By Cindy Neal Carpenter
The practice of personal interpretation takes practice. Although as of a few months ago I am no longer a wage earning interpreter, I am compelled to keep practicing implementing the principles and best practices of our profession. So I now happily volunteer as a trail guide at my former workplace and support the site’s interpretive efforts by researching archives and fact checking, activities I didn’t have much time to do when employed.
Currently I have committed to leading tours for organized groups with reservations, as I did while working. I have long felt that the greater challenge for a guide is to engage a group of drop-in, everyday visitors whose only common ground may be curiosity about the site. Since it has been common practice through most of my career for this to fall on volunteers rather than professional interpreters, I wonder, would I be contributing to this tendency, too often fallen to due to budget challenges? Would I threaten NAI’s mission of advancing interpretation as a profession?
I recently experienced a walk in a very special place that is helping me answer this question. It was led by someone who obviously had been given no orientation to basics of good guiding. I knew that the site’s naturalist whose inspiring walks I had attended in the past had a rare weekend off, but I decided to attend anyway. It became immediately obvious that this employee was somehow “stuck” with this assignment- no welcome, no introduction- I decided not to ask his name just to see if he would ever give it and he didn’t- no information on the distance and time. With a “let’s go!” he set a fast pace up the trail to the mountaintop destination and view.
Early in what felt like a forced march, a woman asked for the name of a plant which our leader admitted not knowing. I decided to answer to the group, and as he turned and continued up the trail, crushed the aromatic leaf for her to sniff and answered another question before we too, hurried to catch up. Once at the destination our leader couldn’t give the answer to the name of the mountain range we were in and the view before us, and had to borrow someone’s trail map to give directions to someone passing by. It took all I had to refrain from jumping in. Upon departure he offered no thank you to the group for attending, he just hurried off. I left feeling like we had inconvenienced him, though no one else seemed bothered by this. The resource and the guests deserved better. And unlike Helena Uber-Wamble a couple blogs ago, I didn’t tell him about NAI. There was no opportunity, though I may write the naturalist and ask him to please never get married again on a weekend I am there.
This experience confirmed to me that in my “retirement” I need to interpret, to coach, to train when opportunities arise. I had supervisors who invested in my interpretation training. In 1998, three years before NAI launched the CIG program, and some 18 years into my interpretation work, I experienced Robert Fudge’s introduction to the Interpretive Equation through his part-mad professor-part Groucho Marx Dr. Dewey Domore character, and David Larsen’s amazing session in Harper’s Ferry on Tangibles, Intangibles and Universal Concepts. I certainly stand on the shoulders of these and other giants, including some in our Sunny Southeast Region.
So I volunteer, with apologies to our profession, and the sincerest of intentions.