Ranger Kathryn's Arches

August 24, 2009

No Cure for Wildophilia

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:11 am

I have been home from Utah for 13 days, and discover that I am stricken with an incurable disease.  I’ve named it Wildophilia, although doubtless its victims throughout history have given it other names.  It is relentless and progressive.  It starts out harmlessly enough with a liking for the outdoors, and a deep appreciation for natural beauty.  Sneakily, it triggers the release of a goodly amount of endorphins when some outdoor activity is particularly enjoyable:  the beginning of the addiction. (Rather like the tobacco companies lacing cigarettes with nicotine.) 

Signs and symptoms are subtle at first.  Mowing the lawn is more pleasant than washing the floor.  You may acquire a dog just so you can walk her. When you read a book (about adventure or the outdoors, often), you sit in the lawn chair or hammock instead of indoors.  You choose a house in the woods rather than in a treeless development.  You fix up your old bike and use it for exercise, rather than the treadmill in your basement. You are drawn to bird-watching, and love a good hiking trail. You find yourself requiring more natural light than your companions need.  Your camera’s photographs are of nature instead of people.

As the insidious disease takes hold, you may find yourself taking up running, a sport you’ve never tried before, just to get you outside.  Any invitation to a river or lake beats out the nicest golf course, tennis court, or bowling alley.  You drive with your car windows open rather than sealing yourself into an A/C-controlled environment.  A two-mile hike may take an hour or more, since you stop to investigate every new mushroom, spider web, fern frond, cool cloud formation, tree root, rivulet with water striders and minnows and crayfish.  If you paint, you find yourself with your brushes and canvas en plein air, in the open air.  You turn off your beloved classical music in order to hear the April spring peepers singing their hearts out.  Patients may find themselves sympathizing with archetypal animals of the wilderness, such as wolves.

In later stages, you realize that you are different from your friends.  You find yourself sleeping outside at every reasonable opportunity; your sleeping bag on the cot on the porch becomes home each night.  On a moment’s notice, you find yourself throwing gear into your vehicle willy-nilly so you can get away to a new place to explore, a place without creature comforts, but with nature in its best and most beautiful forms.  Maybe you become a trained weather spotter, since you are thrilled by storms and marvel at their power.  You buy a star chart and start seeing the night sky in a new way.

The physical signs include breathlessness and heart palpitations, either when outdoors in a special place, or when prevented from experiencing wildness. Sighing is frequent.  Perceptual irregularities include hallucinatory tendencies in which the sufferer perceives indoor environments in black and white, and outdoors in technicolor.

There is no cure.  Wildness has worked its way into the colloidal network that holds every cell to every other cell.  Once the disease takes hold, it is permanently in the patient’s body/soul/spirit.  Treatments are aimed at ameliorating the unpleasant symptoms of Wilderness Withdrawal, and include regular doses of nature and exploration, in a variety of forms and places, sometimes solo and other times with other sufferers.  The disease can be contagious, spread through close contact and shared activities.

I’ve got it bad.

August 14, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:20 am

I have also just added an addendum to my August 9 (last day of work) post.  You can find it below the dashed line on that day’s post, “Goodbyes are so hard.”

Addendum to addendum:  The FIRST time I blushed on my last day of work was as I was orienting a group of nine people who wished to buy permits to enter the Fiery Furnace without a ranger.  I was in the video room with them.  Detecting a familiar accent in one gentleman, I asked, “Are you from North Carolina?”  “South Carolina,” he drawled back.  “Oh, my first kiss was in SC,” I blurted out before I could even think what I was saying.  Everyone watched my very tan face turn red as I realized that I had just told this bunch of strangers something very personal!  They laughed.  I shook it off and continued the orientation process, chuckling.  I am so darn professional.


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:15 am


My last photo in Arches NP

My last photo in Arches NP

After three nights in my own bed, I have had two similar dreams.  I am making preparations to go somewhere, but the destination is definitely unclear.  I look at my watch, and it tells me unmistakably, (Go) Now.


I do not awaken unsettled and apprehensive — but ready and willing.



I am happy in my new T-shirt Marta found for my bday:  "RANGER"

I am happy in my new T-shirt Marta found for my bday: "RANGER"

August 11, 2009

Looking for a foreign word that means…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:59 pm

… a person who is sojourning through a land without belonging in it, or to it.

A useful word.

