Ranger Kathryn's Arches

November 30, 2011

463,680 minutes of strength

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:55 am
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I made a bold New Year’s Resolution on January 1 of this year. It’s detailed in the post linked here; in summary, I would refrain from buying any new clothing, shoes, or accessories during 2011. I had seen a girlfriend’s 1/1/11 Facebook status announcing her intention to do this, and it made perfect sense in my pursuit of minimalism. A grand experiment dancing around the fringes of asceticism, at the very least.

All year I’ve eschewed shopping malls, or anything retail-ish. Saved a LOT of money. On track to finish strong.

This would have looked SO cute at a Moab contra dance.

And then, out of the blue, while I was  playing Scrabble on Facebook, minding my own business, a devious little ad popped up from my favorite dress shop. They knew I’d click on their banner, didn’t they? I have pretty good willpower, though, and thought I could “just look.” In five minutes’ time an adorable dress caught my eye. I mean ADORABLE. I mean, very “me,” hard to come by. In another minute’s time I had discovered that their inventory of my size was down to two, and no more would be available. You can’t imagine my mental anguish.

I hadn’t had a new dress in sixteen months. I reasoned that I could order it and put it aside until 2012. Click. Ordered.

Bad choice.

That was a pretty sad ending to my 88%-successful resolution. It doesn’t matter that the dress size was a bit off and it has been tucked into its return box, the siren call silenced. I broke my resolution by buying a new item of clothing. SAD. In the big picture, though, just having tried feels like a big step in the right direction for me. Valuable lesson learned: 463,680 minutes of strength won’t trump one (1) moment of weakness. Paradoxically, that one moment of weakness does not negate the lessons learned in all my minutes of strength.

This post could use some interaction, so leave a comment. Write anything you’re moved to write except “You did great” or “It’s okay, you can take a Mulligan.” Here are a few things to get you thinking:

  • Are all impulsive actions governed by the same mechanisms?
  • Why will it be harder for me to finish out the year without buying?
  • Personal Q: what are the most difficult things to say No to?
  • What needs are being met when we indulge in something we’d rather say No to?
  • What’s your strategy for dealing with unsolicited ads? (Don’t tell me to get up and run away, like Joseph did from Pharaoh’s seductress wife. I HAD to finish the Scrabble game.)
  • Winston Churchill’s assessments: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” — and — “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Agree? Disagree? Why?

November 28, 2011

Provoking nostalgia

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:24 pm
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I’ve inadvertently stumbled upon a major nostalgia-inducer. My old Nokia cell phone was so ancient, all its data had to be transferred by hand to my new device. One by one, I viewed each name and phone number while tapping them into my shiny-but-intimidating iPhone. The minute I spent on each one yielded a flood of memories — and unexpected insights. It was something of a Life In Review, in collapsed form.

Some numbers I’ll never use again. One person was dead. Others were from a past chapter of my life, and I haven’t stayed in contact. These I passed over without transferring; lessons in letting go.

Some stirred a pang of missing, that old “Why has it been so long since I’ve talked with them?” Lessons in re-prioritizing.

Some numbers are in there “just in case”: Poison Control (added after a colleague was stung by a scorpion),  Sheriff’s Dispatch (added after a ranger was shot last year). Lessons in preparedness.

Some are resource people — archeologist, wildlife biologist. Lessons in the value of inside information.

Some numbers are new friends, ones I’m just getting to know and love. (There is a lot of that in the Park Service.) Lessons in starting anew, being open to and present with each person who enters my life.

Some are old bosses and co-workers. Lessons in networking.

Some are professionals whose expertise has made my life so much smoother: doctor, pastor, plumber, accountant, massage therapist. Lessons in gratitude.

Many numbers are in Minnesota, many are in Utah; others are scattered all over kingdom come. Lessons in global connectedness.

Some are current colleagues, accomplished teammates who help each other perform our duties to the best of our abilities. Lessons in “got your back.”

Some numbers were called so often I still have them memorized from the old days, when you dialed by number instead of name. Lessons in enduring relationship, friendships deepened over years of doing life together. Rootedness.

