Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 14, 2010

Snippets from family fun days

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:54 pm
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Evan finds a perch high up in the Fiery Furnace

Slot canyons, sandstone ledges, swimming holes only the locals know — we’re making a good deal of fun for ourselves while my five Minnesota visitors are here. We’re not paying attention to the fact that Moab’s high temps all this week are hovering around 102 degrees. It’s a dry heat, right?

It's okay; I promise they're safe.

Niece Kailey and a friend, at the local swimming hole

Sister Becky at Little Wild Horse (slot canyon)

Evan & Marta atop a Navajo sandstone knoll at sunset

At age 19, I guess your knees can take this impact...

July 12, 2010

Didn’t know if it would ever happen, but it did

Her face changed in an instant, from engaged in listening to my patio talk to transported to a far-removed place and gripped with emotion. She swallowed hard, and a sniff followed. Soon her glasses were in her hands and she was surreptitiously trying to dab a tear from each eye. I couldn’t miss it in my intimate audience of seven.

It all came at that powerful place in my talk where I build an emotional connection for my listeners; I take them from “John Wesley Powell was here in the park facing an unimaginable unknown (Cataract Canyon) on July 20, 1869” to “Exactly 100 years later, to the day, Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the unexplored moon.” My visitor must have been in the right frame of mind to make that leap, that connection to a piece of history-turned-reality. It opened her up to something she’d never considered before. To my eyes, it looked as if it rocked her world.

Our training in interpretation techniques states clearly that if we assist the visitor to make both intellectual and emotional connections with the park, it is a powerful one-two punch that drives our teaching home like nothing else. I’d seen glimpses of this a few times in my presentations, but this one was a ten on a ten-point scale. It is my sincere hope that the woman from Houston will experience Canyonlands NP with a “beginner mind” as a result of her fresh connections between 19th-century exploration and 20th-century accomplishments.

July 10, 2010

Time off for family

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:48 pm

Can’t write blogs and entertain family members simultaneously — I’ll put the blog on the back burner until next Saturday, then. I am twitching with anticipation to see some of my offspring, my sister, my niece, and one more. Just in time for a VERY hot week here in Utah!

The monsoon season has begun, with frequent afternoon thunderstorms that blow through and drop the temperature fifteen degrees in a few minutes. This ought to be a good way for the family to experience my world. (Yes, it heats up again almost as quickly. What a crazy desert.)

Hiring difficulties

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:32 am

I appreciate my boss’s boss’s forthrightness. She came to those of us who had applied for the permanent position at Arches and admitted outright that two applicants from the pool were “compensable veterans,” which means that they have a service-related disability and therefore a 10-point preference in hiring. Even if we non-veterans were to score a perfect 100 on the rating system, they would completely trump us. She wanted us to know right up front so that we would not wait and wonder. No non-veterans’ applications would even be READ unless both vet applicants turned down the position.

Government regs, if I understand Nancy’s explanation correctly, require the hirers to choose the disabled vets first. There are large numbers of traumatic brain-injured (as well as other-injured) individuals out there from our current wars in the Middle East, and even if they have less experience they must be hired. Folks who have been in the Park Service a long time say this is the hardest it has ever been to be a non-veteran and vying for an NPS job. This is a bitter pill to swallow, even though I completely agree with the logic and have much compassion for those injured while serving our country. I guess I just want a Park Service job badly enough tonight to want to shake my fist at a large impersonal institution like The Government.  **sigh**

July 9, 2010

obituaries R us

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:56 am
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Ranger Kathryn at Horseshoe Canyon

Recently I had the opportunity to spend parts of two days with four girlfriends from Minnesota. It was my delight to get to know one more woman whom I had never met before, traveling with this group. As we said our goodbyes on the last day, she offered, “I hope this doesn’t sound odd, but… you are going to have one of the most interesting obituaries ever.” She smiled warmly and confessed that she was one of those people who read obituaries regularly, and she can tell a life well lived. It had become apparent to her after some time with me that there would be nothing at all boring, fomulaic or predictable about the notice of my death and the celebration of my life. I take this as a high compliment, a high compliment indeed.

What would you like to do, large or small, that you’ve never done? Write it on a sticky note. Post it conspicuously. Read it daily. Do battle with your excuses. Find a way. You will not regret this, my friend.

I’d like to hear your dreams. Leave a comment.

