Ranger Kathryn's Arches

December 31, 2011

Resolutions? 2012 could use some.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:51 pm
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I'm jumping for joy at whatever lies ahead in 2012.

I’ve decided not to repeat my 2011 resolution, having learned from it what I was supposed to. For 2012, the diet-and-exercise route is far too quotidian; I’ve already planned for my transition to a plant-based diet and always-improving cardiovascular health. I won’t waste a resolution on such tweaks. Instead, in my new year, my minimalist resolutions are to:

Love fearlessly.

Banish fretting.

Go into the wilderness at every opportunity.


Leave a comment: What are your resolutions?

December 30, 2011

Wilhite Trail, Canyonlands NP

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:25 am
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Destination: Down There

We didn’t mind the 1200-foot descent on snow-covered switchbacks; our goal was to banish our winter lethargy and serve notice to our sluggishness. A sunny late-December day with highs around 40 degrees seemed to be a perfect invitation to a long hike.

Traipsing over the mesa-top through pinyon-juniper forest, Julia and I marveled. At everything. When you are a nature geek, you can’t help that. Shapes of pinyons, cloud formations, animal tracks in the snow, changes in rock layers, oddities of winter cacti — it’s what makes hiking better than, say, a StairMaster workout. Or just about anything.

4-yr-old ram, 6-8 yr old ram, 1.5-yr-old ewe

A couple of hours into the jaunt we reached a good turning-around place, but I wanted to see over the next crest before we headed back. My “Let’s just walk to the ridge” ushered in an unexpected surprise as we rounded a knoll and startled three desert bighorn sheep. Hoofs went flying, but as we had frozen in place and were not a threat to them, they stopped, turned, watched us with eagle eyes, and eventually returned to their grazing.

There is something indescribable about watching wildlife on their own turf. I feel honored to be allowed to share their place with them, to peer into their world, to study their behaviors and interactions. I learn to ask good questions about what they are eating, how old they are, what is their general state of health, where do they bed down to avoid being eaten by a mountain lion, etc. But mostly, I just bask in the delight of seeing these mysteries for myself instead of in the pages of a magazine or on a PBS special. It’s one of the consummate rewards of being a wilderness woman.

December 28, 2011

Fisher Towers: “The Titan”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 7:19 pm
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A 900-foot pillar juts from the earth north of here. This rock, near the small burg of Castle Valley, is allegedly the largest free-standing tower in the United States. Impressive in its Cutler sandstone glory, it was the place I escaped to last year when I had a distressing situation that I was trying to process. I needed to go hike. I needed big rock formations to remind me that I’m not in control of every detail of life, much as I like to think that would be a useful thing. Hiking to The Titan did my body and soul good.

The Titan in afternoon springtime light. Fisher Towers, Castle Valley, UT

Such monoliths lure climbers like flames lure moths. It’s a “because it is there and must be conquered” thing, fueled usually by testosterone and a need for adventure. The November 1962 National Geographic magazine chronicles the dramatic first ascent of The Titan by three Colorado climbers; if you don’t have old stacks of those yellow-framed periodicals in your basement or garage, you can just enjoy my photographs.

If you’re lacking an impressive rock pillar in your area, you can find a substitute. A knoll, a rise, a viewing deck from a skyscraper, the high point in your particular county or township section — just pick a destination and go to it. Get a new perspective with your eyes; it may bring new perspective to your mind or soul.

December 26, 2011

Community Christmas Meal

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:54 am
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Hundreds of plates stand ready

2 pm Christmas Day: the lined ambled forward at a steady pace as savory aromas wafted out the door into the hallway. People from every walk of life, all ages and socioeconomic strata, mingled and chatted amiably. It was yet another event showcasing the generous and compassionate hearts of Utahans.

Eight times a year the town rallies to put on a free feast. For Christmas, the wonderful folks at Red Cliffs Lodge donate and prepare all the food (last year 375 meals) for a meal for anybody who cares to come. Turkey, ham, roast beef, salmon, mashed potatoes, stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce, rolls, pie, cake, ice cream — I got a full feeling just looking at the abundance before me. An army of volunteers in Santa hats dished up the plates, bussed the tables, and washed dishes. This is Moab at its finest, in my estimation.

"Yam lady" made me smile

After partaking of the sumptuous feast, it was my turn to help out. They needed drivers to take meals to the homebound elderly who had requested this, and I knew that would be just the ticket to keep me from sinking into the morass of self-pity on a traditional family-oriented day. Off I went with my Google map of Moab  and take-out boxes which I’d filled.

If you’ve not had a chance to spend a few minutes with old folks lately, drop what you’re doing and arrange this. In my park ranger job, the elderly are under-represented among our visitors. I miss them. Their sweet smiles and heartfelt gratitude for the simple meals I carried chased away the Loneliness Blues. I drove back to my home on the mesa top with a lighter heart and a deeper resolve to find more ways to serve others.

December 23, 2011


Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 4:39 pm
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Unretouched image of me at Mesa Arch at sunrise today. It glows copper-colored for only a few moments. Supreme joy.

