Ranger Kathryn's Arches

May 3, 2016

Contrast: it makes life richer

Filed under: wilderness life — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 11:18 am
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The seventh wave of storms approaches our campsite at Doll House in the Maze

I lead a double life, of sorts. In Minnesota where home and family are, I live comfortably. That adverb did not apply on our five-day Jeep patrol, battered by Pacific storms that left us wet and shivering, with ice caking our tent several mornings. Contrast is a good thing. Contrast makes us grateful.

Today I might have eaten smoked salmon on non-GMO crackers. Instead, the can of Bush’s Best Baked Beans heated on the cookstove paired nicely with the can of Spam.

Today I might have slept in my 2000-square-foot home. Instead, my 35 square feet of tent kept me dry and snug despite the wind, rain, and just-above-freezing temperatures.

Today I might have stayed dry by foregoing hiking. Instead, I got repeatedly pelted by rain and ice pellets — and got to see a full rainbow spanning the Colorado River, miles from anyone, after taking refuge in a shallow alcove near ancient ruins.

Today, I might have encountered angry short-tempered people stressed by perceived inconveniences of life. Instead, we met tired backpackers carrying all that they needed, humbly grateful for a current weather forecast and a fill of their water bottles.

Today, I might have heard cars, barking dogs, radio. Instead, a peregrine falcon’s unsettled cry alerted us to its presence, our only neighbor for miles and miles.

Today, I might have been looking in my (too-large) closet and wondering what to wear. Instead, I took off the rain-soaked work pants and laid them in the Jeep hoping they’d be dry in the morning. Woolen long johns, a tad damp, kept me warm as I slept. You can have the rest of the closet.

Today, in my other life, I might have used a flush toilet like most Americans. Instead, I dug a 6” cathole under a juniper, left a little organic fertilizer, and packed out the toilet paper to ‘leave no trace.’ Easy.

Today, I might have used a thermostat to regulate ambient temperature. Instead, I took off and put on four different layers to ensure my comfort in rapidly-changing conditions.

Today, I might have been connecting with my friends via email and Facebook. Instead, I hiked nine glorious miles with my beloved, through places that expand our souls.

Tonight, I might be falling asleep on my custom-made queen-sized mattress with Egyptian cotton sheets. Instead, I’m floating an inch above the earth on my Therma-rest, tucked into a down sleeping bag, listening to a canyon wren bidding mortals goodnight.

And life is very, very good.


Doll House — in a window of good weather

March 4, 2010

“Disturb us, Lord, when…”

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:50 am
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Shafer overlook, Canyonlands NP

Disturb us, Lord, when

We are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to shore.

-Sir Francis Drake, 1577


[Wikipedia sums up Drake’s life this way: English sea captainprivateernavigatorslaver, a renowned pirate, and  Elizabethan politician. He is, of course, most famous for his circumnavigation of the world (1577-1580) while he was only in his late 30s.]


As I looked around our training room yesterday, I was given much hope; I saw lots of mini-Drakes. The room was filled with dozens of individuals who want to be disturbed, who intend to be disturbed. There were folks who have spent their lives counting spotted owls in Olympic National Park, young people who will be Colorado River Rangers overseeing the protection of that resource while living five days at a time on the river, college grads who have moved into the most unexplored place in the lower 48 (The Maze district at Canyonlands NP) for an internship, jeep guides from Moab, bicycle tour operators who desire to be responsible resource managers. The NPS generously invites them all to their few-times-yearly training for new NPS staff, since they line up top-notch scientists and speakers to explain what a unique resource we have here.

My point today: It is only when we are disturbed that we really see beyond ourselves. It is not in living “safely” and comfortably and familiarly that we will _______ (fill in your own version of circumnavigating the globe).

Leave a comment: Do you sail too close to your shore? Why? What are your greatest fears if you ventured out?

It's hard to keep my feet on the ground...

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