Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Dog Days

Dear dog owners,

I know you think your pooch is the cutest, best doggy in the world.  I get this, because my cats definitely are the cutest, best kitties in the world.  I don't dislike dogs, even though I was traumatized when I was little by a huge bloodhound running off with my Barbie.  Sometimes I wish I could have one (but can't, with my job).  This isn't really about your dog.  It's about YOU.

I'm a runner.  I've been a runner for 40 years.  I've run all over the world, on trails, roads, in bear and mountain lion country, in places where I've had to turn around and retreat because of sketchy people, and in all kinds of weather.  Despite all that, dogs have been the worst of all these obstacles.  Yes, DOGS.

When running, I've learned to be very cautious when approaching dogs.  I usually slow down and sometimes even stop, depending on the pup's behavior.  I've taken other routes when I know a mean dog is there, and even cut my run short to avoid one.  I talk to the dog and the owner in a friendly way.  I step aside on trails for them.

Despite this, I've been bitten, barked at aggressively, chased, jumped up on and scratched, bumped into so hard it caused a bruise, and had my hand grabbed in dog's mouths with their teeth clamped down on it.  Meanwhile the owner usually says the dog's name ineffectively, claims "she's friendly" as it snarls at me, and refuses to accept any responsibility.

Your happy pup running up to me to say hi is fine.  I don't expect all dogs everywhere to be on leashes, or to be perfectly behaved all the time.  But let's share the trails and be courteous.  Please train/control your pooch so we can all have fun out there.


A runner
I have a "niece," Ruby.  She is very well behaved!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

more sweet than bitter

If a young girl were to read the latest stories about becoming a female wildland firefighter, she would be horrified.

Rampant discrimination.  Harassed by men at every turn.  Forced to quit, even.

This isn't my story.

I'm not saying this doesn't happen to some.  It has and it does, and it shouldn't.  But it wasn't and isn't the reality for me.  Yes, there were times when there was inappropriate talk and behavior.  When men closed ranks, shutting me out of discussions and decisions.  But it wasn't enough to make me leave.

What made me stay? Something must make this dirty, dangerous, underpaid, male-dominated career worth it.  We don't keep doing things if there is no benefit.  Even the addicts I have known wouldn't quit chasing the high, despite the inevitable low, until the negatives outweighed the positives.  The juice must be worth the squeeze.

When I think back over the last 30 years, the answer to that question doesn't come fully formed.  Instead, there's a series of flashbacks, pieces of memories, that run through my mind: the sweetness, without any of the bitter:

-My first fire, staring incredulously at 200 foot flames as they rolled over the mountains;

-The sudden surprise of a snowfall on a fire high in the Cascades;

-In Mesa Verde, the pilot steering us past an Anasazi ruin with a circular tower built in the middle of it, in the middle of nowhere;

-Spotting smoke in the distance with  my coworker Ron in the Tetons, getting on the radio and saying "we're ten minutes out," no matter how far away we were;

-Evacuating people ahead of fires and knowing we saved their lives;

-The exhilaration of climbing out of a wrecked helicopter and knowing I was alive;

-Sleeping on a remote rappel spot while elk bugled all around us;

-Lighting fire around cabins in a last ditch effort to save them, and celebrating because they made it;

-Flying through Glacier Park with Chris the pilot, looking at lakes and mountains and glaciers, both of us incredulous at our good fortune to be there.

It's been bittersweet, all these years.  But it's been more sweet than bitter.  It was all worth it.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Better get new clothes!

As if I needed another reason to love Iceland, they seem to like cats there.  Reykjavik is sometimes called "the town of cats."

Cats can often be seen strolling around; while there is a cat shelter there, most of these patrolling felines have owners and are just on walkabouts.  Someone seriously posted in an Iceland travel site that she wanted to "see cats" when she was in town.  Nobody thought it was weird or funny, and a local Icelander charmingly answered her by stating the names of streets on which cats can usually be found.

It's estimated that there may be as many as 20,000 cats in the city, or one for every ten people.  In contrast, dogs were banned in Reykjavik from 1924 to 1984!

The most interesting Icelandic cat is the Yule Cat.  This sounds kind of nice, like a fluffy kitten in a Santa hat.  But it's not! In Icelandic folklore, the Yule Cat is giant and terrifying. It prowls around Iceland on Christmas Eve, looking for lazy people who haven't done their chores, especially children, although it doesn't sound like anyone is safe.

Supposedly if you did your chores before Christmas you were rewarded with new clothes. Some people say that this tradition was started by farmers as an incentive for workers to finish processing the autumn wool.  Those who did got new clothes. Those who didn't, well...

