I live in a small house on the edge of a 20 acre ranch. It is quiet, except for the sounds of birds in the trees and the horses' hooves when they run in the pasture. The other night I heard a mountain lion scream in the fields. I like the way the silence at night wraps around me like a blanket. Out here, I am my own family.
But I have another family here, although few of us share the same blood. Helitack, hotshots, and engine crews; it doesn't really matter because we're all the same. We have walked the same steep firelines, have carried driptorches through the same seemingly endless burn units. I meet them under the helicopter rotors, speaking in a kind of shorthand we all understand: "Getalatlongof thenewhelispot/the fire'sonthe orangechannelforsomereason/doyouhavepeppersprayinthatpack?" I don't know where all of them grew up. I don't know the names of all their kids. I don't know why they chose this crazy kind of existence. But we would know each other anywhere. I would trust every one of them with my life.
A few of them know me better than any of my ex-boyfriends ever did. We tell each other just about everything. We do a happy dance when a conference call goes our way and growl at each other from our computers when we have to take mandatory online classes. We rifle through each other's food and give well-intentioned if unwelcome advice. We were thrown together mostly by chance, but somehow it works. Suddenly, I've acquired a few brothers: unrelated, occasionally pesky, but mostly great.
One of my co-workers sends me a text. It simply says "Beer." We stop at the Blue Moon after work on a Thursday, nine men and me. We are allegedly here to unofficially celebrate a retirement and a couple of temporary promotions, but we don't really need an excuse. We sit and talk and laugh for hours, people slipping away into the evening until there are only three of us left and it is after midnight. The waitress apologetically brings us water, but we don't really need it; we are still here because we genuinely like each other. Morning will come in just a few hours, but I'll stay here with my fire family a little while longer.