Monthly Archives: October 2017

It’s Getting Spooky

It’s that time of year when the cobwebs get thicker, pumpkins have faces and the threat of a clown appearing out of no where is high. Yes, to quote The Nightmare Before Christmas, “This is Halloween!”

It seems like everyone is doing an event to celebrate this time of year. From carnivals to trick or treating, choices can be overwhelming. What can you offer that will stand out above all the rest?

I find that real life can be scary enough. My nature center hosts an event not to scare but to educate about the organisms people despise, find scary, gross or slimy. We invite community organizations to bring animals and materials that people may dislike or misunderstand. It is different than other events in our community and provides a fun, educational time.

SOS Day

Visitors to SOS dressed in costume while learning about snakes.

If your organization isn’t hosting a fall/Halloween event, what can you offer that is unique to the community and to your site? Don’t forget adults love Halloween too! These events can be small, one night or multiple nights and range in age from 1-100! A few events I’ve seen offered include:

  • Ghost tours with a hint of truth
  • Haunted trail hikes, canoe rides, woods
  • Cemetery tours at night
  • Night hikes
  • Storytelling with a spooky twist
  • Boo in the Zoo
  • Zombie Farm (I pass this one on my way to work everyday!)

Have a spooky time! Happy Halloween!

 

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Leadership lesson from my 5 year old

leadership1

Little leader and her puppy.

When you think about leadership most likely you think about a person you admire, a boss, mentor, relative, role model, etc. Leadership traits can be identified in the most unexpected places and situations.

A few weeks ago my 5 year old daughter wanted to play with our little puppy “nacho”. Often times she starts running around the house and he will chase after her making it fun for everybody and burns some of the endless energy that 5 year olds and puppies have in common. That particular day my daughter looked at nacho and yelled “chase me!!”, the dog was wagging the tail and was ready to play and run around but she was not running. Visibly frustrated she yelled a couple more times “nacho, chase me!”.

It took me a second to realize that this is a perfect example of leadership, when you want somebody to follow you, you have to lead, show them the path and where you want the team to go.  To get followers to move you must begin the movement, otherwise there they may take different directions or not move at all.

I told my daughter, nacho is ready to play, you just need to run, go ahead and run, he will follow you. Sure enough, as soon as she started running nacho sprung forward and chase her all over the house.

Next time you want to be a leader ask yourself, am I moving? Where are we going?

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Persimmons: a Sweet Sound of the Season

persimmon tree 2When most people think of the sounds of this season they think of the crunch of autumn leaves. For me it’s the sound made by the plunk or splat of falling persimmons. With its distinctive bark, reminiscent of alligator hide, the persimmon tree, Disoporus virgininanna was the first tree my father taught me to recognize. I now have a searching image of them and I can’t walk in the woods without all the nearby persimmon trees, silently announcing their presence.

persimmon seeds

Dad also taught me folk lore regarding forecasting the winter by examining the inside of persimmon seeds; a form of “folkcasting” that may be more fun than factual. These seeds are about the size of a watermelon seeds, and if you carefully split one so that it opens like a book, you will find the ghost-like outline of the embryo which becomes the root of the tree. According to various folklore, if this embryo is shaped like a knife, the winter will be cutting cold. If it’s like a fork, the winter will be mild. If however, the embryo is shaped like a spoon, you better grab your snow shovel! Although, I’d never bet on the accuracy of such predictions, I still enjoy this autumn ritual, and the metaphoric allure of looking into the heart of a persimmon seed, and pondering.

Persimmon trees usually grow straight and tall, between 100 and 130 feet and less than a foot wide. In cross section, the dark interior heartwood hints that the tree is a member of the ebony family. The wood of the persimmon has been used for things that resist splitting on sudden impact, like golf clubs.

persimmons & breadAlthough persimmons may be an acquired taste, the genus name, Diosporus can be loosely translated, as food of the gods, or divine fruit. The taste of a ripened persimmon is a memorable experience. It’s a gooey stew which conjures the sweet essence of autumn; all held together in a thin squishy membrane. Visualize a miniature water balloon filled with a spicy amber applesauce and you’ll have a fair depiction of a ripe persimmon. When a ripe persimmon falls it tends to fall with a splat. An unripe persimmon falls from the tree with a discernable plunk. If you bite into this “plunker” it is an even more memorable experience. Unripe persimmons are not sour but they are extremely astringent. Biting into one, leaves your mouth feeling like it’s full of fuzzy wrinkles. You never forget its pucker power!

