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Beavers, Nabokov and Great Tour Leaders

by ExperiencePlus! - Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Tour leaders take a break from prepping outgoing vans in France, 2004.

Beavers, Nabokov and Great Tour Leaders

Scene of the Crime: Beaver signs along the Cache La Poudre River in Fort Collins, Colorado.Recently, I was leading my three young boys on a nature walk in search of clues about the "vandals" who had been cutting down trees along the Poudre River bike path here in Fort Collins, Colorado.  As I read the signs and pointed them out to the kids, I was reminded of this passage from Nabokov’s little book "Transparent Things" – and of the great tour leaders I’ve known:

"When we concentrate on a material object… the very act of attention may lead to our involuntarily sinking into the history of the object…..  Transparent things, through which the past shines!"

The vandals were, of course, some particularly efficient beavers.  As we hiked along, we saw the downed trees, their trunks surrounded by chips. Here and there, where the river split around a small island, we found dams, runs and lodges – and even, for a brief instant, the guilty party himself.  The boys were excited, and I was having fun interpreting what we were seeing, just as a good tour leader would.  

I started to lose them, though, when I came across an old beaver dam buried in a small meadow near the river.  I realized that we were standing on what had once been a beaver pond, gradually silted in and dried up to the point that it was no longer recognizeable.  I described for the kids how, as the years had passed, the beavers slowly changed the course of the river, but I soon found that they had stopped paying attention.

"Sinking into its history" a bit further, that beaver dam offered so many connections.  The opening of the American West by French fur traders collecting beaver pelts, and the name of the Cache la Poudre river itself, given by those very fur traders; the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, and how they drove out smaller predators like coyotes, which gave the beaver population a boost, which created numerous small pools along the streams and boosted the trout populations, which in turn. . . . And as I started to get lost in the frenzied connections (and my kids wandered away) I was reminded of an important quality in a tour leader: knowing when to stop. Nabokov described it a few paragraphs along from the passage I quoted earlier:

"A thin veneer of immediate reality is spread over natural and artificial matter, and whoever wishes to remain in the now, with the now, on the now, should please not break its tension film.  Otherwise the inexperienced miracle worker will find himself no longer walking on water but descending upright among staring fish."

Travel – whether in our own backyard or the Italian countryside – is a delicate balance of "the now" and the past.  There’s no doubt that a little understanding of local history deepens one’s experience, but the perfect amount of background information is different for every traveler.  A great tour leader combines the broad knowledge to satisfy our curiosity with the wisdom to stop before the traveler’s eyes glaze over.  According to our customers, we’re lucky enough to have found a bunch of them:  

"The tour leaders were models for what every tour should strive for."  

"I cannot say enough about our tour leaders who made our trip so much fun by sharing their knowledge of Greece as well as their passion for their country and biking."

"I cannot remember a trip with more helpful, knowledgable, and warm guides."

"The tour leaders did it again! Magnificent people that you keep finding…."

"Most of all I can’t say enough about our guides…they were kind, caring, skilled, knowledgeable, flexible, interesting and fun to be with…"

"Our tour leaders were outstanding in every way. They were informed, friendly, effecient, and continually full of good will and good humor."

Logo of the National Association for Interpretation
But those fabulous tour leaders aren’t resting on their laurels.  A number of them recently took the National Association for Interpretation‘s formal "Certified Interpretive Guide" and "Certified Interpretive Trainer" courses.  (The NAI educates and supports park rangers, tour leaders, interpretive guides and others who find themselves explaining nature and culture to the public.)  With NAI training, our guides have taken what was merely a rare and wonderful knack for interpretation, and developed it into a skilled profession.  

So as our summer travel season begins to hit full swing, here’s a tip of the hat to the hard-working people who make our tours so fun and fascinating.   If you’ve been on tour with us before, you know what I’m talking about – and if you haven’t, well, what are you waiting for?  Start looking for your perfect vacation today.