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Catherine Madsen Bell 1977-2018

Many of you who have followed Cathy’s blog may already know that Cathy took her own life on May 9, 2018. Cathy had been fighting a battle, or maybe it would be more accurate to call it a war, with depression for many years, in fact she wrote about that struggle in posts within this blog.

Cathy moved from Joshua Tree National Park to Alaska’s Katmai National Park in December of 2016 to become Chief of Interpretation and Education there, a position she looked forward to greatly; she considered the move to Alaska one of the great adventures of her life. She spent the last year and a half of her life working at Katmai and living in King Salmon, Alaska.

This is being written by her brother David. While she hadn’t updated her website in quite some time, there is a tremendous amount of material here that is worth saving, so the site will be maintained for the foreseeable future, in essentially the same format Cathy had left it in.

When the family wrote Cathy’s obituary, we had asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Environmental Defense Fund, or the Center for Biological Diversity, and I would ask anyone reading this to consider supporting those organizations in Cathy’s name should they feel so moved. I would like to thank all of Cathy’s friends and acquaintances who have offered their support and condolences to our family.

I Write Because …

I write because I have a peculiar mix of ego and humility.

My ego leads me to believe that what I have to say is important and valuable, that my perspective is slightly different from everyone else’s in a way that makes it potentially illuminating, that I can say the particular things that I have to say better than anyone else can.

My humility makes me all too aware that, in the end, I’m not different. I’m just like everyone else. There is nothing special about me. And somehow that makes it very important that I express myself right: not stumbling over words or having to fight for speaking time in a room full of vocal extroverts. When I write, I can take as much time or as little as I want. I can throw words down on the page and be done with them, in a tumultuous burst of expression, or I can reflect and refine and revisit over and over and over until I have found just the right turn of phrase.

I write to be read. Casting my words out into the world, to be judged or completely ignored, is an act of hope.

I write in a sometimes desperate longing for understanding, in the hopes that my quirks and weirdnesses are perhaps not so completely isolating as they seem.

I write for myself.

I write to change the world.

On Watching and Writing

Watching, watching, watching.

I've always been a proponent of watching. Careful observation of wildlife, plants, and weather patterns makes me feel connected to a place and appreciative of the infinite variety of ways that living things have been able to prosper. Recently, though, I've been wondering if I've gone too far, if I've shifted from a participant in life to an observer of it.

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On the Death of Robin Williams

How do you deal with depression? There are probably as many possible answers to that as there are depressed people. To some extent, you put your head down, grit your teeth, and plow through it. But that's incredibly tiring. And the thing that scares me the most is that you can get through it--you can beat it--but you never know if it's gone for good.

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What a Month: From the Appalachian Trail to the Joshua Tree Desert

Instead of being fully present on the trail, in the total immersion in nature that I had enjoyed so far, I found my thoughts drifting ahead and growing chaotic. My busy brain abandoned the beautiful simplicity of trail life before my body did.

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Off the Trail, on to the Next Stage of My Life

It's strange, watching the landscape roll by without having to work for it.

I write this from a bus, hurtling down a highway from Blacksburg to Roanoke, VA. I am borne passively along in a cushioned seat, my pack--constant companion of these last two months--occupying the spot next to me. I'm not using my muscles, and the views are spooling past much too fast.

I have left the Appalachian Trail after 660 miles of foot travel. I have received the job offer I've been working towards for the last right years: a permanent position at Joshua Tree National Park with more responsibility and more room for creativity than I've had before. It's a phenomenal opportunity, an offer I couldn't refuse.

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Ask a Thruhiker: Your Questions Answered

In which I answer your questions about life on the Appalachian Trail! Ever wondered how many women are on the trail? Or if there are any things duct tape cannot be used for? Read on.

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Curious About Thruhiker Life?

I’ve been on the Appalachian Trail for six weeks, and have passed the 500-mile mark. Are you curious about what life is like for me and the other thruhikers out here? I will write a blog post answering your questions.

Ask anything you like in the comments below or by tweeting @RangerCathy, #AskAThruhiker. Be prepared to wait a week or two for my response – I don’t have many good opportunities to write while I’m on the trail!

Right before starting my hike, I posted a thruhike FAQ here. If you know you have something you want to ask but aren’t sure what it is, that might spark some ideas.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Blogging from the Trail: Harder than Expected

Well, I’ve been on the trail for six weeks now, and I’ve written only two blog posts! It turns out that thruhiking doesn’t actually leave very much time for writing. I wake up in the morning, eat, get water, pack up camp, walk all day, make camp, cook dinner, and go to bed. I write in my (real, physical) journal once I’m tucked in, then fall asleep. The next day, it’s the same thing all over again. Read more

Coming Soon to a Forest Floor Near You

By the end of April, I’ll have hiked the first 300 miles of the Appalachian Trail. It has been a delight to watch spring begin to unfold on the landscape. Hiking up and down and up again, I’ve had the chance to see all shades of the season, from leafy green valleys to still-wintry 6,000 ft. summits.

If you live farther north or at higher elevation, here’s a preview of some of the beautiful spring ephemerals – those all-too-fleeting wildflowers that bloom before the trees leaf out – I’ve been seeing over the past few weeks.

One of the very first flowers to appear is bloodroot: 20140428-213713.jpg

Bluets are another very early bloomer. I was seeing these tiny little flowers even in very early April in the Georgia mountains:
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There are several different species of violets in shades of yellow and purple:

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But it is spring beauty, this lovely little white flower (often with pink rays on the petals), that really signals to me that spring has come:
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Not long after the spring beauty, and often intermingled with it, the cheery yellow blooms of trout lily will begin to appear:
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Subtly tucked in amongst the showy flowers are the more discreet green blossoms of jack-in-the-pulpit:

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Several species of trillium, like the toadshade featured at top or the painted trillium here, also make an appearance:
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So if you’ve been hankering for spring, never fear, the ephemerals are here!

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