Monthly Archives: December 2017

Hope in a Moon Tree

by Cindy Neal Carpenter

Shannon's Moon Tree

Interpreter Shannon Ballard Welch’s artistic rendering of the Cradle of Forestry’s Moon Sycamore.

We have past the year’s longest night, and though longer days are difficult for us to discern, it won’t be long before nature does. It is time to be thankful for the gifts of the old year, let go of what is not helpful, and welcome in the new. Symbols of a New Year’s fresh beginnings can be found by those who, like me and most interpreters, tend to find intangible meanings in tangible things. The recent sight of a lone American sycamore with branches decked all over with seed balls is one of those symbols. This is no ordinary sycamore. This is a rare Moon Tree, sprung from a space traveling seed that went where no tree seed had gone before.

I love this tree at the Cradle of Forestry in America, and its little known story. It is one of some 50 known surviving trees that went to the moon as seeds on the Apollo 14 mission in February, 1971. Astronaut Stuart Roosa loved the outdoors and had worked for the USDA Forest Service as a smokejumper before becoming a test pilot and astronaut. Stan Krugman, then Forest Service Staff Director for Forest Genetics Research, gave him redwood, loblolly pine, sycamore, Douglas fir, and sweetgum seeds as part of a NASA/USFS project to study the effects of radiation and weightlessness on seed germination and seedling growth. So Roosa gladly included the 400-500 tree seeds in his Personal Preference Kit, a small pouch Apollo astronauts were allowed to fill with their special possessions.

Apollo and Roosa

Astronaut Stuart Roosa  orbited the moon in 1971 with tree seeds as companions.

Roosa and the tree seeds orbited the moon above our pretty blue planet 34 times on board the command module Kitty Hawk as Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the lunar surface and Shepard famously hit golf balls. Once back on Earth, the seed canisters burst open during decontamination procedures, and the seeds were feared to be no longer viable.  Surprisingly, nearly all germinated successfully, and after a few years the Forest Service had grown 420-450 seedlings. Research showed no difference in growth between the space travelers and their earthbound genetic twins.


Honoring Earth's Green World of Trees

A ceremony program design included an inspiring slogan and mission logo featuring a smokejumper’s parachute and space capsule.

The Moon Trees’ next journeys were to forestry organizations and public sites around the world, planted between 1975 and 1976 as part of the United States’ Bicentennial celebration.  The Cradle of Forestry’s Moon Tree was planted in the fall of 1976 by Karl Oedekoven, then Minister of Forestry for the Federal Republic of Germany. This was appropriate since the Cradle is the home of America’s first forestry school, founded in 1898 by German forester and humanitarian Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck. President Gerald Ford sent telegrams to planting ceremonies, writing that each small tree was “a fitting tribute to our national space program which has brought out the best of American patriotism, dedication and determination to succeed.”

According to the NASA Moon Tree website, 16 Moon Trees survive in our Sunny Southeast Region. At least 10 second generation Moon Trees also grow in our region. Several years ago I noticed seeds from the Cradle’s tree, but it didn’t occur to me to collect them. I’ve felt I had missed my chance. And now, here they hang against the endless sky, lovely brown seed balls on a bare-leaved American sycamore. I have hope now this symbol of wonder, devotion and history can survive, especially as our Moon Tree declines.

Moon tree (2)

Hidden by leaves until recently, the Cradle’s Moon Tree’s “buttonballs” hold hope for a new generation.

At second-generation Moon Tree planting ceremonies, Stuart Roosa’s grown children expressed hope the trees encourage children to reach for the stars. When interpreting the Cradle of Forestry’s Moon Tree I like to encourage curiosity since we are learning so much about our solar system and our universe, yet there is still so much to learn about our forests and their care. As I anticipate a New Year, reflect on the world today, and ponder the potential and meaning in a Moon Tree seed, I also ponder the relevance of President Ford’s telegrams’ concluding sentence: “May this young tree renew our deep-rooted faith in the ideals of our Founding Fathers and may it inspire us to strive for the kind of growth that benefits our own citizens and all mankind.”

Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to All.

(Sources: NASA Moon Tree website; Cradle of Forestry in America site files; Forest History Society archives)

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Now is the time

by Helena Uber-Wamble

Here we are with New Year’s Eve fast approaching. Our minds are filled with resolutions of things to come: plans to do better, tackle something new, expand our horizons through travel with family and friends, and lose the weight of yesterday as we try to let go of the past. Holiday letters received usually have a synopsis of the year’s events that have occurred, with the ups and downs of life. Time — time is what we try to capture with these rituals. We measure time in memories that were made and events that rocked our world, both good and bad.

IMG_20171104_135716How easily nature takes on time. There is celebration in the rebirth/growth of new leaves and blooms that burst forth in the spring, and in the rhythm of summer insects drumming out through the night. The peacefulness of the planet preparing for its winter slumber in the fall carpets the earth, preparing us for the silence that is to come in winter. Nature rests during the winter months to prepare again for the spring. Oh, how nice it would be to live within these same time frames.

In The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner writes, “Clocks slay time…time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” How true this is for all of us. When you are out in the woods – hiking, camping, or making memories of any sort—as long as there is not a time limit, then it is “the best time of your life”: not quantified by minutes, but memories.

And so it is that nature, the best time keeper, brings us back to the present. Watching the sun rise or the sun set, seeing a fawn being born or taking its first steps, or watching a butterfly float silently by on a summer’s day are all moments that capture us in the “NOW.” Nature envelops our senses and slows us down to appreciate the here and now. Every bit of nature has no care in the world except for the precise moment that is now. The birds you see flying by in formation are passing through in a moment’s time, and then they are gone. The joy in experiencing these moments really is a here-and-now only opportunity.

My Mom has a quote at her house that reads, “The place between no longer and not yet.” This is where we should aim to be. “If you’re always racing to the next moment, what happens to the one you’re in?” (Author Unknown). Arnold Bennett said, “The chief beauty about time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are laying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoiled, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your life. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose.” This should be our goal.

My husband and I started a ritual. When we see something beautiful like a full moon or a spectacular tree, one of us will say to the other, “I give you the moon” (or whatever it is that we are admiring). In that moment in time, we stop and appreciate the beauty around us. That beauty is doubled because it is a moment that is shared.

time-managementTennessee Williams wrote in The Glass Menagerie, “Time is the longest distance between two places.” How true is this as we prepare those resolutions? Tomorrow I will start my diet, next year we will take that trip, let’s get together for dinner or lunch real soon. We look at age sixteen as the time of the driver’s license, eighteen as our time to graduate, and 21 as the time to be able to legally drink. We start our childhood with, “Once upon a time…” and look for the “happily ever after.” Why wait? Marthe Troly-Curtin said “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

Nature doesn’t wait, nature just does. There is a time and a season for everything, but nature flows with that concept and moves along with it effortlessly. Maybe we should approach life with that same attitude. Nike had it right with their ad stating, “Just do it!” There is no time like the present! Take charge, live in the now and create memories to etch these moments clearly in your mind. Don’t wait until New Year’s Day to start those resolutions. We are not guaranteed tomorrow, so make the most of today. This is my wish for all of you as you read this.

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Tis the Season…to share our story interpretively?

During the holidays we are often reading stories of Santa Claus, Rudolf, Tiny Tim to family member’s young (and old) to get into the “spirit of the season”.  Those stories come in many forms of media, including broadcasting information online, but they all have one thing in common; a theme or take home message.  Isn’t that the core of interpretation?  So I contend we should make our digital storytelling content the same way.  A recent article I read on Museum Hack’s website (they are awesome) comments on digital storytelling for museums.  While it is from 2005 (link below), the article still resonates today and during this time of year when stories are a central focus.  Out of the top 4 things they mention, I pulled a couple items out which really spoke to me.

