mother.

A few mornings later while getting ready for work while the light was still dusky I happened to peer out a window at the perfect time to see the adult walking down the driveway. I moved my arm and she saw me. We locked stares; she seemed confused about what to do, then disappeared into the woods.  What an exciting way to start a day!

Saturday evening while closing our vegetable garden gate, I heard a loud sound I had never heard before, sharper and louder than a deer snort, was it a bear? Startled, I answered loudly with my best imitation and turned to the direction of the sound. In the last bit of light I could make out the shape of an adult fox walking up the driveway, looking back toward me. As I headed inside the house gently vocalizing my assurances to her, she barked several more times, now out of sight. I was so glad to once again be at the right place at the right time to see her.

Focused on plants, birds and insects in my nature explorations, I haven’t paid much attention to mammals. Our trail camera, this little window to the world of a growing fox family and the devoted, hard working mother who risks her life to feed it, is transforming my perspective of my own backyard.  It reveals the unseen and provokes new ponderings. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our interpretive efforts were as effective as a critter cam?

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Once an interpreter, always an interpreter…..

by Helena Uber-Wamble

Interpretation is a gift that can never be shut off. It is for those who are curious and who have the desire to communicate the wonders of the world around them. Recently, I attended a truck driving class and entered into an entirely different world of lingo. I had to learn about engine parts and how the air brake systems worked and where the air compressor was and what the curly wires behind the cab were for (which by the way, are super-important lines that control the air brake system). I studied the manual, practiced for the test and went over the truck and all its parts over and over again. I was sure I was ready to take on this challenge and take the test.

Then comes along the instructor. He was going to review with us, do a practice run of what was expected and what we should know when going through the test. The instructor went from the front of the truck to the engine compartment to the brake system. I intently listened to everything he had to say. I watched as he pointed out the items that we were to know and I was super-proud of myself for feeling familiar with the parts, until the brakes. The instructor said the airline comes into the “pancake” and then attaches to the …. Stop, stop right there, this really threw me. I asked the instructor to stop and explain what a pancake was — he simply said, “Oh yes, that is what the old timers called it, I am sorry. It is the brake chamber.” Whew, thank God that was a simple explanation and easily understandable—the chamber is kind of flat and round like a pancake, so it makes sense. We continued.

On we go to the “buds.” No, I didn’t read anything about buds in the book. Again I asked the instructor to explain what these were, and obviously now I know why they are named this. These are the two tires paired together under the trailer. Then the instructor continued down and around the truck until all the parts were covered. I was excited to learn not only the technical names, but also the names that different people called these parts. I was getting into the “trucker—lingo” – the interpretation – and it was cool.

Now what does this have to do with interpretation you ask? A Lot!

Dewlap on a lizard

Dewlap on a lizard

In order for us to really communicate and get our point across, we need to make sure our audience knows our lingo. When using our words in our programs we need to simply define them, explain what we mean and repeat ourselves often. Adults and children will remember the word or concept if we simply break things apart and repeat the message. Asking questions midway through the program also helps you to know that the audience is still with you.
When talking about animals that we have on site, it is very easy to point out the feature in front of us on that animal, like the dewlap on a lizard, or a turkey’s beard. When talking about plants, if they are close by, again take the time to point out the key features (if you can without harming the plant). Make things tangible and keep it sweet and simple. People will go away feeling that they have learned something and hopefully it will trigger a sense of wonder. They will come back because they can connect with you and understand your lingo. Enjoy your job, but remember not everyone is as lucky as you to “know your job.”

Refrigeration truck

A “reefer”?

In saying this, one day you may see me with a reefer. Don’t worry, it is legal in ALL states and police officers won’t question it. You see, a “reefer” in the trucker world is a refrigeration truck.

Keep learning, everyone – there is a world of interpretation just waiting for you!

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Scholarships: A Pathway to Professionalism

by Jessica Goodrich Watts, Scholarship Chair

The first interpreter’s workshop I ever attended was in Asheville, North Carolina and the only reason I was able to attend was due to a scholarship that then Region 3 (we were not the Sunny Southeast quite yet) graciously provided. From there, I attended my first national conference in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2010 also on a scholarship. Without attending these two workshops, I may never have fallen in love with interpretation.

Scholarships allow us to bring new interpreters into the NAI fold that we otherwise may have been unable to reach. Without the active support of NAI members, the scholarships would disappear. This support comes in many forms. Some of it is slow and steady. Other activity is compressed and intense. Sometimes support means letting go of something unused. Or it could mean keep an eye out for something unique. Occasionally, it may mean digging deeper in your pocket than you otherwise would. Other times, it is simply a bluff. Let’s look at all the various ways you can support scholarships.

The funds for scholarships are generated through the silent and live auctions held at workshops and conferences.

(1) The items at auction are donated to the auction by NAI members.

