Steve Madewell

Pedestrian Ramblings

The Sense of Wonder NAI Talk - April 15, 2008 The Sense of Wonder People have asked me where do I get inspirations and ideas for songs. Partially from spending a few years doing environmental education programs. I recently did a talk for the National Association of Interpretive Naturalist Region 4 workshop. And it was one of those presentations that will get better if I do it again. You might recognize interpretive naturalists as the folks who lead nature walks at parks and nature centers. However they do a great deal more. This is a partial narrative from that presentation and kind of give insight into these experiences and how I think: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this afternoon. I am very flattered to be a part of the NAI and I am truly happy to be here. I feel that what you contribute to our collective conservation efforts is so very very important. What I hope to do today is to share some observations that I collected for this presentation. And like many things of this nature some of these concepts maybe rather obvious, and others maybe a bit more elusive. But my hope is that I can offer these up to you and perhaps they maybe of value in the course of your life's work. Oh and should you have any questions or comments or if you take issue at any point with what I maybe saying, or if an analogy is not clear, please by all means feel free to interject your thoughts. I would welcome your comments and having spent a little time around interpreters, I have not found them to be a shy bunch. Currently I work as the Deputy Director of Lake Metroparks, and I have been involved with park administration for well over twenty-five years. However when I entered the field it was never my goal to get into the administrative side of the business. I have always enjoyed being outside and in some regards I feel it is unfortunate that I am mostly in doors. It simply had never occurred to me to consider a career in the field of conservation until I had a summer job at Nature Center. I grew up in an out door sort of family. My father was, and still is at 84 a gardener, a hunter and a fisherman. Some of my earliest memories are of working in the garden and the excitement of going fishing. I can vividly recall looking into a bucket full of water at a bluegill waving his fins when I was between two and three years old. So you folks who are doing programs for young children. I can tell you that some of those experiences are certainly retained. Dad was predominately a stream fisherman. We would go fishing, wading in the small streams across SW Ohio. He would set me up with a fishing pole, strap a small pail of worms around my neck tell me not to step in water so deep I couldn't see my tennis shoes and that if I needed him he would be around the next bend. I generally wouldn't see him for the rest of the day. He is also a Euell Gibbons kind of guy, hunting mushrooms and used to pull the car off of the road stop to gather wild apples and other edibles. A behavior that was passed on to me (much to the chagrin of my family) It is interesting how our mind can recall certain things. Whatever reason at the moment they occur they have some sort of impact that will always be with us. I remember Pop holding a no deposit no return glass bottle when they first came out, and saying "This make no sense". I also remember driving around the ever growing suburbs of Dayton and Dad pointing to shopping centers and saying, "I used to hunt rabbits there". So I grew up with a conservation ethic al be it perhaps not in a traditional sense. It wasn't one of supporting the local park system although we used them. The only time I had been to a nature center was in third grade. But if I were to distill the ethic I grew up with it might be best described as " waste is not a good thing", and “the world will feed you if you know it and take care of it”. Like a lot of kids growing up in a rather rural setting I was outside a great deal of the time. Generally speaking I was really bored in school and felt somewhat trapped. I started playing guitar in jr high and I like to think music gave me a focus that kept me out of any real trouble. Although that might be a relative statement as I nearly got expelled for making gun powder with supplies we pilfered from the Chem Lab and I was involved in one pretty bad tractor wreck. I was just riding on the tractor that Mike Maynard drove into a house on the last day of school my sophomore year. But that is another story. I went to the now defunct Western College of Miami University which was an interdisciplinary college. The college was based on three core courses Natural Systems, Social Systems and Creativity and Culture. And the simple premise that these three areas of study were related and empowered by the synergy of their inter actions. The first physics problem I worked on was calculating how many tons of sulfuric acid was being produced and spewed in to the air by Dayton Power and Light every week. I found the inundation of negative environmental material thrown at me my freshmen year to be over whelming and incredibly depressing. And that was the summer I got the job at a nature center. Though it wasn't a very glamorous one. I was literally hired to baby sit the children of Hispanic migrant workers. I