Finally, a precious handful made it to my “Favorites” list. You know who you are. There’s nobody like you on earth, and just looking at that screen sends warmth through my being. Living lessons in unconditional love.


Leave a comment: What other lessons can you learn from your cell phone?

November 24, 2011

41 thankfulnesses

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:43 am
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If ever there were a holiday begging the use of the noun, “paean” — (don’t just read that unusual word, look it up!) — it is Thanksgiving. My all-time favorite holiday. One which begs us to pause, ditch the bad attitude, shake out the taking-for-granted, resolve to quit complaining for an hour or a day or a month, lay down our entitlement, see the blessings that just might take our breaths away if we but looked for them.

My children and parents top the list. I’ve missed them so while I’ve been out west, some moments feeling like a heart-burst is imminent. However, there are thousands of things we can be thankful for. As a spiritual discipline, I’ve been compiling an exceedingly arbitrary list of a few other blessings. I’d love to hear your own additions in the ‘comments’ section — on ANY day you read this, not just Thanksgiving.

  • spelling bees
  • the fresh honesty of young children
  • National Park quarters (American currency — new series)
  • jigsaw puzzles and the conversations shared over them
  • the look in a friend’s eyes when they feel deeply understood
  • soap
  • Aurora borealis
  • church bells pealing
  • National Geographic magazines
  • the fact that we can see so many colors
  • folks who go out of their way to be kind
  • melody, harmony, dissonance
  • fingernails as useful ends for our digits
  • the multiple ways one can stay in touch with far-away people
  • dark chocolate, oh yessirree…
  • zippers
  • Arts & Crafts architecture and furniture
  • healing after divorce
  • clouds’ amazing diversity and their entertaining shapes
  • silence
  • a bookshelf filled with classics
  • daring to hope against all odds
  • county fairs
  • really good hugs
  • accents — foreign and domestic
  • animal tracks
  • forgiveness received, forgiveness extended
  • seasons that smell different from each other
  • incisors
  • ‘Olive,’ my reliable car
  • handwritten letters, always from the heart
  • infrastructure
  • homemade bread, homegrown vegetables
  • young animals of every species
  • being okay with wrinkles and a flawed body
  • surprise visitors from afar
  • answered prayer
  • love poems, even (or especially) when you’re not in love
  • B&W photography
  • smiling contagiously just for the heck of it
  • pipe organs, cellos and French horns

Think outside the box: what are a couple of things your heart is grateful for?

November 22, 2011

But words are things



But words are things, and a small drop of ink,                                                                                             Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces                                                                                                       That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.

Lord Byron, Don Juan, Stanza 88, Canto III (1821)

I compose my blog posts a few hundred words at a time — truly small potatoes. It’s time to give a huge shout-out to my fellow writers who are engaged in a crazy, wonderful pursuit: National Novel Writing Month. Let me introduce you to NaNoWriMo, in their words (in blue), from their articulate website:


National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000 word, (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2010, we had over 200,000 participants. More than 30,000 of them crossed the 50K finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.


As of today, 80% through the writing month, NaNoWriMos have penned 2,091,577,903 words. Folks, that is two BILLION words. Novelists spend the next eleven months editing their work into readable form. I take my hat off to Julia, Brigitte, and others madly enthusiastic about their first novels. Go, writers, go!

November 21, 2011

In their nerves and blood

From here I can ponder just about everything. Mostly big concepts. Wilderness is the appropriate place for that task. (Photo credit: E Oak)

“For a nation that grows more metropolitan and industrialized every year, the experience of solitude, even the simple fact of quiet, has become inestimable . . . It is imperative to maintain portions of the wilderness untouched, so that a tree will rot where it falls, a waterfall will pour its curve without generating electricity, a trumpeter swan may float on uncontaminated water – and moderns may at least see what their ancestors knew in their nerves and blood.”

                        — Bernard DeVoto, Fortune, June 1947

Before I was even born it was clear that economic expansion was high priority, usually at the expense of the environment. Such is the legacy of my Boomer generation. Sustainability was a concept just a few prophets championed; chasing ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ and ‘more convenient’ was the duty of those decades. Only a handful of visionaries sensed the importance of allowing a tree to rot where it fell.

