Thursday, July 17, 2014

Natural AND Historical Interpretation?

When I first started teaching at Hocking College, back when commuters came by horse and buggy (okay, it only FEELS like that long ago!), we had an influx of students who were interested in pursuing only historical interpretation.  They often complained about having to take Ornithology, Dendrology, Field Biology, etc.  Likewise, there were others who wanted to be only naturalists, and initially balked at the requirement to "dress up" and present living history at Robbins Crossing.  To defend the curriculum, we touted the need to be "marketable" graduates, and to have a variety of experiences on a resume.

The real value, however, of requiring both content areas goes much deeper.  Interpreters are storytellers, and a good story is not predicated on the depth of knowledge in only one or two areas, but rather a breadth of knowledge that allows connections to the interest(s) of the visitor. Most of our ancestors knew the properties of different trees, the importance of seasonal changes, and the flora and fauna all around them.  For many, survival depended on it!  Likewise, there are very few plants and animals that have not been affected by human history- from domestication and farming to habitat destruction and climate change.  An old foundation of a house in a park may offer as much to a Naturalist as to an Historical Interpreter.

Perhaps most importantly, an interpreter should possess an insatiable curiosity.  The best interpreters are constantly learning new things, changing their programs, and developing fresh ideas for future stories.  Some of my best learning experiences have come from participants sharing their knowledge, and not from me sharing my research.  If I could magically grant every student one quality, it would be a sense of wonder.  Even the most mundane tasks would be fodder for inquiry.  The morning tube of toothpaste could present endless possibilities.

Many of the students who successfully took the classes they complained about, later admitted to begrudgingly gaining appreciation for the opportunity.  After practicing and presenting a station at Robbins' Crossing, several students would join in the wood-stove-cooked meal and admit that they "could get into this living history stuff".  One student (an accomplished historical reenactor) who had complained about Ornithology class, later followed it up by eagerly identifying hawks from the back of a van on a field trip.  I spun around in astonishment.  "Okay", he sheepishly grinned and admitted, "I get it!"

I hope we all do.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Now that the old giant Sycamore tree has come down at Robbins Crossing, my new office porch view looks out on the hillside in the distance, and the new bypass around Nelsonville.

While it first makes me think of evolution of transportation in this valley (from foot trails and canoes, to wagons, canal boats, trains, bicycles, and now highways), it also makes me wonder what else we "bypass" in a rush to get somewhere.  I do it all the time- drive fast and focused on the finish line, and realize that I've not looked to the side of the road at all, missing birds, barns, deer, sunsets, or just other folks going about their business.  All have stories to tell.  All are a part of the journey. Most are never seen.

As Interpreters, we should be the instigators of the sideways glances.  We should focus on the journey more, the destination less.  As I have remarked to numerous students, after taking Ornithology, Night Interpretation, and Historical Perspectives classes, you should be careful how you drive.  Orion the Hunter rising over a Pennsylvania Dutch barn with a Barred Owl perched in front should just about make you drive off of the road!

While I would never wish for you to become a lousy driver, I do hope you are a distraction to folks who are on their "bypasses", and that you are taking the time to take the long road home yourself, occasionally.  Enos Mills once wrote that "The essence of nature guiding is to travel gracefully rather than arrive".  Whether you are by yourself or not, on a speedy bypass or sleepy side road, travel gracefully.

Monday, June 23, 2014


On July 1, I will be returning to the world of interpretation, at least somewhat.  My office and responsibilities will be shifting to Robbins Crossing, and I will be managing the site, volunteers, and programming for the rest of the season (end of October.)

While I am sad to be leaving the Dean's position, Robbins is a wonderful place to be, and there is lots of potential to try some new things.

Hopefully, I will have more time to update this blogsite, and provide some updates on the campus happenings as related to Robbins Crossing, the Nature Center, and other adventures in the world of Natural and Historical Interpretation.  If you have ideas for any upcoming posts, please let me know.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Upcoming Events !

Hello everyone,
 I wanted to make a quick post about some exciting stuff we have coming up at our sites ! This weekend we will be hosting our monthly bird count/potluck at the nature center. We are collecting information about "who" visits the grounds of the center and entering into our ibird account. This information plays into a bigger project being conducted by Cornell University regarding breeding, migration and the effects global warming is having on our migratory birds. It is ok if you can't tell the difference between a robbin and a cardinal, we will have volunteers handy to help you with your id's :) We will be counting Sunday the 17th from 10 am to 2 pm.

Next on the schedule is our Spring Equinox Gathering ! Last fall we decided to host two annual events to celebrate the wonder of the outdoors and showcase some neat things you can do in nature ! It seemed fitting to plan the events around the spring and fall. This gathering Dave Sagan will set up our star lab and give us a tour of the night sky. Interpretive Instructor and hobby historian is going to share some stories and Native American folk lore with us. Interp student Matthew Blackburn has offered to lead guests on a hike that will illustrate how to identify common trees in the area, and we will finish the day off with our "Snakes Near and Far" program.

 Finally the Senior interp. students are hosting an Ohio History event at Robbins Crossing ! Below is their information, I hope this event carries on and serves as a great opportunity for our community to witness to talent of our students and the richness that is our history !

Come join the Historical Interpretation students on Friday, April 12
from 10 AM to 2 PM at the mid-19th century village of Robbins Crossing
for a trip into Ohio's early history. Robbins Crossing is located on
the campus of Hocking College. There will be traditional hearty
home-cooked meals available as well as local businesses offering their
goods for sale. The students will be hosting this experience and
portraying a variety of important cultural topics in local history.

I hope Spring finds everyone well and as always shoot any questions to me here at