A point in time: Using General Land Office (GLO) Notes


I couldn’t believe that I was holding in my hands the leather-bound book that helped to define a state. Even more, I couldn’t believe that it was kept in an unprotected cardboard box under the desk of a state employee’s office. These stained pages, with nearly illegible cursive writing in fading ink, were the original notes written by land surveyors in 1830s Mississippi as they established the township and range lines. My mind raced with the shattering impacts that this simple book had in the following years: the mapping of historical lands and subsequent removal of native American tribes, the locations of good arable farming lands, the areas and qualities of natural resources, determining navigable rivers and courses, facilitating the sale of public lands, and importantly—establishing the first maps and records of a young frontier state. These survey plats and field notes became known as the General Land Office notes (or cadastral surveys), which are publically available online for most lands west of the original American colonies (


These historical maps and records are used today by families researching homelands, by researchers tracing emigration and immigration patterns, and for my own professional interests– to determine the historical forest patterns that once existed. GLO maps have been used in land restoration projects for restoring river courses, delineating wetlands, and forest management. Hand drawn maps of the township and range lines shows the general land relief; river locations; existing roads, croplands, and homesites; and surface features. The survey lines offer a wealth of information that includes tree names, wetland areas, and distances. My personal favorites are the general notes written by the surveyor about particular townships which include such literary gems as, “this mile is hansom level open wood. Poor land. Pine & oak timber” or “The land of no value”. Check out the GLO notes for your neighborhood and you may be surprised what you may find.


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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year


It’s the most wonderful time of the year … 

And no, I’m not just late for Christmas season — I mean spring!

If you’re a nature lover, you can’t help but get all giddy when you flip the calendar to March. Early spring is simply the most wonderful time of the year in nature.

All other seasons take their time in passing, but spring is ephemeral. Birds pass through on migration that might only stay for a week before moving further north. Frog ponds appear just long enough for tadpoles to develop, and then shrivel back into dry depressions in the woods. Salamanders emerge for one-night breeding festivals, and then just as quickly return to their underground burrows for the rest of the year. Some wildflowers bloom for only a day. New changes happen at a riotous pace, and if you close your eyes for a few days you might miss something.

In early spring, the world comes back to life. The air, which has been quiet all winter, fills with music again as frogs trill exuberantly after their long winter slumber and birds begin to serenade their mates. The brown hues of February give way to the yellows, pinks, greens, and purples of new spring growth. And we reunite with old friends like purple martins and ospreys whom we haven’t seen in months.

Spring can also be a busy time for many of us in the interpretation field. It’s time to get things ready for the busy season! It’s time to get ready for school field trip season! Better clean this, inventory that, make sure all the supplies are ready, busy busy busy busy!

But don’t let the side show of the daily to-do list distract you from the main show of spring itself. Look for and celebrate the “first’s” — the first wildflower, the first blooming redbud tree, the first Mourning Cloak butterfly, the first barn swallow, the first bellowing bullfrog. Seek out the spectacles that only happen once a year like toads gathering to breed, salamanders marching across the road on a rainy night, the blooming of bloodroot in the forest.

Spring is different. Spring is ephemeral. Spring is upon us. It’s the most wonderful time of the year — be there for it.

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Recharge Your Battery

Many of us are approaching our busiest time of year. For me, spring brings non-stop field trips, several large events, more visitors and battling weeds and invasive species that need to be controlled as they spring back to life. Usually winter is a time I can recharge my battery to get ready for this busy time but things have been busy and I feel my battery is already draining. I hear more and more that we need to take care of ourselves before we can care for others. As interpreters, our jobs require us to be able to take care of other’s needs for them to have an enjoyable experience (remember Maslow.) How can we recharge our batteries so we can survive these busier times?
1) Do something you enjoy. Maybe it’s a hobby that would normally get pushed to a backburner. I don’t know how many sewing projects I have waiting to be completed. Get outdoors and take a hike, bike ride or a paddle. Sit in a hammock with a good book (Talk to Pepe Chavez because he can give you the hook up and help NAI at the same time!) A rainy day is a great excuse to sit on the couch and binge watch an entire season of a show. It rained this past week so I am now caught up with Stranger Things season 2.
2) Take a day off. This can be difficult and may feel nearly impossible. If you can plan ahead and can afford to, mark off one day a month so you don’t schedule any programs. You can take the day off or a day without a scheduled program can feel like a day off and allow you to catch up on other work projects like cleaning your desk!

nai feb 2018 article pic

I think I am in need of a day off. What do you think? 

