Pranking the Boss

By Matthew Stoffel

Two weeks ago I encountered a turning point every young person will have to deal with at some point in their professional life.

I got the chance to prank my boss.

I spent most of the day at the Valley Springs Information Center, greeting visitors as they passed from Minnesota to South Dakota. When I got back just after 3:00, I saw the banner for Outdoor University was finally hung up.

The Outdoor Campus Outdoor University 2013 Banner August 3rd

I say finally because we had hoped to have it up much sooner. First, Thea (the boss in question) couldn’t find the sign for the longest time. Finally she found it in the shower room, a room with a shower head that is plum full of storage items. It was buried in such a way that only a frustrated woman defying claims she must have “tossed it” could produce it from hiding.

The sign then needed to be fitted with new numbers. It still had last year’s date, “AUG 4,” and needed to say “AUG 3.” It took longer than we expected, most likely because it was forgotten under our hefty orders for new signs. When we finally got the call that it was done, we went to retrieve it. Thea pulled back the outer flap of the long, rolled sign to see the “3”, and we brought it to be hung.

Unfortunately, this merits a finally as well; the gentleman who cleans our windows must have been busy. As you can imagine, cleaning the front windows of The Outdoor Campus building is a daunting task and requires elevating equipment that doubles in purpose for the banner.

On this fateful day when he finally got it in the air, Thea was in Rapid City for The Outdoor Campus – West’s Outdoor University. She had left the day before, and I checked with everyone who had been here. Nobody had told her it was up.

I rolled up my sleeves and leaned into Photoshop. Now, I’m by no means great with the program; I only started using it when I began here at TOC. But I’m fairly proud of what I produced here.

The Outdoor Campus OU 13 Prank Photo

I even blurred the reflected letters in the window so they couldn’t give me away. My boss has poor eyesight, but her teenage daughter doesn’t and I didn’t know how close at hand she’d have someone to foil my ploy.

After I had everything ready, I sent her this:

The Outdoor Campus Pranking Thea

Thanks to the good old Black Hills reception, the message didn’t get to her until about two hours later. My phone rang and I got an exasperated “Are you kidding me?!” My blurring of the reflection was unnecessary; Thea was at the top of a mountain when she saw it, and her family backed away as a means of self-preservation when they saw her reaction.

It took a minute or two to convince Thea that it wasn’t real, only an office prank. But when the dust settled, I still had my job.

At least, for now anyways.


Getting Ready for the Party

IMG_5220By Thea
It might be the biggest party I’ve ever thrown. Even though my daughter is now 17, planning Outdoor University reminds me of those grade school birthday parties.

Food? Yes.
Drinks? Yes.
Prizes? Yes.
Invites? Yes.
Where will all the moms park? Got it.
Where will we gather? Got it.

Outdoor University 2013 is going to be quite a party, folks. I hope you can come. This building was started the year my daughter was born, so in more ways that I can explain The Outdoor Campus is another child for me. I hope you’ll come to our party!

Saturday, August 3, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Bring the whole family – there is a lot to do!

How To Polish a Frog: With Turtle Wax, of Course

By Thea Miller Ryan
frog3frog4Poor Intern Matt. I told him we had to polish the frog. I think he thought it was a joke – an initiation of some sorts where we tell the interns they have to polish the frog. Right up until we bought the Turtle Wax, I don’t think he believed it would actually happen.

It did. We gave the frog a nice bath of soapy water, a good rinse and then we waxed him. Prince Frederick Michael Von Purdy has a new shine, and Intern Matt has no reason to not believe me ever again. Right?

Turtle Puppet Horror Theatre

Turtle Puppet Horror Theatre

By Matthew Stoffel

As the PR intern, there is plenty of opportunity to soak in the outdoors, but a majority of my time in Sertoma Park is actually spent in my office or in Thea’s, writing and editing stories, going through pictures, managing social media and planning for upcoming projects. While our naturalist interns are teaching the kids about nature, I am safe in the shadows.

For the most part.

This Wednesday however, while sitting safe in my office and settling into a project… I was ambushed.

“Matt,” I heard, and turned to see Natalie, one of the naturalist interns. She explained that nobody else was available to help with her T is for Turtle class.

More specifically: the puppet show.

The Outdoor Campus' puppet theatre
The Outdoor Campus’ puppet theatre
My heart doubled its natural rhythm, and everything became blurry. A puppet show? Me? Why not Reid? Or Cody?

But in the moment’s chaos, there was nobody else.

I swallowed hard. Deep inhale. Deep exhale. “Sure,” I heard myself say.

