Excerpt from Fire Season by Philip Connors, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Fire Season

Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout

By Philip Connors

Fire Season
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Apr 2011,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2012,
    288 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Once I've spotted a fire, my superiors must choose a response. For most of the twentieth century the reaction was preordained: full suppression. A military mindset prevailed in the early Forest Service, and the results for America's public lands proved disastrous. Attacking every fire the moment it was spotted warped ecosystems that had burned on a regular basis for millennia; it convinced retreating urbanites that they could build their dream homes amid the forests with impunity. Smokejumpers would float out of the sky and save the day if the call came. The fact remains that wildfire has a mind of its own, as we've learned the hard way. The lessons will only get harder in a warming world, but here on the Gila, officials are committed to making fire a part of the life of the forest again. They let certain lightning-caused fires burn for weeks at a time, over tens of thousands of acres, making the Gila healthier than it would be otherwise: more diverse in the mosaic of its flora, more open in its ponderosa savannah, with less of the brushy ladder fuels that now make the American West an almost annual show of extreme fire behavior. With crews on the ground monitoring big blazes, we are their eyes in the sky, watching their weather when they sleep outdoors, letting them know when lightning is coming or the wind has changed. Such information, relayed in timely fashion, can mean the difference between life and death.

Still, there's little doubt I'm practicing a vocation in its twilight. Some in the Forest Service have predicted our impending obsolescence, due to more powerful radios, more sophisticated satellites, even drone airplanes - the never-ending dreams of the techno-fetishists. If there's one axiom of the world we've made for ourselves, it's that technology will always find ways to replace the inefficient human hand. But in a place like the Gila - where so much of the country remains off limits to vehicles and industrial logging - lookouts are sometimes the only link to the outside world for backcountry crews of all kinds: fire, trails, game and fish, law enforcement. We are also much cheaper than aerial surveillance. Safety and fiscal prudence - these will be the saving graces of the lookouts who manage to hang on.

Even for those of us who do, it's not difficult to imagine a future in which our most important task is to maintain a set of panoramic high-resolution cameras with live feeds to distant offices. Someday, no doubt, we'll be equipped with laptop computers and sophisticated mapping software with 3D graphics. Instead of learning the lay of the land the old-fashioned way, by walking its contours and staring at it for hours upon hours from above, we'll become on-site caretakers for an array of gadgets that render an intimate human knowledge of the country superfluous. Or so we'll be told. The lookouts of old, who not only kept watch over the forests but saddled their horses with tools at the ready to put out a smoke the moment it showed, will surely spin in their graves. As for the smokejumpers and hotshot crews who once relied on lookouts to know the condition of trails and the density of fuels in a specific locale, they'll have to discern what information they can from their handheld GPS units. For anything else, they'll be on their own.

Aldo Leopold, the man who drafted the plan to preserve the Gila Wilderness in 1922, a plan that made the headwaters of the Gila River the first piece of land in the world to be consciously protected from industrial machines, once wrote, "I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?" Survey the Lower Forty-eight on a coast-to-coast flight, and the most interesting country never fails to be that without roads. Down there amid one of those fragments of our natural heritage is a forest that burns and a desert that dances, 20,000 square miles of cruel and magnificent country visible from a tower nearly two miles above sea. The view some days cannot be fathomed, so I turn back to the earth beneath my feet. Wild candytuft bloom under the pine and fir, followed later by wallflowers, paintbrush, mountain wood sorrel, Mexican silene. On my evening rambles I find stellar's jay and wild-turkey feathers, snake skins and mule-deer bones. Now and then an hour of hunting turns up a relic in the dirt, not far from the base of my tower: a turquoise bead or a Mogollon potsherd, white with black pattern, well more than eight hundred years old. I am given to understand these people once gathered in the high places and brought with them their crockery. They sacrificed their pots by smashing them to earth in hopes the sky gods granted rain. I am not alone in my communion here with sky. Far from it. The ravens and the vultures have me beat by two hundred feet, the Mogollons by most of a millennium. And who's to say the dust motes off the desert don't feel joy, if only for a moment, as they climb up into sky and ride the transport winds?

Excerpted from Fire Season by Philip Connors. Copyright © 2011 by Philip Connors. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Gila National Forest

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Shotgun Lovesongs
    Shotgun Lovesongs
    by Nickolas Butler
    Nickolas Butler's debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, follows five life-long friends, now in their mid-...
  • Book Jacket: Gemini
    Gemini
    by Carol Cassella
    How good is Gemini, Carol Cassella's book about a Seattle intensive care physician who becomes ...
  • Book Jacket: The Goldfinch
    The Goldfinch
    by Donna Tartt
    Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer for Fiction.

    Her canvas is vast. To frame a story about art, love and ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin

Published Apr. 2014

Join the discussion!

Who Said...

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

P Your O C

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.