Saturday, October 28, 2017


National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.
Please talk to somebody.
 You're not alone.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Still at it

The day the helicopter flies away is sort of bittersweet.  On one hand, it means the season is pretty much over, and there's time to relax, wander a little farther from the base, and stop wearing fire pants every day.  Still, I'm always kind of sad, because we like our pilots and mechanics, and because our reason for being a helicopter crew just left.

Two minions and I sat in the office trailer, doing tedious paperwork.  We noticed the wind picking up (it's hard not to when your office is a singlewide trailer).  Chatter on the radio ensued.  Trees were falling all over the valley, downing powerlines.  Several small fires broke out from the sparks and from misguided private debris burns.  One quickly expanded to 40 acres.

We gathered our gear and went to help.  This time of year, fires aren't as stubborn; with shorter days, cooler nights, and recent rainfall, it was easy to extinguish stray embers.  An ATV with a water tank arrived to help, so we made short work of it, eyeing the trees as 40 mile an hour winds buffeted them. Two large green firs cracked loudly and crashed to the ground nearby. Not wanting to be underneath the next one, we grabbed our tools and got to stepping.

Today it's raining, and snow levels are expected to fall.  That's what firefighting is like in the mountains.  One day you're chasing fire, and the next day you're hiding from the storm.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Visiting my spirit animal

The road through the park is closed, partly for the fire but also for construction.  Winter would soon close it anyway.  I drive it, to check on the fire and to make sure a helicopter landing site is clear. 

It's strange, being on this road with nobody on it.  The construction crews don't work on weekends, and the fire crews are working on unwrapping structures, so no vehicles pass.  In the summers, it can take hours to drive the entire road, and parking spaces at the visitor center at the summit sometimes fill by 8:30 am.  Now it is deserted and filled with yellow aspen leaves.
 I imagine that the wildlife is breathing a sigh of relief to have the park back. Two black bears, a sow and cub, stand in the road.  They move unconcernedly into the brush, where the cub climbs a tree and retrieves a small carcass, a marmot perhaps, leaving me to wonder how it got there: did they stash it? did an eagle drop it? They eat, their teeth loudly breaking bones. 

Further along, mountain goats cling to the cliffs.  A young one jumps around, not bothered by the falling snow.  Their white fur is long and thick for winter. 

A lot of people would think that if I could be an animal, I would be a cat.  There's a lot of truth to this; I've been called "curious kitty" more than once.  But as much as I love cats, the mountain goat would be my choice.  I want to climb to the peaks and the high lonely meadows where they live, and scramble fearlessly on granite cliffs.  I know they don't think as we do, but I like to imagine they see the beauty all around them.

Snow falls and I retreat lower, down to the fire still smoking in the rain.  High above, the bears and goats move through the late afternoon, waiting for the silence of winter.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Snap (or Slap) tember has drawn to a close, and Octoverit has begun! 

Even if you didn't have a calendar, there are ways you would know this month is finally here:

The minions start to flee, even if there is work available.  One is in school, a series of rabies shots behind him and a resolve to avoid all skunks in the future newly adopted.  The others are busy making plans that don't include digging hose and pumps out of the snow on the local fire.

 The end of season sniffles have made an appearance.  The person who first appeared stricken is widely referred to as "patient zero" and "carrier monkey," but close quarters take their toll, and eventually everyone falls victim. 

Things start to fall apart.  D. fixes his torn pants with duct tape, hoping to make it through another couple weeks.  The plumbing at the base fails, leaving us without running water and bathrooms, relegating everyone to porta potties.  The codes we are supposed to charge our time to don't work.  People's computers won't connect to the internet.  It's as if the universe is telling us fire season should be over.

Surliness resurges.  "We're living in squalor!" I've been known to yell, prompting a frenzied bout of cleaning.  "This is why we can't have nice things," a minion sighs after something breaks.  We engage in armchair speculation while listening to radio transmissions:  what is that crew DOING? what are they THINKING?

Weather forecasts vary widely. It's going to rain! No, it's going to snow 3 inches! Wait, no, it's going to be 60 and sunny.  We don't trust any of it.  This time of year, it could go either way.  If you don't bring a puffy jacket, a raincoat, and running shorts to work, you must be a rookie.

"Octoverit," we mutter, walking to morning briefing in the dark.  But the snowline creeps lower on the mountains ever day, and we know it'll be done soon.  And even if we want it to end, when we are deep into winter, we will sort of miss it.