When All is Lost

January 25, 2011

Interpreters, like most educators, know what it is like to operate on a shoe string budget – utilizing the resources at hand (leaves, seeds, and scenic vistas) and re-utilizing everyday materials (popsicle sticks, material scraps, and my favorite – peanut butter jars). There is something gratifying about not needing all the bells and whistles to highlight the significance of a place as special as Devil’s Den State Park.  However, when the tidbits of ideas, pictures, outlines, and contacts are all taken away, you realize how much time and research has gone into making the history of your park come to life.

On December 20, the interpreters’ office at Devil’s Den State Park was broken into. The perpetrators stole a range of items from our computers that stored things from contact information to pictures to amphitheater programs as well as personal effects like backpacks and hats and program materials like animal skins and binoculars. The saddest part about the loss is not the personal violation one feels when being broken into, but that those items were to help our visitors’ experience the park. These were the tangible items and thoughts that we had accumulated through the years to help tell the unique history of the park.

Although the loss was hard to accept as we walked around in a cloud of disbelief making a list of all the items gone from our repertoire, I am appeased to realize that the story of the park is still here! There was nothing in the office as precious as the materials found throughout the park. I look to the challenge of the days to come as a fresh start, a reason to get out taking photos around the park, a chance to brainstorm ideas, and revamp programs. If my programs were in a rut, they have just been given a fresh start! It will take time to rebuild our interpretive programs, but at least I have a good foundation and a great team to work with. This is a learning experience that has reconnected me to the resources outside my office and the fundamental things that no one can take from you – your ideas, knowledge, and Elmer’s glue (just try it!).

 

The history of Devil's Den is intact, in the park.

The history of Devil's Den is intact, in the park.

Please consider sharing your program ideas with me! What would you like to do on a visit to Devil’s Den State Park?

 

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. –  Ralph Waldo Emerson

(Interpreter Spurlock is determined to keep walking! Join her on one of her many fascinating, guided hikes through Devil’s Den State Park.)

Rebekah Spurlock, Devil's Den State Park

Rebekah Spurlock, Interpreter, Devil's Den State Park

Rebekah Spurlock is a native Arkansan, originally from the Delta. Since graduating with her Master’s in Geography in 2007 from the University of Memphis, Rebekah has called Devil’s Den State Park home.

Advertisements

The Hoo Doo Woman of Arkansas

January 18, 2011

I have an atypical Park Interpreter station here at Parkin Archeological State Park.  The largest part of my job seems to be researching Arkansas History. Arkansas is an exceptionally colorful state, with complex and vivid stories about things you wouldn’t believe, not even if I told you.  This is one of those great Arkansas stories- the story of Aunt Caroline Dye.

Mrs Caroline Dye

Aunt Caroline Dye

One of Arkansas’ biggest Blues legends wasn’t even a Blues singer at all.  “Aunt” Caroline Dye, of Newport Arkansas, passed away September 26, 1918. Born a slave in Spartanburg South Carolina, immigrating to Arkansas some time in young adulthood, much of the rest of Caroline’s history is the stuff of Arkansas legend.

Well, I’m going to Newport just to see Aunt Caroline Dye.

Well, I’m going to Newport just to see Aunt Caroline Dye.

She’s a fortune teller, Ooh Lord, She sure don’t tell no lie.

– Hoo Doo Women, Johnny Temple

Caroline’s exceptional abilities started as a young child.  When she was 10 years old and still a slave on the plantation, she was helping to set the table for Thanksgiving Dinner.  She started insisting that they had not set enough plates, that Mister Charley was coming.  Charley was the Plantation owner’s brother, who was thought to have been killed four years earlier in the Civil War.  Sure enough, later that day Charley came walking in the door. The family couldn’t believe it! He relayed the fact that he had been wounded, taken prisoner, and had not had the chance to come home until that day. No one ever knew how she could have guessed such a thing, and all her little coincidences really started to be noticed after that.

