Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A time away.

I seldom spend very much time away from home.  I next to never go away without at least one family member or another, or, less frequently these days, all of them.

Last week, I attended the National Association of Interpretation's Regional meeting.  It's a professional organization, of which I am a member.  The NAI is a connecting place for people who interpret natural and cultural heritage resources and the regional meetings are places for training, which is largely peer driven and connecting the members to one another in a supportive way.

I attended this meeting on the strength of a scholarship for new interpreters.  Without the scholarship assistance, I'd have missed a pretty amazing 4 days.  I took my certified interpretive guide training last January.  Since the loss of my job at an historic site in June, I've pondered which path to take on the journey back to employment. Having found this field, almost by accident, some 25 years after graduating college, I've really enjoyed it more than anything else I've ever done professionally. The scholarship enabled me to attend this first regional conference where I found support and encouragement, insight and new ideas and met many folks who expanded my idea of what an interpreter is and what they do.

I met with 50 or so others who work in zoo's and aquariums, historic sites and natural history sites, National and State parks, museums, gardens and nature preserves.  Everyone works to relate their site to the visitors though tours and interpretive talks, living history and many other ways which are creative and informative.
There's nothing quite like seeing the 'spark' in the eyes of child or adult visitor that says "Wow, I get that!".

This conference was held on Jekyll Island, Georgia.  I've passed the exit on I-95 a number of times, during family treks to the Magic Kingdom, but had never managed to go there.  It's a beautiful natural island, once the playground of wealthy Northerners, who built a hunt club there in the late 1800's. Today, the Jekyll Island Club is an historic landmark and very much available to anyone who would like to rest and relax there. There's nothing quite like waking up in the morning, stepping into your own private sunroom and watching guests, clad all in white, playing croquet on the lawn.  Soft, sweet Southern manners abound and staff are set to pamper and always greet you with a smile.  I've never been better cared for, more relaxed nor have I ever wanted to simply stay a few more days at any place that I've ever been.  The conference facilities were very nice and everything was within a short walking distance of my room.

The NAI conference itself was well run, with daily concurrent sessions that ranged from Developing a Master Naturalist program, to the Sounds of Interpretation - A Mariner's Song and many other engaging programs in between.

I attended the Master Naturalist program, something that I'd been contemplating for quite some time and I left the session more motivated than ever to sign on to the program here in South Carolina.  It was just the thing that I needed to tip the scales and get me enrolled. Information and the opportunity to ask questions made it easy to turn thoughtful contemplation into action.

I learned about Audio/Visual tours as part of the Interpretive Experience.  During an informal presentation and a walk about the grounds, we learned about the use of new technology to create another 'layer' of information for the ever more 'connected' visitor to our sites.  We learned of specifics of costs and the time it takes to produce the tours and contemplated how these applications would work for the places where we spend our days.

There were tips and techniques and hands on learning.  I took part in a particularly fun session where we learned to write engaging program titles.  We did a creative exercise, perhaps a little before our morning coffee kicked in, but we saw how many ways there were to  label the same program from many different angles.  Since the conference, I keep looking at titles of things and my mind jumps to renaming the titles using techniques that I learned.

Probably the most contemplated session was the last one, which concerned itself with music's place in the interpretive program.  I'd taken my CIG course with the young man who interprets a 17th century sailor at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site in South Carolina. I knew that he was engaging and entertaining, so I headed to that program as the conference wound down.  I learned so much more than I expected to.  Two interpreters from the site shared much about their site in general and included a hands-on activity that incorporates song and how it relates to sailing the vessel Adventure that is at their site.  I'll admit to often saying that I was going to Charles Towne Landing and never actually making it there.  This is one oversight that I will correct very shortly, after sitting through the fascinating session.

During the Regional conference, one day was devoted to off site  sessions and trips.  I signed up to go to Cumberland Island National Seashore.  Though the day dawned with a cold, cold rain falling, I put on my gear and grabbed my backpack and jumped in the van for the drive to the ferry.  A congenial group of fellow trekkers departed the mainland for Cumberland, with the admonishment of the ranger that you did NOT want to be on the island at 4:46 pm, when the last ferry for the day had departed.

We had an informative tour with an interpretive ranger, we met the head ranger for lunch and a brief talk before setting off to explore the island on our own.

We saw the wild horses (which are actually feral horses, a genetic detail, but as a horse lover, one that matters to me) and I met, up close and personal, my first armadillo.

We toured the ruins of Dungeness and heard the story of the Carnegie family.

We traipsed across the 3/4 mile dune,which is my personal 'largest dune I've ever seen'.  I found a lettered olive shell on the ocean side and enjoyed the hike with some of the most engaging companions. There was birding and some of the most amazing trees. It was nature overload and I intend to go back and camp there for enough days that I can do justice to this amazing National Park.

After the day of enjoying nature's expanse, we headed back to Jekyll Island Club on the ferry and two porpoises raced along the bow of the boat, providing me with a last memory of Cumberland and it's vast wildness.

Taking a time away was very nice.  Though I've been busy making up for 'lost time' here at home, my mind keeps going back to Jekyll and pondering the things that I learned and the people that I spent time with.  I fall asleep thinking of Cumberland Island.

Sometimes, it's very good to have some time away.


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