Sunday, December 29, 2013

the things you find when you're sort of looking

Inventory.  It's a word that can strike fear into the heart of any firefighter.  Inventory is a necessary, but mind numbing, evil.  We inventory everything: equipment on vehicles, tools, all our gear.  In fact, you can't call yourself a firefighter until you've spent tedious hours counting bandaids in first aid kits and separating fire pants in piles of small, medium, large and extra large.  We inventory at the beginning of the season, before preparedness reviews, at the end of the season, and whenever I start to hear statements like "I can't find..," "I thought we had 5 blivets on here...," and, "We're out of ...!" Nobody really likes to do inventory, but occasionally we find something....interesting.

One day Logan, an EMT, rummaged through the search and rescue cabinet on a rainy day. "What's this?" he mumbled, emerging with a small carton.  It was an emergency survival kit from the 1970s.  "This chocolate is older than me," Logan declared, fearlessly trying it.  There was something else in there I recognized:

I'm not sure about the "balanced nutrition" part.
"Space food sticks!" I yelled, remembering them from  childhood camping trips..  A precursor to energy bars, they were eaten by astronauts on space missions and then marketed to the public.  The crew looked at me blankly, too young to remember.  "Those are really weird," one muttered.

Another crew sorted through a pile of tents, deciding to set them up to see which ones were missing poles or had broken zippers.  One tent looked strange, tall and skinny.  We circled it.  Then it dawned on me.
You can find it here if you want to buy it. Only $12.50!
"It's a TOILET TENT," I exclaimed.  Why did we have this item in the fire cache, when the woods all around you on fires works great for that purpose?  It remains a mystery, unless it was from one of those wilderness fires we all dread...not because of the fire, but because you are not allowed to use the woods, resulting in your friendly helitack crew dealing with the results as they are flown out by helicopter in buckets.

Then there's these orange flight suits and coveralls we found:

This picture looks stretched on this computer. We are really not this large.
This pĂ­cture looks stretched on this computer.  We are not really this large.

But by far the most disturbing item I ever found while doing inventory (even worse than the nest of baby mice) lurked innocently in a pile of sleeping bags.  Opening the fire cache in the spring, I sighed, seeing that the last crew to return from an assignment the previous fall had just thrown their dirty bags into the cache, expecting someone else to wash them.  Being that someone else, I started going through them. Something was stuffed into the toe of one of them.  I fished it out, and discovered I was holding a 6 month old, fossilized roast beef sandwich.

WHO DOES THIS?  "Oh, I'm not hungry right now, I think I'll save this sandwich for later.  My sleeping bag, I think that's a good place to put it."

What about you? Have you ever found anything strange at work?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve Walk

My friend B. was in town so we took her two fluffy dogs for a walk on a snowy trail.

Nobody was at the snowy trailhead except a lone Canadian car.

I was planning to run today, but this was better.

View from the overlook about 1.5 miles along the trail.  The sun was out for once!

Happy dog loving the snow.

The other dog needed a photo op as well.

B. walks by the cliffs.  The trail comes to a high point and then contours downhill.  We hiked about 5 miles.

It's a winter wonderland!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

running for life

I'm not a running blogger, for a couple of reasons: there are plenty of them out there, and because I've been running for so long (longer than some of the running bloggers have been alive).  I don't have a lot to say about it; it's just something I do.

Most firefighters run, because it's the quickest and easiest way to obtain and maintain endurance.  It's cheap too.  At my base we don't have a gym, unless we go over to the hotshots and use theirs.  We can't afford to buy weights, and we have trails out the back door, mostly old, abandoned roads and dirt bike tracks.  So we run.

But I didn't start running for work.  I started when I was 14.  My dad ran, the only one in the neighborhood, back when it was called jogging.  "There goes the jogger," the neighbors would say.  My sister and I made it 1/4 mile down the block on our first run without stopping.  Later, we would circle the neighborhood with our friend Laura on summer nights, sometimes stopping to walk up hills, talking about boys.

It was the start of a running boom.  There were races every weekend in the summertime.  I started to win some of them.  The same people showed up at the starting line; we all knew each other.  I sported the first pair of running tights in town, having to get them specially made by a seamstress.  "Your legs are blue!" people said, not knowing what to make of them.  I was recruited by the local university cross country coach; we ran for hours on the lakeside trails and sand hills.

For years, all I did was run.  Other sports seemed somehow inferior.  I was so obsessed that I would run on treacherous ice, in snowstorms, and once during a tornado watch.  I had a rigid schedule: run 10 miles today, no excuses!  I planned my day around running, and would get anxious if anything might interfere with it.  It stopped being fun a lot of the time. 

Then I moved west and started working in national parks.  Some of my coworkers ran, but they also hiked, rode bikes, and climbed mountains.  Going along, I had sore muscles afterward.  I realized that I couldn't do a pullup, or very many pushups either.  My knees made crackling noises when I knelt down, and sometimes hurt from overuse.  I was fit for running, but that was about it.

I started giving myself permission not to run every day.  Instead, I went for hikes, snowshoed, rock climbed, cross country skied.  I lifted weights.  I gained new muscle.  I had two knee surgeries that weren't running related; I had to stop running for 6 months.  I had to redefine myself.  I had put so much emphasis on my identity as a runner.  What else was I?

I bought a kayak, and learned (sort of, it's debatable) to snowboard.  I run now about two or three days a week.  I almost exclusively run on trails.  Most of the time I guess how far it is.  I don't wear any gadgets except a running watch, and sometimes I forget to take it.  I don't have any knee pain; in fact I've never had a significant running injury.

