Ranger Kathryn's Arches

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

September 8, 2010

Clothes make the (wo)man

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 10:07 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’ve been thinking about our apparel and how it affects perceptions. How many of us have judged others, even subconsciously, based on external accoutrements? It’s less of an issue if you know someone well; your ideas about them are already formed. First impressions, however, are hard to undo.

My National Park Service ranger uniform is fun to wear. So is my dancing dress. Both project messages on different levels. The former is quite androgynous, intended to make all wearers of the clothing appear the same, present the same image, stand for the same values, and above all be recognizable in many different settings. We can’t have keys hanging from our belt loops, visible tattoos or piercings, or even pens poking out of our shirt pockets. Uniformity is of the utmost importance.

The volunteer photographer cut off my red shoes!

On the other hand, off-duty clothing is an expression of personal taste — a statement of individuality, an assertion of original selfhood. It says, loudly and clearly, “This is me!” I’ve noticed that the clothing I’ve bought this summer has been more feminine, which is probably my own Declaration of Independence from the very mannish uniform.

Here are some photos from the last two days. Whether you know me well, a little, or not at all, answer the following questions about the women pictured here — Ranger Uniform Woman, or Flowered Dress Woman:

Which woman would you…

  • trust more to give you a scientific answer to a question?
  • loan your car to?
  • find more huggable?
  • expect to take charge in an emergency?
  • find more believable?
  • want to get to know first?
  • see at a contra dance, and ask to be your partner?
  • rather hike with?
  • hire for an outdoor job?
  • expect to be more flirtatious?
  • see as more responsible?
  • go on a wilderness trip with?
  • perceive as more warm and cuddly?
  • find more suitable for jury duty?
  • rather have as your boss?

Pay attention today to how your perceptions may be affected by others’ wardrobe choices. Leave a comment if you have ever been mortified by, or taught by, an assumption you made about someone based on first impressions.

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