I’m thinking about bridges today, perhaps because Bent Twig Trail has several of them. Each one spanning the ephemeral creek that snakes its way in this small forest fragment. In my role as the Interpretive Programs Manager for Bernheim, I have the great fortune not only of working in a beautiful place, but I also have the privilege of sharing the stories of this remarkable place with you, our visitors and the readers of this blog. The challenge I find myself asking as I begin each blog post is this: How do I span the gap between the tangible things (trees, mushrooms, insects, birds, and even bridges ) that I might find along this trail, to some of the intangible ideas (beauty, change, mystery, loss, peace, wonder) that might matter to you? My friend Kelly Farrell, the Chief Interpreter for Arkansas state parks, has provided a partial answer to this question in the form of a definition. According to Kelly, “Interpretation is the process of helping others discover what things mean, how they fit together, and why they matter.”
Take this beech tree snag for instance. There are many ways we can explore this tree. We can feel the smoothness of the bark and notice the rough scars and the gaping hole. We find small beetles and their larvae if we look closely, and small holes made by woodpeckers, and carved initials, no longer discernible. We might reach down and feel some of the soft detritus (tree dust) at its base. These observable sensory aspects, these tangible things point towards ideas – ideas that help tell the story. Certainly a snag such as this, speaks of ecological cycles, change, death and decay. But in the forest community, it also speaks of nourishment, shelter, food, and a history that is deeply entwined with humans and the rest of nature. What matters to you about this beech tree snag is in part a reflection of your own experience. Each encounter with bird, worm, tree or bridge is an invitation to explore and to reflect. Sometimes we go outside and gain understanding of how the things we encounter fit together, and why they matter, and sometimes we go outside to better understand what’s inside, what speaks to us, and what, for the time, remains silent.
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