believe that the Nature Center had gotten a grant to provide summer programs to these children and I was primarily hired to look after 45-60 kids, some of which could not speak English for three or four hours a day. Some times there was a morning group and an evening group. This was three or four days a week and I was to keep them from interfering with the regular activities of the center. What did I do with them? Well I felt compelled to instill a value for the nature center and to do activities that were non intrusive. It was really pretty cool. These kids were jazzed to be there and their observation skills knew no boundaries. I don't think they had been dulled up by watching endless television. I didn’t know anything about environmental education and they didn’t know anything about nature centers so we were perfect for each other. We had limited structure and we learned together and it was amazing what they discovered and what they taught me. I had read a book called The Lives of Children by George Dennison which was about an alternative approach to education. It had a premise of losing time to gain time and that is what I did with these children. We approached each day with a very open structure. We celebrated an experience of mutual discovery. One of the boys, was the “Alpha male” of the group if you know what I am talking about. His English was very good so I gave him the job of being my interpreter. The summer job at the nature center was a great experience in so many ways and this really was a pivotal time in my life. First I knew that I had had a miserable educational experience in jr. high and high school and I recognized that I simply didn't learn the way that I had been taught. Secondly I knew that I was deeply concerned about the environment. And finally here I was having this experience at this nature center where there was a different approach to education, oriented toward things that I cared about and according to all the regular staff there, I seemed to be good at it. So that summer experience between my first and second year of college provided me with an insight that perhaps there was something I could do to help bring a greater awareness to people regarding what we were doing to our world. After that I knew I wanted to be involved with environmental conservation in some way. The Topic So with that bit of a personal intro and narrative I would like to move on to the topic at hand But before I do can I ask is there anyone here that feels that this career is a calling? I recognize that the field has matured and developed, And often times when this begins to happen with career tracks things change. And I was hoping that some new entries into the field could give me a read on this. Do you feel that it is a privilege to be in this field? At the time I got my first full time position I remember reading that there were as many as 85 applications for every entry level position. We were in the height of what I call the John Denver era when there were a lot of people who wanted to work in the great out of doors. After 30 years I still think of this career as a calling and I still feel it is a privilege to work in this field. I am proud of my job and my contribution and I sincerely hope you are too. I would also like to ask, how often do you stop and think about what you are doing and why you are doing it? Recently I had a chance to reflect on this in the process of preparing for a presentation. The why and how I got into this field and why I have stayed in it. I mean, as I am sure most of you know it certainly is not the money, especially early on in a conservation career. It wasn't always the working conditions either. I have had offices in attics, closest, trailers, modified garages. As an aside what is it about naturalist and offices? Do you think that every agency has administrator that thinks “They don’t want to be inside so they are going to be miserable anyway so let’s stick em in the basement.” Actually it is a testament to the commitment to the field. And it wasn't always the hours. I can recall many instances where I have sent staff home after realizing that they had not taken a day off in over a week. And I bet you have heard from your friends and family, wow what a great job you have! But what do you do in the winter time? Well it is a great job and a great field! I was thinking about this and much more when about 18 months ago I was asked if I would address the Bishops Retreat of the northern Ohio Diocese of the Episcopal Church. When I got the call I asked the Bishop what he wanted me to talk about. He said "Could you just share your views on nature?" I said OK and I blurted out how about a talk on the Spirituality of Landscape? I hung up the phone and I thought “Now what the Hell does that mean?” Needless to say I was very flattered by the request. But this was a little different than most speaking request I get. This was not an invitation to speak on a park project, or the mechanics of some sort of program. As I set about preparing for the talk I spent some time evaluating what had transpired in my career that had resulted in this invitation. Now please understand that I don't really regard myself an expert on anything. I have the pleasure and good fortune to have worked work with some wonderful staff and have some very special and