The first was the content being thematic.  As individuals who have read “Meaningful Interpretation” and taken CIG courses, we know the importance of themes in our interpretive programs.  The central focus is needed to help guide ourselves and audience to a common goal.  Second, collaboration between people both at your institution and abroad.  While staff can be experts in certain fields, people in the community may have a bit of integral information that helps to shape, or change, your narrative.  Using them to help you create content builds a relationship between yourself and the larger world.  Finally, you are able to “recycle” objects you have already used either in exhibits or online previously.  By adding additional information or using a new perspective, a new dialogue can be started on an object that has been on display for years.


Archaeological evidence of life found at Fort Tombecbe.  We are constantly using these objects to interpret life at the fort over 250 years ago.

For interpreters, we can learn a little bit about adopting digital storytelling.  One of the best ways to reach people with content is digitally via social media.  Visitor centers, museums, parks have a limited capacity for engaging audiences.  Online, you are only limited by access to WiFi signal.  You can take small stories about an aspect of your site and broadcast them to the world.  Our museum does this a lot.  Since it is under construction, we have to rely on programs and online media to educate people about our region.  Facebook has been our biggest broadcaster.  Since our page became more interpretive and active in our posts 3 years ago, we had thousands of people learn about the prehistoric creatures of the Black Belt, life in colonial Alabama and even more that could not have been shared with people due to our exhibit hall not being done.  People have become more engaged in our how museum is growing, building capacity and doing community outreach than ever before.  All because we moved to sharing our story interpretively online.

I encourage everyone to share our stories in a more interpretive way.  You never know who you may reach.

Link to article:

black racer 2

Black Racer seen during an paleo survey by our director. Snake posts are garner some of the most traffic on Facebook.

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Who’s in charge here?

After attending the NAI National Conference in November, I came back to my Nature Center and dove headfirst into the hardcore planning for our annual Fairy House Festival (February 10th, 2018, you know you want to come!). As I lay awake the other night, trying to turn off the “Festival Brain” and actually rest, it occurred to me…

Planning and running a special event is like caring for a 2 year old. No, really, it is! Think about it for a minute. Things are going to go wrong, you just accept that fact and move along with your life. And when they don’t, you freeze and look around suspiciously. You are constantly braced for the barrage of questions: Why are we doing this? Are we there yet? HOW much did you spend?!? You provide answers again and again and again: Because it’s good for us. It’ll help us grow. Because I said so! Your pour time and energy and a little pieces of your soul into “raising” this beast…and then you see how wonderfully it turns out. You watch the happy faces of the participants and they see all your hard work. Every day working with a special event is a learning opportunity, I promise. Just make it a mantra: I am growing as an interpreter and this is good for me. Ommmmm.

A few things I’ve learned along the way (and am still learning):

  • Delegate! Whether your event is for 30 people or 3500, delegate those responsibilities! You’ll lose less hair!
  • The budget never works. Plan on that.
  • Don’t let your wings get stuck in a tree (doubly important if you’re a fairy). Have a Plan B! And a Plan C. And a Plan D, E, F, G…what does that spell? Backup!!!
  • Doesn’t matter what time of year it is, the weather will be wacky. Especially if you live in North Carolina. Plan ahead and have weather contingencies. I’ve worked festivals in rain and snow, wind and tornadoes. Be prepared!
  • You are not going to please 100% of the people 100% of the time. Nobody’s perfect and that’s okay!
  • Glitter never truly gets cleaned out of anything. Consider this before creating signage or activities. Also consider if your signage is legible and your activities accessible. And really, really avoid reaching for the glitter.
  • Stop. Breathe. Have a little fun yourself at the event. Walk around and enjoy it! If you’re not having fun, then what’s the point of doing it?

Now, I’m still learning and I love hearing from other event coordinators. Have you run a special event lately? What about sometime in the past? What have you learned???


Image result for funny event planner

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