Sunday, May 26, 2013

that bear feeling

"Arriving at 024 waypoint," my GPS announced.  I looked around.  I was in a small draw, thick with green regrowth.  An army of mosquitoes materialized out of the nearby swamp.  I burrowed under some trees to escape the drizzle and settled in to wait.

Two of my employees were on a hunt to find me, GPS coordinates in hand.  A few miles away, W. also waited to be found by another group toting a map and compass.  We do this exercise because they have to be able to navigate into fires, and more importantly, find their way back out. "I started a warming fire," W. texted.  Supremely unprepared, I had no food, water, or matches.  Actually, I didn't have anything except a two-way radio and my phone.  "I'm getting a bear feeling," I texted back.

I can't explain the bear feeling.  I don't get it often, but when I do, a bear usually shows up.  A few summers ago, I decided to backpack a solo 26 mile loop in a wilderness area.  As I hiked along, I started to feel uneasy.  There's bears around here, I thought.  But despite some very fresh bear sign, I didn't see an actual bear.  After 18 miles I was ready to camp.  I set up my tent near a lake and haphazardly hung my food from a tree.  The sun was setting.  It was time to relax.  That is, until I glanced up and saw an enormous (well, kind of big) bear on the hillside above the lake.

I engaged in a heated inner dialogue.  Oh no, there's a BEAR.  Is it a grizzly? I can't tell from here. What should I do? There's nobody else camped here.  Oh look, the last people left some tinfoil in the fire ring.  Great, probably smells like food.  It's getting dark, I don't want to hike out now.  I guess I have to stay here.  Better re-hang the food. Arrrrrgh.  Amazingly, I was able to sleep pretty well.

Now I burrowed deeper into the trees as it began to rain steadily.  I started to read a book on my kindle app.  Absorbed in Amanda Knox's troubles, I looked up distractedly to see a large black shape moving toward me.  Why is someone's dog out here, I wondered. OH. A BEAR.  It saw me and stopped, gazing as if deciding what to do.

"There's a bear here," I said on the radio for some reason, maybe so someone could identify my cause of death.  I heard some yells in the distance.  My employees were floundering through the swamp.  The bear looked confused, then turned and ran off.

And that's really the deal with bears.  Most of the time they don't want anything to do with us.  However, I'll trust my "bear feeling" even more now.  To the five people who actually read this: do you have any warning feelings like this? For example, "emotionally unavailable bad boyfriend material alert" or "backstabbing co-worker in area/stop talking now!" Now those would be handy.

Nobody wants to see this.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

on the road

Work road trips can be awful.  You can be stuffed into an uncomfortable vehicle with people you might not like, who may or may not be infected with a miserable cold.  You might have to suffer through hours of unfortunate music.  You might get lost and have a fight about the map.  But usually they're not like that.

We piled into the ubiquitous hybrid before 5 am on a Thursday, headed spontaneously to a structure wrapping class several hours away.  The company was good.  The road was empty.  The mountains were still full of snow.

The class was a review, but it was still a good day.

Wrapping a historic cookhouse
Wrapped log ends
And there was even a bear trap there!

For some reason, I like to take pictures with bear traps.
This is my bear impression:

I know, scary!


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

wrapping it up

US Forest Service photo
This is a fire lookout building.  These people are wrapping it in fire retardant material to hopefully save it from the path of a fire.

I've wrapped several buildings (and one airplane with wooden wings). You crawl all over them with sheets of what is essentially heavy duty aluminum foil, and a staple gun. There are thousands of staples involved, so many that sometimes you haul a large magnet around afterwards to pick them up. It's tedious, but it's not hard.

Eventually, though,  there is a class for everything, and tomorrow I'm taking one in Structure Wrapping and Fall Protection.  We'll learn how to properly wrap these buildings and, hopefully, not fall while we are doing it.

National Park Service photo
I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

burn window

Sometimes in the spring or the fall, there is a brief time where the forest is dry, but not too dry.  Where there are enough people around, in case something goes wrong.  And where the air is clear enough and the winds blow true from the right direction.

In prescribed burning, we call this a "window."  Some years it never happens.  There's too much rain, or not enough; the air quality is too poor to add smoke to it; there is too much green grass already.  Sometimes the window is only open for a few hours.  We have to be ready.

We pile into trucks and fire engines and drive as close as we can.  We fill drip torches with a mixture of gasoline and diesel.  Someone records the temperature, humidity, and wind.  We light a small fire in a corner.  This is a test; if it goes well we burn.  If not we wait, or go away.  Usually we burn.

On Tuesday we burned.  It was a good day.

Test fire

Midway through the burn

Snow and smoke

One of the engines surveys a burn unit

Sunday, May 5, 2013

the tyranny of pullups

If there's a quintessential firefighter exercise, it's the pullup, or its cousin, the chinup.

The Rock is strong, but he should be doing these from a full extension.
Some people say they are easy.  Those people are annoying.

Hmm.  If you want to see her do this, go to here.
I was once able to do seven of them in a row.  This was when I had a job where we were regularly tested, not only on pullups but also situps, pushups, and a timed mile and a half run.  Situps were no problem.  I'm a female:  we start doing them at about age 12.  I would regularly do 40 pushups while I was standing outside the helicopter, waiting for it to spool down.  And I usually left a lot of guys in the dust during the run.  But pullups were a different story.  I grimly trained until I could do them, motivated by the prospect of "remedial PT", which was conducted during our (unpaid) lunch hour (was this even legal?)

It's been awhile since I've done seven pullups.  For so long this simple exercise hung over my head.  I obsessed about it when I would go on fire assignments for two weeks, sure that I would lose at least one or two repetitions.  Test days filled me with anxiety, as I imagined myself flailing, unable to do even one pullup.

Every once in awhile, I approach my pullup bar and attempt to do a few.  But if I can't do many, I forgive myself.  This is hard, because I tend to obsess about exercise (okay, about pretty much everything).  But after all, while I won't be doing 20 pullups anytime soon, there are a lot of things I can do.

I could do a few back then (Pullups and/or chinups. This is a chinup).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

in other news, we have a ghost.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I'm on the fence.  On one hand, I've never seen actual evidence.  On the other, there are certainly things out there that seem unexplainable.

The closest I've come to dealing with a ghost was when I worked here:

This is the Badger Hole, the former cabin of cowboy poet Charles Badger Clark.  He lived here for about 30 years.  When I worked in Custer State Park, I would be stationed here once a week to greet visitors and show them around.  Everything is in the cabin the way he left it when he died in 1957.

Everyone who worked at this cabin thought that Badger lingered around.  Floorboards would creak and silverware would rattle in the drawers.  We just felt a presence there.

We weren't scared, though.  Badger loved his cabin in the Black Hills.  We felt he was just hanging around in his favorite place.

Lately, a couple of strange things have happened around this helibase. A book jumped off a shelf. Yes, jumped (I saw it).  And a bottle of saline fell out of the eyewash station for no reason at all.

Should we call in the cast of Ghost Adventures?

However, we are not an easily scared bunch.  We already deal with frightening things like cranky pilots, mystery MRE entrees, and bears lurking on our running routes.  In fact, we are still short a temporary employee.  Maybe we can put the ghost to work.