“White and colored would go to her. You sick in bed, she raise the sick. … Had that much brains — smart lady. … That’s the kind of woman she was. Aunt Caroline Dye, she was the worst woman in the world. Had that much sense.”

– Band Leader Will Shade

Hers is an interesting Arkansas story-  the story of an uneducated, African American woman who amassed a small fortune as a wealthy landowner, rental property entrepreneur, and most importantly, as a seer and rumored hoodoo woman- all of this while being unable to read or write.  She is one of the most prominently featured women in the Delta Blues- though she herself was never a musician. The great Blues artists couldn’t keep away from her legend in their songs, too numerous for me to list them all here.

And she told my fortune as I walked through the door.

And she told my fortune as I walked through the door.

Said, “I’m sorry for you Buddy. Ooh Lord, your woman don’t want you no more.”

– Hoo Doo Women, Johnny Temple

Caroline became famous all over the Midsouth for her otherworldly abilities. She never advertised or charged for her services, but everyone always paid for them, one way or another. Affluent people from far and wide sought her services and feared her verdicts. Many prominent people would not make major decisions without at first consulting her, and if they could not bring themselves to consult her because of whatever reason, they did their best to avoid her altogether.

(Of Dye in her heyday) “…it is doubtful that even the name of President Wilson was more generally known.”

– John Quincy Wolf, Arkansas Folklorist

Speaking of the President, there was at least one Governor who took complete stock in her abilities. Governor-elect Donaghey refused to be inaugurated on either the 13th of the month, or on a Friday. He declared he had no desire to take the oath of office on “hoodoo” day. When asked when he thought the inauguration would take place, he replied “Probably Thursday the 14th or Monday the 18th. Wednesday the 13th, would of course be a bad day. Friday would never do.” – New York Times article, published January 6, 1909.

Aunt Caroline Dye she told me, “Son, these women don’t mean you no good.” Aunt Caroline Dye she told me, “Son, these women don’t mean you no good.”Said, “Take my advice and don’t monkey with none in your neighborhood”

– Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues, The Memphis Jug Band 1930

Celebrated by many, feared by most, Caroline Dye is an excellent example of a strong Arkansas woman having a profound effect on our history.  Through the Delta Blues, many of her lessons are still available to the masses. An atypical muse, Caroline influenced some of the greatest blues songs ever written, maybe even the best blues song ever written- W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues.

Now dat gyspy tole her, “Don’t you wear no black,

Now dat gyspy tole her, “Don’t you wear no black,

Go to St. Louis, you can win him back”

– St. Louis Blues, W.C. Handy

Do you believe her?  Get out sometime in our own backyard and explore history here in Arkansas- Aunt Caroline would tell you it’s a good idea.

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

Mary Anne Parker has been with Arkansas State Parks since 2005, and as Interpreter at Parkin Archeological State Park since 2006.  Mary Anne’s primary focus at Parkin has been on the African American Experience in the Delta, and she is extremely proud of the growth in community support the park has experienced with the renovation and opening of the Northern Ohio School in 2006. Her other interests and activities include running the Parker Homestead, which she owns and operated with her husband and his parents, and writing grants to further educational opportunities for students attending Arkansas Delta public schools.


Change

November 23, 2010

“Change is the only constant” Proverb quote

The Picture of Change

The Picture of Change

I’m not a big fan of change (and who is really?). If something is working, then why change it? However, in my profession I see a lot of changes. One constant change is in our visitors. As the seasons change, so do our type of visitors. In the summer, we have many people who come for only a day and bask in the sun at the swim beach. Then we see a lot of tents (some with an a/c even hanging out the side!).  During the summer, state parks are great place for families to celebrate together, from birthday parties and BBQ’s, to family reunions. Some of my favorite memories are from attending family reunions through the years atop Petit Jean Mountain at the state park. In fifth grade, I wore a Petit Jean State Park t-shirt so much that my friends starting calling me Petit Jean! Summers tend to give kids their “firsts”; first time to swim, first time to ride a horse, first time to camp, and in my cousin’s case-the first time she rode her bicycle without training wheels.

