Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 28, 2011

Whoa! A diabetic vegan birthday

My 55th birthday ended with a few dear friends googling “diabetic vegan dessert” and then creating a birthday menu to share together. After the spinach/zucchini/black bean enchiladas, green salad, and corn on the cob, out came the “goodness in a small sphere.”  Instead of birthday cake,  we had ground nuts, bits of dried fruit, and organic peanut butter rolled into balls and topped with unsweetened coconut for a touch of loveliness. Yummm!

Cheers! Thank you, Snow and Livja, for the dessert and beverage!

Had this event happened two months ago, it would have looked like a standard American birthday menu with one small substitution: brownies for the typical cake. Diagnoses like diabetes have a way of re-setting our normals. It takes a little getting used to, but with the help of thoughtful friends the transitions become easier.

I get asked regularly why I’m making the switch to a plant-based diet if it is not what the American Diabetes Association promotes. My answer is found in the book, The China Study, by T Colin Campbell. I’ll write a future post about this, but essentially a plant-based (aka ‘vegan’) diet has startling salubrious effects on many chronic diseases, from diabetes to heart disease to cancer.

My ultimate goal is not to co-exist with diabetes, but to reverse it with diet and exercise and other lifestyle choices. This, of course, requires a more extreme approach than the standard ADA one-size-fits-all regimen. Yes, I am taking an oral med which helps my pancreas with its insulin production; I’m also tackling this challenge with my typical gusto and passion, seeing it as an adventure in learning what my body can do if I give it my best effort.

July 22, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:10 pm
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Assaulted! Battered! Assailed!

The volume and intensity of the green cornfields would not leave me alone; it was ‘peak chlorophyll.’ Thankfully, green is a kind color — a peaceful color, a therapeutic color that gave my eyes a much-needed rest from months in the orange-red sandstones of southeastern Utah. I found it difficult to shake the sensation that I was being ambushed by a hue, however.

I'm 5'6" and dwarfed by the cornstalks! And will you look at the size of these leaves?!? Copious rainfall is paying dividends.

When I got out at my Nebraska sleep spot, another sensation ambushed me: the air was almost too thick to breathe. I wondered if I might drown in the 80% humidity, after living in 12% for four months. The molecules of air stuck in my bronchi. The atmosphere glued itself to my skin and did not let go.

Thus began my re-entry into The Midwest. Having grown up and dwelt here for most of my life, its familiarity is comforting after the extreme desert conditions I’ve chosen to live in for several seasons. Mid-continent birdsong and fauna and flora and breezes and aromas are all embedded in my brain from my earliest days. It defines ‘home.’

For me, it’s a two-week replenishment stop before heading back to the harsh Southwest. Here’s a shout-out to the color Green.

July 12, 2011

Transition time — blog hiatus

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:53 pm
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I'll follow the Colorado River to the northeast as I leave Moab. It's been at flood stage for over a month.

With my move-out just days away, and 1300 miles of highway travel ahead, there won’t be much posted for a bit. I’m determinedly logging all my bird census data on giant spreadsheets for posterity, doing laundry, locating items to return to the office, and trying to write a letter of recommendation for a friend and a summary letter for my boss. Good thing I don’t have to say a single good-bye — only “I’ll see you again soon.”

I’ll write when there is something to say!

July 10, 2011

Tempus fugit

It happens — relentlessly, incessantly, without end, amen. Time flies. If you say it in Latin instead of English, it adds mystery to the already-inscrutable reality. Every good thing comes to a close.

A sigh escapes as I shake my head and wonder how it can even be possible. Only a few days remain in my assignment, and there are so many more raptor nests to visit. Dozens of remote locations to survey. More miles to hike. I’ll not come close to finishing it all, even if I had another month.

I’ve learned how to leave almost no trace when I hike in the backcountry. I’ve lost my fear of (and confusion about) using a GPS. I’ve found out how fully alive I feel when the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk pierces the sky above me. I’ve added a couple dozen bird songs to my ID repertoire. I’ve confronted my apprehensions about getting lost in the wilderness, and added “finding my way out” to my list of accomplishments. I’ve tracked the phenology of the seasons, from earliest spring blooms to midsummer barrenness. I’ve followed the life-and-death drama of a heron rookery, from nest-building through fledging. Too often to count, I’ve gone where I had never set foot before.

I am changed… and I am grateful.

July 8, 2011

‘Sprinkles’ is free!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:55 pm
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I knew it was going to be a Wildlife Home Run day when it started with a Midget Faded Rattlesnake frightening visitors at the outhouse by Devils Garden. Law enforcement had no option but to catch it in a 5-gallon bucket and relocate it, but not before stirring up a lot of commotion.

Then a park ranger came upon a dad with a butterfly net dropping a just-caught lizard into his daughter’s terrarium which she was excitedly holding for him. The ranger’s “What just happened here?” turned into a sullen grudging release of the lizard by dad and a teachable moment for the little girl when the ranger helped her cipher what would happen if every visitor took a lizard. No law enforcement ranger was available, so no ticket was given. The dad was very lucky.

Long-nosed Leopard Lizard -- freed!

Next, a visitor brought a camera into the Visitor Center, with a photo of a pick-up truck with California plates and a cooler in the back. The truck owner had caught a lizard and put dirt and lizard into the cooler. By now we were pretty upset at the utter disregard for wildlife, and the photo was blown up, printed out, and law enforcement sent out to find (and ticket) the person.

