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Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout    by Philip Connors order for
Fire Season
by Philip Connors
Order:  USA  Can
Ecco, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Philip Connors walked away from his job in New York City working as an editor for the Wall Street Journal over a decade ago to accept a summer job as a fire lookout in an isolated part of New Mexico's Gila National Forest.

In Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout, Connors writes eloquently about his unusual job and the mythic landscape he surveys.

During a five month period, Connors parks his vehicle on a remote forest road and he and his dog trek over five miles through the wilderness to his mountain top residence. The cabin, nestled in the clearing below the 55 foot observation tower in which he sits each day, will be Connors' home from roughly April to August. He'll stay there for ten days before allowed a four day break throughout the fire season.

'The entirety of my duties are four,' explains Connors. 'Report the weather each morning, answer the radio, relay messages when asked and call in smokes when they show.'

Although he is occasionally visited by hikers who stop to say hello as they traverse the area, the only regular guest Connors entertains in his small cabin atop 10,010 Apache Peak is his wife, who visits from time to time. Otherwise, Connors shares the solitude with his dog and the wildlife with whom he shares the backcountry.

As one would expect, this mountain memoir delves into the daily life of a wilderness lookout which is typified by days of little activity punctuated by short periods of frenzied action when fires break out. Usually caused by lightning, some are allowed to burn while others are actively attacked by aerial tankers and hotshot crews.

Along with sharing a detailed account of what his job entails, Connors delves into some of the history of how forest fires have been dealt with over the years and he shares his own musings on the nature of this unusual occupation.

'The life of a lookout is a blend of monotony, geometry, and poetry, with healthy dollops of frivolity and sloth,' he writes. 'It's a life that encourages thrift and self-sufficiency, intimacy with weather and wild creatures. We are paid to master the art of solitude, and we are about as free as working folk can be.'

Connors goes on to explain that among the attributes of a good lookout are extreme patience, one good arm to cut wood and two good legs to hike to remote posts and the ability to keep oneself amused. He also notes that tolerance for living in proximity to rodents and a touch of 'non-participatory pyromania' are also important qualities to look for in a potential lookout.

In the tradition of Jack Kerouac, Edward Abbey, Norman Mclean and Gary Snyder, men who also manned lookout towers during their lives, Philip Connors shares his experiences and mines this singular experience in this highly entertaining book.

The only downside to this book is that there were no maps or photos included to enhance the text. That would have been helpful.

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