If the Yule Cat looks in your window and sees you with a  package that looks like clothes, it will hiss and move on.  If not, it will eat all your food before eating you!

Although I love cats, just to be on the safe side, as I bought Christmas presents I also added in a new sweater for myself.  It's just common sense!
Image from National Geographic

Monday, November 26, 2018

There's something about a trail

There's something about a trail.  I see one from the helicopter and, momentarily abandoning my mission of looking for fires, try and find out where it goes.  I glimpse trailheads when driving, and wonder what lake or ridge they might access. I try to mark these places in my memory, in case I return.

To me, these winding paths through the forest, prairie or mountains signify possibility.  Adventure, discovery, solitude...any of these could be waiting out there.  Trails have mystery, while roads don't.

I've never regretted setting foot on a trail.  While I've gotten temporarily lost, gotten minor injuries, and flirted with hypothermia at times, in the end I've always been glad I took the path rather than the road. I just wish I had time to take more of them.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Winter in my bones

I dragged out the snow shovels in a surly mood.  Now I understood why old people moved to Florida or Arizona.  It wasn't even that cold yet and I couldn't get warm.  I felt chilled to the bone.

I know people who love winter.  They should live in the polar regions, because they dislike the heat and rejoice at the first snowfall.  Those people aren't me.

I have a complicated relationship with winter at best.  I know it's the price I pay for living in a mountain town where the nearby peaks still have glaciers.  Sometimes winter and I get along okay, especially on bluebird days where the snow is all sparkly.  Other times when it's gray and gloomy and the roads are covered in ice, I think of the winter I spent in Hawaii and wonder what I was thinking to leave.

One of my neighbors hardly ever comes outside, even in summer.  I see her sometimes walking her dog to the mailbox, but most of the time she is indoors.  In winter, I go for weeks without seeing her.  Her car won't move out of her carport.  If she enjoys being inside, I won't judge. But that won't be me.

So I buy a ski pass, and find my snowshoes in the garage.  I look for northern lights while I sit in the hot tub.  And yesterday I hiked to a lake in the mountains, one that I love but avoid in the summer due to crowds.

It was about 20 degrees.  The trail only had a skiff of snow and ice, and the lake was surprisingly not yet frozen.  A few people were there, better prepared than I was with hot drinks and blankets.  The cliffs around the lake looked beautiful with a dusting of snow.  It was a completely different place than it was in the summer.

I will always love summer more than winter.  I love just going outside, without having to prep for it with mittens, hats, snow tires, and everything else that goes along with it.  I love a summer trail that is alive with flowers and birds.  But I've learned to live with winter, and I'll get along with this one too.  At times I'll even like it.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Boss Benefits

One of the perks of being the boss is that I can kick my employees out of the front seat of the helicopter if the mission is particularly good, the pilot is cool, or we are going someplace especially scenic.  Sorry/not sorry, they get plenty of lucrative assignments as it is and I put in a lot of time to get to where I am, cleaning lots of outhouses and pulling a lot of weeds along the way.

So when some filmmakers came to the area to take video for a documentary called "Your Forests Your Future," my minions didn't even attempt to ask to go.  Heh heh.  They knew I'd be all over it.

The filmmakers are two brothers with an ambitious goal to visit all the National Forests in the country.  They jumped excitedly into the helicopter, toting cameras and a drone.  I was along for the ride, helping them with their equipment and making sure they operated safely around the aircraft.  But let's be honest: I was also there for the experience.

Fall colors

Gunsight Mountain
Chinese Wall, Bob Marshall Wilderness
Frosty lookout
Sometimes I forget that it's really unusual to get to do this: to fly over two wildernesses in one day, stopping in at a remote backcountry station and a fire lookout, seeing herds of elk and snow covered mountains from above.  Then I remember, and I feel incredibly grateful that my hard work has led me here.

Friday, November 2, 2018


Listen: people go missing every day.  If you don't believe this, search "missing people" or "missing hikers." A counselor friend of mine did this.  Horrified, he had to stop.  It happens all the time.

So why am I still thinking about Connie? I don't know her.  I haven't been to the area where she vanished.  But her story has grabbed ahold of me and it won't let go.

Connie Johnson was a woman who loved the wilderness.  She came west in search of adventure, and became a wilderness ranger for the Forest Service, hiking and camping on her own for over 20 years.  She became a mentor for younger people just starting out in their careers, teaching them about navigating in the woods and about tools like crosscut saws.  When she retired she became a camp cook for an outfitter, still hiking in her beloved wilderness at age 76.

Connie vanished from the camp around October 3; the hunters were not there yet, so nobody knows when for sure.  Her gun and coat were left in camp; her dog was gone as well.  The search was extensive, with people on foot and horseback covering all the places she might have gone.  A friend of Connie told me she would have hated having the helicopters working low over those wild places, even if they were looking for her, but they were out there too; a pilot I know was flying.  No trace was found.