Big Rig Camping

Big Rig Camping

As the long, hot summer days give way to the cool, shorter days of fall, there comes the changing of how people camp. I will see less tents and more big RV’s. The summer of families with kids turns to a fall with more retired couples. Instead of staying for a weekend, we will have some that stay for several weeks. Our newly renovated campground provides an improved level of comfort for these folks. We now have sites with water, electric, and sewer. This enables the big rigs to have all the conveniences of home at their site.

The programming aspect for me changes as well. In the summer, I do a lot of children’s programming and programming for families. We do more activities at the nature cabin and have something going on every day. In the fall, I change the programming up to offer more adult oriented programs (with still a kick of whimsy in it-for the kid in all of us).  We have weekend programs and some during the week as well. My favorite program to do in the fall is a Dutch oven cooking workshop. I love the smell of cobbler cooking in the crisp air!

Camping & Fishing among the fall color.

Camping & Fishing among the fall color.

The activity level in the campground changes as well. During the spring and fall, the campground is alive with everyone enjoying the nice evenings by walking and biking through the campground. There are dogs barking and fires crackling. The hot summer months drives most everyone inside their campers and there are not that many souls that brave the chilly winter months.

All in all, life is full of change and it is inevitable. Seeing the different changes throughout the year at the park is exciting as you never know what is coming next.

Julie Tharp, Park Interpreter

Julie Tharp, Park Interpreter

Julie Tharp is the park interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park and has worked there since 2006. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Parks and Recreation from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. She is a Certified Interpretive Guide and a member of the National Association for Interpretation. Julie enjoys photography and playing with her dogs in her spare time. She grew up camping in the state parks and likes to share nature with park visitors.


What? No Dinosaurs?

September 22, 2010

As an interpreter at an archeological park, I have my work cut out for me.  I do not have the geology or the beauty of Lake Ouachita, nor do I have Mt. Magazine’s View to draw visitors to my door.  What I do have, is a fabulous resource- an incomparable resource- that never ceases to amaze and astound me.  But, admittedly, it is a resource that only a fraction of a percent of people know and care about.

Parkin Archeological State Park is the location where, in 1541, Hernando de Soto held the first Catholic mass west of the Mississippi.  We are the home of Casqui- the toughest, most feared chief of his time and the chief that de Soto himself mentions about above all others encountered on his 4 year hike though the American southeast.  Pretty cool, huh?  Yeah, maybe if you’re an archeologist or a park interpreter with a few anthropology courses under her belt.

Who doesn't like some good pottery?

Who doesn't like some good pottery?

Then there’s everybody else. I have to work pretty hard to make people interested in this resource.  They are people who are, if truth be told, truly on their way somewhere else but thought this might be a great place to stop and stretch their legs.  I cannot tell you how many people see the “Archeological park” sign on I-40 and exit because they think we’ve got dinosaurs.  When a 9 year old boy thinks he is coming inside to see t-rex only to find that what I have is pottery… that is supreme disappointment.  But what an interpretive opportunity!

Be a Conquistador for a day!

Be a Conquistador for a day!

Here at Parkin, we have an entire collection of Spanish conquistador clothing, armor and weapons. When kids dress like a conquistador, they forget they wanted to see dinosaurs at all.  They put on that helmet and pow! Instantly, they assume the Conquistador pose (you know the one- with one boot clad foot on the mound, hands on hips, hair blowing in the breeze underneath their helmet- don’t act like you’ve never struck this pose before) and from there, they are hooked on Parkin.  Add the conquistador gear to the collection of replica Native American spears, arrows, and atl atls, and we are the coolest thing kids of any age have seen in a while.

Somebody likes history...

Somebody likes history...

