Francisco punches buttons on the treadmill in the fire cache workout room. "Have you guys been busy?" I ask. Despite our buildings being only about 100 yards apart, I rarely see the other fire people this time of year, unless I need to trek over to use a fax that actually works, or one of them cruises by in the snowplow. In my solo office, sometimes I don't talk to anyone for eight hours straight.
He shrugs. "Winter busy," he says. I know exactly what he means.
Summer busy is what we are used to. It is a stretch of lightning struck days, where we load up our packs in the helicopter in the morning and wait for the call from Dispatch. It is a time of abandoned projects and relationships put on hold. It's when you spend the day flying from one end of the forest to the other, when you forget to eat, or don't have time. It's long hot days digging fireline and hiking out of the wilderness with 50 pound packs. It's what we were hired to do.
Winter busy is different. It's long hours in front of a computer, writing project aviation safety plans, air crew briefings, and burn plans. It means wrestling with the unnecessarily convoluted hiring system and seeing where you can cut corners yet again to deal with a reduced budget. (Do firefighters really need pants? Darn, I guess they do.) You have to be careful with winter busy. You have to get up and walk around every so often, maybe shovel some snow every once in awhile, or you might start talking to the mice in the walls.
There are some good things about winter busy days. You can actually do errands without missing a fire call. "You better get all your doctoring done now, there won't be any time later," George once told a temporary employee in May. In winter you can go to the doctor. You can re-acquaint yourself with your friends. Best of all, you can take off into the snowy woods with your snowshoes or skis and nobody will wonder where you are.
I wander into the forest behind the office on my snowshoes. Our running trails are buried in white. I duck under trees that have fallen in recent windstorms. I hike up Hamburger Hill. In the summer, this is a sufferfest, steep and rocky and plagued by mosquitoes. Now it is quiet; only the deer have been here. At the top, I take a moment to look around before I follow my tracks back down the hill. I don't need to hurry. There is time.