gifted friends. And I am not by the way an Episcopalian. And I find some humor in the light that I grew up in a fundamental Baptist home. (I stopped going to church when I was 16 or so for number of different reasons.) I was being asked to address a group of Episcopal priest on spirituality and I consider my self a pedestrian. I think I was 22 when I realized that I am really a pedestrian. And when I tell people that most of the time it works, but every now and again I have to explain what a pedestrian is. Now I must admit though I have kind of back slided here the past few years and don't walk nearly as much as I should. So in the process of preparing for that talk I realized that what I do have and what I sincerely I hope I can always hang on to is the ability to be easily distracted and endlessly and enamored with the wonders of the world around us. And this wonderment with the endless connectivity of nature has shaped my career. In preparing for that presentation on the Spirituality of Place I realized that this attribute was responsible for pulling me along in this field, and was more than likely the reason why I was asked to do that talk. I am willing to guess it is something that all of us in this room share and that is The Sense Of Wonder So what is The Sense Of Wonder? Well I am not sure but I suspect that if I were in school right now I would be diagnosed with ADD. And I find it a little funny that the perhaps very condition that I am crediting with my success is one that has turned out to be so vexing for many students and children today. And just as an aside I can't help but wonder if maybe someday we might realize at least with some kids maybe it is not a problem with the child but maybe it is our system. Anyway, some time after the Spirituality of Place presentation, which by the way had two parts. I did a talk and then that evening I did a one and half hour concert of original tunes that are stories set in or told in a nature setting. I mentioned to Ann Bugeda and Dan Best that I had an done interesting and enjoyable Presentation, and in a day or so, Dan ships me an NAI program presentation form. And here we are. I think there was a little apprehension about me doing the same talk, probably because of the title, which I understand. But really I think a great deal of what we do in this field is actually quite spiritual. And while I do not advocate a spirituality to any deity I do believe in the connectivity of all things in the universe. Anyway, I redirected and began to prepare for this presentation and in doing so rediscovered the title of a delightful little book I had read quite some time ago. The Book Are you folks familiar with Rachel Carson's books? She actually wrote several. By training she was a marine biologist and worked for the Federal Government for a number of years. I am sure that many of you are familiar with the book Silent Spring. Some claim that Leopold began the modern conservation movement with his book A Sand County Almanac and some give credit to Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring for starting the modern environmental movement. Early in my own career in this field it was Silent Spring that had a major impact on me. I found the Almanac just a little too slow, and while I recognized it as a valuable work it didn't call out to me with the same urgency and need as Carlson's book. Some of you might know Ralph Ramey? Interestingly enough though, in recent years I have found that I have developed an appreciation for a philosophy that Rachel put forth in a book not nearly as well known as Silent Spring. It is a simple little piece she wrote for, or should I say, wrote with her grand nephew Roger Christie. It is called The Sense Of Wonder. I read it some time ago and I can't say that when I did I didn’t model my life or behavior around its message. I simply read it in a few minutes and sat it down. And there is sat until I found the title on some neglected corner of my head. What I can tell you is that there is a philosophy in this little book that is quite profound. And as I have gotten older I realize the power of this approach to experiencing and sharing nature. And perhaps even living life (as a better pedestrian) In essence it is about joy and wonder and less about science. Her believe was this is the way to prepare the “soil” for future educational growth and learning. And it actually goes in the face of a widely held belief that I have heard time and time again in educational circles and that is “we value what we name.” Carson really de emphasizes this practice and instead focuses on the value of the experience. Interestingly enough I found this quote in another source Avoid falling into the trap of the naturalist where one tries to catalog and list everything and fails to see the beauty of the landscape. Try instead the approach of an artist and take in the entire image. At this point I would like to take a moment if I can to tell you that what you do is important. And consequently it is important that you do it well. I believe that heaven forbid if any of us in this room left this existence we would leave this world knowing that we have had an impact on people that we have worked with, people who have attended our programs, people whom we have never met who have enjoyed projects we have worked on. I