Tuesday, April 23, 2013

All along the Watchtower

I've seen lunar eclipses and desert sandstorms,and lightning that made my hair stand on end'

I've seen fires burn so hot,they made their own weather.

I've watched deer and elk frolic in the meadow below me,and pine trees explode in a blue ball of smoke.

If there's a better job in anywhere on the planet,I'd like to know what it is.

Phillip Connors: Fire Season.

'Fire Tower'...interesting!.. I'd been looking at the OS map of my backyard, looking for some new local walks where I could take the hound,and my eyes alighted on the above feature. In the state owned forests of the UK, fire towers- or forest look out points- are few and far between,unlike over in the States where remote Fire Towers are often manned-or even wo-manned- by firewatchers who are often on duty for up to six weeks at a time,at these isolated stations.

Some regarded literary figures have been employed as Fire Watchers at one time or another. Notably Jack Kerouac and Edward Abbey. Both authors recording their lives in the forest through works such as Kerouac's Dharma Bums.However, the best literary work I've ever read in this field was Phillip Connors fairly recent book Fire Season. It's a fascinating and well written work which details his decade in the wilderness atop a fire tower on a remote mountain above millions of acres of forest which stretched as far as the eye could see.

With the advent of satellite technology, Firewatching in the US is going the way of Lighthouse keeping over here. However, the biggest forests in the US are still employing fire watchers who often need pack horses and muleteers to ferry their provisions to the work stations which might be days away from a highway. Once they are there, they usually remain on the job for over a month. The work routine involving the daily ritual of climbing the tower to scan the horizon for tell tale wisps of distant smoke-usually started by lightning strike. At the end of their shift,they climb down and settle into their simple cabin abode which of course is inevitably without main services. But why don't you just read Fire Season to get the full romantic picture.

As for my Fire Tower. I set off to find it but any fire breaks had been taken over by the self seeded conifers which made the direction I was heading for impossible to reach. I'll try again perhaps later this week via another route. I have an image of a rusting tower, unseen and unused for decades ,reaching up into the sky supporting a viewing platform. Perhaps it's fallen down and all that remains is a twisted scattered hulk? There must be something there though?...Watch this space.

Fire Season

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