Learning to Tell Nature’s Stories
Land Trust Leads Interpretation Workshop in Lyme
Susan Musty, of Lyme, N.H., takes a moment alone at a beaver pond on the Lyme Hill Conservation Area in Lyme, N.H., on Oct. 12, 2013. Musty was taking part in the Upper Valley Land Trust workshop "Interpreting Nature for Others: Techniques to Educate and Inspire." (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
At left, Maggie Stoudnour, an educator with the Upper Valley Land Trust, laughs as Daniel Brand, of Lyme, N.H., whistles with a blade of grass at a beaver pond at the Lyme Hill Conservation Area in Lyme, N.H., on Oct. 12, 2013. Also shown, from left, are Susan Musty, of Lyme, N.H., Karen Sanders, of Lyme, N.H., and Caitlin Mullin, of Hancock, N.H. They were taking part in the Upper Valley Land Trust workshop "Interpreting Nature for Others: Techniques to Educate and Inspire." (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
While on a hike at the Lyme Hill Conservation Area in Lyme, N.H., on Oct. 12, 2013, Caitlin Mullin, of Hancock, N.H., gathers pieces of bark to see them magnified during the Upper Valley Land Trust workshop "Interpreting Nature for Others: Techniques to Educate and Inspire." (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
Lyme — Armed with a rainbow of colored markers in the basement of the Converse Free Library on Saturday, a half-dozen adults began scribbling words on a table-length piece of paper. If it came to mind when they thought about good techniques for engaging participants during guided trail walks and other presentations about the natural world, onto the paper it went.
By the end, there were a couple dozen responses, including “involves everyone,” “activities to keep interest,” “note something unusual,” and, highlighted between two purple stars,“good snacks.” Similar responses were connected by arrows, which criss-crossed in abundance throughout the page.
Hosted by the nonprofit Upper Valley Land Trust, the day-long workshop on interpreting nature for others aimed to equip nature-lovers and experts alike with the tools to engage audiences — whether it be their own family in their backyards or participants in a nature walk on a conserved piece of property — and pass along knowledge about nature in an effective, engaging way.
Led by Maggie Stoudnour, the land trust’s environmental education consultant, the workshop followed four-week naturalist training sessions — a “crash course on nature in the Upper Valley,” Stoudnour said — that she’s hosted annually for the past two years. Although Stoudnour said participants didn’t have to attend the naturalist trainings in order to benefit from Saturday’s workshop, part of the idea was that the two workshops could play off each other — learn information in the naturalist trainings, then learn how to pass that information on to others in the interpreter’s workshop.
During the silent discussion exercise at the library, Stoudnour noted she saw several arrows connecting to the word “activities.”
“And certainly ‘telling stories,’ ” added Lyme resident Daniel Brand, who attended the workshop.
“Engagement is the theme that I see. It’s important to keep everyone engaged,” said Anna Slack, a land trust volunteer. “And it’s important to note good snacks.”
Participants put their skills to the test in the second half of the day, trying out some engagement and teaching techniques during a trail walk on the Lyme Hill Conservation Area, which is owned and managed by the trust.
Part of the broader goal, Stoudnour said in an interview at the trail, is to build a “cadre of educated people we can call upon” when various Upper Valley nonprofits want to host nature-based walks and workshops.
“There’s always a need for people who know a lot to take people out,” Stoudnour said in an interview later, noting that it can be hard to find volunteers who are both knowledgeable and have effective presentation skills.
One of the attendees, Susan Musty, of Lyme, said she attended because she previously gave a talk on wild edibles at the Upper Valley Food Co-op, but “it lacked something,” she said, “so I was looking for pointers.”
Others, like Brand and fellow Lyme resident John Sanders, said hosting walks isn’t out of the question. But they’re more likely to use some of the skills they learned yesterday — such as building presentations around a single theme, limiting presentations to five topics, and asking questions of participants so that they can find the answers themselves — with their grandchildren in their own backyards.
For Sanders, who attended the workshop with his wife, Karen, that will be tomorrow, when the kids have Columbus Day off from school and are planning a visit to their Franklin Hill home. Half the grandkids are easily focused, while the others are prone to distractions, so “finding interesting ways to present (information) has been kind of fun,” Sanders said.
Brand, who attended with friend Caitlin Mullin, said grandfathers can be “somewhat remote” compared with parents and grandmothers, so it’s nice to have a way to work with the kids and “interact with the things that we see here in the jungle.”
In his backyard, his grandchildren will “jump from rock to rock on the shore of the pond, and gather frogs and spiders and the occasional snake,” so having knowledge about those things is a way to “impress the kids.”
Editor’s Note: More information about the Upper Valley Land Trust and upcoming workshops is available at www.uvlt.org. Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220.