Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 27, 2011

The theatre of nature

On the Ides of March, Barrier Creek is still frozen solid in the shade. It's nearly 70 degrees and I'm in shorts and tank top -- for one day only.

Rolling over in my sleep, my cheek hit the cold pillowcase. I pulled the ten-degree sleeping bag more tightly around my head and burrowed deeper into its coziness. Light from the setting full moon was peeking around the curtain edges, though, telling me that it was a good time to get up and make tea.

I keep the matches next to my bed so I can light the propane lantern without exiting my bag. That accomplished, I could now see my breath, so pulled on the nearest fleece and slipped out of my cocoon of warmth. The glorious luminescence flooded in as I pushed the curtains aside. I’d like to say I ran to the door to get an entire panorama of a 5:47 a.m. moonlit desert, but it was only two steps away.

A milky bluish glow illuminated every knoll, sand dune, nook and cranny. Venus was a brilliant dot above the eastern horizon, and Ursa Major oriented me to true north. The vain queen Cassiopeia looked regal on her throne. In a pre-pre-dawn aura of light, the outline of the La Sal Mountains shimmered to the east.

For the first time in many days, it was perfectly calm. Shivering involuntarily in the 28-degree chill, I realized that my comfort-based mindset is slowly relaxing its grip on me. Since my job was to hike the canyon every day regardless of how bad the conditions were, I adjusted my expectations and did what I came to do.

“Discomfort is the price of admission to the theatre of nature.” — Tom Brown, Jr.

Describe a time you sacrificed your comfort in order to truly experience nature. Was it worth it?


  1. Aside from a number of ‘involuntary’ experiences with tenting in the rain, one that comes to mind is our hike down the Kaibob Trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon where we slept under a river bank (Don’t ask, don’t tell) and came back up the Bright Angel the next morning. That was a voluntary choice and I don’t recall a lot of comfort being associated with it – est/ the climb back to the top!
    But it was well worth the investment.

    Comment by leroque — March 27, 2011 @ 11:35 am | Reply

    • And that epic hike left its mark on the four of your children who accompanied you. I’m forever grateful. It was the first “what the heck did I just do?” adventure of my life, and set the stage for all subsequent and yet-future adventures. Thanks, Dad, from the bottom of my heart.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — March 27, 2011 @ 1:23 pm | Reply

  2. Last fourth of July weekend Dale, myself and the kids and grandkids went camping up in Duluth for the weekend. Great weather the first day. Second day around 6 it started to rain. We thought no problem we will wait it uot. 6 hours later and 4 inches of rain it finally stopped. Got out to peak at the campsite and it was pretty much starting to get under water. But we stayed the night. No leakage in our new tent either.

    Comment by Chris — March 27, 2011 @ 12:06 pm | Reply

    • Way to stay in the game, Chris!

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — March 27, 2011 @ 1:24 pm | Reply

  3. It was back in the 70s when I and the youth pastor from Oliver Presbyterian Church took six boys to the BWCA. We canoed and portaged to our first night’s campsite. It was dusk when we started setting up tents. The youth pastor was pounding stakes with a hatchet. To this day I have no idea why he turned that tool over with the sharp edge down. I can still see him bringing that hatchet to bear on the meaty part of his left hand, between the thumb and the index finger. Needless to say, we had us a genuine emergency. I wrapped his hand as best I could, put him in a canoe with my two strongest guys, and sent them in search of help. The rest of us finished setting up tents and settled in for the night. Around midnight, in the pouring rain, we heard voices yelling. The two boys had somehow found our camp in the dark, after having deposited the pastor with a doctor in a boat in a motorized part of one of the lakes up there. For the rest of the week-long trip it was me and six inner city youth having a blast. The youth pastor recovered after many stitches and spent the rest of the week in comfort. The moral of the story: when in doubt, bury the hatchet. No, seriously, dig a hole and throw it in. I did return to the BWCA a number of other times. Great place to go, folks.

    Comment by Allen Gislason — March 28, 2011 @ 9:34 am | Reply

    • When blood is involved, and one can see tissue and muscle, let’s just say it’s always dangerous. I’m so glad you were there to make that week memorable for that motley half dozen, Allen.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — March 29, 2011 @ 8:15 am | Reply

  4. Winter camping! This pretty much speaks for itself. I’ve done it about 8-10 times. Everytime was unique in it’s own right. THis particular trip was with a group of guys up on the north shore. We parked at Cascade State Park and backpacked our way out of the park. The first three days were relatively uneventful. Typical winter camping adventures. Wake up, stay in your bag as long as possible, hoping someone else would get up and start the fire, put on frozen boots, thaw out, have breakfast, go hiking for the day. In the evening, the most important thing was t otry to get everything as dry as possible fro mthe day of hiking. We’d have dinner and rotate our bodies around the fire drying the front, sides, and backs. Every once in a while, someone would get their elevated stocking covered foot to close to the fire and singe or melt (depending on the material) their sock. on day # 4 we woke up to 16 degrees below zero. none of us had bags that were rated for that low of a temperature. Needless to say we packed up in record time and skied and snowshoed the 4 miles to Cascade lodge and had a WARM breakfast in a WARM environment. Anyone who has been winter camping knows how wonderful it can be if you are properly prepared. No people, no bugs, stunning scenery…

    Comment by john — March 28, 2011 @ 10:54 am | Reply

    • Never have, probably never will. I don’t have enough chutzpah. But I’m so glad you have. It must build character.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — March 29, 2011 @ 8:16 am | Reply

  5. We didn’t mean to go winter camping – it was June 21st,for heaven’s sake! The first clue, if we had been paying attention, was the fact that there was no one else in the 4 site primitive campground a few miles north of Cascade State Park. The evening campfire was great – stars, Milky Way, northern lights, not a sound of a vehicle or any human activity anywhere. Wolves howled in the distance. It seemed to be getting cooler, even though I was wrapped in my down parka, winter hat, wool socks, and mittens. Crawling into the tent, it seemed to me that my good to 20 degrees sleeping bag didn’t feel as warm as usual. The next morning we woke up to find ice on the tent. My intrepid husband crawled out to start the fire for coffee. He was back shortly, informing me the jeep was encrusted with ice. Such is the first day of summer in northern Minnesota. Was the nature worth it? Yes! Would I do it again? Maybe not on purpose! Chris

    Comment by chris youngman — March 28, 2011 @ 5:16 pm | Reply

    • One can do it if one knows the forecasted high is for something approaching “warm.” I know it was worth it, Chris!

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — March 29, 2011 @ 8:17 am | Reply

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