Ranger Kathryn's Arches

February 16, 2012

Weather report through the eyes of an interpretive ranger

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:00 am
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Morning inversion -- clouds surging up from Shafer Canyon, 8:15 a.m.

On the park radio channel each morning at 0930, after the daily weather report, the various districts in the area broadcast their weather information from the past 24 hours. This allows us to better direct visitors in their travels, as well as inform any staff working in the backcountry. You can imagine that normally it is a very businesslike script passing over the airwaves.

Yesterday I just couldn’t help myself. The breathtaking cloud inversion was begging for an interpretive shout-out. When it was my turn on the radio, I would normally have begun, “Good morning from the Island in the Sky. Yesterday’s high was…”   But there was nothing normal about what I was seeing outside my visitor center, so this is what all the districts (and headquarters!) heard: “Good morning from the Island in the Sky, where clouds are surging from the canyon depths and shrouding the mesa top in wispy splendor. Yesterday’s high was 45, low was 29…”

I felt like such a rebel. As far as I know, I didn’t get in trouble.

One other time I took a chance and reported in all seriousness that the forecast was brought to you by the adverbs ‘mostly’ and ‘partly,’ after which I read the three days of mostly sunny and partly cloudy NOAA forecast word for word as I usually do. I felt that that was grammatically interpretive and not too far out of line. My co-worker admitted he didn’t know those words were adverbs. I felt doubly useful.

Radio dispatchers abhor flippant or too-casual usage, so I am very careful. But just look at the accompanying photo and tell me that you wouldn’t have done the same.

April 20, 2010

BTR, Day 1: Knots, rappelling, situational awareness

This poor pack was loaded by a complete amateur, who can barely heft it. That is going to change.

I felt like I was trying out for “Survivor.” Heck, my pack weighs more than 1/3 of what I do! Glancing around to size up the other trainees, who were hefting their huge packs with a grace and ease that made me marvel, I resolved that I would NOT be the first one booted from this island.

Every last one of them was Law Enforcement, wilderness fire fighters, Search & Rescue, back-country or river rangers. Only one was Interpretation, and that was me, and that raised eyebrows from some others who asked “How did you pull that off?” Interpretation is historically its own division and gets involved in rescues only after all other avenues have been exhausted. A few folks asked me if I thought my supervisor would support me in getting out there for rescues, to which I responded that I hoped so and would look forward to talking with her about my desires to do just that.

After introductions and a serious safety talk, we were broken into our four training groups for the week. Each has nine students and four instructors. The much-anticipated Knots Test took place right away, and I PASSED with ease. (Many thanks, Ed.) I have a little work to do on my Munter Hitch, but that will be easy to master.

Hitches must be tied to something, so we gather around the litter to practice

Most of us have rappelled before, but some hadn’t, so we set up for that. We had to learn to tie ourselves off in mid-rappel so our hands would be free for rescue tasks.

I was watching the clouds build up as each hour passed; it was a glorious 72-and-sunny day, but in Canyonlands that can change in a flash. As our day wound down, the final hour was to be a lecture on Situational Awareness and factors that can diminish our attention to our environment. The teacher moved the class from clifftop to parking lot because of the threat of weather, and the wind still blasted sand into our eyes and ears and teeth, but it was a great illustration of the importance of not allowing distraction to deter us from our task.

Brandon, our highly capable instructor -- from Grand Canyon

At the close of the day I looked around with satisfaction and gratitude. One down, four to go. The leader had promised us that the first day would start off easy, but as the week progressed we would be increasingly challenged. I know I have to take things one day at a time, and have my nose in the manual every evening. Final test Friday is open book, so I don’t have to memorize kiloNewtons and breaking strengths, but I sure do have to work hard to know what I am doing.

(Continued in next post)

March 27, 2010

(KR + KA) x AT = IO

Little did I know that a mathematical equation would guide my visitor interactions.

In a recent post about my first guided walk, I summed it up: “Park interpretation is one part factual knowledge, one part story-telling, one part entertainment, and a whole lot of knowing how to read your audience.”

Ahem. I just discovered that what I intuitively knew to be true has already been officially codified: Knowledge of the Resource (KR) plus Knowledge of the Audience (KA) times Appropriate Techniques (AT) equals Interpretive Opportunity (IO).

My KR has a strong base and grows daily as I devour everything I can find about my beloved desert. My KA is solid, based on five decades of studying people. My AT is what I was coached on. The IO is the result/product.

Some days I feel as if 90% of my job is “the relaying of information.” This could be anything from where the bathrooms are to what our annual rainfall is to which is the prettiest arch that they should not miss. Someone of substantial import in the interpretation division of the NPS has a different perspective: “The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.”

We can amaze people with facts all we want, but unless they are provoked enough to form an emotional connection with the park (aka “the resource”), they will not care enough to go deeper. Going deeper might mean bringing the next generations here, or supporting legislation that will protect wild places, or joining a volunteer work crew to remove invasive tamarisk trees along the Colorado River.

I’m going to be provocative today.

March 22, 2010

In which I give my first real Guided Walk

Sara's marketing scheme is not subtle. It's also not NPS-approved.

Sara’s eyes twinkled as she pointed toward the TODAY’S ACTIVITIES board by the Visitor Center desk. Her personal mission was to get folks to come to my guided walk, and she is a “get ‘er done” type gal so she took matters into her own hands. (See photograph. Very amusing!) It certainly was effective. I’ve had two rained out, one with nobody showing up, and one with just one sweet couple. We were about to witness the Power of Advertising.

Typical attendance at a guided walk, especially on a weekday, might be 4 to 12 people. Permanent Ranger Rob has had a career high of 17.

Today: THIRTY-FOUR!!! It was a HUGE group, and I was breathless with excitement. I would have to be at the top of my game, as well as manage large-group logistics. Not to mention living up to the expectations Sara had set. In addition, I was being observed by a coach/trainer to help me improve my talk.

A good ranger positions her audience's backs to the sun

I gathered the crowd at my favorite overlook and whispered a silent prayer for clear thinking and good communication skills. Taking a deep breath, I welcomed them all, introduced myself, gave the ground rules, energetically set the stage for what mysteries we would be addressing, and launched out. There was no going back. It was full throttle from 11:30 to 12:30.

Park interpretation is one part factual knowledge, one part story-telling, one part entertainment, and a whole lot of knowing how to read your audience. This one was extremely diverse in age, interest, and background; it was energizing to discover that I had the tools to reach the whole spectrum, from shy preschooler to grouchy know-it-all retiree. They posed for a picture at the conclusion and then gave me the sweetest round of applause.

To Be Continued…

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