Some people like to examine in mathematical detail, the life of
bugs and birds or lizards and snakes. Precision and narrow focus
is important, the kind that can be expressed in equations, and where hypotheses are tested by statistics. But others lean more towards observation instead of experimental methods of study. They notice
things in nature, and might enjoy learning insights gleaned from
those observations in the life of a snake or the way of a bird, but you
need to know calculus to understand what they’re telling you.
If each of these wrote an article about their finds, you’d read the
first in an academic journal and the second in a nature magazine.
Natural history therefore leans toward observation of plants and
animals. No less a science nor unsystematic, it looks at categories
of natural organisms, but its outlook is broad in a world full of many narrowly focused disciplines.
Closely related to natural history is the field of Interpretation. This brings natural history alive, revealing the mysteries and power of the natural world with passion and enthusiasm.
Interpretation can be defined as a communications process that
reveals meanings and relationships about cultural, historical, natural,
and recreational resources, but our focus is mainly on the natural world.
Here’s the thing: something, someone or some activity facilitates
connection to nature, and most often it’s a combination of all three. Interpretive explanation by a father that unveils the life of a Steelhead
to his 10-year old son is going to leave an indelible impression. In
a broader public sense, interpretation is effective communication that relies on brochures, exhibits, trails, first-person interpretation, science educators, park rangers, and nature center staff. For many it is a profession, but for us
it’s an important part of the program we offer – one leg of a three legged
stool, the other two being outdoor activity and environmental education.
Environmental education takes place via the more formal vehicle of a lesson paired with each activity, but natural history interpretation takes place on the trail, with nature lending a hand by way of opportune moments, or what we like to call Sparkles.