An account written in 1758 in the History of Louisiana, stated that the Native Peoples made a breadstuff that “has this remarkable property that it will stop the most violent looseness of dysentery”. Thus, the persimmon should not be eaten by the chronically constipated.

opposumRaccoons, opossums and other mammals also fatten up for the winter by feasting on persimmons. In return for these calorie laden gifts, these mammals plant lots of trees by depositing seed laden scat (now enriched with organic fertilizer) some distance from the parent tree. The fruit is also eaten by many species of birds. Persimmons will fatten up humans as well. Some folks in our area gather them and remove their seeds (I use a food mill for this process) to use in baking cookies, puddings, cakes, and pies. I find that substituting persimmons for recipes that call for applesauce can lead to good results. I usually add a little extra moisture, in the way of yogurt, water, milk or oil to account for the persimmon pulp’s thicker consistency.

Many people mistakenly believe that persimmons will not ripen until after a frost; but some trees, like several here at Bernheim, ripen weeks before the first frost and are delicious! When judging the ripeness of a persimmon, I recall what my father taught me as a child, “If it’s a “plunker” it will make you pucker; but those that splatter, will make you fatter. So as you begin your excursions into autumn, be sure to enjoy the crunch of the leaves; but don’t forget to listen to sounds of the “divine fruit” falling from the heavens, or from the nearest persimmon tree.

 

 

 

 

 

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Interpreting Hospitals

We just opened a brand new hospital at the South Carolina Aquarium, and it’s not for people. 241 sea turtles have come through our hospital to be rehabilitated and released back out in the wild. This is something that we have always done, since we opened in 2000, but it is just now becoming a part of every guests’ experience. No longer do they have to pay extra money and go down to our basement, but every guest that enters our building will have the chance to see sea turtles in rehabilitation up close and personal, maybe catching a feeding, exam, or surgery.

This is a new kind of interpretation for us as educators at the Aquarium. It is extremely powerful to let guests have a glimpse into the world of sea turtle rehabilitation, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. What most guests don’t realize, is that these turtles undergo surgery very similarly to people. Doctors and Nurses recognize the equipment in our surgery suite and can relate to the work that the Veterinarian has cut out for him. Guests have watched 4 hours of surgery where 4 feet of fishing line was removed from a Kemps Ridleys intestines. It is bloody, gruesome, shocking, and real. Letting guests in on our behind the scenes action calls for some necessary interpretation.

It is extremely important to educate guests on what they are viewing.. what injuries are what, what the x-rays are showing, why that turtle has a tube down it’s throat, why that turtle is bloody, and why that turtle isn’t moving… it’s a lot of information that could get misconstrued by guests if not explained properly. We strive to always have interpreters in our sea turtle hospital to walk guests through the experience of rescue, rehab, and release and the impact on our guests is truly life changing.

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What’s It Worth?

I had someone ask me for ideas on helping administrators understand the value of their staff members going through a NAI certification program.  How can we best explain the merits to individuals that may not be familiar with NAI or the field of Interpretation in general?

The NAI website has solid wording about what the certifications include but not much describing what individuals and institutions gain as a result.  I regularly use skills I gained from being certified.  It gave me a foundation of understanding about this profession I would not otherwise have.  It also helped me asses my skills and improve them.  That’s valuable but… can it be quantified?

What points can we make that will resonate with the people who manage our budgets?  My first thought was: improved interpretation improves visitor experience which is likely to increase repeat visits by individuals and groups, thus growing revenue.  In a general sense, professional development keeps staff engaged and therefore more productive.  What do you think?  I would love to hear any ideas people have on making the merits of certification more interpret-able.

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