Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors

Imagine a job where you spend four to five months of the year spotting forest fires and have little to no contact with people besides radio contact with other fire watchers, and some occasional days off.  The job requires a stiff hike in, and an exacting consideration for supplies, as they need to be packed in or brought by helicopter.  

Fire Season recounts one year’s run of this experience in a highly readable and informative manner.  For several years, the author has spent his summers as a fire lookout in the Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico, and he spins a tale of his solitary life as one that is rich with the hugeness of nature and  a welcomed yearly sojourn away from the drone of technology, albeit an existence tinged with danger from the threat of fires during dry periods.

Philips intermixes his narrative with the history of the wilderness movement and the key figures (Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, etc.) that set the ideas in motion for preserving these areas.  He covers the controversies over controlled fires, i.e. forest fires allowed to burn as a regenerative force for ecology renewal.  It will certainly give you a pause for thought when reading these passages, particularly if you were brought up in the era of Smokey the Bear.  

Connors also brings up such writers as Jack Kerouac and Norman Maclean, among others.  They all spent time as fire lookouts, for better or worse.  The part about Kerouac is revealing and actually quite humorous in places – Kerouac obviously needed something else to spur his imagination besides the cabin fever of a fire tower.

The author’s time at his fire tower is largely but never completely alone – there’s the occasional hiker, interactions with firefighters when he reports in a smoke plume, visits from friends and wife (who gets my vote for extreme tolerance) and luckily, the companionship of Alice the dog.

Connors writes eloquently on his solitary life; for readers who appreciate the natural world of the American Southwest, Fire Season will be special. 

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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