Winter break has started and despite the stack of grading I have yet to finish, I find myself compelled to stacks of another sort, mainly the outre pillars of books spilling off of our bookcases and onto the floor. ( I joke that when asked to identify my decorating style I claim “electic bibliophile” as the answer). Last summer, spurred by excellent reviews sent my way by Powell’s Books (my mothership), I requested “Fire Season” by Philip Connors from our local library; I had to wait three months for it. When it came I didn’t have time to read it (an erstwhile peril of the book-request process: the time elapsed between the driving interest that leads you to request a book from the library and the arrival of the book often results in life interfering with the best-laid literary plans). I finally scrounged up the time to read the book (where “scrounged” = “stole from professional and personal responsibilities”) and have spent the past few nights disappearing into a fire lookout tower in New Mexico. Transfixed.
The book is lovely, lyrical, true. The author, a once-editor of the Wall Street Journal, takes us along on a season of being a fire lookout in one of the few remaining Forest Service towers. One would be satisfied with a recollection of a season in the tower, but that is not what one receives when reading Connor’s memoir and exploration of what it means to be at the top of a peak in the Gila national wilderness area. One learns about fire, its history and use as a forest management tool; about solitude and loneliness; about hiking and living in the backwoods; about hummingbirds and bears; about what happens when a fawn and a kind person cross paths (and it isn’t as sweet as you might think); about marriage and fortitude; about pack mules and helicopters and two-way radios and bartending. The book is about a fire season, but it is more about being human, as all great books are. And it moves one to be a better thinker, a more open spirit, more appreciative of the hustle and grind of life and what can happen when we wean ourselves of it for a spell, for a season.
Like all literature, it has a pleasant plot, but dig deeper and there’s a theme. Both of these are lovely in this book. Enjoy.