know that because I have an understanding of the power of the work that we do in this field. And I have seen it in many many ways. We never really know the capacity of the people we are dealing with, what that young person may grow up to be or what that senior citizen might choose to do with their estate. Just a couple short stories to illustrate this point: (Major donations Chuck Grantham and Robert Bateman Me and Dr. Mastin.) So you really don't know the manifestation of your actions. So it is important that interpreters especially approach there work with sincerity and enthusiasm. And in doing so you will find reward in the work that you do. Now why is your work so important? Well clearly you are the messengers of the conservation community, carrying the banners promoting the value of our natural heritage, the importance of biological diversity, and the need to seek sustainable practices and so on. But you do more. With the transitory nature of today's society I believe that people are looking for some sort of stability in the world around them. Parks and Nature Centers provide some form of stability in a world of constant development and change. I also believe that people need to feel some sort of assurance that there are things beyond our control or that have the resiliency to withstand the folly of our actions. People are looking for opportunities to forget about the demands from their daily work and the ability to find beauty in the world around them. And that perhaps the remaining wild and distant places are somehow mysteriously tied to the beauty they maybe able to find in their back yard or in their local neighbor nature center or park. And they need this awareness because it helps offset a phenomena I call emotional fatigue. I honestly believe that good interpretive work can provide a passport to a world that includes hope and optimism and can increase individuals and consequently our societies capacity to care and respond. We are bombarded with so much negativity until it is easy to get to a point where we are simply numb. It is not that we don't care, we really aren’t sure if it matters if we do. I believe people are looking for a rejuvenation of or to find this same Sense of Wonder. And you hold the key to open this world for many people. How to find and hold on to The Sense Of Wonder First of all I think it is important to place things in a bigger perspective. What ever the topic relate it to the next bigger level and let folks know that you do not know every thing. Elevate the view of the topic until you reach a level where there is a common perspective and everyone in on a level of discovery. I like to step back and look at how things fit within the three big systems that enable life as we know it energy flows, water cycles and geologic systems. If you can do this it is a great way to bring a bigger perspective to a specific topic. There is a tremendous amount of power in the world around us that can be harvested to help illustrate any point. And this connectivity is critical to encourage a big picture in which to hang future discoveries in. I also like to examine what has happened to make this moment possible historically, maybe socially, and certainly from an ecological perspective. In our field the cause is bigger than any individual or any one individuals’ message and we all carry a little piece of the load. When we tie our message to a bigger perspective we might individually lose importance but our message has become a part of a much bigger message. I have been involved in my own form of interpretation for over thirty years. And by many standards I have been blessed with a fairly successful career in conservation. Over the years I have developed and presented a host of programs, supervised a number interpretive operations, had the privilege of being involved with the conceptual development and building of several nature and educational centers and of course participated in many interpretive programs with my kids. Early on I learned a number of things while being involved in interpretive programming that have served me well in a number of ways including in my capacities of development and government relations and land negotiations. These are things that I have found People respond to enthusiasm, sincerity and honesty People also respond to a cause or belief. If you sincerely and honestly believe in a cause and your enthusiastically present it people will enthusiastically respond to you. When that happens it is a marvelous buzz! And I have learned some things that do not work as well. I have created a little grouping of these things that I am calling the buzz killers. So as you might imagine I believe in order to do your job most effectively you want to Avoid The Buzz Killers Now there are several quotes I will take from Rachel Carson's book to illustrate the point. Avoiding The Buzz Killers I can tell you these are all things that I have done myself and I have also witnessed in other programs. I have put them into a few large categories The first of which I call Needing to be the expert "I have made no conscious efforts to name plants or animals, not to explain to him but I have expressed my own pleasure at what we see." His value system was not based on the scientific knowledge that his great aunt had. His value system was based on