Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tilden revisited

Years ago, in our fervor to cut costs for students, it was decided that Interpreting Our Heritage by Freeman Tilden was no longer needed as a required textbook for Interpretive Methods class (now called "Interpretive Guide Techniques").  The book was originally written in 1957, and never intended as a textbook.  The examples presented are a bit dated, and the photographs are amusing and quaint.  They hearken to a time before the computer, internet, cable television, smart phones (or cell phones of any kind), and immediate gratification.

While we still use the 6 "Principles of Interpretation" outlined in the book, and students are required to at least recognize them, the words of Mr. Tilden have been paraphrased, updated, modified, and expounded upon.   The class is offered to students from many different programs, and the meanings have different significance for an NR Law student aspiring to be a Park Ranger, and an Ecotourism student wishing to own a dive shop.  Perhaps the exposure to the ideas is more important than the original intent.   In my own way, I have come to understand the application of the principles as they relate to my interests and experiences, and taught them filtered through that lens.

For those of you who aspire to inspire, however, there is nothing like the original writings of Freeman Tilden.  His observations of good and bad techniques are timeless, and his reference to classic literature and other authors is moving.  Interpreting Our Heritage is a book that every interpreter should re-read on a regular basis.

Straight up.


Like the childrens' "telephone game", the original message may get lost along the way. Go to the source, and find out what has inspired interpreters for several generations, and why the name "Tilden" is still spoken with reverence within our circles.  It is a great way to recharge, and to place your work in a context that will inspire you, and hopefully your audiences.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Keep Looking Up!

Just a quick note to encourage everyone to view the night skies this week.

Tomorrow morning (just before dawn) is the peak of the Orionid Meteor Shower, which presents a light show based on the earth passing through the remnant leftovers of Haley's Comet.  Like an automobile passing through a cloud of insects, our "windshield" of the earth's atmosphere gets hit the most when it is moving directly through the objects.  This occurs just before sunrise, as we turn toward the same direction as the planet is moving in orbit.  If that doesn't make sense, check out the NASA website for more information.

Also this week, on Thursday afternoon, the new moon will partially eclipse the sun, right around sunset.  While you should NEVER look directly at the sun, you should be able to observe some funky shadows, or even create a pinhole viewer that will allow you to safely watch the sun turn into a crescent shape, as the moon takes a "bite" out of its spherical shape.

As Interpreters, we have so many stages to choose from, and some of those occur when our planet is facing away from the sun.  While a frightening time for many, night affords so much more than the mythology of ghosts and spirits.  Reality is much cooler!!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Keepers of the Fire


Sorry this has taken a while, but the last few weeks at Robbins Crossing have been a bit overwhelming!

As we welcome all kinds of visitors to the village on campus, I find myself answering the question (as I have for the past 30+ years) "what is an Interpreter?"

While I have the usual short, concise answer, it is helpful occasionally to step back and look at the bigger picture.  Not only does it focus attention on the task at hand (creating signage, planning programs, engaging visitors) but it also helps to recharge the batteries.  To realize that we are part of a tradition that pre-dates the terminology and professional designations, and that grows ever more necessary as we wade into the future.

The Potawatomi People of the Great Lakes region were known as the "Keepers of the Fire" among the Council of Three Peoples (which also included the Ottowa and Ojibway Nations).  While I may be unclear as to the literal meaning, to me the "fire" is an eternally burning reminder of our shared experiences as humans, and of the lives and stories that have come before.  As a storyteller, I once kept a small pouch with ashes from every campfire I told stories at, and placed ashes from the pouch into every fire I stood in front of.  This was my way of maintaining the chain of tradition that was important to me.

Interpreters are the "Keepers of the Fire" within our culture, as we strive to connect people with natural and cultural heritage.  We have inherited the privilege of carrying the flame forward.  In the words of Enos Mills- "May the tribe increase", (from Adventures of a Nature Guide, 1920)

Check out the NAI video of Interpreters from around the world illuminating their vision of the profession, click here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Stay Thirsty, My Friends...

As Interpreters, we often joke about the seemingly ridiculous questions we get asked.

(While paddling at a summer camp lake-) "How do you keep the fish out of the swimming area?"

(At Yellowstone National Park) "Where do you keep all of these animals at night?"

(Observing a calf being born-) "How fast do you reckon that little cow was running when it crashed into that big cow?"
While these may cause us to pause and question our educational systems, without a curious public, we would be out of work.  The very survival of these places we hold dear depend on a population that wants to know more, and that come back to our sites because we can offer stories that slake thirsty minds.

Beyond that, it behooves us to inspire the wondering and wandering of our visitors.  What can we do to create an ever growing audience, to reach people who don't even know why our parks and sites exist?  As Apple prepares to unveil some new product today,  I am reminded how the company thrived on the idea of providing people with something they didn't even know they needed until they saw it.  Today, practically all of us carry something in our pocket that wasn't even on our radar screens 10-15 years ago, but is a valuable part of our lives.  Can we move an audience to need a park they didn't even know they owned (or even existed)?

So, what is one of the best ways to create an atmosphere that instills in others the desire to learn more?  BE someone who desires to learn more!  One of the fundamentally important traits of a good interpreter is an insatiable curiosity.  Never stop learning- from your site, from your research, from your peers, and from your visitors!  When they see you asking questions, getting excited about some new observation or idea, and constantly adding to your repertoire of stories to tell, the enthusiasm is contagious.  While it is good to have extensive knowledge and facts, the desire to know everything is much more important than thinking you already do!

“Our instinct may be to see the impossibility of tracking everything down as frustrating, dispiriting, perhaps even appalling, but it can just as well be viewed as almost unbearably exciting. We live on a planet that has a more or less infinite capacity to surprise. What reasoning person could possibly want it any other way?”

Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything