Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's All There

Pressed leaf checkerboard
 Dick and I joined 114 other enthusiastic interpreters who work at parks, museums, battlegrounds and historic sites, nature preserves and universities at the National Association of Interpreters Region 3 workshop last week at a wonderful state park near Nashville, TN. The workshops refreshed our own love of interpretation in many ways, and I left with the strong reminder that in an age of technology, interpretation is more important than ever to show us that it's still All There.

Tree of Heaven walking sticks
I told one of our officers that people have trouble understanding what I mean when I tell them I belong to this organization. "Oh, how many languages do you speak?" they ask, or "Do you know sign language?" He said he has the same problem, and answers with a quote from the first interpreter, John Muir, who said that he "interprets the wind and the rocks." He speaks for those important parts of our lives that either cannot speak for themselves, or are sadly misunderstood when they try to speak to us.

Wild Onion Puppet
Unfortunately, workshops and conferences are usually held in meeting rooms, and even interpreters fall prey to Power Point, so I don't have photos of much that we discussed. I most enjoyed those sessions reminding us to look for the stories and signs we see about us, which can be found with a little observation. For example, when people see the phrase "Reading Wildlife Signs," they usually expect to be searching for mammalian footprints in the dirt. But we had more fun looking for any signs of travelling, feeding signs, shelter and communication in a small area. In other words, the word "wildlife" can have a very broad interpretation, and should include much more than mammals.

Doug Elliott is a stellar interpreter using song, stories and an incredible amount of knowledge about nature and history to keep us all enthralled.

Doug asks, how do you find a story in nature (or anywhere else for that matter)? He often starts with an incident, an encounter, a problem or a question-something happens to you, you meet someone, see something, or you wonder about something. The narrative he tells is a journey of investigation, trying to figure it out. The incident is your hook, not only to your listeners when you're storytelling, but also to yourself as an explorer and an investigator. Then he lets curiosity be his guide. He starts asking questions. Any journalist will tell you your ability to get a good story is often directly related to your ability to ask good questions. The first and probably the ultimate resource is yourself. How do/did I relate to that incident, encounter, problem or question? How did I feel?

He started with a story about finding a bird's skull while walking in the woods with a Native American friend. His friend said it was the skull of a Peace Eagle, then explained that the Cherokee called the Turkey Vulture a Peace Eagle because it didn't kill anything, but resembled an Eagle in flight. That was the start of a wonderful discussion on the beauties and virtues of Turkey Vultures. He had me hooked right from the beginning! For the second part of the session, Doug led us out for a walk and had some song or riddle or saying about everything we saw. Would you understand the adage "Always be wary of vines that are hairy?"  We all returned to the building vowing to learn and use the Scat Rap!

Completed Walking Stick
Wren Smith, our great friend and mentor from Bernheim Forest, also gave a session, but they didn't give her enough time! We learned about foraging for food, fiber and fun - which plants are safe to eat or handle, and which are not. Children will remember more better if they do more than just look at a plant - let them touch it or smell it or make something from it.  We even made cordage from kudzu in one class, while Wren had walking sticks made from the invasive Tree of Heaven. Of course, this means I still have lots and lots to learn about plants (sigh).

Hallowed Ground First Person Interpretation
This is the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and many battlefields and cemeteries from that era are found in Tennessee. First Person interpretation is especially effective here, and we had a session with a drama coach learning tricks of voice and body language we can all use in any interpretive setting.

Wood Sorrel - It's All There
Doug Elliott told us that the number six is sacred to the Cherokee Indians, because it represents north, south, east, west, sky and earth - the six directions. Wood sorrel looks like it only has three petals, but look closely and you will see each one is divided in two, so there are really six after all. It's all there... I left the conference feeling a bit sad that so many of these things in nature were known by almost everyone a hundred years ago, and now few people know them. So you see, in this age of technology, interpreters are more important than ever to remind every one that it's still All There.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Playing "Opossum"

Since this is the weekend for the Great Backyard Bird Count, I've kept an eye on the feeders out my window, with little luck. Few birds have come to eat in our yard. But a motion caught my eye, and when I focused, I saw a POSSUM!

I know they come to yards, and will eat almost anything. One time I found one in a garbage can in the garage where it couldn't climb out, and was proud that I did not scream. We had to turn the garbage can over and leave so it could escape. And, boy, did it smell!

As this one slowly walked across the yard, I wondered what it was doing out in the afternoon. A closer look found a distinct split in its left ear. Looks like it's been in a fight sometime.

In fact, this possum has a spot on its rear with very sparse fur, and a very raw, red, bleeding area. Either it's been in a fight, or got caught trying to squeeze under a fence. It sniffed around as I approached, camera in hand, but didn't seem too upset or panicky and didn't try to run away.

A quick look on the Internet found several interesting facts. Possessing a furry tail, the true "possum" belongs to the Phalangeridae family within the Marsupialia order and is primarily found in New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia and other islands in the Pacific region. With their signature bare tail, the "opossum" is North America’s only known marsupial; this means the animal carries its young in a pouch much like the Australian kangaroo. Both the possum and the opossum are nocturnal, nomadic omnivores and live on an expansive diet that includes insects, frogs, birds, snakes and fruits. The opossum is primarily dark grey in color but some resemble cinnamon, and white opossums are known to exist. The possum and the opossum are both hunted animals and possess an instinct to play dead, or “play possum” when threatened. I'm glad it didn't view me as a threat!