Half hour later, our man found the truck and looked into the cooler in the back. My second-favorite lizard of all time was in there. The owner pleaded ignorance of the law (that one works real well, doesn’t it?) and his wife started saying “Robert, I TOLD you not to catch that reptile! Now look what you’ve done!”etc etc… so our law enforcement guy backed off of the $500 fine for harassing wildlife and instead gave him a $125 fine for some lesser infraction. To him, the wife’s ill will was a steep price to pay. He made the man let the lizard go, at which moment his children all waved and shouted, “Goodbye, Sprinkles!” thus confirming that he was capturing the reptile for a pet. I wanted the $500 fine to stand.

People. Really. Don’t be so outrageous.

July 7, 2011

Too good to be true…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:42 pm
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“I’d like to offer you a seasonal ranger job, pending the outcome of the background investigation,” the supervisory ranger in front of me was saying. “Would you like time to think about it?”

I closed my eyes and heard in my brain, “Think about what? I have wanted to be a national park ranger ever since I was a youngster!” When I opened my eyes I was replying “No, I don’t need time.” “And your answer?” she inquired.

quite happy indeed

I wanted to jump up and down and shout “AFFIRMATIVE!!!,” but I restrained myself and spoke as professional a Yes as could be given during lunch with sweet sticky peach juice running down my hand. My Yes was graciously accepted with a smile by my future boss.

And that is how it all went down a couple of days ago. My childhood dreams finally converge with reality. I’ve had to pinch myself a few times, and have this perpetual smile on my face even while I sleep.

I’ll be working as a Park Guide right here in gorgeous Arches National Park through the fall, go home for the winter, and return to finish my season in the early spring. Dream come true. Thanks be to God.

July 5, 2011

Widow in black

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:56 pm
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I'm not fond of sharing my living quarters with venomous spiders

I wish my roommate Kelly had announced her find this morning — in her bathroom window, hanging from a silk thread. It would have been more fun to photograph alive, but she decided it was the spider or her and I guess the spider lost. I’m told that if you’re bit by one of these you wish you could delete the next four days from your life. Does anyone have a personal Black Widow story to share?

July 4, 2011

‘Crazy season’ hath arrived

Litter carry-outs are always strenuous in our park

The radio crackled with traffic among several vehicles carrying us to the trailhead. A retired man couldn’t make it down from Delicate Arch in the 100-degree heat and needed an ambulance. To get him to the ambulance, our crew would do a litter carry-out. Just as we got underway, however, more radio traffic interrupted; a pick-up truck’s steering had given out and it had gone off the road, needing law enforcement assistance. Two miles further and he would have been on the dangerous switchbacks when this happened.

This was after the man was lost in the moonless dark last night, 2.5 miles from the trailhead farthest from the visitor center; it was midnight before a ranger found him (by blowing a whistle every 60 seconds), and 0130 before they got out. Meanwhile, a young French couple knocked on our house door at 10:15 pm, saying their car was at Delicate Arch but they lost the keys. And that was after the heart attack at The Windows.

The two fires we’ve had to put out recently included a lightning strike (three juniper trees burned) and a motorcycle on a remote 4WD road that caught on fire and started a nearby tree on fire. An experienced law enforcement ranger summed it up: “The crazy season is upon us.”

Holiday weekends can be some of our busiest, and this one is no exception.

July 2, 2011

Ogling the datura

This google image shows an even larger plant than mine. Caution: Do Not Ingest. Every part of the plant is hallucinogenic, in an extreme ‘bad-trip’ sort of way.

After a potluck with fellow park rangers up at Canyonlands NP, I had casually mentioned that watching the local Sacred Datura plant open its blooms after sunset was a treat they shouldn’t miss. Some eyed me skeptically and held back; others trustingly followed me to the front yard where dozens of 6″ trumpet-shaped white buds awaited their nighttime opening. I had promised a good show.

My credibility began slipping slowly away as the minutes passed. We had gathered around the six-foot-wide plant, sprayed ourselves down with insect repellant, and were waiting patiently… but nothing was happening. Some co-workers eyed me with suspicion. The sun had dropped below the horizon twenty minutes earlier.

Then I saw it. The first of the closed blooms began gently trembling in the still night air. These barely-perceptible vibrations had to come from within the plant, but I have not a clue how. Soon, the arrival of nighttime pollinators — large black bees and hummingbird-sized sphinx moths — indicated that The Grand Opening was near.

Sphinx moth with its amazing proboscis. Google image.

The insects flitted about with a certain frenzy, poised like Wal-Mart shoppers early on Black Friday. The sphinx moths’ wings made a breeze when they got close enough to us, dangling a 5″-long proboscis like a tiny straw; they maneuvered like ace helicopter pilots, positioning themselves directly above the tight blossoms, inserting their mouthparts and drinking with abandon.

Nature geeks all, we each selected our own bud to bet on as the First Opener. The insect activity increased to a fever pitch, and any observer could tell you that something big was imminent. And then — one unlatched. That’s the only word I can use, because the tight pinwheel bud just… let go. It opened in a matter of less than 30 seconds, releasing a rush of intoxicating fragrance akin to that of Easter lilies. Instantly an insect traffic jam ensued, with two bees and two huge sphinx moths jockeying for a position in the bell of the flower.

We high-fived the ranger whose flower won, and proceeded to watch a dozen more tremble for a few minutes and then unlatch. Each opening sent the pollinators into great agitation, and my heart into great delight.

Thirty miles from the nearest town, on a remote mesa in eastern Utah, we make our own fun. The best part? Nobody looks at me as if I’m weird when I stand around and watch flowers open.

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