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Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout MP3 CD – Apr 1 2011


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Product Details

  • MP3 CD
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks; MP3 Una edition (April 1 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1441782141
  • ISBN-13: 978-1441782144
  • Product Dimensions: 19 x 13.7 x 1.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 136 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)


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A poetic evocation of a fire-lookout season based on the author's 10 years experience in a watchtower high above New Mexico's Gila National Forest. Connors weaves in the story of America's changing attitudes to conservation and forest-fire policy and salutes other authors, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mclean among them, who also wrote prose from fire-prone mountaintops. Not without anger, the author delineates the shifting battle lines between public use/preservation of forests and their exploitation for private profit. A captivating book rounded out by a generous list of sources for readers who want to know more about this fascinating, nearly extinct, line of solo work.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 87 reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Where there's smoke, there's a good book March 22 2011
By jd103 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This book crept up on me like a forest fire which smoldered for a while before turning into a long slow burn not easily extinguished. As I read, there were often passages covering material I knew such as the Muir-Pinchot divide, Leopold's gradual enlightenment, and changes in policy toward forest fires. Sometimes I longed for more new material based on the author's own experiences. But like the author, when Fire Season was over I found myself regretting that I couldn't stay longer.

It has to be a difficult task to write a book about being a fire lookout, knowing you're following in the footsteps of lookouts/writers such as Abbey, Snyder, Maclean, and Kerouac. It also has to be difficult nurturing a marriage while living alone in a remote location for a third of the year, and that is one aspect of the book which gets more attention here than in those previous authors' work.

I enjoyed the reflections on solitude and those drawn to it, and on living a life which is split both in location and lifestyle, since I live a variation of that myself though not to the author's extremes of wilderness lookout and bartender. There are also brief looks at a wide variety of people, some who love the wilderness and try to live in it most of their lives, and others who can't cope with it and quit within a few days to return to urban life.

Despite encounters with bears and lightning bolts, and some social moments, this is a quiet book. Norman Maclean is quoted, "It doesn't take much in the way of body and mind to be a lookout. It's mostly soul." For those with a love of and need for wilderness and personal freedom, this book will be a bit of nourishment for that soul.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A tribute to wilderness and isolation April 20 2011
By TChris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Fire Season chronicles one of the many summers Philip Connors spent as a lookout in the Gila National Forest, sitting alone in a tower, scanning the treetops for smoke. Connors makes the arduous hike to his lookout post every year because "here, amid these mountains, I restore myself and lose myself, knit together my ego and then surrender it, detach myself from the mass of humanity so I may learn to love them again, all while coexisting with creatures whose kind have lived here for millennia." It is writing of that caliber, as much as the content, that makes Fire Season worth reading.

Although Connors writes lovingly of trees and grass, Fire Season is as much a tribute to solitude as it is an appreciation of nature's beauty. Connors writes that he does "not so much seek anything as allow the world to come to me, allow the days to unfold as they will, the dramas of weather and wild creatures." Connors channels (and makes frequent reference to) Abbey and Leopold in his descriptions of majestic nature, but also brings to mind (and sometimes quotes) Thoreau in his loving homage to isolation.

Connors peppers his book with lessons in history (the Warm Springs Apache hid from the Cavalry in the wilderness he now surveys) and biology (while moths, beetles, and tarantula hawks are some of the smaller creatures he observes, bears are a more frequent subject of comment). He provides a brief overview of conservationist philosophy and its history. Connors makes interesting what might in the hands of a less talented writer be dull, but the work still comes across as a hodge-podge: clusters of random facts connected only by their shared geography. Although the book is quite short, it reads as if Connors was searching for filler: a section discusses the unpublished notebook Jack Kerouc kept during his experience as a lookout; another discusses his experiences on 9/11; another recounts the vanishing wolf population in the Southwest. And given that the book is so short, it contains a surprising amount of redundancy: there are only so many times a writer needs to say that some fires are good and others not so good before the reader gets it.

My larger complaint (if it can be called that) about Fire Season is that it contains so little that is fresh. I'm not a biologist or ecologist or forester, but I knew before reading Fire Season (as I suspect most people did) that fires are necessary to the health of a forest environment, that the Forest Service didn't always understand that, and that public policy decisions about whether to let a fire burn are difficult to make and often controversial. Connors adds no depth to that discussion; his job is to look for smoke, not to make policy decisions, and his career is in journalism (and bartending), not forest management or firefighting. (There is, in fact, little in the book about the actual suppression of wildfires. Readers looking for an excellent fictional account of fighting forest fires should check out Andrew Piper's The Wildfire Season.) I'm not sure there's much to learn about fire from reading Connors' book that a reasonably well read person won't already know.

Connors' writing is strongest when it is most personal. Having a spouse who lives by himself in a tower every summer might challenge some marriages (while it might improve others); I thought it was interesting to read about the impact Connors' summer career has had on his marriage. When he writes about finding a fawn (apparently injured) and encountering hikers and the workings of his mind, Fire Season shines. Connors brings his dog into the wilderness for companionship and his description of the dog's personality change when transitioning to mountain life reinforces my belief that all books are made better by the inclusion of a dog.