July 8, 2010

Protecting the night skies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:00 pm
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Ranger Elsa & Ranger Kathryn tackle light pollution at its source

It’s just a water vending machine. It happens, however, to have two six-foot fluorescent bulbs behind its front panel, and one can see it glowing on the front porch of the visitor center from nearly a mile away. Ranger Elsa and I set out to do something about this. She inquired of the ‘powers that be’ whether we could remove the light bulbs and leave the machine otherwise perfectly functional. Receiving an affirmative answer, we used our project time today to get a little help from maintenance to unseat one end of each bulb. They shrugged their shoulders after a couple of deft twists, and said, “A tremor. It was a tremor. Nobody saw us do anything.”

Here’s something fascinating I found about dark skies on Yosemite’s website:

A “natural lightscape,” such as a dark night sky, is an environment that is undisturbed by light and air pollution. Dark night skies have natural, cultural, and scenic importance. Wildlife is impacted by light pollution because animals often depend on darkness in order to hunt, conceal their location, navigate, or reproduce. For nocturnal animals, light pollution also means habitat disruption. Additionally, many species have far more sensitive vision than humans. Plants are affected by artificial light because it disrupts their natural cycles. Dark night skies are also culturally important because they are a resource common to all cultures on Earth, and are a metaphor for countless myths and religions. They have inspired innumerable works of art, literature, and connections to the cosmos. Natural lightscapes, including dark night skies, are a scenic resource integral to many people’s wilderness experience. Currently, two-thirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their backyard, and if current light pollution trends continue, there will be almost no dark skies left in the contiguous United States by 2025. Many people seek national parks to experience this vanishing resource.

As I slept out on the basketball court again last night, staring at the shooting stars and lying wordlessly awestruck by the Milky Way, I resolved to do what I could to promote night sky stewardship so that others might also be able to gaze and marvel. The prediction about our night skies fifteen years hence disturbs me greatly. Would you check your driveway lights, porch lights, yard lights? Would you consider changing to a fixture that is covered on top and directs the light downward? Any light that escapes upward without being blocked will scatter throughout the atmosphere and brighten the night sky, thereby diminishing the view of it. Light pollution is reversible.

July 6, 2010

Professor Creek, to the waterfall

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:32 pm
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First you stop at Matrimony Spring and fill both your water bottles with cool, fresh water.

Professor Creek, in the middle of its length. Open canyon.

It was to be 89 degrees; I wanted to be near water. Professor Creek, 18 miles up Highway 128 from Moab, flows from La Sal Mountain meltwater — and few people seem to  know about or hike it. Perfect. It’s a canyon that starts wide and becomes imperceptibly narrower as you ascend, until you’re drawn into a slot. With a 15-foot waterfall.

Explorations included a side canyon that had massive flash flood debris in it, and a rock-a-lanche slope (yes, I just invented that word) that would have let me climb all the way out of the deep canyon had I persevered another 25 feet. My footwear was sketchy, the rock very crumbly; as I imagined how long I’d likely lie there after a fall before being discovered, I made the better decision. Besides, I heard faint road sounds from above, and preferred the birdsong of the canyon bottom.

Garter snake disappearing

A deceased Ouzel; no sign of injury. Mystery.

Wildlife sightings: one garter snake, swallows, and cute Ouzels or Dippers. The only place I’ve ever seen these birds is in flowing mountain stream habitat; they have the entertaining ability to walk under water!

Can you see the waterfall?

Rejuvenation comes from four hours of solo hiking, with only one other party in the canyon with me. The burbles of the stream were my constant companion. Squawbush and single-leaf ash surrounded my shady lunch spot. The elusive waterfall 3 miles up-canyon? A sweet reward for persevering in the heat.

[Note to readers: Do not hike this when rain is falling anywhere nearby, due to flash flood potential.]

July 5, 2010

Powell patio talk, take 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:35 am
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The view from the visitor center patio. My audience gets to look at this!

I did it! I brought John Wesley Powell to life for folks who had never heard of him before. I am a happy ranger.

My first “patio talk” on the front porch of the visitor center last week was stressful. I had too much information and not enough structure, and the WOW transition I had planned was a complete failure as I had forgotten that there is no wireless signal there. Other than that, it went okay, but I knew what I had to do for the second time.

My boss would dress in disguise and take coaching notes this time around. I had prepared my outline in vibrant color-coded marker, and it was by my side all morning as I memorized my prompts for the 1:30 talk. At 1:28 I am still having trouble rounding up an audience. Everyone is either in a hurry, disinterested in a man with an unfamiliar name, or worried about the bad weather to the west. My boss sidles up and takes a seat on the benches… and, magically, others begin to fill in. I will have an audience.