Same alcove, side view. I tremble at the thought that someone might assume I'm sitting on the ancient wall, so this is to show that I am indeed on a separate boulder. Pondering, of course. (Single- or double- click for Big or Bigger.) (Photo: E Oak)

Some days it feels as if only a handful still do. Some days I look around, a morsel of anguish niggling under my sternum, asking “Who understands? Who cares?” The thought is sobering: an entire body of ‘nerve-and-blood’ knowledge is being, or has been, lost in the name of progress. A precious few moderns, the fortunate ones whose parents inculcated in them a respect for and love of nature, may glimpse that which was life and breath and heartbeat and survival for our predecessors. This privilege is earned through repeated intervals boldly spent away from civilization’s tentacles — a sacrifice many do not care to make.

I’m not a New Age devotee, nor do I sense mystical ties with forebears. However, every time I encounter a ruin or ancient granary, explore rock art, or stumble upon a shard or arrowhead, a deeper connection is forged with my ancestors and with the world in which they lived. It broadens my perspective, strings a tenuous thread backward over millennia and — it is hoped — forward to upcoming generations I’ve not yet met.

November 20, 2011

I went to the woods

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.                — Henry David Thoreau

I am newly back home in Minnesota on furlough, at the house I built four years ago in the woods. It has waited all season for me, now welcomes me, says “It’s good you’re here.” I’ve raked leaves, pulled weeds, walked the deer trails on my 1.25 acre, and made friends with the squirrels again. But something is amiss.

My new view, formerly all woods.

There is a new house under construction next door.

An entire swath of deciduous beauty has been expunged. Six days a week, nine hours a day, hammering and drilling and sawing and backhoe noises fill my ears. Carpenters are framing an imposing multiple-thousand-square-foot home in a spot that used to be “my” woods. Even if it wasn’t really mine, the young forest buffered me from the little-used dirt road, from ambient light, from blustery winds, from locals’ eyes. For years I’ve been its only occupant.

Encroachment on my treasured solitude was inevitable, only a matter of time. It is my own presumptuousness that creates the feeling of trespass, as if I had guaranteed right to my modest patch of what tepidly passes for ‘wilderness’ in a midwestern farming county. But my heart rebels. The Tyvek is, literally, a stone’s throw away.

I am achingly aware that this is a first-world problem. If you know me, you know I’m not asking “How will I feel when this large structure blocks the sunset as I sit on my screen porch?” — not when “Where will I find water and food for my children?” is each day’s question for untold millions in our world. This isn’t about the view, or the future neighbors. It’s just a sober realization that my secluded woods, my refuge from civilization, my comforting cocoon of foliage, is changing. Forever.

November 18, 2011

Bridge and winch

Find the thing that doesn’t belong.    [Extra credit for “Oh, and the anthropogenic atmospheric haze doesn’t belong.”]

(Continued from Cataract Canyon 10: Final miles)

After days in the wild, abruptly seeing a bridge ahead is brain-jarring, about as expected as spying a snowman on a beach. The sight sent me into mental contortions: “What IS that thing, and what is it doing way out here? If that’s a bridge, that’s not wilderness. If we’re not in wilderness, we’re approaching civilization. If we’re approaching civilization, that means we have to go home. If we have to go home, that’s depressing. If that’s depressing, I’ll figure out a way to do another river trip.” This all in the span of two seconds.

Mud at the Hite boat ramp sucked up the trailer and truck tires, defying every effort to remove the Black George from Lake Powell. I had the privilege of watching two professionals winch the whole thing out. I should have taken notes; one never knows when one might need such skills.

Winching 101: Rangers at work.

Muck. Stuck. Not good.

Thus ended my first Cataract Canyon adventure. Three and a half hours’ drive back to Moab delivered me, with resignation, into the arms of civilization. I chafed at its vapid embrace.

