Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mindfulness

Okay, I've just added another reason I am NOT a farmer.  Sure- there's the whole "getting up at dawn" thing, and a lot of dirt involved, but as I grabbed the hot part of a power tiller this afternoon, I realized that being mindful of what you are doing truly separates the proficient from the "poser" in most endeavors (that, and a good pair of gloves!)

As a youngster, I was constantly being chastised for "daydreaming"; staring out the school window when I should've been paying attention.  I would've rather been outside running around than learning whatever was being written on the chalkboard (maybe I missed the lesson about burning hot exhaust manifolds on small engines?)  Can you relate?  I don't know of many kids who are mindful of school lessons, though many (and I was one) do enjoy the subject matter (I actually liked science, math, reading, and even social studies.  I just wasn't too keen on sitting still!)  Perhaps mindfulness has more to do with desire than discipline?

Taking up teaching new interpreters 18 years ago, and  becoming an Interpretive Trainer several years later, afforded me the opportunity to become mindful of program delivery, and to step back and see what works.  Being mindful of my message, my audience, and my objectives has made me a better interpreter, (though I still get distracted (squirrel!), and have a lot to learn).  I have a desire to be a good interpreter, and that makes it easier to be mindful of successful and unsuccessful programs.  It is also easy for me to be mindful when playing guitar, staring at the stars, playing a part onstage, and even eating (unfortunately).

Thank goodness we all have different passions, and there are folks who can find mindfulness in tilling a field, or putting up buildings, or managing waste, or whatever.  I am also, however, thankful that we have the capacity to become mindful about things we may NOT have a passion for.  I'm pretty sure I'll be "in the moment" the next time I start the tiller.  Perhaps I can even learn to be mindful of unloading the dishwasher, or mowing the a lawn. Hopefully it won't take a melted lifeline on my hand to gain this focus.  But then again....

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

Bypasses

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

I'm BAAAAACK!!

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.

Thanks,
Ken