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

Monday, September 1, 2014

Common Sense(s)

What does history smell like?

Is there a taste of the 1800s that can help us understand the time period?

After struggling through American and European History classes in high school, my first job introduced me to the world of "living history", in which I was to role-play Lewis Cass, an agent of the US government trying to purchase land from the Native American people in Michigan (specifically, the Potawatomi people).  The resulting discussions with the school children were eye-opening, and the idea that history could be made more "3 dimensional" was energizing.

Later that season, I was able to attend the "Feast of the Hunters' Moon" in Lafayette, Indiana.  There, the smells, sounds, and tastes of the 1760s were overwhelming!  I purchased a "factory second" wool felt hat that has been with me for over 30 years, and has outlived about a dozen hatbands.

What was so intriguing?  It is the same thing that brings people to Robbins Crossing, or Colonial Williamsburg, or Gettysburg, or even to a re-enactment near home.  History is best engaged with multiple senses-not just on the pages of a book.  Please don't misunderstand- we CANNOT bring the past to life.  We still get in our cars and go home.  We probably won't die from a dental infection, and most of us bathe much more than once a week.  I KNOW it is a contrivance, but perhaps we can glimpse a little bit into the lives of the people who came before us.  Perhaps a smell, taste, touch, sound, or vision of a time past will help us appreciate the time present.  Perhaps this connection can help give us some perspective on our shared human experience, and keep us from shooting each other or dropping bombs on our fellow time travelers.

Sorry-didn't mean to get so DEEP!

Bottom line- can you make history come alive?  Can you infuse sensory experiences beyond the sound of your voice?  Can you bring people into a world they don't know, but EVERY ONE OF US had an ancestor who did?

And, contrary to the class in MY high school, maybe history can be a little bit fun!