Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review: Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout

On the surface, it seems like Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout would be a tricky book to author. After all, how much can you write about sitting in a tower, staring at the landscape and waiting for a puff of smoke to appear. It turns out, if you're Philip Connors, there's a lot to say and most of it is quite fascinating.

First off, in this age technical wonder that we live in, who knew that Fire Lookout would even still be a job? It is. And Connors takes us through the full range of experiences that a lookout goes through: from the awe inspiring views, to the adrenaline rush of discovering a live 'smoke', to the often unappreciated power of solitude, to the terror that accompanies experiencing a full on lighting storm in a glass and metal box. And yes, he even also covers at times soul-crushing tedium that comes with the job. It's a true testament to Connors' writing skills that I found this book to be a real page turner (or, whatever the equivalent is for an audio book).

We are also treated to a healthy dose of history with book, covering both the creation of National Forests as well as how wild ires have been treated throughout our country's history.

We are truly fortunate that we had individuals with enough courage and foresight to demand that we block off parts of our country to 'progress.' At the time, this must have been an absolutely absurd notion. And yet, now we're truly blessed to have these green spaces.

As for the history of wildfire management, that's fascinating as well. Once I started reading this book, I polled a few individuals, ranging from adults down to middle schoolers about what they know about wildfires. They all reported back to me what I had know before reading this book: fire is healthy. While a wildfire may appear to decimate the landscape, often it's just the opposite, serving to keep the landscape healthy. Connors only reinforced this understanding and added another important dimension: every time you keep a fire from burning, you leave more fuel in place for the next fire. Do this long enough, and you've got the makings of a fire that is far more dangerous and traumatic to the landscape than need be.

What I found so surprising, is that for decades, the exact opposite of these principles were observed. Fire was treated as the enemy, and every means necessary was brought to bear to put it out. It's hard to believe that such a wrong headed idea could be believed by so many, yet those in charge just couldn't imagine a world where fire was doing anything other than destroying precious resources.

I found Fire Season to be my kind of book: educational, inspiring, eye-opening and just a fun read. I'd definitely recommend it.

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