Ranger Kathryn's Arches

October 23, 2012

Years that answer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:41 am
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The thin autumnal light weakly illuminates our sandstone, as if its power has been usurped, its strength stolen. Leaves relinquish their chlorophyll, glittering bright yellow in the sun, contrasting with bluest blue skies. Temperature extremes are behind us. Snowdust caresses the heights of the La Sal Mountains. October is the month that all the locals wait for, long for, yearn for — best month in the calendar. What a gift.

And, once more, it is the month in which I find myself homeward bound. House is cleaned, recycling sorted, canned goods given away, borrowed items returned, laundry done, suitcases packed, boxes filled, thrift store donations accomplished. The annual ritual of seasonal park rangers replays itself with little variation.

Chris’s last day of work. Photo credit: Yoko.

I use superlatives sparingly, but hear this: it’s been the best twelve months of my life. In all my decades, no interval has been as consistently fulfilling and satisfying as this one. I woke up every day in one of the most beautiful national parks in the country, put on a uniform I love, gave interpretive talks I’m passionate about, shared with visitors my joy. Watched breathtaking sunsets nightly, slept under a Milky Way blanket, listened often to the silence, hiked hundreds of miles, climbed my first desert tower, explored remotest ruins, and fell in love with an extraordinary man. (I tell you, it would still have been the best even without that last bit.) I’m blessed beyond measure.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” *

Beautifully, beautifully, this has been a year with many answers.

~~ May be continued ~~

* Opening line of Chapter 3 of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

October 18, 2010

The anticipated identity crisis

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“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” — Benjamin Franklin

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The blank before me asks my occupation; I swallow hard. “Former park ranger” is too painful, but “park ranger” isn’t exactly true, so I settle on “seasonal park ranger.” I suppose I could write “substitute teacher” or “motivational speaker,” but I haven’t quite jumped into those roles yet. “Park ambassador” is fun to ponder; I’d love to figure out how to make that one earn a salary. Bottom line: who am I?

 

A lovely autumn day in the front yard in Minnesota (said with a very round 'o')

 

My Facebook profile pic, a lively head shot of me in ranger hat and garb, had to be updated; every time I looked at it I gulped and thought, “That was then. I need a ‘now’ photo.” (Again: who am I?) Selecting a new one was an important part of acknowledging that I’m moving forward after one of the most marvelous summers of my life. Many changes accompany the transition.

I no longer reflexively upend my shoes before slipping my feet in, as scorpions don’t live in Minnesota. I drink the tap water instead of filling my 5-gallon jug at Matrimony Springs or Gearheads. My hat is for warmth instead of solar protection. The environment is all green instead of all red. Lizards are strangely absent. My wardrobe is no longer for outdoor activities, but for “hanging out.” Glorious sunsets are non-existent. I’m mocked by the rock climbing gear sitting on a closet shelf, with nowhere to take it. My ‘snake vigilance’ when walking at night is now zero. The misplacing of my sunscreen is not cause for concern. Olive, my car, doesn’t turn into a giant portable oven. The Milky Way is hardly visible to me. Potlucks here showcase dishes with tater tots and cream of mushroom soup, instead of quinoa or wheat berries. Hey — I can even make a left turn onto Main Street without an interminable wait.

Change, even when positive, is tinged with melancholy. I left a good chunk of my heart in the parks and people and landforms of Utah. In exchange, I have hugged, conversed with, cooked for and played croquet with my children this weekend, the very ones whom “nearest and dearest” describes. I’m not more than a mile from my sweetest girlfriends, the ones who would do anything for me. I’m watching autumn take over my back yard as I make coffee for my brother who comes to bow hunt the deer. I’m once again within driving distance of those who matter most in my life. I feel rich.

Ralph Waldo Emerson sums up this trade-off: “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.” These are the exchanges that make up my life, your life, each minute and hour. Today I’m cultivating a grateful heart that can celebrate presumed losses and anticipate coming joys.

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