Do you give talks or tours? Do you interact with visitors to help them understand exhibits at your site? Do you plan talks, tours, or exhibits? Do you visit schools and other places to present educational programs associated with a heritage site? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you may be an interpreter. Interpretation is a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource. ~ National Association for InterpretationAnyone who has been to a park, museum or historical site at least once has probably seen a ranger or volunteer give a presentation about that location. In the business, these are known as "interpretive presentations." Hopefully, it has been exciting and inspiring as well as informative. Unfortunately, you may have been subjected to a dry, dull, boring presentation, making you reluctant to ever go to such an event again in your life. The National Association for Interpretation is a group dedicated to training and certifying interpreters, enabling them to inspire visitors to their site in many ways. One issue, in my mind at least, is describing what "interpretation" actually is. You might guess that I feel the official definition quoted above to be a bit on the dry side. As part of our training, we study experts in this field. Experts have been concerned about parks and guides relating to their visitors since as early as the 1880's. One definition I like says, "Interpretation is an educational activity that aims to reveal meanings about our cultural and natural resources. Interpretation enhances our understanding, appreciation, and therefore, protection of historic sites and natural wonders."
Dick and I use our passion for nature at Bernheim Forest and the Falls of the Ohio, for example, to excite people about those places and nature in general, although interpreters do the same thing about history. Most people just aren't sufficiently exposed to nature or history to generate any real interest on their own. And if they aren't interested, they won't care. If they don't care, those places will be lost. One of the big concerns among naturalists now is getting children unplugged from their electrical devices and out in nature. Their parents don't go there, and the children are often afraid of the natural world, if they consider it at all. If we can light a spark in one child at a program, it's been a good day. You never know where that spark will lead in the life of a child.
Yesterday we attended various sessions to reinforce our training and share ideas with other interpreters, most of whom do this for a living. Today we rode the ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore, a relatively new addition to the National Parks Service. We all know there is more to a park than running good programs. Budgets and politics are involved too, affecting the quality and quantity of programs that can be made available. We walked, had a great program from the local ranger, and tried to keep warm during the windy day. It's nice to be with other people who stop to guess what animal left a track or scat in the sand. And I have two new birds to add to my life list -- the Bonaparte Gull (flying above) and some Horned Grebes. By the second full day of the conference, I'm beginning to remember people, and where they work. Several have been interested in raptor rehabilitation too, so we exchanged some terrific bird stories. Tomorrow is a half day session, then everyone heads home, refreshed, revitalized and renewed. But now I have to remove the shells from the bathroom sink before I can brush my teeth. There are hazards to being a naturalist!