by Shoshana Resnikoff, ’08
The fuzzy head is tipping to one side, making my head jostle around inside it like dice in a gambler’s fist. I can’t see out of the eyeholes, partly because they are dipping low and partly because I don’t have my glasses on — they are too bulky under the headpiece. I am overheated and sweaty and I feel a little tense. Also, I can’t walk straight; my hiking-booted-feet are encased in even larger foot-coverings, making it almost impossible to tell where my foot ends and the ground begins.
My coworker Daniel has to guide me gently around the house, holding onto my arms to keep me from stumbling and warning me — occasionally too late — about oncoming obstacles. “Why on earth am I doing this to myself?” I think. What possible payoff could make this torture worth it? And then, finally, we make it to our destination and I see and hear thirty four-year-old children cry out at in jubilation: “SMOKEY!” Oh, right. That’s why I'm doing this.
How did I get roped into playing an oversized teddy bear with an environmental conscience? Well, it has to do with three little letters: S, C, and A. It’s not every girl who gets to put “being Smokey Bear” on her list of skills and experiences on her resume. Of course, it is not every girl who gets to do an SCA internship at Grey Towers, either, so apparently I'm a lucky person all around. When I first applied for an SCA internship I never would have guessed that I’d end up wrapped in fake fur while enthusiastic toddlers crawled all over me in a rush to tell me about fire prevention. That is what happened, though, and truly grateful that it did.
You’re going to have to bear with me while I tell this story. It will be boring at times, as any account of a person’s life can be. You might also get frustrated — frustrated at my shortsightedness, my immaturity, even my over-abundance of commas. I promise, though, there is a moral to this story. So please, have patience, as I try to explain what I thought I was gaining from my SCA internship, what I actually did gain, and what the difference between the two meant for me. I’m going to try to explain how my SCA experience transformed me. I’ve broken it down into three broad different ways that SCA proved transformative: it transformed the way I see my fellow Americans, it changed the way I think about the kind of work I want to do with my future, and it altered irrevocably the nature of my relationship with ‘my country.’
Gifford Pinchot was the first chief of the US Forest Service, twice-Governor of Pennsylvania, and is credited with being the father of modern American nature conservation. He was also the son of the man who built Grey Towers, was its eventual owner and its most distinguished resident. He wrote in his autobiography Breaking New Ground that he felt the need to tell his story and the story of American conservation because he wanted to make sure that the American public got the “true picture” of the early years of American conservation. “And for drawing that picture personal history beats documentary history all hollow.” He made it clear that “history written from personal recollection, fortified by documents, impresses me more and more as I grow older.” I can't help but think that it is therefore fitting that I follow his great example in the format of my story. I’m going try my best to paint a “true picture” of my time as an SCA intern at Grey Towers, explaining what I did and what I learned and fortifying my experiences with the “documentary history” of photographs. I haven’t lived as full or as meaningful a life as Gifford Pinchot yet, but for now this will have to do.
Editor’s note: Stay tuned next month for the next installment of Shoshana’s story, where we learn how she found SCA and ultimately Grey Towers.
Photos: top - Shoshana as Smokey Bear; bottom - Gifford Pinchot - photo courtesy of Gerarld Williams, retired US Forest Service national historian
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