Saturday, August 11, 2012

Nuts and Bolts

Imagine your dream car. What comes to mind? Maybe a sleek body style, a luxurious interior, adrenalin-pumping power, or that perfect sound from the exhaust pipes. What we don't often imagine are top-quality nuts, bolts, and other supporting features that hold all that together for many years. Nuts and bolts don't get much glory but they are absolutely necessary to every dream car.

I've always wanted a Geo Metro convertible, but Pontiac took the Metro design to 'dream car' level with this paint job on their Firefly LE - the dream car that all other dream cars dream about.
How does all that relate to a botanic garden, and in particular ours here at Kona Kai? Well, the glamour and glory of our Gardens is largely what you see, smell, and taste as well as how you feel when you are in the Gardens. This usually involves a direct experience with the plants and any educational experiences we offer along with them in terms of interpretation (plant labels, etc.) and tours. These aspects are analogous to the ideals of beauty, luxury, power, and sound of a dream car. Also like the dream car, behind all the appeal to the senses you will find the "nuts and bolts" of the Gardens, which normally go on behind the scenes. I wanted to create this post in order to give you an idea about a few types of the more "behind-the-scenes" work involved here at the Gardens and at any other respectable botanical institution so that we can progress further in answering the question stated in this blog's description, namely "what on earth does an ethnobotanist / associate director of a botanic garden do???"

Our institutional plan is a major component of the nuts and bolts of our botanic garden. Joe began working on this plan a few years before I arrived at Kona Kai and we have been working on it together ever since. You could call it a document, but we actually have it set up as a spreadsheet with about forty separate worksheets within, each dealing with a different aspect of the Gardens. We have this document in the "cloud" so that we can work on it from multiple computers in multiple locations and we can be certain we are working with an up-to-date version. We can also work collaboratively on the plan in real time since it can be accessed and edited by multiple users on different computers at the same time - pretty cool! This plan serves to document what we've accomplished, what we are working on, and where we are headed over approximately the next five years. It's important to have goals so that we don't work aimlessly, so Joe and I are sure to get together for extended sessions once per quarter for in-depth discussion on our progress and goals. While it is a bit complex and overwhelming, it is crucial to our effective operation into the future.

Me (not in actuality) after an in-depth discussion of the institutional plan with Joe.
Every vehicle has a purpose based on its characteristics; the same is true for botanic gardens. Our mission statement describes what we do and plays an integral part in what is included in our institutional plan. As an incentive to explore, I'll let you check out our botanic gardens web page here to find out what our mission is even though I know you have it memorized already. Current and potential programs at our botanic garden are constantly on my mind, and I evaluate them regularly to see how well they contribute to fulfilling our mission. Just because we are doing something well, doesn't mean we couldn't be doing it better, and one aspect of "better" for me involves tweaking projects so that they most effectively contribute to fulfilling our mission. With regards to potential programs, if something sounds like it might be fun to get involved in but it is not relevant to our mission, we probably won't do it. For instance, although Joe and I would love to have regular botanically-themed circus performances at the Gardens, it doesn't really fit with our mission, unless we modified it to include "strange, low-revenue entertainment." More realistically, although research for medicinal compounds in plants is both extremely interesting and ethnobotanical in nature, we do not have the facilities or funds to carry that research out, so we haven't included it in our mission and consequently don't endeavor to undertake that sort of work. Relating to automobiles again, it would be like putting racing tires, sport suspension, and fiberglass body effects inches from the ground on a truck commissioned for snow plowing...although it sounds awesome, it doesn't fit the purpose and would negatively affect the performance of the truck for its intended purpose.

The Dodge Ram HFS Edition, designed by Russ Schwenkler, is a perfect example of a truck with a "mission" that doesn't include plowing snow. I think it needs some more spoilers for its spoilers.
When we experience cars and gardens, we are experiencing an "end product" - a result of a lot of research over a period of many years that has gone on behind-the-scenes to create that beautiful product. When it comes to gardens, we have plenty of research to do in order to decide on which plants to include on the property and where, create labels for these plants, develop interesting tours, figure out what's causing a plant to go into decline, establish an education program, etc. Research is a major part of determining what goes into our institutional plan and how to go about executing what we have planned when the opportune time arrives. I do a lot of research each day and I am so thankful to have the Internet as a resource to accomplish most of this. Although I pretty much grew up with the Internet, I can still remember times when researching meant going to a library because that was really the only place to go for extensive reliable information. In the case of gardens, a quality botanical / horticultural library has been an extremely important resource, but fortunately for gardens with limited funding, the Internet now allows quick and easy access to much of this information for free. Because information can be accessed so quickly and easily, it allows us to do more in shorter periods of time, which is great but it can get overwhelming at times, creating the need to step back to let the mind catch up with processing all the information it has been given so that good decisions can be made. I find that having restful sleep at night, reserving time for quietness/stillness, and practicing minimizing stress (but still working at a good pace) gives my brain the opportunity to do its best work. I have to realize that while technology makes exponential progress in terms of speed and information, I cannot "upgrade" my brain like I can my computer to effectively process such quantities of information at ever-increasing speeds.

A good representation of what I feel happens when I push my brain too hard. Fortunately my job does not deal with any of this (at least that I can tell).
So now you know a bit more about a few of the things I do when I'm not outside in the Gardens: developing and maintaining our institutional plan, figuring out how to best fulfill our mission, and researching, researching, researching so that we can make the best decisions possible and become a valuable resource for our visitors and the community. I didn't include any garden pictures so far in this post, so I think I'll leave you with a picture of a place in the Gardens here at Kona Kai where I like to take a few minutes to clear my mind and refresh my spirit when my brain starts to feel like the whiteboard above.

Such a beautiful contrast.
Even if you can't be here at Kona Kai to do the same, it makes a great desktop background for quick mental vacations!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

No comments:

Post a Comment