Can you imagine what it might be like to spend 8 summers as a fire lookout? Spending nearly half each year in a 7' x 7' tower, 10,000 feet above sea level in remote New Mexico with the sole, simple task : keep watch over one of the most fire-prone forests in the country and sound the alarm at the first sign of smoke? Philip Connors left work as an editor at the Wall Street Journal to do that and write about it.
The result is a reflection on work, our place in the wild, and the charms of solitude. The landscape over which he keeps watch is rugged and roadless — it was the first region in the world to be officially placed off limits to industrial machines — and it typically gets hit by lightning more than 30,000 times per year. Connors recounts his days and nights in this forbidding land, untethered from the comforts of modern life: the eerie pleasure of being alone in his glass-walled perch with only his dog Alice for company; occasional visits from smokejumpers and long-distance hikers; the strange dance of communion and wariness with
bears, elk, and other wild creatures; trips to visit the hidden graves of the famous Buffalo Soldiers slain during the Apache wars of the nineteenth century; and always the majesty and might of lightning storms and untamed fire.
In the course of his memoir we meet other now famous writers who also served time as forest lookouts: Edward Abbey, Jack Kerouac, and Norman Maclean. Or perhaps Aldo Leopold (A Sand County Almanac) whose 1920s work in the Forest Service created the idea and rationale for wilderness areas as the "highest and best use" of some public lands.
The audio version loaded onto a portable device is an excellent companion while walking, gardening, etc.
Phillip Connors' memoir of his service as a fire lookout in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico is in the same league as classics by Annie Dillard and Aldo Leopold. In it he examines the strange life of solitude on the lookout tower, the history of wildfires and the idea of wilderness, and lives of other writers who have written about wildfires or wildfire spotting, including Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, and Norman MacLean. So beautiful I was sad when I finished.
A relaxing, informative, spiritual and enjoyable read.
It's a Wonderful Book & Very Well Written- about conservation, wild fires & America's Wilderness. The Author writes about his preference to solitude & nature. He reminds me of my Dad, he also worked for the Forest Service & couldn't wait to get into the mtns.
A terrific read about the history of conservation in America (wildfire fighting, in particular). Also a window into the little-known world's first wilderness area in and the mind of a writer who prefers solitude and nature over the hustle and bustle of the big city. Fascinating on many levels.
A terrific read about wilderness, solitude, different cultures and philosophies. Highly recommended.
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