Now, at Augustana I’m a theatre major, so it may seem odd that The Outdoor Campus’ puppet stage should cause me to fret. But this wasn’t the type of theatre I was used to.

No warning. No audition. No rehearsal.

I stepped into the classroom. Though there were probably only 20 kids in attendance, my anxiety quadrupled the audience. Masking my hyperventilation, I ducked behind the wall of the theatre to encounter a volunteer: my partner in catastrophe.The turtle and beaver that performed in the show.

He nodded at me. “I’ve got the beaver. You can be the turtle.”

I looked down at the turtle through which I had to convey the magic of theatre. The turtle I had to find some connection to, to fit with voice and demeanor. But this character, this vessel of the stage, offered just one aspect I could relate to. If only I had a shell into which I could escape from peril, I thought as my shaking hand met the soft puppet frame.

I took my seat and began to glance over the script. The beaver would ask the turtle about being cold-blooded and how… No. The beaver wouldn’t ask the turtle. Not really.

It would ask me.

Deep inhale. Deep exhale. I can do this. I’ve performed 100 times in the last year alone.

But it was no use. Before I finished scanning the script, Natalie’s voice told the kids class would start with a puppet show.

The Outdoor Campus' puppet theatre... Backstage.
My fellow performer nodded and thrust his puppet past the safe cover of the curtain with confidence. As I marveled at his reserve, I realized my own hand was also extending past the curtain…

The beaver began to speak.

And the show started.

I remember creating his turtle voice on a whim. I remember demonstrating how he retreats into his shell. I remember, halfway through, realizing the script’s turtle was a woman.

But other than that, the performance was a blur.

I kept my head down as I exited the classroom. I did it to hide, but looking down proved ineffective in avoiding the eyes of four year olds.

After getting out of the classroom I stopped a moment, listening to the door click shut behind me. Deep inhale. Deep exhale. Then, I broke into a full sprint in retreat to my office.

To the safety of my shell.

The Unforeseen Future

The Unforeseen Future

Many people know me as Bethany, the intern who loves her job teaching all ages about nature, the environment and everything that goes with it. Not many people know me as Bethany, the beauty pageant queen.

TOC naturalist intern Bethany Florey as Miss Fish Days 2007
TOC naturalist intern Bethany Florey as Miss Fish Days 2007
Now before you all start thinking of Miss United States, just hold on. When I say pageant queen, I mean Miss Fish Days Queen 2007. It’s a little small town beauty pageant that high school girls participate in for our town celebration of Fish Days.

But yes, I, despite all my tomboyish ways and my love for hunting and fishing, despite my sports centered mind… I found time to do a beauty pageant. I did the whole shebang: The interviews. Casual and formal wear. Onstage questions. I even went out and got sponsors. Everything.

If it wasn’t for Sandra Bullock, I’m pretty positive I could have been the next Miss Congeniality.

For the pageant, my focus (or “platform,” in pageant terms) was the outdoors. I was focused on getting not only kids, but all generations back outside. I must have done something right because while I was standing there on stage I heard “and your 2007 Fish Days is… BETHANY FLOREY!” It was kind of surreal. I heard the crowd cheering and clapping; it took me a second to realize that they really said my name. I was pretty excited because I beat out three seniors for the title.

The reason this blog post is called “The Unforeseen Future” is because I didn’t realize how big an influence that pageant platform would have on my future. That it would take me through three different major programs at South Dakota State University, before going back to Parks and Recreation. That it would lead me to intern at state campgrounds like Snake Creek Recreation Area as a naturalist. All of that eventually led me here, to The Outdoor Campus in Sertoma Park.

Beth instructing women on proper paddling technique
Beth instructing women on proper paddling technique

What do I do here at TOC, you ask?

I do exactly what I want to do and love doing. I am a naturalist intern. I create and teach classes about nature and the environment to all ages. I get to teach outdoor skills like archery and kayaking, among many others. I play with, care for and teach about our classroom animals.

If you ask me, I’m exactly where I want to be. And to think, it all started when a young girl who liked to hunt, fish and be outside, decided to enter a beauty pageant.

Frustration Filming Monarch Metamorphosis

Frustration Filming Monarch Metamorphosis

By Matthew Stoffel

The makeshift studio for the transforming caterpillar.
The makeshift studio for the transforming caterpillar.

I’m sitting here typing, shooting glances over my shoulder between each word to check the activity of the caterpillar. I’m eager. It’s hanging from the cup lid skewered to my bulletin board, my iPhone a foot away. My goal is to capture the entering of the caterpillar into chrysalis on film. Almost every book in my office serves as a tripod.