3) Meet with other interpreters. This week is our NAI regional workshop and I am looking forward to seeing people that I only see once a year and meeting new faces in the field. There is something to be said about hanging with your interpreter peeps. You inspire my creative side and can spark my battery back to life. If you can’t make it to a regional workshop, try to make it to a state gathering or join online conversations through Facebook or other social media.

As the busy season consumes you, remember to take time to recharge. What will you do to keep your battery on full power?


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Could you interpret yourself?


This is how you “wow”

During my career as interpreter I interviewed for a few jobs here and there, not always with the expected outcome, I would say for the best at this point in my career. As a Nature Center Manager, I am on the other side of the table interviewing candidates for full time and seasonal positions.

It is easy to spot when candidates are nervous, after all this moment is when you may start your career. Sweaty hands, white knuckles, either a pale face or a bright red face. I can see past that because I have been there before.

A key ingredient is preparation, how would you interpret yourself?

I already know that you have a college degree, where you worked, what position and responsibility you had so what I want to see and hear is what makes you a unique interpreter. How are you going to engage your audience?

Go to an interview thinking that you are going to share with a friend your favorite book, how much you loved reading it and you were almost sad when it was over. You share that passion and love and it is so vivid that your friend wants to borrow the book.

Show me how you would interpret our natural and cultural resources, show me that you love and care about them so much that I feel compelled to care about them too. I have heard from almost every single candidate on a monotone answer “I love nature” or “I feel very passionate about the outdoors” that is a good start but show me what you have done as a result of your love and passion.

If you can do that during and interview I can guarantee you that you will make a memorable impression and are more likely to get the job.

Next week I will be presenting and the Regional Conference and sharing fellow interpreters some of my experiences as a manager I am looking forward to catching up with you and hopefully sharing those stories about your career path as interpreter.

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Anxieties of being an Interpreter

I fell into the interpretative world by accident. As an introvert who hated presentations throughout my academic career, standing in front of 100+ people leading programs seemed like the last job I would ever end up in. But thanks to some amazing mentors in my life, I ended up falling in love with interpretation.

However, even a lot of love can’t counteract some of the anxieties that still pop up on a daily basis. And apparently, those anxieties aren’t limited to interacting with people face to face – those ugly insecurities started to appear again when I was trying to think of a topic for this blog. So naturally, I decided the best course of action was to share some of those fears with you and a few ways I’m learning to adapt.

Anxiety #1: Not being the expert

Even though I work at an aquarium, my knowledge of fish is occasionally… well fishy. If people want to talk about marine mammals or shorebirds – Great! If guests want me to ID this random fish that they caught six months ago from a blurry picture – That’s not going to go as well.

Jack Crevalle

I don’t know Jack

Luckily, I’m surrounded by a dynamic group of interpreters, each with our own specialties and interests to lean on. And, even though the Type A person in me is crying, I need to remember that it’s ok to admit I don’t know everything. Instead, I can reframe those moments into teachable opportunities for myself and the guests.

Anxiety #2: “Interpreter Blackout”

Ever spoken with someone and they ask a basic question – and you freeze? Or you’re doing a program you’ve done dozens of times and then can’t remember what on earth you said RIGHT AFTER it’s over? I’ve dubbed these instances “Interpreter blackouts” or “I promise I’m smart, just not right now” moments.

Missing Brain

One of the ways I’ve found to help counteract these blackouts, is to try to remember to slow down and breathe during the day. As interpreters, we carry so much knowledge around in our heads, I think sometimes our brain revolts and we end up going through our day on autopilot – which is often what we’re out there telling people to not do! We need to remember to take a bit of our own advice, slow down, be in the moment, and appreciate what’s happening around us.

Anxiety #3: Animals Gone Wild

Nature is infinitely more awesome than I will ever be. But (you knew it was coming) sometimes combining guests and nature can create some tricky, impromptu interpretive conversations… like the one time a shark snapped at a fish during one of my dive programs. Nature does what it wants. Stingrays get frisky, birds don’t have the best table manners, and occasionally an animal just wants a little me time.


