Friday, May 27, 2011

Fire Season

The Texas Forest Service reports wildfires have scorched more than 2.2 million acres and more than 400 homes this year, and extremely critical fire conditions persist in Northwest and West Texas. Fires are also watched very closely in the national forests by the US Forest Service, but if a blaze is sparked by lightning, doesn't threaten communities, and isn't too intense, public lands managers can opt simply to monitor it. A new book, Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout, listed on APL REcommends- Nonfiction, captures Phillip connor's eighth summer as a fire lookout in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.

A decade ago Philip Connors left work as an editor at the Wall Street Journal when he could not edit a 9/11 editorial that he objected to, and began working as one of the last fire lookouts in America. The U.S. Forest Service has decommissioned some 90 percent of its fire towers, but finds it less costly to staff a few hundred of its most remote towers than to put up drone aircraft. Spending nearly half the year in a 7' x 7' tower, 10,000 feet above sea level in the forest, Connors kept watch over one of the most fire-prone forests in the country. The landscape is rugged and roadless—it was the first region in the world to be officially placed off limits to industrial machines—and it gets hit by lightning more than 30,000 times per year.

During the fire season, April through August, Connors' schedule is 10 days on, four days off. A 5-mile hike and 80-mile drive separate him from a soft bed, a pool table and a cold beer. The monotony of the job is broken by the company of his dog, the occasional hiker, and visits from his wife.

A passage from the book:
I’m not about to tell two guys in leather chaps and cowboy hats about my very real and near-mystical hours of longing and nostalgia, alone in my little glass box, brooding over and exulting in my own mortality amid mountains silently magisterial in the late-day sun. Nor the hours of sitting and staring into the inscrutable heart of the desert, not thinking anything, not feeling anything.

Other books at APL that have been written by fire lookouts:
Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey
Danger on the Peaks: Poems by Gary Snyder
Young Men and Fire by Norman MacLean
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

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