Monday, October 27, 2014

The flight of the minions

It's an event that happens every autumn without fail.  The fall rains are the first hint that it is about to occur, combined with widespread restlessness and then, finally, the departure of our contract helicopter.  Then, much like a flock of migrating birds, it is time for the minions to depart.

They all go, even the ones who say they want to keep working.  This desire fizzles out as the days get colder and the work gets more monotonous.  I can't blame them, really:  when I was in their shoes I wanted to leave too, to get to the next part of my life.

Now I'm the only one left, except for D., who has managed to stay out on assignment in California for the last month.  I turn the heat up.  I don't have to forego a shower after running because there are nine other people who want to use the one bathroom.  There are no time sheets, no putting my employees before myself, no questions.  Even though I really like my crew, it is peaceful.

Some, like B., have gotten other jobs.  The other B. got married and nobody sees much of him.  IH fled a month ago to a raft trip in Peru.  J. went back to sunny California, but he likes it here and may be back someday.  M. and J. got real jobs, which is what we call any job that isn't firefighting.  MB is in nursing school.  C. has not resurfaced in awhile, but whatever he is doing probably involves coffee and a skateboard.

Some of them will be back and others won't.  Sometimes the ones who return seem the least likely to at the end of the season.  As for the ones who don't, who move on to hotshot crews or smokejumping or real jobs, our paths will probably cross at some point in the future.  Then we will reminisce about Hay Creek and hanging out with Alex and sitting in the grass at Ferndale with food from Woody's.  Even if they never fight fire again, they were once part of the fire brother and sisterhood for a little while.  It's something you never forget.

This is what it looks like around here right now

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


This all happened in less than 2 weeks:

First, a gorgeous summer-like day (and an 11 mile hike with friends):

Then it was winter all of a sudden (and an 8 mile hike in the snow with the same adventurous friends):

 and a few days later, back to summer (and a short hike by myself):
I once lived in Hawaii for a short time.  I loved living there because hello, Hawaii?  But I missed the uncertainty of the mountains.  You never really know what you are getting into.  The forecast could call for sun, and yet it snows at the top of a peak.  Sunny, warm days are precious and people here make sure they are out kayaking, hiking, climbing; the gym is deserted on those kind of days.

I do wish winter were shorter (sorry, skiers and snowmobilers).  But it's all part of mountain living.  I've lived in 15 states, and I'll pick the mountains every time.

Why do (or don't) you like where you live? 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What kind of house are you?

If I were a house instead of a person,  I would be a log cabin, kind of on the small side, not exactly new but with a few good years still left.  I'd be a little weathered on the outside but obviously cared for, with a few things that needed fixing but still structurally sound.  Inside I'd have a woodstove giving off heat like a big heart but you'd have to go inside to find it which means you'd have to have the key, which not very many people have gotten.  I'd be tucked up in the mountains next to water with a nice view, by myself but not too far from other houses, not too long of a walk if a person got lonely.  I'd have big windows to look out at the world and to see who was coming up the path, and a cat or two, maybe even a dog.  I might be up a long crooked road, but if you took the time to come up, you'd want to stay. 

What about you?  What kind of house are you? 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why I don't have a bucket list

  • I don't like to plan.  I don't know what I'm doing tomorrow, how can I plan for something that might be years away? I didn't plan to be a firefighter, and 27 years later I'm still fighting fire.
Me on a hotshot crew

  • What if you change your mind? As in, "hey, running with the bulls would be fun!" (Don't worry, mom, this sentence has never crossed my lips).  Then, older and wiser, you realize it might be sort of dumb, and you don't want to do it anymore.  Can you actually cross things off a bucket list? That seems kind of wrong, so much so that one day you might find yourself sprinting along in Pamplona, thinking, darn that bucket list! What was I thinking! But now I HAVE TO!

