September 15, 2006


The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.
Freeman Tilden

Today has been eventful, surprising, and most definitely surreal. Growing up, I can remember going to campfire programs and ranger-led walks all the time. And I remember that there was something about those experiences that always stayed with me...memories, ideas, revelations. For most of my life I never really questioned why these experiences were so meaningful. It wasn't until I began learning about interpretation, and reading the work of that funny-looking guy to the right, that I began to understand the why. That guy's name is Freeman Tilden. He was an author, a naturalist, and a dedicated defender of our national park system. His book, Interpreting Our Heritage, is considered the seminal piece which has defined the role of interpretive park rangers for the National Park Service for almost fifty years. These park rangers, naturalists and guides who led those memorable walks and campfire programs so many years ago had undoubtedly read it over and over. They were providing so much more than mere information during their programs. They were provoking me to think, to make my own meanings for those places. They were interpreters, translating the natural world into a language that was not only understandable but personally relevant and inspiring.

Having worked and studied as an interpreter for several years now I can say that what they accomplished was not easy. In fact, it's damn hard to do...and requires not only an extensive knowledge of subject matter but an ability to present it in a way that is thematic, organized, relevant and enjoyable. Accomplishes this not only provides the audience with new information about the place, resource, people, or thing the program centers around, but also provides them with an opportunity for them to make it personally meaningful to their own lives. That is interpretation. That is what I try to accomplish not only with the programs I give, but also in the way I train others to do the same.

Which is why I was completely floored today to learn, in front of nearly the entire staff of Kenai Fjords National Park, that I have been selected as the Alaska region's recipient of the 2006 Freeman Tilden Award. Every year each region in the park service (there are seven of them) presents one Freeman Tilden Award to an interpreter working in a park in that region. The regional recipients then become the nominees for the national Freeman Tilden Award, the highest honor bestowed on a National Park Service interpreter. I was stunned. Floored. Humbled. Constipated. You'd be amazed how quickly your sphincter slams shut when something like this happens. You know, that might be the very first time in my life I have typed the word "sphincter." A milestone, I tell ya.

Anyway, yeah. It's been a crazy, crazy day. And now I get to be all stressed out about going to the National Association of Interpretation conference in Albuquerque in November, which is where they will be announcing the national award winner. But at least that means I get a free trip to the Land of Enchantment, and all the green chiles I can stuff into my face. We'll have to pay for Sonja's trip, but we were planning on heading over to LA around the same time for a friend's wedding anyway.

Crazy. Kind of makes the $947 we have to pay to get our car fixed almost not a big deal. Well, sort of. I'll leave you with a picture of a monkey. Cuz everyone likes pictures of monkeys.

And this one kind of reminds me of Freeman Tilden. Not to imply he looked like a monkey, of course. Just that....oh nevermind.


Steve Ollig said...

Grats Ranger Paul! I'm proud of you. But I'm still calling you Ranger Paul. I don't care if you won the Tilden award or are gonna tattle to someone or whatever. You're still gonna be Ranger Paul.

Janine Renslow said...

Way to go Paul!!! You deserve it for all your hard work & for being such a splendid kinda guy!! I hope you get the BIG ONE in November too!!! COOOOOOL!!
:o) Hugs, Janine

kippur said...

My goodness! That is so fantastic. I guess you really kick ass at this rangering thing huh? ;) Seriously Paul that is amazing.

Are they going to make you paper rock sissors for the national award? Or maybe you will all have to sit around in a circle and see who can get a fire lit first and have it burn through a string that lifts up your teams flag...oh, wrong show. Well, if Jeff Probst shows up in New Mexico then you know what to expect!

And what else would we call you besides Ranger Paul, steve? "The Honorable Mr Paul Ranger Man"? Actually I kinda like that one.

kippur said...

Oh now I get the name thing...I guess I should have read further. Always jumping to conclusions, silly me. Im still callin you Mr Paul Ranger Man.

kippur said...

You better revise your resume man!

Mom & Dad said...

Congratulations, Paul!
What an honor so soon in your illustrious career!
But you definitely deserve it. No one else could tell me what all that white stuff was on the mountains :O).
We are so proud of you!
Mom & Dad

amy said...

congratulations Paul, what a fantastic honor and think of all those small children you are scaring, oops i mean inspiring. seriously, great job!