Disaster Falls -- boat wrecked on rock, man in water

Taking a deep breath, and with only a sidelong glance at my clipboard, I launch out. My theme statement, “The thrill of discovery compels courageous men and women to take incalculable risks,” infuses my talk with structure and purpose. I present the opening question and aim for the introduction of a man few people knew. Painting a colorful picture is easy with Powell; the audience willingly follows me into my first element, and then the second and third, as I spin tales of discovery, daring, and disaster.

I am careful to err on the side of whetting their appetites rather than overwhelming them with an avalanche of facts, and I purposely leave out some details to pique their curiosity. I want them to start asking themselves questions — and if they come up to me to inquire afterward, I’ll know I succeeded. The all-important sound bite of the Apollo 11 lift-off is my critical transition to current-day exploration, and when I reach that point, my listeners are riveted. Looming black clouds set a somber backdrop as the countdown proceeds.

Fifteen people are now (as Karen later described) putty in my hands. I have successfully made intellectual and emotional connections for them, linking 19th-century feats with 20th-century exploration. I have built a bridge for them between what happened in Canyonlands 141 years ago and what they are experiencing today in the park. The resource now has expanded meaning, attachments with history that they can grasp.

We are told that our conclusion must be powerful enough to stand on its own, ringing like a large bell, obviating the need to end with a lame “thank you for coming.” The wind starts to pick up as I build to the emotional peak. I reiterate my theme in the form of their final charge: Go forth. Take risks. Explore. My words hang in the air for three beats, and the audience does what audiences have been doing since the first ranger program was given. And then the mother of all sandstorms arrives with a vengeance, driving us all to take shelter.

And I am pleased. Very pleased.

July 4, 2010

Coaching time again

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:39 am
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Ranger Kathryn at Upheaval Dome

Each of a ranger’s programs in this park is “coached” once near the middle of the season, and again at the end. Last week my informal talk at Upheaval Dome, a crazy 2-mile-wide crater of deformed stone in our park, was coached. It’s a difficult place to interpret as it has no tidy answers, no smoking gun, to explain its formation. I came up with the theme of ‘Mystery’ and assist people via guided questions to form their own conclusions. The coach, Paula, who’s been with the park service six years in multiple parks, sat disguised in visitor clothes about ten feet away; she brought a park map (to look inconspicuous) and a small notebook in which she scribbled incessantly. A stunted pinyon pine gave her a modicum of shade.

The visitors were thoughtful, well-read, and unafraid to take a stand. They asked good and hard questions, which is always a ranger treat. I’ve developed some skills at reading the questions behind their questions, which makes interpretation much more personal. (Ex: “Are there mountain lions in this park?” often means “Am I in danger of a cougar attack?” but they don’t want to say that. Good interpreters should address the unspoken question.) At Upheaval Dome, I encouraged each one to embrace the mystery instead of being in such a hurry to find a solution. That sounds like something my dad would do.

After 65 minutes, Paula put away her water bottle and notebook; that was my cue to pack up and end the shift. As we hiked downhill to the parking lot, she shared her delight at my interpretive style and skill, and said, “You know how in school you sometimes get one of those teachers who ignites your curiosity and fans the flame of learning? How you just hang on their every word and want to learn more? You’re one of those, Kathryn. You’re so good. You belong here.”

So happy to be here.

I’m putting that in my blog for ME, not for you. When I am weary of applying to jobs and not making the cut, when I ask myself if it’s worth it, when I wonder in mid-winter’s doldrums what I am supposed to be doing, I will have Paula’s statement to re-read. It is a variation on what every previous coach has said. This niche is a wonderful fit for me, and deeply satisfying on every level. I’ve got to chase my dream.

July 3, 2010

Post #244

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 3:41 pm
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A not-so-everyday view in Canyonlands NP

How can I live and work in a park every day with views such as this one, and not be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of it all? The spectacle is almost too much, at times. My soul quivers with excitement when light dapples the buttes and mesas in new ways, or a wildflower I’ve not seen yet bursts into bloom, or the scent of cliffrose or evening primrose beckons me to bury my face in the blossoms and inhale. I know some of you shake your head and think I am exaggerating, but this is as accurate as I can explain it. Every sensory thing is exciting to me. Walking to work this morning, I encountered a gorgeous 10-inch long lizard that proceeded to stand up on her hind legs and dash away. I was standing with my mouth agape, trying to comprehend what I had just seen, when my boss walked by and I had to find words to convey my astoundedness. It’s a good thing Karen understands and experiences that passion herself. She knows.

The calendar page has turned once more; after only one more page turn I have no park service work lined up for summer’s end. Last season’s departure was tough, very tough; it’s time for me to apply for more jobs.

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