In my last post I identified that I am in search of, driven by, and yearning for, three things. Not riches, not fame, not comfort; not accomplishment or acquisition; not greatness, not honor. Here’s what moves me:

1) I can sit on the edge of a canyon in mute wonder for a great long time, with no need to budge. I can stare at a single flower blossom in admiration, or stand transfixed and breathless in an art museum. Beauty undoes me.

2) I’m wired for connection. When I am 1:1 with a friend — over a cup of tea, on the phone, Skyping across an ocean, or (in the old days) writing a l-o-n-g letter — my heart is full and satisfied. It’s all about relationship.

3) Always, always, I am digging up something fresh and intriguing. How does the evening primrose spring open so quickly? Where will that canyoneering route take me? What is the etymology of this curious word? How many civil war deaths resulted from field amputations? And… did I bug my parents by asking questions incessantly? This insatiable curiosity is a manifestation of my longing to be fascinated.

These stirrings provide strong evidence that there’s something more, something higher, something I can’t yet see. C. S. Lewis got it:

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Aaaaahhhhh. That’s it. My lifelong search for beauty, connection, and fascination is not of this earth. Makes perfect sense to me.

So, in this Advent season, when we remember the gentle and unassuming commingling of earth and heaven, the contemplative in me finds rest. My deepest longings will one day be satisfied, beyond my ability to imagine. This I know.

All is well.

Merry Christmas to my readers.

December 22, 2011

Longings of the heart

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:47 am
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Longings: we all have them. Some of us are acutely aware of them, feel them intensely. Some of us repress them as inconvenient or painful. Some spend a lifetime chasing them down. Some substitute lesser things to fill the ache. Some struggle to tell the difference between legitimate longings and counterfeit longings. Some use them as an indicator that they’re alive.

I am a pretty simple person. I don’t need much in the way of “stuff.” A representative list of my yearnings might include:

  • a backpacking get-away to a remote canyon
  • a glass of good wine with a far-away friend
  • a night of meteor-watching
  • being held tenderly by a loving man
  • visiting Prague or New Zealand

But those aren’t my REAL longings. Those are what I might seek, in an attempt to fill the deeper elemental desires.

I look at patterns and passions to uncover foundational longings — the unique set that rocks my personal world, different from those of my sister or my best friend. As I sit with my hopes and dreams, here’s what I’m discovering: I’m on a search for beauty, for connection, for fascination.

~~ Continued here ~~

December 19, 2011

What I see every morning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:50 am
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Shafer Canyon, Island in the Sky District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

I’m laboring over a blog post on longings, which will take another concentrated hour of writing, but I want to show you what I see every morning from the picture windows at the visitor center. This view quiets my heart and replenishes my spirit. I hope this small two-dimensional representation will help you through your day.

December 18, 2011

The winter NPS uniform

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 2:12 am
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I pulled the gray felt hat out of its protective Stratton box, admiring the familiar dimpled shape and outrageously flat brim. Pushing it onto my head, breathing “please please fit, please,” I was relieved to find that it almost did. Tight, but workable if one doesn’t mind a sunken red impression striped across one’s forehead. Perhaps I’ll locate a colleague with a hat stretcher.

Sliding the embossed ‘USNPS’ hat band from my summer straw hat onto the winter hat, the ensemble was complete and I could walk to work for my first day ever in the winter park ranger uniform. Dripping with professionalism, it’s a much smarter look than the breezy summer uniform. The heavier pants drape beautifully. The tapered winter-weight shirt is finished off with mandatory green tie and arrowhead tie tack — a novelty for this woman whose off-duty wardrobe choices favor femininity over androgyny.

Mt Tukuhnikivatz, bedecked in a fresh garment of shimmering white, greeted me above the morning fog as I approached the Visitor Center and took a deep breath of chilly mesa air. The day brimmed with promise.

December 15, 2011

1,241 miles later

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:28 pm
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The Colorado River north of Moab, Utah, in December's pale light. Note teal instead of brown water.

A powdered-sugar dusting coats the rocks; thick vanilla icing smothers the mountains. Utah welcomes me with fresh snow, heightening the contrasts: reddest sandstone, bluest sky, sere brown remnants of this season’s grasses. I smile. Returning to the Colorado Plateau — where I feel deeply attached, fully belonging — is joy, great joy. My Minnesota address seems like another universe rather than two days’ drive.

Winter’s light is thin, transparent. Is it anemic and wan, or is it merely saving itself for an April assault on the senses? Landscapes change as the weak rays attenuate visual distractions, focus my eye on texture and composition. I seem to see better when the days are short and angles are low.

As I round a bend on Highway 128, the Colorado River startles me with atypical clarity and color. It’s normally carrying tons of sand and silt, brown and muddy; I’ve never seen the bottom. In December it almost resembles a mountain stream. I blink twice and take off my sunglasses to double-check the hue, so surprising is the difference.

I’ve much to explore in this new light of my third season, but first winter, in Canyonlands National Park.

December 12, 2011

Heading west, again

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:36 am
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