Two days on the highways — and only two gas fill-ups! — have landed me back in Austin, MN.  Always, always, a home-coming after an absence has an element of gladness and rootedness to it; however, that is utterly lacking this time.  An odd feeling surrounds me, as if I no longer belong here.  What is this unusual green color everywhere?  And the cloying thickness of the air?  Where are my beloved red rocks?  Why can I no longer hear the canyon wren’s mournful descending whistle?  I will allow myself the grace to walk through the next few days at my own pace, processing my re-entry slowly and thoughtfully.

It is painful to be missing Utah so intensely, but perhaps it is a Big Clue.

August 9, 2009

Goodbyes are so hard

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:15 pm

My days here are done.  Today I have given and received many hugs, fist bumps, and high fives.  “You’re one of the good ones,” Rob said as his goodbye.  “You are so fun to have around, and your positive energy adds a ton,” said Juliana (my supervisor).  “You’d better be back next summer.”

And so I will walk to my apartment, pack everything in boxes and bins, try to load Olive to the gills, go on a cleaning frenzy for check-out tomorrow morning.  And then I will have tears running down my cheeks all the way to the Colorado border.   I think this is appropriate as I conclude the most wondrous summer of my entire life.



Ranger Victoria spent my last day trying to compose the following poem (while tending to visitors’ needs, answering phones, etc).  She got on the PA system and stated to our visitors that she had a Very Important Announcement, and then pulled me out from the staff room and told everyone in the Vis Ctr that today was my last day and then read the following:

“Kathryn came to Arches in June/and when she did we said Wahoo/From Minnesota she is a teacher/But during the summer come to Arches to meet her/She teaches math and science and health/And in the summer she comes here to help/She calls it a hike, we call it a march/but she loves to go up to Delicate Arch/Ms Burke is a ranger the people can trust/she walks on the trails and not on the crust/she must come back next year, in the summer she must!/See, she is the object of all of our lust!/A rare event in the desert, it’s thanks to her we owe/When it rains here it pours with H2O/Now she must go back to school/but we sure will miss her since she’s so cool!”

The visitors stood in rapt attention during the reading of this epic, and applauded heartily at its end, which is when I blushed for the second time that day.  A young teacher approached me and asked how she, too, could become a ranger.  And that, my friends, was the most fitting “final visitor contact” I could have had.

August 8, 2009

Adieu to my offspring

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:15 am

It has been a most wondrous week with three of my children, and the only thing missing was Ilsa.  (London too far away.)  She will come next year, when we complete our list of all the things we ran out of time to do this trip.

Recap:  Monday — 5-mile hike to get the 1400 miles of travel kinks out.  I forgot how hard that was in my first days here, but they were troopers.  Then another 2-mile hike in the afternoon.  Oops.

Tuesday:  Canyoneering way off the beaten path, with a 120-ft rappel and a 42-foot rappel.  First time for the kids.  I finished my 11th rappel and couldn’t wait for more.  Swimming in local swimming hole.  Campfire, no s’mores.

Wednesday:  Dinosaur footprints, dinosaur bones, petroglyphs, and the tallest arch in Arches (Double Arch).  We are all tired out!  Our tents blow over in a large wind while we’re gone, bending the poles.  Full moon:  we begin the hike to Delicate Arch by moonlight, but complete the next 90% of it by two small flashlights since clouds take over the moon.  What excitement. 

Thursday:  Canyonlands NP — grand vistas and lots of photos.  We did not have energy for the treacherous False Kiva trek, so postponed it until 2010.  Our camera batteries are NOT doing well in the heat, but Evan got a panorama shot from a scary pinnacle.

Friday:  Break camp and head onto the Colorado River for what was to have been a float trip.  Serious headwinds made it a six-hour rowing trip instead!!!!  The current heading downstream was no match for the gusts blowing us upstream!  We got an upper-body workout AND major sunburns, but at least the views were unsurpassed…

Today, Saturday:  The dear offspring will head home and I will head to work, after photos at the entrance sign.  It has been wondrous to have them here and I treasure each memory.

Tomorrow:  my last day of work…   Monday, I check out and drive eastward, weeping…

I will add some photos to the blog and give it proper closure once I get home next week.

August 4, 2009

I love having my children here!!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:35 pm

On occasion we sneak into town and check emails and post on blogs!  But mostly we are just having a blast being in the wilderness!!  I am discovering how much acclimatization (acclimation?) they need, just as I did when I arrived.  I believe I have worked them to death in their first two days here.  Right now we are sitting rather wetly in the library after having cooled off from the 102 degree heat in Mill Creek.  It is time to go to the campground and make spaghetti.

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