Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 29, 2011

OOCZ — Out Of Comfort Zone

The GPS unit in my hand did not make sense. Why couldn’t the satellites point me in the right direction? Yes, I may be 94 feet from the next destination, but which way should I go?!? I heaved a sigh and followed Tricia, whose familiarity with our bird census plot put her at a distinct advantage. I was secretly hoping I’d catch on quickly. So was she.

Flagging the study plot for the breeding bird census

Welcome to my first day on the job. Baptism by fire may be a good way to learn a new skill, but it is exhausting. Our day was spent flagging a large plot of land within which our weekly bird census will take place. The waypoints for each flag were in my GPS, but our job was to put the small colorful pin flags in place so that I can come out to it during the census days and look and listen for birds in a recordable, orderly fashion. We got halfway done with the flags by the day’s end and I realized that my memory banks were overloaded with trying to remember how to get from point B-6 to point B-5 without trampling the biological soil crust or heading up the wrong wash.

Orange ribbon on twigs is better than a trail of bread crumbs. Thanks, Tricia.

I relished being in the backcountry, in the desert, in the spring air. I disliked the feeling of struggling with technology. Tricia is patiently teaching me route-finding and basic “how not to get lost” skills, but I can tell that they come naturally to her and she may not realize how differently my brain works. Still, as we navigate she is tying colorful plastic ribbons on juniper branches along the routes in order to keep me going in the right direction. This allows me to breathe more easily.

I’m having flashbacks to the first day of third grade. I was at a brand new school and turned the wrong way at an intersection walking home; as I walked and walked and walked, things looked less and less familiar. It got scarier and scarier that September day long ago, but I figured it out, and got home an hour late. Mom was wondering what was taking so long. I was just glad to have that terror behind me.

My ultimate mortification this season would be to radio Arches Patrol and report that I had no idea where I was.

Have you ever been lost and scared?


  1. Maybe not lost as I always try to use Mapquest if not the GPS..but scared yes..would that count in dreams? Scared..how about wondering if our tent was going to float away that night in Duluth last year when it poured 4 inches of rain and flooding was going on and severe storms which we did not know. Everybody that knew we were up there were hoping that we would have had enough sense to get out..but not us..or Dale should I say. I wanted too. 🙂

    Comment by Chris — March 29, 2011 @ 10:22 pm | Reply

  2. being a guy, you spend precisely 1/2 of your life getting lost and the other half getting un-lost! honestly, i have been good and lost in the north woods on several occasions. never overnight, but long enough to start to get real uneasy.

    Comment by john — March 30, 2011 @ 5:52 am | Reply

  3. Though I have not known where I was in a strange city, I never thought of that as being ‘lost’. ‘Lost’ is reserved for wilderness experiences . . . ;-?
    Being scared would probably depend on my past experiences and my present resources. Just being lost is not usually a mortal danger – more of a temporary inconvenience – and, yes – an embarrassment when you have to admit it.

    Comment by leroque — March 30, 2011 @ 6:42 am | Reply

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