Ranger Kathryn's Arches

February 7, 2011

In which I am offered the internship

Turret Arch, photographed through North Window. Better than any cubicle.

My phone rang as I was pulling into the Trader Joe’s parking lot; the 435 area code told me that it was rural Utah. I took a deep breath and calmed myself. It had been all of eight hours since I had applied — a contemplative, prayerful eight hours.

In the subsequent twenty minutes I was offered, and I accepted, the raptor monitor internship at Arches National Park. It would be a season of becoming intimately familiar with a small portion of the Colorado Plateau and its avian residents. A new skill set would be required of me, distinctive from that of interpretive park ranger. In my head I heard the familiar words of my dear dad: “Not better, not worse, just different.”

I unfolded the park map on the seat next to me, slowly perusing its 119 square miles as I spoke with Tricia. “Kathryn, before your season is done, you will have hiked most of what you see on the map, ” she informed me. My heart leaped. 76,000 acres of mostly wilderness would be my office. Its lizards, insects, snakes, jackrabbits, spiders, scorpions, and large mammals would be my sweet companions. The desert plants, in all their spring glory, would be a visual feast when I wasn’t peering through binoculars at the birds I’d be studying. What an utter privilege to have been selected.

I floated into Trader Joe’s, humbled, grateful, thinking of Psalm 21: “You have granted her the desire of her heart and have not withheld the request of her lips.” I headed straight for the dark chocolate pomegranate seeds — such a fitting celebratory purchase.

It was a two-box day.

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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