  • I don't always know I want to do something in advance.  Last November I was scouring the internet, thinking, I've got to get out of here, where can I go? when I saw a friend's pictures of Antarctica.  Oh ok, I'll go there, I decided, and left a month later.  While climbing a mountain in Antarctica, I realized I had been climbing on every continent except one (Europe).  Hmmm, that would be kind of cool to climb on all seven continents, I thought while waiting for the person on the rope ahead of me to negotiate a crevasse. OK, I'll do that then. Iceland, here I come!
Climbing in Antarctica
  • I've already done a lot of stuff.  Skydiving? Did it.  Climb Kilimanjaro?  That too.  Fly in a helicopter?  All the time.  See the Big Five in Africa? Yep.  Of course there's still things I want to do, but usually I figure them out at the last minute.

Here's what I think about bucket lists.  Have one, if you like lists, or if you need one to plan ahead.  But life is uncertain.  If you want to do something, do it!  Unless it involves another person who isn't in the picture/isn't ready/isn't born yet, tons of logistics, or millions of dollars, your dreams are closer than you think.

What do you think? Do you have a bucket list? If so, what's on it?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

the middle ages

George, our pilot a few years ago, was frequently amused by us, but never more so than when he heard a (very young) temporary employee refer to our rappel spotter as "middle aged".  S., who had just turned 30, was a little perturbed by her new status.

While she was clearly not middle aged, it gave George the opportunity to expound on one of his favorite subjects:  what is middle age?

To him, chronological age had very little to do with it.  He explained that a certain 25 year old could be middle aged but not another 70 year old.  It all had to do with interest in life, curiosity about the world and other people, and having something you were passionate about.  If you were in a rut and had basically given up, that to George was being middle aged.

In his 60s, George loved to tinker with mountain bikes and travel.  He talked about quitting flying and opening up a bike repair shop.  He hadn't given up on anything.

It's been awhile, but he hasn't forgotten our conversation.  He occasionally emails me with helpful links to things like a sale on hydration packs, because, he says  "it's important for middle aged folks to stay hydrated."  This makes me laugh but it also makes me think, am I acting middle aged as defined by George?  Is it time to take a spontaneous trip or do something different?

Bike on George, and may you never be "middle aged", at least not in spirit.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Why you should travel by yourself at least once

Occasionally when traveling, by which I might mean a lot, my travel companion (i.e. the ex husband) and I didn't see eye to eye, and we would disagree (some might say FIGHT).  I thought of our travel experiences as amazing journeys punctuated by the occasional tantrum and underlaid with anxiety.  Then I started (note the "ex" above) traveling by myself.

What a difference!  I'm not suggesting you travel by yourself all of the time, but if you're like me, and your potential journey companions can't afford it/don't have time/have kids/don't want to do the same stuff, go anyway! (Insert cautionary note here:  of course, be sensible where you are planning on going.  Europe would work, anyplace with Ebola, probably not).  Here's why:

1.  You don't have anyone to vent to.  At first this might seem like a bad thing, but it's not.  If there's nobody around to complain to about 2 hour immigration lines, annoying people, or pushy taxi drivers, you just deal with it.  You might actually feel sort of Zen about the whole thing.

2.  You get to do what YOU want.  Want to climb mountains instead of sitting on a beach?  Tired of trying to fit in a run around your partner's sleep schedule?  Want to keep going on the trail instead of turning back?  You can, and all without guilt.

3.  You're a lot more approachable.  Couples, or even friends traveling together, tend to want to hike together, tie in on the same rope, and do the same things.  They're harder to get to know, even on the trips I've taken where I've met up with a group to climb a peak or hike a trail.  I tend to drift between the other loners, hiking a few miles with each one, and finding out about them.  As someone traveling alone, I'm also approached often by locals who start firing away in their language, not seeing me as American (which these days might be a good thing).

4.  You don't have to worry if someone else is having a good time.  The afore-mentioned ex husband would have been perfectly happy lounging on a tropical beach instead of teetering on the edge of death on the side of a mountain, where we often ended up.  I didn't realize how stressful it was worrying about someone else's happiness until I traveled alone.

5.  People back home think you're cool.  Kind of weird, but cool.  "You went to Antarctica/Nepal/Patagonia by yourself?" they ask, intrigued.  "I couldn't ever do that!"  Here's where you get to smile smugly while maintaining a mysterious air.  "Yes," you say, "I did, and it was great!"