Wednesday, September 12, 2012

late season

We circle a fire in the wilderness. It's getting to be late season. A single larch glows golden in a sea of green lodgepole pines. The fire is trying, though: it chews its way steadily down towards a creek, about two acres strong.

I open the helicopter doors and get out on a seven thousand foot peak. I wonder briefly about the fire lookout that once stood here and the lonely life of the people who staffed it. I drag out food boxes and water for the two people who will stay here for a few days and watch the fire. They will report on its proximity to the closest trail, and whether the area needs to be closed to hikers and hunters.

I feel jealous of their assignment, despite the predicted night time temperatures in the 20s and the 18 mile hike out. If I were stationed here, I would wander the ridge and look for traces of the former lookout building. I would hike down to Christopher Lake, glinting invitingly turquoise below. And I would watch the fire, moving around through the forest like it was meant to do, without our interference.

But this isn't my job today, and I close up the cargo compartments and get back in the helicopter for the flight home. In a few days the observers will hike out. The fire will burn for awhile, until a few hard frosts or fall rains put it out. It will become yet another fire scar like so many in this wilderness. We probably won't be back here. Before we go, I mark the peak in my GPS just to say I was here once, that I saw it, before this fire fades into memory like all the rest.

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