what he could sense. Several examples of this that comes to mind My favorite is the fishing guide who says Oh You should have been here yesterday. Steve and Paul Story. Oh that was just Colts Foot it is a non native plant Oh that is just a Great Blue Heron they are all over the place anymore. Dwelling on negative outcomes In some instances it might be better to focus on what we don't know and instead look for understanding and in site Another Buzz Killer is Failing to recognize the value systems of others “Many Children perhaps because they themselves are smaller and closer to the ground than we are notice and delight in the small and inconspicuous.” Phil and the Red Tail Hawk /The Whale story in California How many enriching interpretive opportunities have been lost because someone is afraid to share what they know because their value system might be different than the group leader and destroying the participation of others with a different knowledge base in the group Barry Lopez story Ever been on a forced hike? Deck Hunter the forced walk I believe in allowing children to wonder down the hallway and there may so many rooms to explore. Buzz kill # 3 The We They Trap Interpretive Programs are no place to harbor the personal agenda. I have seen many wonderful settings destroyed by an individuals frustration with their employers, government etc. This is one earth Dwelling on the negative and looking for someone to blame is not a solution to any problem. Story of the goose hunters on the east coast and the bird watchers. This work is too important to alienate people Focus on the positive and remember the bull dozer operator gets time and a half on sat. And finally trying to Reduce the mystery of life to black and white “The value of the game of identification depends on how you play it. If it becomes an end in itself I count it of little use. It is possible to compile extensive lists of creatures seen and identified without ever once having caught a breath taking glimpses of the wonder of life.” Avoid reducing the mysteries of interaction into black and white. It doesn’t always work. The story of the population shifts and dynamics of deer turkey and eagles in the eastern US. Failing to recognize the resilience of nature discredits us. “Understanding the why and understanding the why may change. Shifts in our understanding and the resilience of nature anthropomorphism are all areas where we are shifting our understanding "It is not half so important to know as it feel" The challenge of a good interpreter is to be able to make the connection back to the theme at hand through the observations they have made, not to try to control the observations. “Hatchets are in the hammer family.” When I stopped taking my field books I think we need to be advocates of being plugged in and environmentally aware all the time, and that mean being open not just plugged in when we are at the park or nature center or in a program. And perhaps a better way of doing this is to try to draw connections to nature where ever we are with or without a field book and whenever and wherever the sense of wonder takes us. And just a word on avoiding burn out. You have to be true to yourself know your limitations. It is important for you to be effective at what you are doing as opposed to assuming a role that is not for you. Don't be afraid to try but for heavens sake the world need effective people on all levels. The cause is bigger than the individual. And the cause's needs and the way you help meet those needs are to take care of yourself. So what I am telling you is It is not only important for you to avoid the buzz killers for not only your program participants but it is important to avoid these to prevent burn out for you. One of the ways that I have worked to combat burn out and fatigue has been to invent or discover new ways of exploring my commitment to the environment and my desire to share this commitment with others. It is so easy when you are in a cause driven profession to have that cause become your lifestyle and suddenly your lifestyle becomes your work. When this happens it is nearly impossible to segregate work from any down time or recreation. At first this effort manifested it's self in developing new interpretive or educational programs in broader topics and activities. (embellish) Then in different administrative pursuits until I actually got so far removed from the field that I lost the direct recharge I used to receive delivering programs. I started to conduct business meetings outside in parks, or scheduling canoe outings or hikes instead of lunches or breakfast meetings. Then I started taking community leaders and elected officials fly fishing to introduce them to the regions local resources. Finally in recent years I began to incorporate natural resource elements in the songs that I am writing and performing. IT has given me a completely different method of outreach. You have a marvelous profession that is so critical to the world we live in. Remember to reward yourself by allowing yourself to enjoy the interaction you have each and every day and the beauty of the world in which we live. Seek out those opportunities to incorporate new ways of experiencing the world around you and your ability to explore and share the world around you and maintaining the Sense of Wonder.