 FYI: Breaking out into “The Circle of Life” is NOT an appropriate response

Interpreting the awkward moments forces me to rely on all my background knowledge and steer the narrative to the positive place. Does this always happen? Nope. But keeping a few puns in the back of my pocket and being open to interpret even when I’m uncomfortable usually ends up being some of the best interactions I have with people. Though sometimes it also brings me straight into the last anxiety…


Anxiety #4: Interesting Comments/Actions from Guests

Oh goodness. Which example to choose?

I could write about all the negative comments about snakes I hear. Or the number of people who jokingly ask me what something tastes like.

Turtley awesome

Not a turtley awesome moment for me

I could even mention the time I had a ten-minute conversation with a person who was VERY interested in barnacle reproduction, which, while fascinating, isn’t something you want to go into a ton of detail with fifteen young children around. (Sorry parents, all your kids just learned that barnacles have the largest penis in the animal kingdom relative to size. Whoops.)

Navigating conversations with people isn’t always going to go as planned. And quite frankly, this is something that I’ve only gotten better at with time and practice. Rocky situations are going to come up and sometimes all you can do is nod and roll with it to the best of your abilities. When I started in the field, I would go home and overanalyze my responses. Now, I still overanalyze, but I do it with chocolate, humor, and a better understanding of how the unexpected can be an opportunity for growth.

Any of these anxieties hit home for you? It’s so easy for us to feel like we’re the only ones who get nervous when we see how confident other interpreters appear. But you’re not alone. Falling on your face occasionally doesn’t make you a bad interpreter! I think many of us would argue that working through insecurities and messing up is a vital part of learning to interpret. Like Tilden says: “Interpretation is an art, which combines many arts, whether the materials presented are scientific, historical or architectural. Any art is in some degree teachable.” Let’s turn anxieties into teachers.


Photo credit: 1:   2:  3:   4: “Getting out of my shell”, taken by one of my coworkers

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Culture, Beauty, and Pain

Culture informs our craft more than I often consider.  If I hope to reach my audience on a personal level, their experiences in our culture inform how they relate to everything I do.  My place in society is crucial too.  How do I relate to others?  All this matters.  Even if culture is not overt in our site, or not featured in the stories we tell, its power is present.

There’s a whole lot of beauty in the cultural fabric we share.  Food, art, acts of compassion, people uniting to overcome adversity…the list goes on.  And in the subject matter we interpret, there’s also plenty of beauty to be found.  Beauty is great.  It is a powerful motivator and its presence is key to physical and mental health for us humans.  It is easy to work with and celebrating what’s beautiful should permeate our work.  The sticky thing about beauty though; if everything was beautiful, beauty would cease to exist.

It’s easier for me (and most of the masses) to experience beauty than pain, but pain is a powerful player in our culture.  If our interpretation is going to achieve Freeman Tilden’s fifth principle—presenting a whole rather than a part and addressing the whole person—pain should be considered.  What got me thinking about this was a workshop I took recently.

The training dealt with diversity, equity, and inclusion, which are all wide-ranging topics I will not attempt to tackle in a few paragraphs.  They are also frequently politicized and I won’t get into that but there were a few ideas presented about approaching difficult subjects that I think are applicable to our profession:

  • Setting intention toward learning is more effective than seeking perfection
  • Failing in the name of learning is natural
  • Discomfort is different from injury
  • Nurturing and nourishing creates connections
  • Intentions are important but not a substitute for considering impact

I hope this is thought provoking.  I look forward to thought provocation at the NAI regional conference in less than a month!  I hope to see you there.  Cheers, Eli

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Keeping It Fresh

Let me start with a short story from 2001 that appeared in Reader’s Digest.  When Dale opens a can, she always turns it upside down to open it from the bottom. One day her young son asked her why. “I don’t really know,” she said. “My mom always did it that way.” She decided to call her mom and ask.

“When we brought the cans up from the cellar, the tops were always dusty,” her mother explained. “I couldn’t be bothered to clean them, so I turned them upside down and opened the bottom.”

Recently, I attended a meeting with fellow academics who teach and study interpretation.  One item of discussion was how we could serve the interpretation community through research.  Research can have the connotation of being stuffy and not relevant.  I think it is very important to understand why we do what we do.  The world is very dynamic and things change.  We can’t always do things the way we have always done them.  Research can help.

What questions do you have?

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Registration for the upcoming regional workshop closes Feb 1st!

by Rhana Paris

My bad . . . . I didn’t look over the registration packet as well as I should have! If you are operating under the notion that you have until February 23rd to register for our Sunny Southeast Regional Interpreters Workshop (RIW), be advised that the correct deadline is February 1st!