I’m positive the transformation will start soon. Sarah, horticulture intern of The Outdoor Campus, caretaker of the caterpillars, just left our office. Murphy’s Law dictates this caterpillar will start wiggling into chrysalis the moment she leaves Sertoma Park.

“Wiggling.” It puzzles me, but it’s the best word for how the transformation takes place. On TV and in children’s books I always thought the caterpillar would hang very still as the casing formed. But I can see the slit forming under the little guy where his current skin will separate and be squeezed up accordion-style to make way for the pale green layer emerging.

The caterpillar hangs in a "J" shape before enter chrysalis.
The caterpillar hangs in a “J” shape before enter chrysalis.
I witnessed it earlier. My girlfriend came to have lunch with me in the office, where another caterpillar was under similar observation. We watched it, knowing it was nearing time to transform. It was hanging upside down in a “J” shape, antenna deflated and limp. That time my hand shook as I tried to just hold the camera on the transformation.

The caterpillar over my shoulder is hanging the same now, and I know the moment is coming.

Waiting is agonizing. I’m writing to distract myself from anticipation, but the heavy reliance of the distraction on the obsession interferes with its effectiveness. The desire to get a good video is heavy. Between caterpillar and camera is the buffalo cutout seen throughout our Sioux Falls offices, printed with the mission statement of The Outdoor Campus. “… Provide education about outdoor skills, wildlife, conservation and management practices” grabs me. Provide education.

“… In order to preserve our outdoor heritage.” Maybe it’s a stretch, but in the moment I’m thinking how cool a video of the transformation could be. Maybe a mother will call her kids over from playing, as my mother often did, to show them something neat. Something interesting. Maybe that video will spark an interest, which might ignite a passion. Maybe not, but this is the pressure I feel as I look at the phone to realize it’s out of recording space.

My perspective during the filming.
My perspective during the filming.

Rushing the phone to the computer to transfer data the caterpillar shifts, making me jumpy, frustrated. When I finally get the phone in place, focusing the camera is impossible for the first few moments and my video doesn’t become the masterpiece I hoped. I get the focus, but the green is already traveling up. I had one goal. I’d never experienced my phone reaching capacity before – the lesson comes at the cost of success.

But maybe it can still spark an interest. Maybe knowing how badly I wanted to make it work will make up for the shoddy camera work.

I hope so.

Former Intern Sends Note from The Peace Corps

The local school where Kayla helped paint an environmental mural.
The local school where Kayla helped paint an environmental mural.
Kayla and a couple of environmental youth group girls at the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation (a partner organization in nearby Punta Cana) learning about compost.
Kayla and a couple of environmental youth group girls at the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation (a partner organization in nearby Punta Cana) learning about compost.

We received a note from Kayla Mollet, who was a naturalist intern at The Outdoor Campus from January to May of 2010, and volunteered here starting in the fall of 2011. Here’s what Kayla had to say about her service in the Peace Corps:

Hello All,

Well, it’s been over a year now since I arrived in my community in the easternmost part of the Dominican Republic. Things have been going well all in all with projects and general day-to-day life. I have made friends, created environmental youth groups and been involved in a community sanitation initiative, among other projects. I have learned a ton about Dominican culture, Dominican Spanish, development work and a lot about what I DO and DON’T like to do. Peace Corps service has its ups and downs, but I feel fortunate to be in a beautiful, vibrant country and to be supported by key Peace Corps staff, fellow volunteers, community members, friends and family.

For those of you interested in keeping updated with the wastewater project I emailed about last fall, things have evolved a bit; the project grew and we are still waiting on big chunks of money in order to start construction. Part of the growth of the project became my main project: trash management within the community. The wastewater treatment system has turned into a full sanitation initiative within the community that includes trash management and education about treatment of household water. Working on the grass roots level and WITH not FOR the community, the project inches along and progress is being made. We are pretty well lined up to start construction on the wastewater system as soon as the funding comes in. We have a group of youth leaders committed to integrated waste management training who will be community promoters on this subject. There are plans to distribute more trash cans within the neighborhood and to create a regular trash pickup system that has been lacking in the past.

If you or anyone you know are interested in learning how you could be of help supporting the project, I encourage you to check out this website:
The mural that you see in the image on this website was a successful project the community undertook this year and includes important environmental messages about managing trash. Anyway, I hope this email finds you all well, and know that I am sending my best to all of you! I think of you all so often and can’t wait for the next time I get to come see you guys!

Warm Regards,