Some people can run at a high level for a long time.  At one point, at the height of my obsession, I thought I would too.  I'm grateful for the race years because they helped me realize that I was an athlete instead of a skinny girl who was afraid of everything.  But I want to do other things.  And I want to be able to run for the rest of my life.

Climbing in Nepal for 3 weeks, I didn't even take running shoes.  When I got back, I put them on and went for a run.  Fit from weeks of trekking at high altitude, my body settled into the rhythm of running.  There were no stopwatches, and the trail was icy, but it was like seeing an old friend, one you know will be there for life.  Hello again, I thought. I knew you'd be here, waiting for me.  And I ran on.

Monday, December 16, 2013

more things need warning labels and expiration dates

This bear spray expired 11 years ago.  Want to test it out?
In the wildland firefighting world we are constantly checking our gear and equipment because we rely on it for our survival.  We are always inventorying and looking at even the little things.  Statements like this can often be heard throughout our hangar:

"The eyewash is expired! We need to buy more, or somebody needs to have an eye injury and use it. Haha, just kidding."

"This bottled water expired in 2010! Can water really expire?"

"This bear spray has an expiration date of 2002!  Think it's still good?"

"YOU GUYS.  Please clean out the fridge!  There's milk in here from three months ago!"

It occurred to me that it would be great if there were more expiration dates in other aspects of life.  For example:

Bad Moods.  If you knew when grumpiness and general irritability would end, both in yourself and others, life would be easier.  Upon seeing someone in a bad mood, you could practice see and avoid techniques, as in, "Oh look, it says here that my sister's bad mood will be over at 8:00 Monday evening, but if I want to accelerate the process, give her some chocolate."  For yourself, you could take a *cough* sick day *cough* until the expiration date passed.

Jobs.  Everyone's had one of those...the job where you stayed just a little too long.  (Hi, current boss, not this one!)  Job offers should come with this information:  "Hello, corporate slave, welcome to your new position. Just so you know, your excitement and enthusiasm for this position will expire on April 27, 2017.  Please plan ahead and avoid major purchases around this date.  Continuing in this position until the sweet embrace of death is possible, however, increased annoyance and intolerance will occur."

Boyfriends.  If only that person came with a label, such as, "Warning! This boyfriend expires in May, 2011.  Symptoms of declining performance in this boyfriend include: phone call avoidance, extreme backpedaling, and increased interest in other women.  Proceed at your own risk, however, there are no warranties, implied or otherwise."  Of course, there are those who are shelf-stable, need no refrigeration, and are good for life!  This kind needs no warning label and never expires.

That workout funk.  Anyone who has exercised regularly for awhile knows this one.  For some reason, a 3 mile run seems like torture; you get surly just thinking about the gym.  Wouldn't it be nice to know when this would be over?  For example:  "This workout funk will last two days.  Go for a walk instead."  Then you could check your calendar: "Oh, the funk is over! Time to go run the Hill of Doom! This is going to be great!"

Weight fluctuations.  You know when you feel like you are eating well and exercising but for some reason your weight is up?  Well, here's where a nice warning label would come in handy: "Hi there.  The universe is going to mess with your weight for four days, just cause it's fun and because a butterfly in Asia flapped its wings somewhere.  Don't weigh yourself! I said, don't weigh yourself!  Stop!" Wouldn't it be a relief not to CSI your food journal to find out which gram of sodium or gluten particle caused this and instead just relax a little?

What do you think? What else could use an expiration date or warning label?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

in praise of ranch kids

Picture from here
I think I've mentioned this before, but it's on my mind again, since I went to a meeting today about seasonal hiring.  I firmly believe that, at least for the jobs I hire for, your best bet is a former ranch (or farm) kid.  Here's why.

1.  Ranch kids are used to getting up early.  On fires, we often have to be at morning briefings at 5 am.  The ranch kids are always on time, and don't complain about how early it is.

2.  They are used to doing all kinds of dirty, difficult jobs.  Did they take care of animals, fix fence, deal with cows?  This means they'll happily fight fire, clear trails, and work on vehicles. 

3.  They're used to getting paid little, if at all.  Some of these guys and gals grew up doing work around the ranch because they were part of the family, not for money.  Later in life they're grateful for the opportunity to work hard and make money doing it.  I've never met a ranch kid who felt entitled or wanted to know what I could do for him, rather than the other way around.

4.  They're fit.  Lots of hard physical work in the outdoors will do that for you.

5.  Bad weather doesn't faze them.  Have you BEEN to a ranch in eastern Montana?  Pretty harsh weather, people!

6.  They're self sufficient.  A. grew up on a ranch near the Canadian border; the closest town has 300 residents.  Obviously, he had no problem working alone.  He was always happy to see other people though!

5.  They're usually cheerful.  I'm sure there's some grumpy farm boys and girls out there, but I have yet to meet them!  One of my favorite ranch kids, "Danimal", always had a smile on his face, even when dodging bears (his other nickname was "Bear Bait").

Any ranch/farm kids out there?  Tell me what other positive traits I've missed!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

six months till fire season

About this time of year, it's hard to believe that in just a few short months we will be seeing this again (at least in some parts of the country):

It is currently -1 F, with colder temperatures on the way.  Despising the treadmill, I run outside.  Despite the temperature, there are other people on the trails.  People in Montana are tough.

Winter runner, or burglar?

It's a winter wonderland at the top of the ski area.  There's so much snow that all the runs will be open in a couple days.

For firefighters, it's a time to relax.  Take vacation days.  Travel.  Appreciate a forest for what it is, instead of watching for smoke.  Because in just a few short months, it will all begin again.