We do have other types of visitors besides the interstate exit crowd- visitors who actually know we are about Indian mounds, but are under the impression that they can dig here.  That is another interpretive opportunity completely.  You see, what we have is a finite resource- they just aren’t making Indian mounds anymore.  We cannot let you dig in our mound and expect to have anything left for people to see next week.  What we try and do, diplomatically, firmly, yet with a smile on our face, is tell them about the Federal laws which prohibit such activities and then hand them a Park Informational Brochure about the digging opportunities at Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Then there are the immutable types of visitors.  The rockhounds.  The Aztec enthusiasts.  The people who want to establish a connection between our site, the pyramids of Egypt, and possibly even aliens.  These guys are hard sells.  I had a man last week who was disappointed that we did not have more arrowheads on display.  I tried to explain to him that our pottery in the museum is world renowned, and that is what we choose to focus on.  He just would not let it go.  “Well, Cahokia has points everywhere,” he said.  I tried explaining for 20 minutes that I had visited Cahokia and that I was surprised by their lack of pottery on display (with the exception of pieces that were credited as coming from Arkansas) but this did not seem to phase him.  Education did not work with this guy.  He was disinterested in de Soto.  He could care less about headpots.  He told me he wanted to come back, and fully expected us to “make our museum just like everybody else’s.” Well, in the end all I could wonder was if the Interpreters at the Grand Canyon have problems with people wanting a beach.  Probably not.

A little "hands on" history!

A little "hands on" history!

I do welcome the challenge of educating people like him, and the beauty of the job is that very next person to walk in the door could be a visitor like me.  The “one half of one percent” visitors who love de Soto, are familiar with his trek through Arkansas, and who are yearning for me to tell them more.  I love to share the stories de Soto left with us- how Parkin’s Chief Casqui was the most feared chief in Arkansas, and how rich the culture was here in Arkansas.  I love to show our artifacts and leave people pleasantly surprised about our Arkansas history and heritage.

In short, we get all kinds of visitors here.  I like the people who dress like de Soto.  I look for the chance to educate potential collectors about NAGPRA legislation (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) and why it’s important.  I even relish the opportunity to hear an interesting new twist on the Stargate series and how it applies to Parkin.  But as for the man who wants us to make out museum just like everybody else’s… there’s an old adage that gets me through those experiences with sanity and a smile.  “Never try and teach a pig to sing- it wastes your time and just annoys the pig.”

(Note to reader: Ms. Parker in no way is relating visitors to pigs, though she thinks pigs are wonderful and admirable animals.  The adage was meant to be a funny tagline to an exhaustive experience she recently had with a visitor.)

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

Mary Anne Parker, Park Interpreter

~Mary Anne Parker has been with Arkansas State Parks since 2005, and as Interpreter at Parkin Archeological State Park since 2006.  Mary Anne’s primary focus at Parkin has been on the African American Experience in the Delta, and she is extremely proud of the growth in community support the park has experienced with the renovation and opening of the Northern Ohio School in 2006. Her other interests and activities include running the Parker Homestead, which she owns and operated with her husband and his parents, and writing grants to further educational opportunities for students attending Arkansas Delta public schools.


Kayaking Campout!

August 10, 2010

As the kayaking trip approaches, I can hardly hold back the excitement of hitting the water for some much needed paddling on beautiful Lake Ouachita.  It’s the first overnight kayaking trip of the year and I’ve been making preparations for weeks.  As the park interpreter at Lake Ouachita State Park, I host these trips to let others marvel at the wonders of this truly exceptional lake.  Many times, visitors to Lake Ouachita never even get on the water.  They don’t take the opportunity to immerse themselves in the beauty of this 48,000 acre lake with nearly 975 miles of pristine shorelines and countless islands.  I find kayaking to be one of the best ways to experience Lake Ouachita and create some cherished memories.

Morning fog before the launch.

Morning fog before the launch.