Three weeks later, Connie's dog Ace showed up, 15 miles from the camp, back at the trailhead where he and Connie had hiked in.  Thin but fine, he was taken back to the woods, hoping he might lead the searchers to her.  He has not.

Where was Ace?  Did he wander off, and roam the forest for three weeks until he found his way out? Did he stay with Connie after she had an injury or medical problem, until he finally had to leave her resting place?

And where did Connie go?  It haunts me.  I hope she is at peace, somewhere in the wilderness she loved so much and wanted to protect, and that the land holds her gently.  I hope her last hike was a good one, now that she is at the end of her trail.  Hike on, Connie.  Your memory lives on.
Ace and Connie

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Cue the vultures

Some of them approach the subject directly.  "Sooo...when are you going to retire?" they ask.  Others are more indirect.  "I'm feeling lazy about doing an application...do you think I should do one?" they say hesitantly.

I get it.  I work in an amazing place, and I have a good job.  Since people found out I'm eligible for early retirement, I don't blame them for wondering when the position will be vacant.  However, it's hard not to feel like a carcass in the desert with vultures circling overhead.

My response to these questions is vague.  Depending on who's asking, I say "I'm not sure," "Three bad days in a row," or, if I really don't want that person to get my job and screw up the program I worked so hard to build, "I think I'll stick it out till they kick me out."

The truth is, I really don't know.  I don't know if I'm ready for a drastic change in income, to stop flying in helicopters, or to lose my identity as a wildland firefighter.  Some days I am, especially on those long pointless meeting days or when faced with red tape and paperwork.  Other days, when the pilot and I fly over the national park to a new fire start, I'm uncertain.

Some people have a plan in life.  I never had one.  I moved wherever the wind took me.  I never planned to be a firefighter for 31 years, yet here I am.  And even though it's a little scary at times, I like not having everything decided in advance.  Some day I will wake up and say, I think I'm done with this job.  Maybe it will be soon, and maybe it won't be.  The vultures will just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

New challenge!

Did you buy a Mega Millions ticket? I did, even though I knew the odds were low. But hey, somebody won it!

If you're in the mood for taking a chance, why not enter 1st Phorm's newest 8 week "transphormation" challenge? You could win $50,000, but more importantly, you could change your body, health and life!

It's really easy. You have to sign up by October 29. Click on this link: My link and you can choose one of three options. Two of them will allow you to enter and purchase discounted supplements. One is free if you don't wish to buy anything.

Once you've done that you will get an email with instructions on setting up your profile. Now here's the scary part...you will have to upload Day One photos. But don't worry! You won't see them on some Hot Or Not website! Only about 3 people at 1st Phorm will see them. Unless you win, of course. Then you'll want people to see them!

That's it. You don't need to buy anything (although the supplements are great), submit videos, or post on social media. You'll only have to submit photos of your amazing transphormation on the last day.

With your entry you will get diet and workout plans, access to exercise videos, and advice from personal trainers at 1st Phorm. If you don't want any of that stuff, don't use it!

There's really nothing to lose except whatever you want to change. And, new Mr. or Ms. Billionaire in South Carolina: congrats on your win. You probably will have more time on your hands now. How about joining this challenge?

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

What is a friend

"What is a friend,
a friend is here indeed
sitting all around me,
listening to my song..."

Laurie sang, strumming her guitar.  We were having an informal memorial service for my sweet friend Ron, who had died in a motorcycle accident.

This was over 30 years ago, and I haven't seen Laurie since then. 

Laurie, Beth, and I were very young then, and very different from each other, but, thrown together as roommates in a cabin, we worked together at a state park in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  After work and on days off, we would pile in someone's truck and go hiking or what we called "looping"- driving the scenic road that circled through the park, looking for wildlife.  On the rolling hills we would find the semi-tame park burros and herds of buffalo.  We would hang out the windows, enthralled, even though we saw the animals all the time, even having to skirt grumpy bison as we walked to the Visitor Center. 

We all moved on after that summer, but every so often Laurie and Beth would pop up in a letter or on social media.  This September they met in the Black Hills where we had worked.  I wanted to go, but fires prevented me.  Next year we are going to try to meet again for a park employees' reunion.

I admit, I'm not very good at staying in touch with anyone during fire season, unless they work with me. And it really is me, not you.  After working months of 12-16 hour days, I don't have much left for anything or anyone.  I always hope that friends will understand, but sometimes they don't.  Maybe I wouldn't either.

I'm grateful for the ones who stay.
Picture from Goodhousekeeping.com