Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 5, 2011

Heart check

I was walking up Winter Camp Wash with another volunteer to look for old and new raptor nests. This is a drainage system below the most famous arch of all, and I had never seen Delicate Arch from this angle before. Camera ever ready, I tried to get all artsy-fartsy and blur the arch while focusing on the foreground plants, but I didn’t quite have the know-how to compose it properly. Still, it was fun.

This was one of those mornings when I pinched myself. “I get to do what? Hike into remote corners of this park and look for birds? Be immersed in nature? Perform data collection that will improve wildlife policies? Hear the peregrine falcon’s cry? Peer through good binoculars? Feel the sun and breezes on my face as I am surrounded by gorgeous red rocks? Watch Great Blue Herons in love?”

Springtime: my favorite season. Its cyclical representation of new beginnings brings hope and joy. When I see Red-tailed Hawks courting, or Great Blue Herons choosing their rookery spot together, a small twinge of wistfulness creeps in as I recall what it was like to share life with someone who adored me and would bring me my heart’s equivalent of the perfect twig for my nest. It’s healthy that I acknowledge the tiniest molecule of melancholy before I count the fathomless blessings of my very happy life.

You know, if love is not on the scene, I’ll take the second-best thing: dark chocolate.

February 1, 2011

Daring to dream in a different color

It was New Year’s Eve. I sat contemplatively, poised to file away the 2010 calendar and open the blank 2011 one. Restlessness filled every cell of my being as I lingered over thoughts of the past year’s exceptional desert adventures as a park ranger in Utah.

Nothing but a long string of question marks lay ahead. I was finding many doors closed with the Park Service due to budget cuts and hiring changes. A gnawing fear of finding myself summering in southern Minnesota farm country, instead of in vast and glorious national parks, nibbled at my gut. I would do almost anything to get back out west.

A former colleague had recently posted on her Facebook page an internship opening that I couldn’t shake. She needed someone to live at Arches National Park during the raptor breeding season and hike daily into the backcountry to monitor nests of hawks, owls, and other birds of prey. A Great Blue Heron rookery on the Colorado River would also be observed regularly for nesting and fledging data, and there would be a Breeding Bird Census for songbirds carried out one morning a week.

To this amateur birdwatcher since 1977, it was a delicious-sounding opportunity. Birds, solitude, breathtaking scenery, interesting co-workers, and more than a few three-day weekends in the wilderness were in the attractive mix. Why wasn’t I leaping at the chance?! What could possibly be holding me back?!? I sighed and slumped back in my chair, finally becoming aware of the root of my dilemma.

I wouldn’t get to wear my beloved park ranger uniform.

The green and gray symbolizes everything wondrous and wonderful in the past two seasons. This job’s uniform would be the brown and khaki of an intern with the Student Conservation Association. Would I be willing to make the swap?

Could I dream in a different color?

Volunteering in Arches National Park -- April, 2010

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