Thursday, July 29, 2021

Programming interruption

 The hiking and kayaking and general enjoyment of life have been temporarily postponed. I'm helping out with a fire at my former forest. My former employee asked me to help, and I couldn't say no. Fun trips don't pay for themselves, so the additional money will help. 

This is a bad fire year in a lot of places. Please be careful with fire, and spare a kind thought for the firefighters who are working hard to keep you and your property safe!

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The (volunteer) lookout diaries: Canadian border edition

 I sat in the fire lookout, watching lightning strike mountains to the north. None of it was in my response area though. It was all up in Canada, the forbidden land just three miles away. The trees on both sides of the border swath look the same, and they burn the same, but if I saw a fire start over there, it would be up to the Canadians to respond.

I was filling in for the regular lookout, but as a volunteer: he had asked fire managers if they could pay me, but they didn't want to deal with it. I'm not a very good volunteer, or maybe I'm too good: I couldn't let go of the employee mentality. My only responsibilities were to call in the weather once a day and check in at the end of shift. I couldn't make myself loaf around though. I carried a radio with me everywhere I went, just in case. The helispot was displeasing to me, so I took an axe and cut down the little trees that could be tail rotor grabbers. I even packed 5 gallons of water up the steep trail from the creek a mile and a half below. 

The days were hot, and storms brewed over the park and the border almost every night. I looked for fires, but there weren't any. I lifted rocks for weights. Seeing an intriguing meadow down below, I hiked to it, and named it Magic Meadow. I read a lot of books.

Several hikers appeared. Most were hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail; they were delightful, with a love for trail life. A group of friends burst from the trees; they had planned to surprise me with treats. I shared the fruit with the thru-hikers. "Trail magic!" they exclaimed.

I had mixed feelings as I hiked down to return to civilization. I miss getting paid to fill in, like I used to, especially since I was paying my cat sitter. But I can't turn down a lookout stay; they are my favorite places. If I'm needed, I'll do it again.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Imposter Retiree

 I struggled most of my career with "imposter syndrome." Although objectively I had all the skills, knowledge, and ability to do my job, which was often difficult, I had a lot of self doubt. What was I doing here, I often thought. Surely I'll be outed as someone who doesn't know what she's doing! (Note: this is obviously silly, with all my experience, but who knows why the mind works the way it does).

Now I'm finding I have imposter retiree syndrome! It's been six months since I retired, but it still doesn't feel real. It feels like I'm on an extended furlough, and soon will have to go back. The phone will ring, and HR will say sorry, there was a mistake on your paperwork. Sometimes I start driving east, and zone out and think I need to turn into the office. I'm a little too interested in my former workplace's drama, as if for some reason I might need to deal with it.

I suspect this is normal, this feeling that I'm kind of getting away with something. Yesterday, as I floated in my kayak, a helicopter flew over, probably bound for a fire. Mixed with thoughts of missing out was a sense of relief. I put my time in, with all the associated hardships and hazards, and now I don't have to do those things anymore, unless I want to. 

Imposter retiree syndrome isn't a bad thing. I'm grateful for these days and hope to never take them for granted. They are deserved, but they are also a privilege. Not everyone makes it here. I won't forget that.


Friday, July 2, 2021


 Lately it's been pretty hot outside. People in northern climates aren't really used to prolonged stretches of 100 degrees. Cue the complaining on Facebook. People are posting pictures of snow and saying that they wish it was winter, that they wanted to be skiing again. Of course, when winter does arrive and it's below zero, they'll be saying they can't wait for summer.

Recently, a lovely young woman named Lindsay, a local wildland firefighter during the summers, had a freak accident while kayaking. Her parents sadly removed her life support and she slipped away. One of the West Yellowstone smokejumpers died after a hard landing. Four people from a helicopter company I often work with perished in a horrific crash. Several young people in my town have chosen suicide. I'm sure the ones who loved them wanted more days with them, whether those days were scorching or freezing.

Let's not wish time away. It goes by so fast as it is. Soon these summer days will be only a memory.