Our next RIW will be on the Outer Banks of North Carolina from February 27-March 2 at the gold LEED certified Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) in Wanchese, NC. The organizing committee has put together quite a slate of activities for you to learn from and enjoy!

Check it out:

  • We are offering three pre-workshop sessions on Monday and Tuesday.
  • The actual RIW starts at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island on Tuesday evening for after hours views of our exhibits, heavy hors d’oeuvres, music from our house band and an opening address from Dave Hallac, the superintendent of the NPS Outer Banks Group.
  • On Wednesday, we meet at CSI for concurrent sessions and a keynote from Darrell Collins, retired NPS interpreter and expert on the Wrigth Brothers. We’ll have silent auction during the day and live auction at night to raise money for scholarships.
  • Thursday is for field trips to lighthouses, hunt clubs, antebellum homes and natural landscapes.
  • We reconvene at CSI Friday morning for another round of concurrent sessions before sending you on your way!

Perky at the aquariumSo sign up today, pack your water bottle/coffee cup/old name tag holder, bring an item or two to auction, and plan to have a great time networking with fellow Sunny Southeasterners! Perky is ready–are you?

Questions? Contact Rhana Paris at 252-475-2344 or

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Le Lo Lai


Credit Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The New York Times

Le Lo Lai: “kind of lyrical “scat” exclaimed by the traditional jíbaro [Puerto Rican mountain people] singer,  “la-le-lo-lai” o “lai-le-lo-lai” o “ay-le-lo-lelo-le,” heard between stanzas (cuartetas) of the sung décima, also exists among the ancient Spanish workers on the small farms of Castille, Murcia and Almería. And it may have even originated from an even older place, from the Moorish lands; because they actually sound like certain ancient sung exclamations of North Africa.” (Credit: The Puerto Rico Quatro Project

For the past three and a half months, the island of Puerto Rico has been trapped in a sustained nightmare, where the world you know and love has become at times not only unrecognizable but perilous in more ways than can be either counted or countered. Over one hundred days after being grazed by Hurricane Irma and obliterated by Hurricane María, most of the population is still without dependable electricity or safe running water. I’m not going to include numbers because they are constantly changing. Depending on who you ask, either 32 or over 1000 people were killed as the result of the hurricane. We have a greater awareness of what’s going on on the island in the mainland US because internet and cell phone coverage are barely available, so word of mouth, radio, and the local news when tv is available is how most people are getting news on what’s happening on other parts of the island. There are still people searching for word of their family members. Schools are remaining unopened, some permanently as the population drops with a mass exodus to the mainland. People who have never left the island, who expected to live their entire lives there, are finding themselves struggling to adapt to tenuously created new lives in Florida, Massachusetts, Iowa. They are cold this winter.

As a bicultural interpreter with a Puerto Rican mother, I have found myself in the position of explaining the island’s unique history and relationship with the United States. Now, more than ever, people have questions. Who are they? Are they really US citizens? What rights do they have? How do they relate to the rest of us Americans? It’s a strange thing, both hopeful and painful, to interpret Puerto Rico every where I go. The cashiers at REI and Cabela’s, asking about my purchases of water purifiers and solar chargers, my landlord in North Carolina as he repairs the back deck, dozens and dozens of attendants at the NAI national conference this year in Spokane. It’s a strain, but a welcome one. Because the number one question I’ve received has been, “How can I help?” Even when Puerto Rico is being abandoned by the services that are meant to relieve all American citizens, individuals and groups are not turning their backs. I wish I had easy answers for them, but the best I can do right now is direct them toward trustworthy organizations to donate to, or, if they want to assist in my family’s work in helping people grow vegetables at home, as most stores are still without refrigeration and fresh produce is hard to either come by or keep from spoiling, I give them the address to send packets of seeds and supplies. In the Sunny Southeast NAI community, we are attempting to figure out how to create a support network to help the interpreter sites of Puerto Rico get back on their feet, a network that will hopefully continue on as a resource for other areas if and when they are hit by catastrophe or need in the future.

