Patience in interpretation – turning around destructive attitudes

I had a couple experiences lately that made me think of the value of CAMN training, and that of patience in interpretation and outreach. The first experience happened while I collected trail use data at Sculptured Falls on the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The data is being correlated with golden-cheeked warbler sightings and nesting data on the preserve uphill to determine the effects of human activity on the GCW. A pair of swimmers leaving the site asked me why I was posted there with a city badge and clipboard. When I explained I was collecting trail use data, their first reaction was, “That’s the first step before the city does something stupid.”

The second experience – a little closer to home (literally) – was when my neighbor knocked on my door after killing a two-foot coral snake in her back yard. Wanted help in disposing of it. It had been a third of the way under the fence and into my yard when she used her garden shovel on it.
Both of these experiences can be galling to a Master Naturalist who has some understanding and training in protecting natural resources. In both cases, the people I encountered had a lack of knowledge about a resource, and displayed some fear in relating to it. The swimmers feared their access to the trail might be revoked eventually. The neighbor? That a non-aggressive snake would endanger her family merely with its presence.

Both opportunities gave me an opportunity to test my interpretive skills. To do that, I had to check my own personal biases and frustration, and relate to the “audience” in a sympathetic way. With a little further explanation about the needs for the trail data, I was able to get a “right on, that’s cool!” from the swimmers, and with a few facts about the coral snake, I was able to get my neighbor to agree to text me to remove future snakes (rattlesnakes excluded!). While the snake didn’t live – and while I may have only been a fleeting experience in the lives of the swimmers – both experiences had some positive outcomes. Maybe no more snakes near my house have to die, and maybe the swimmers Googled the golden-cheeked warbler on the way back to their cars. Sometimes you have to look a little more carefully at these sorts of experiences to understand where you may have made a difference.

What unexpected interpretive moments have you encountered, and what positive outcomes arose from the experience?