Ranger Kathryn's Arches

July 17, 2010

One rattlesnake, just for fun

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:10 pm
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It couldn’t have happened at a better time — the last night of the memorable trip. The four younger generation people had grabbed their cameras to photograph the sunset from atop a Navajo sandstone knoll adjacent to the campground. Becky and I had not stopped to ask adult-ish questions like, Do you have flashlights? What time do we expect you back? Sunset was 40 minutes away and off they went.

By 30 minutes AFTER sunset, I began scanning the outline of the knoll for shapes of humans. It was dark. I wasn’t going to get worried quite yet, but I did want them back home. Meanwhile, my sister and I enjoyed the peace and solitude for a little bit as we tidied up camp and loaded things into the cars. We laid out all six sleeping pads and bags under the stars; there would be no tent-sleeping allowed on this final night.

Shortly, the quartet of young photographers sauntered into camp by the light of Evan’s one flashlight. Stories began to emerge; they saved the best for last. Mothers’ hearts skip a beat when one child says to the other, “Is this a good time to tell her?”

A Midget Faded Rattlesnake, nocturnal in nature, had decided to warm itself on the paved road leading to Willow Flats campground. Marta was in the lead and walked right alongside it, about a foot away; it rattled, she sped up her steps and quickly got ahead of it, and then as it rattled again they all pulled out their cameras to photograph it.

Although shy, this snake has a potent neurotoxin in its venom that makes a bite very nasty. I am glad it didn’t have an inclination to strike at my dear daughter. That would have ruined the trip a bit.

It gives me a warm satisfaction that I’ve raised children who don’t throw rocks at snakes, or squeal, or run, but document the event instead. Way to go, offspring!!!

(Photo courtesy of Google images — said reptile’s portrait is not on my camera or computer.)

June 20, 2009

Arthropod in the Night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:41 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Dawn at our campsite in Hovenweep.  Nothing scares me at dawn.

Dawn at our campsite in Hovenweep. Nothing scares me at dawn.

Having a Fri-Sat off, my friend Jess and I decided to go on a road trip.  We threw our camping stuff into Olive and headed for a little-known Nat. Monument named Hovenweep, 125 miles south.  A 180-degree rainbow greeted us on the open range, and then turned double: surely an auspicious beginning!  Site 14 afforded us an unobstructed view of the San Juan mountains,  and we couldn’t have been more delighted.  As we set up camp in this most desolate and remote place, the sunset turned purple and orange and the sky was set aflame.  We could hardly breathe, afraid to say anything that would spoil this infinite beauty.

The campground had only two other tenants, on the opposite side of the loop.  The solitude and tranquility were welcomed, most welcomed.  As the sun slid lower, some lovely bats came out and began reducing the excess gnat and mosquito populations.  Except for that quiet fluttering, the world was wrapped in silence.

We hit the sack early, both being tired from our new work schedule and the altitude.  Twenty minutes of chit-chat in the dark tent preceded our drifting off to what we hoped would be peaceful sleep.  Which it was.  For a couple of hours.  [Warning to Livja:  Do Not Read The Rest Of This!]

I sleep lightly, attuned to new sounds and smells and sensations.  In a new tent, in a new campground, in a new ecosystem, I was vividly aware that this was not ‘home.’  Therefore, when I heard a tiny slow soft skritch skritch skritch outside on the tent wall by my head, everything in me strained to figure out its source.  I knew Jess was not fond of creepy-crawlies, so I couldn’t turn on a flashlight.  I needed to just lie there and listen and learn what I could.  Okay, it sounded as if it had lots of feet.  Maybe, oh, about ten.  Okay, it was making its way carefully and slowly and methodically upward along the curve of the tent wall.  Okay, it is definitely OUTSIDE the tent, thank goodness.  Okay, its miniscule skritching sound seems to be from its feet gripping the nylon tent.  Okay, it is nearing the top…

I was doing a good job of keeping my cool when, without warning, a scorpion-ish shape suddenly plunged off the tent peak and hurtled down past my screened window.  I sat up instantly and grabbed my flashlight to see if this was INside or outside.  Naturally, this woke Jess up and freaked her out, but I quickly determined that it was OUTside and we had nothing to fear.  No creature was evident anywhere.  Although… now I had to pee, and the winding path through the loop to the outhouse seemed long and scarier than usual, with Midget Faded Rattlesnakes being nocturnal hunters and all.. we were warned to watch our steps.  So, I proceeded to do two things that aren’t typical for Ranger Kathryn:  (1) exited the door on Jess’s side of tent, not the scorpion-infested door on my side, and (2) DROVE Olive to the bathroom in order to avoid surprising any rattlesnakes.

By 11:28 pm I was back safely in my tent, zipped in snugly, scorpions or no.  There is a surprisingly relaxing sleep once the dangers have been faced and survival seems likely.  By sunrise the next morning, it all seemed silly — so, so silly.  Our fears in the night become easy to manage in the bright light of a new day.  The unknown imagined is bigger than the unknown reality.  And, in the dawn’s early light, I sat at the picnic table and oriented my back (clad in purple sweatshirt) to the rising sun to gather its heat to warm me for the new day’s marvels.

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