One of the best gifts we can share as interpreters, though, is our voice. Sharing the truth about Puerto Rico, climate change, political and social history and how it impacts our world today, the importance of art and expression in the development of resilience in a population, the journey of our environment as it recovers from increasingly intense stresses, many of which came about from human actions. Helping people to learn beyond A + B = C, to grasp what it means to make even seemingly insignificant choices that can help push us toward a better future as a whole, and to find both sobering perspective and great joy in those relationships…those are powerful gifts. If you’ve ever been to Puerto Rico, you know that although it is a small island, it is not a quiet one. A great musical voice comes through in our songs, stories, dances…even in our wildlife. The coquí, a tiny tree frog which is our national symbol, has a mating call as loud as a lawnmower at 90 decibels. (This is good, as the lovelorn frogs, owls, and endangered Puerto Rican parrots are competing with the sound of generators day and night.)In honor of Three Kings Day – a holiday celebrated in Puerto Rico and throughout the world on January 6, where children leave shoeboxes of grass under their beds for the camels of the wise men on their way to Bethlehem to eat, a day that the people of the island are insisting on celebrating together in spite of the massive loss and strain in their lives – I wish you all the strength of your compassion and your voice.


“Gold, frankincense and myrrh? No, that was before! Now we bring you water, gas, and light…three gifts of incalculable value!”

To participate in the Jane Goodall Roots & Shoots PR garden project: seeds (zones 11b-13b), water purification tablets, and seedling peat disks can be sent to Nelly & Rick Asselta, PO Box 1332, Maunabo, PR, 00707

For a list of charities vetted by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies:

To learn more about how one art museum helped their city handle the aftermath of Hurricane María through art programs:

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A New Year Brings New Hope–and Old Stories

As someone who develops interpretive materials on a regular basis and does periodic presentations to groups from under 10 people to over 100, I struggle with exactly what to present. (Sort of like I struggle to come up with something to say today, January 2, 2018.)

I’m torn, really, between a desire to develop something new, exciting and innovative each time I develop an interpretive package. I struggle to tell a new, compelling story each time I offer a presentation to a new group.

But the common thread exists–and it exists for a reason. There should be continuity between the things you create. With most architects, there is a similarity to their designs. With writers, one book is certainly different than the next, but the style, the flow, the way characters are developed, all those things bear a similar feel.

Just so with interpretation–be it design, writing, or story-telling. We are individuals and our individual way of telling the story is what gives us the power to make a connection, to make a difference, in the lives of those who listen, who read, who see.

The fine line–and I’m not sure it is that fine–is understanding when to use the best, most developed material you have for your story and when to sit down and develop new content. If most of the people who see or hear your material are regulars, that clearly means mostly new content. But, even then, people hear only part of what you say and they forget much of that.

The more challenging choices come when you provide content to new people on a regular basis. Do you use the same content day after day? Do you come up with new content?

One of the best presentations I’ve ever attended had a spontaneity like no other. It was a slideshow (back in the day when people used actual 35mm slides) through a projector. The presenter showed slide after slide and gave amazingly researched, effective commentary for each image. It was extraordinary.

In the middle of this clearly practiced presentation, he interjected a slide of his young son in a field of pumpkins to show the importance of open spaces and of unique places. He talked about visiting that field with his son earlier that fall. The spontaneity of that moment seemed to lift the more fact-filled parts of the presentation to new heights.

Everyone clapped profusely at the end and left the workshop with a newfound sense of purpose. It really is one of the best presentations I’ve seen, marked by several moments of what felt like perfectly spontaneous moments.

Flash forward about 3 years. The same speaker came and presented to a new group at a workshop. The workshop is the same each year, but with different attendees. He started off the presentation exactly as he did the last time. Of course, that makes sense, as it was a finely tuned presentation. Then came the slide of his son in the pumpkin patch. And so did the same “spontaneous” story about family and the importance of open spaces and unique places. That moment of spontaneity I had reveled in 3 years earlier was exactly the same “spontaneous” moment this time. It, like every other part of his presentation, was carefully calibrated to move his story along.

I tell this story because, honestly, there was no reason for the presenter to change the story. It was a new group of attendees. The presentation had the same impact–everyone left talking about how wonderful the presentation was. Everyone left inspired.

I tell the story to illustrate something I struggle with. Even in this new year, with all the fresh new ideas it brings, sometimes it is better to tell the story as before. If you have developed a wonderful interpretive story of “your” place, feel proud to share it again and again. The more you share it, the stronger it becomes. Polish is often better than spontaneous.

So, in this new year, take time to look over your interpretive stories. Refresh them if they need it, but don’t feel obligated to change your story just to make it new. The story’s the thing.

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