November 17, 2011

Cataract Canyon 10: Final miles

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:54 am
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Leaving. (Cue heart-rending departure music at end of "Lord of the Rings" trilogy... the score that makes even the most stalwart get all choked up)

(Continued from Cataract Canyon 9: Tracking games)

As we motored the final thirty miles toward our take-out at Hite — two shade-drenched hours during which I shivered in every layer I owned — I reviewed our memorable trip. By the numbers:

0 other humans encountered

1 supper mishap involving sand and brown rice

2 meteors

4 days wearing same red shirt

13 hours between sunsets and sunrises

15 bighorn sheep located

25 rapids run

29 degrees Fahrenheit average low temp

50 degrees Fahrenheit average high temp

73 hours from drop-off to pick-up

100 miles of Colorado River traveled

289,000 beats of my heart while falling crazily in love with this wilderness

"KB + CC"

The Black George cut the water, heading ever southward. I inhaled the canyon shadows, etched the sights in my memory, and gave silent thanks for the privilege of experiencing it. Stopping at one last beach for reconnaissance, my hand reached for a long stick; I scraped my solid feelings into the shifting sand. Cataract Canyon has my heart, forever.

10:30 a.m. -- Mirrored surface of Lake Powell captures sandstone reflection.

November 16, 2011

Cataract Canyon 9: Tracking game(s)

(Continued from Cataract Canyon 8: Moonlight)

Sometimes rangers play games. As Bill and I headed up a wash to track bighorn sheep, Kyler offered, “I’ll give you a 30-minute head start and then practice tracking you. Go.” Bill has a reputation among the rangers for being difficult to track, one who walks lightly in the wilderness. We were about to find out how good Kyler was.

Ten minutes up the drainage it became apparent that the sheep were elsewhere. We turned around and sneakily retraced our path. Walking on cobbles, I stepped in Bill’s footprints when boulders weren’t available. At an opportune time we surreptitiously exited the wash and began making our way east, rock-hopping and tip-toeing across the bottomlands. It was now 0930 and we were still in deep shadow; I hadn’t felt the sun on my face for seventeen hours. Cold, cold, cold.

A force to be reckoned with. Uber-tracker.

After locating our ram/ewe/lamb trio we sat down to spy on them, little knowing that Kyler was behind a Mormon Tea twenty yards away, spying on us. Just like in the movies! I’ll spare you the details of the exceptional human tracking, but it involved radios, belly-crawling, deception, and that critical element of surprise when Kyler leaped up and scared the bejeebers out of me. FAR more frightening than any of the invigorating rapids we ran.

My consolation was in knowing that we have protection rangers whose skills are finely, finely honed, keeping even seasoned people unaware of their presence. I’m going to practice my levitation skills for the next round.

(Continued in Cataract Canyon 10: Final miles)

November 15, 2011

Cataract Canyon 8: Moonlight

(Continued from Cataract Canyon 7: Concord)

I stumbled out of my tent for a bathroom break as Thursday became Friday. The half moon’s silver patina polished dark sandstone cliffs; a thin icy veneer of bluish-ness clung to every surface. Mesmerized, I began picking out constellations in the black openings amid lit walls. With delight I discovered this: the same brain that is overwhelmed by a full sky of stars sprinkled generously overhead could actually identify clusters in small swaths between bluffs. (I love such revelations. My mind is so curiously wired.)

It's not a night photo, but you get the idea!

A rock offered itself to be sat upon, since chairs exist in some other reality than this one. I took up my position, long-johned knees tucked inside clasped arms, and settled in to sense the night. Far down canyon, a Great Horned Owl inquired. One solitary cricket-metronome kept time. A light chill breeze pinked my cheeks. I sat in the lap of this beauty for quite some time.

Gentle burbles from river’s edge reminded me of the task at hand. I had awakened to “use the bathroom.” Wait. There IS no bathroom. Regulations require that you pee directly into the river, which means I had to deftly avoid the sticky quicksand rimming the beach. A multitude of sunken footprints from previous campers indicated that the super-saturated grains have been in that place for some time. [Review quicksand mechanics here.] I vowed not to add to them, choosing to take my chances rock-hopping with a micro-layer of ice underfoot.

For half a second I envied my male trip-mates the ease with which they could empty their bladders, but nobody ever said it’d be easy. Besides: how often does one get to ‘moon’ the moon?!?

(Continued in Cataract Canyon 9: Tracking games)

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