Summer has arrived, and I'm here for it. This is my first summer that I'll have real time off since 1990.
I started fighting fire in 1988, but for those first three years I was what was called "militia." As a park ranger, fire wasn't my primary job, so for the most part, unless I was needed for a fire, I had a pretty regular schedule: two days off a week, eight hour work days. In 1991 I got on my first fire crew, and all that changed.
When you work as a wildland firefighter, summers are your sacrifice. If it's particularly rainy that year, you might get your two days off, but that's only if there's nothing happening anywhere else in the country where they might need your crew, helicopter, or engine. More likely, it goes like this: you leave your house in the morning, not knowing if you'll be back that night or three weeks later. You'd better have everything packed in your personal gear bag and everything else: bills, pets, plants, etc handled.
If the fire season is instead raging at your Forest or Park, you're still not going to be home much. You'll be working 12 to 16 hour shifts, probably 14 to 21 of them, and then get one or two days off. At least one of these days is usually spent dealing with everything you let drop while you were working. If you're lucky, and feel motivated, your friends will accommodate your crazy schedule and hike with you when you finally get time off. One summer I worked 65 days straight (nope, we weren't supposed to, but there was nobody else to take over).
I don't know what it's like to have days off on a regular basis during the summer. One year, I took advantage of my boss's good nature and requested a week off work in June to go to Iceland. As I boarded the plane, I felt like I was getting away with something. A few days after I got back, I left on a two week fire assignment.
Now that I'm retired, the summer is mine. This thought makes me feel slightly anxious. I should be out doing ALL THE THINGS, all the time. I need to hike all the trails! Kayak all the lakes! But look at the yard, it needs attention, and the porch needs painting. I tell myself to settle down. There's time.
I worked hard for this, but I'm grateful. I made it through thirty lost summers, some scary moments, thousands of hours of overtime, and the loss of some relationships to get here. It was all worth it. I'm ready.