Fire Spotter

I read an article about the inevitable demise and diminution Fire Lookouts, and watched one of my dreams go from unlikely to never-going-to-happen. I have a few daydreams like this one – that required my life to take a different path in order to ever happen. See also: being a Starbucks barista*.

High Rock Lookout from the access road

But the fire lookout was one of my favorite daydream jobs. I imagined getting out of school and being shiftless for a while and landing a job for a summer as a firespotter. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for old codgers, and some of my favorite old codger stories were from firespotters from the mid century. They’d talk about backpacking in all their supplies to their remote, mountain-top eeries. There’s quiet up there, and nothing you don’t bring in yourself on your own back over miles of so-so trail. The views are, by definition, amazing. Fire lookouts have the best views possible, the better to spot tell tale tracks of white or gray where none should belong. A lookout would develop an intimate and loving knowledge of that masterful view… which valleys held mist until midmorning, the way the clouds curled over the peaks and ran like a waterfall down the other side. The lookout would know topography of their charge in full-moonlit nights, and would experience true darkness when the faint lights of their own tower were off and the clouds cut off starlight.

A firespotter’s job would be to look out the window, intermixed with the great and healthy labors of keeping one’s self fed. I imagined a life of good exercise, quietness, mastery, importance. And of course, the novel, the journal, the poetry. With so much space and so much quietness, surely my pace would slow. Surely I would coax out those words, slow-crafted, home-brewed, that would make of me an author. Surely with the racing clouds as my muse and the high mountains as my foundation I could find the words to paint my beloved Northwest, my new Albion, as richly as those before me painted the fields of England, the moors of Scotland. The fir, Oregon grape and madrona would take their right place in my mythology next to the oak and the ash and the bonny ivy tree. I even had the spot picked out – I would man High Rock.

The last time I was at High Rock – 1998. That needs to change.

Sunny weekends would bring hiking visitors – a chance to catch up with people. I imagined evenings, with the long slow gloaming of high places keeping my mountain lit to the last, with the mercury notes of my silvered trumpet sliding down the hill and traveling for miles across my beloved countryside.

Of course, the summer would end, or the year would end, and I would return to the fast world of busy humanity renewed, written and sure of myself. Then I would build a life (much like the one I have now), only with that summer of solitude behind me.

Of course, that didn’t happen. I got a job before I graduated. I married two short months after I was handed my diploma. I have never been shiftless and footloose. And now they are closing the mountains to human eyes, counting on the more reliable satellites and planes and motorists with cell phones instead of the lonely mountain spotter. I haven’t been able to even so much as backpack in a National Park for years; the closest I ever got to that kind of solitude.

Would I trade my husband, my children, my career, my home and my life to be a fire spotter? Um, no. I’m quite sure my vision was lacking in a few key details. (I mean, I’m an extrovert. How many days before I went completely crazy?! Two?) The mid thirties are an age though where you start acknowledging some lives you will never lead, and that idyllic summer is one of them.


What about you? What adventures did you always wait for just the right moment in life to invite you to partake in? What daydreams have passed irretrievably from you? Would you have wanted to be a mountain fire-spotter?

*I’ve wanted to be a Starbucks barista since I was 16. I applied a few summers, but they weren’t hiring summer help. I haven’t totally given up on this, since perhaps after I’m done paying for college I can do any job I want regardless of pay and maybe Starbucks will still be around and I’ll still want to work for them, and I’ll do it by gum.

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