Saturday morning finally arrives, it’s 7:30 am and the others are unloading their kayak laden vehicles and gear.  We strategically place all our supplies onto the support barge that will shadow us throughout the trip and offer us a refuge if necessary.   After a safety brief and introduction, we set out on our two-day adventure.  The calmness of the lake is broken by the ripples our paddles create as we follow the shoreline of the park towards a destination unknown by most.   As we tuck in and out of the coves along the peninsula, the morning fog begins to unveil the vast lake before us.  I can’t help but breathe a little deeper as I take in the refreshing air.  No matter how many times I paddle on Lake Ouachita, I always experience the same tranquility as the stresses of life are carried away with each of the small waves I leave behind.  I’m snapped back into reality as a kingfisher breaks the silence with its load chatter.  I realize we have paddled a few

Paddling along the shoreline.

Paddling along the shoreline.

miles up the shoreline, but I don’t feel the least bit fatigued.  It’s almost time for lunch, so I radio the support barge to begin preparations on a nearby island.   Refueled by our lunch of sandwiches, chips, cookies and cold drinks, it’s back to the water.  By 3:00 pm, we are arriving at our campsite.  It’s a beautiful island with plenty of room for all of our tents and camping supplies.  For the next few hours, everyone sets up camp and enjoys some free time to explore, relax or visit with new friends.  Soon, we are greeted with a visitor to our camp.  Dinner is here!  I have catered a barbeque dinner with all the fixings from a local restaurant.  It’s a nice treat after a day of paddling.  The sun is about to set, so we decide to go for a barge tour on the lake.  It’s rather quiet on the ride.  I’m not sure if it is because everyone is tired or if it’s just that sunsets on Lake Ouachita can leave you speechless.  As the colorful skies transform into distant twinkles of light, we pull up to an island for an astronomy program.  The nighttime sky is unaffected by the light pollution of neighboring cities, so we are able to gaze at thousands of stars in all directions.

The welcoming campsite.

The welcoming campsite.

After listening to a few star legends, it’s time to head back to camp.  The light of our campfire serves as a beacon as we navigate the dark waters.  It’s getting late, so some call it a night, while others gather around the campfire for some campfire stories and smores.  Finally, the firewood turns to embers and we all crawl into our tents.  For most of us, we are fast asleep as our heads hit our pillows.  It’s been a full day and we need to a good nights’ rest for the return trip in the morning.

Nothing brings people together like a campfire in the fall.

Nothing brings people together like a campfire in the fall.

The campers awaken to the smell of coffee brewing and breakfast cooking in a Dutch oven over the campfire.  After a hearty meal, it’s time to break camp.  We gather for a final group photo and then it’s time to launch.  As we paddle back to the park, I can’t help but smile when I think about the friends I have made and the satisfaction of knowing this trip helped each of us connect with the natural treasures of Lake Ouachita.

Lake Ouachita State Park offers overnight kayaking trips in the fall and spring.  Space is limited on the trips and are quite popular, so make your reservations early by contacting the park interpreter.  You may also come out for our 1 ½ hour kayak tours of nearby coves scheduled weekly throughout the summer months.

Please contact the park to make reservations for this or other programs. 501-767-9366

(Learn about the next Kayaking Campout and other programs on the Lake Ouachita State Park Calendar of Events)

Susan Tigert, Park Interpreter

Susan Tigert, Park Interpreter

Susan has Bachelor of Science in Psychology.  She grew up in Hot Springs and spent lots of time camping on the area lakes.  Susan wants her children to have those same great memories she has from her childhood.


Night Lights

July 28, 2010
A field of lights, photo by gmnonic.

A field of lights, photo by gmnonic.

Recently, I had an eye opening experience.  It was when my back sliding glass doors were replaced.  You see, the old ones had clouded over to the point that you couldn’t really see out of them into my backyard.  I had lived with it that way for a few years and had gotten used to it.  However, when the new doors were put in, my eyes were opened up to all of the things I had been missing over the last couple of years.  It really hit home when one night a few weeks ago my backyard lit up in a dance of lights.

Fireflies in a jar, photo by jamelah.

Fireflies in a jar, photo by jamelah.