I’ve donated lots of little, odd, and perhaps not “explicitly for the interpretive job” items. The gift shop at my site will have sales, so I’ll pick up deeply discounted beach related earrings, trinkets, decorations or apparel. What could you bring the auction? Do you have leftover mission-related materials? A stack of bumper stickers about protecting night skies or not using plastic bags might be just what someone else has been seeking. Does your city/county/state produce some type of local alcohol? Local products are usually big hit. This is a slow and steady type of contribution; keep your eyes open and donate!

(2) There are members that volunteer to organize the auctions.

Make no mistake, this can be a BIG job! All of these neat donations come flowing in as members arrive at the conference site. These all have to be organized. What is going to the silent auction and what is going to live auction? Is there just one silent auction or multiple? The effort here is intense, but isolated to only a few days. This is a great opportunity to volunteer at a conference, and your time is being invested in getting interpreters to these gatherings that otherwise might not be able to make it without financial assistance.

Auction items 2016


(3) During the auction, bid… and bid… and bid.

You never know what is going to show up at the auctions. Signed copies of paintings and books, homemade flags and quilts, treasure chests, rubber chickens, and moonshine are just a few of the things I have personally bid on. I took home some nice Tennessee wine and Kentucky bourbon-barreled stouts some years back. Since I could not purchase these products in my home state, I was willing to pay quite a pretty penny for these items, even on a frontline interpreter’s budget! Another way to bid is creating alliances. During a bidding war, I have pledged $20 to one of the bidders to keep the bidding going. I highly encourage it; the entertainment alone is usually worth my $20.

(4) During the auction, bluff!

For all of you who think, “Just getting to the conference is expensive enough! I can’t imagine spending money at the auctions.” Here is where you come in, which is also the advice I give to the college students at the national conference: Make sure no item goes for less than $20. Bid the item up to at least that point, even if it is something you have no interest in taking home. On the off chance that no one bids and you get stuck with it, you can make one $20 purchase. And if you really have no use for the item, bring it back next year!

(5) Serve on the Awards and Scholarships Committee.

Now that we have made all of this money from your donations and your deep pockets, the money must be distributed. The commitment for the Awards and Scholarships Committee is minimal, taking perhaps only 2 hours of your time during the summer and up to 10 hours of your time in the winter. Your duties as a member of the Committee would include being available by email to receive attachments, evaluating scholarship applications and award nominations using a provided rubric, then emailing your rubric back to me by the deadline. To volunteer for the job, contact me at With the National Conference coming up, I am looking for new committee members because…

The Sunny Southeast Region is offering one $700 scholarship to the National Conference from November 27 – December 1, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The 2018 scholarship application can be downloaded here (.DOCX).

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Doing Something That Matters

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UWA anthropology student teaching a family the importance of archaeology. (Photo: UWA student S. Browder)

A couple years ago the University of West Alabama, my place of employment, began a new marketing campaign.  Moving away from the old tag line “There is something about this place” to “Do something that matters”.  This a great line for both a university and an interpreter.  Our school’s profile is raised when students, staff and professors make a difference in their field, the local community or country.  With interpreters, our supervisors/stakeholders love it when our program brings in new people/revenue to our site.  Turning those red numbers into black and getting some great press around the event.  For a university, the increased attention helps to increase enrollment, making the institution for financially sound.  All of these reasons are great, but interpreters are wired for more than just the bottom line.

As interpreters, we are looking for more for than just increased revenue or a positive publication.  Every one of us wants to make a difference in the world.  It is one of the many reasons we choose this career.  How do we decide what makes a difference though?  Is it an internal dialogue or feeling?  Based on the reaction of others?  Better yet, when the manager or president says excellent job.  All of the above sounds good, but which is the answer?  My argument is for an internal feeling.  Over the past few weeks our museum has been busy making a difference in the local and regional community.  An 18th century fort site about 10 minutes away that we own had brand new grant funded interpretive signs installed by us with help from UWA students participating in an archaeological field school.  On April 22, the fruits of labor were harvested when the site was open to the community to come visit were the site director, museum director and students gave tours of the area.  More people came to the fort in that one day than had come in the 3 previous open houses combined.  The next week museum staff and students/professors of the biology honor society spent 3 days working to clean up the duck pond located in the middle of campus.  The water was clogged with algae and has trash scattered in it.  Manual labor was used to remove a portion of the algae, along with the trash in order to make campus cleaner. Those same biology students have now become invested in the project to rehabilitate the pond to making a direct impact on campus. In both of these projects students and staff say immediate returns on their investment of time and effort.  A great feeling for everyone involved in both projects.

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UWA NSM students & professors plus Museum staff work together to manually remove algae.  (Photo: UWA TriBeta student)

No extra money was earned for the university, students were not paid to help out, but a lot of positives came out of both of these projects.  People can now tour an 18th century fort site and learn about the past like never before in the area.  The duck pond will educated numerous college and grade school students about the life cycle of frogs, dragonflies, etc. along with how to combat pollution without using chemicals.  Each day at the work the interpreter inside me was happy with the hard done by everyone, because of how it will benefit so many people in the end.  It can safely be said that we all did something that matters to everyone.  Let’s go out and make a difference today, together.

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