When I was a child, one of my favorite evening pastimes was to chase down the little flickering lights in my yard known as Lightning Bugs.  Others may know them as Fireflies.  They are the small flying beetles that create light and flash it in patterns that help to attract mates.   My friends and I used to love catching a bunch and putting them in a glass mason jar with holes in the lid and watch them light up.  They would dance around inside and climb up the walls of the jar flashing their lights and generating wonder in our minds.  A short time later we would release them back out into the night and watch them dance away, still repeating the same patterns as we had watched earlier.  We would do this night after night until it was time for us to go inside.

Firefly up close, photo by James Jordan.

Firefly up close, photo by James Jordan.

When I was cut off from that sight on a nightly basis it made me forget the wonder that I felt watching those tiny beetles.  Sure, I still saw them from time to time when I was out in the evenings.  But when my back doors were replaced and I was able to watch for them on a nightly basis, that excitement crept back in.  It was fun waiting in anticipation for the first one to flash each evening.  It drew me outside again to watch them dance and catch one or two to marvel at.  They opened my eyes to what I had been missing spending too many evenings indoors instead of outside enjoying the sights of the transition from day to night.

I’m glad those back sliding glass doors were replaced; not because they let more light in or because they are more energy efficient, though those are both important, but because they encouraged me to open them up and walk outside.

Kathy Evans, Assistant Park Superintendent.

Kathy Evans, Assistant Park Superintendent.

Katherine Evans is the Assistant Superintendent at Lake Poinsett State Park.  Educated at the University of Michigan, she holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology.  She began her career with Arkansas State Parks at Village Creek State Park in 2008 as a Seasonal Interpreter.  She became the Assistant Superintendent at Lake Poinsett State Park in January of 2009.  She is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and a Certified Interpretive Guide.

(Photos obtained on Flickr.com through creative commons license.)


With Eyes Like a Child

June 23, 2010
Something as simple as a mussel shell can hold a world of mysteries for a child.

Something as simple as a mussel shell can hold a world of mysteries for a child.

It started as a simple hike at day camp.  We were walking around Walcott Lake and talking about what lived there.  Suddenly one of the kids spotted a mussel shell and they were all immediately captivated by the “seashells.”  They wanted to know what it was and when they found out that an animal lived in it, they wanted to know what it ate and what ate it.  A simple shell, that most adults would have walked right past, opened up a new area of interest for these kids.

Always remember to take time to explore the small wonders in nature, like the emergence of the cicadas.

Always remember to take time to explore the small wonders in nature, like the emergence of the cicadas.

I love getting to work with children in my job because they have a need to explore and learn about their surroundings that adults often leave behind as they get older.  For an adult, a trail is a way to get from one place to another, a way to stay fit, or a simple walk through the woods.  For a child, that same trail is unexplored territory filled with new creatures, strange plants, and thrilling experiences.

They also have a slightly different way of exploring things.  They use all of their senses to learn about an object.  Leaves are rubbed and sniffed, furs are touched, and everything is looked at with an eye for detail that might surprise someone unfamiliar with children.   This allows them to understand an object at a deeper level than they would from just looking at it and moving on.

I learn so much from watching the children in the park.  They remind me that every day is a new chance to explore and learn about the world around me.  They remind me that a walk in the woods should always be an adventure full of things I may not have ever noticed before.  They remind me that using all of my senses makes the experience that much richer and, maybe most importantly, they help me to see simple, familiar objects with a new appreciation that only comes by looking at it with eyes like a child.

Sassafras leaves, when crushed or torn, smell slightly of lemons.

Sassafras leaves, when crushed or torn, smell slightly of lemons.

Heather Runyan, Park Interpreter

Heather Runyan, Park Interpreter

Heather Runyan graduated from Henderson State University with a bachelor’s degree in Recreation and Park Administration and after college served two terms as an AmeriCorps member.   She began working for Arkansas State Parks in 2006 as the Park Interpreter at Crowley’s Ridge State Park.   Heather is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and a Certified Interpretive Guide.