In short, what Connors does in Fire Season has been done elsewhere, often in greater detail and with more authority, but the book nonetheless has value for the glimpse it provides of the sort of person who is content to sit in a tower for long stretches, pondering the wilderness, and for Connors' beautiful descriptions of (mostly) unspoiled forests and mountains.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
With Alice in Wonderland May 12 2011
By David R. Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In 1845 Henry David Thoreau left his cabin on Walden Pond for a trek deep into the Maine woods because he "wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach." Every April, for much of the past decade, Philip Connors, the author of this engaging natural history, accompanied by his dog Alice,takes up life in the Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico for much the same reason. Connors found the opportunity to do so by becoming a Forest Service fire spotter on Apache Peak, 10,000 feet above sea level, in the southeastern quadrant of the wilderness forest. His job called on him to spot and then report the lightning and camper-started fires that occur during his five month tour of duty. His raison d'etre for performing this solitary task is "to slip away from the group hug of a digital culture enthralled with social networking. . . . I prefer to live...out here on the edge, where worship of the material recedes and acquaintance with the natural becomes possible." He describes "the seduction to solitude in a stretch of the world as we were given it, a seduction that stretches across all human cultures and all human history."

Of solitude he has plenty. He may go for a week without seeing another human being. He may be bored sometimes, but never lonely. He is right where he and Alice want to be. Their walks along the Black Range ridge line, down into the valley, off to a trout stream inspire and stimulate both of them. This book, the tale of a "smoke-besotted stylite," grew out of the field notes of his day-in day-out observations about himself and about the natural world around him. His work cycle, 10 days on, four days off, exigencies permitting, allows him and Alice to hike the five and half miles out to his pickup truck and drive back into town for a reunion with his wife Martha, for provisions, and then, as the hankering to return to his peak grows stronger,to make ready to head back to Apache Peak.

Good nature writing has the capacity to enthrall, to give voice to our common yearning to escape the city, to seek out nature on its own terms. Connors' hero and spiritual mentor is Aldo Leopold, the Forest Service ranger turned conservationist. It was Leopold who, in the 1920's, convinced the Service of the need to preserve as much of the remaining unroaded wilderness in the United States as it could. The Gila Wilderness established in 1924 was the least touched, most obvious place to start and it became the world's first designated wilderness. In the 1980's, the Service added 200,000 acres to the Wilderness and named the addition for Leopold.

For all its incidental charms including Connor's marriage (Martha is to be cherished and he knows it) and the relationship of this man and his dog which enlivens and helps carry the story, the book as published seems to have shortchanged its author and its readers. It cries out for a map of the Gila Wilderness, one which locates Apache Peak and the other tower locations Connors mentions, and which shows the small towns near the head of the trail that leads to Connors' station. Published as endpapers, the map would add a great deal to the book. The book also begs for photographs of the author and his dog on the trail and at the station, photos of the long views that open up to the author every morning as he climbed the 55-foot ladder to his observation post, and of the long forgotten Military Cemetery with its graves of 12 Buffalo Soldiers and three of their Indian scouts which Connors came across on one of his hikes. Perhaps Harper Collins wasn't sure that sales of this ECCO imprint would justify the expense. Too bad.

End note. Reading "Fire Season" brought to mind three rewarding natural histories which are all available from Amazon (as is Leopold's "A Sand Country Almanac). "The Journal of a Disappointed Man" by W.N.P. Barbellion, Hogarth Press (1984) (first published in 1919).A distinguished, self-trained British naturalist wrote this book to provide an estate for his young wife and child as he was dying from multiple sclerosis at age 27. "A Country Year Living the Questions" by Sue Hubblell. Random House, 1986. Hubbell's account of her life as a beekeeper on her 100-acre farm on a penisular between two rivers in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri will take you in. "A Year in the Maine Woods" by Bernd Heinrich, Addison Wesley 1994. Heinrich, accompanied by his pet raven, takes up where Thoreau left off.
39 of 48 people found the following review helpful
A good read but nothing really new March 15 2011
By Charles M. Nobles - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I gave this book a "3" but perhaps I should have rated it a "4". The reason being I have read virtually every book written about fire lookouts, wildfires, the role of the US Forest Service in fire suppression in national forests, and memoirs of fire lookouts and thus was fairly familiar with the subject. For that reason I may have been unfairly expecting more than I received from this book.
The book is well written which is to be expected given the author is a former editor for The Wall Street Journal. Connors gives a superficial account of his activities as a fire lookout over the past decade but a much more detailed history of the Gila National Forest and the efforts of the Forest Service to contain wildfires first by suppression and lately by letting them burn themselves out, where possible.
The problem I have with the book is the author does not really give the reader a feeling for what it is like day in and day out to work in a fire lookout tower for upwards of 6 months at a time by oneself. He does briefly tell of taking hikes with his dog and visiting with thru hikers but if one reads similair accounts by other lookouts you get the feeling that Connors is either writing just enough to fill a book or is not telling us what his real experiences have been. Likewise, his history of fires in the national forests is accurate as far as it goes but it is not near an exhaustive effort.
It may be I am to familair with this subject and am unfairly judging the book. I just found it a good read but nothing I would particularily recommend to a friend or include in a must read list on this subject.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Manhattan transfer... May 11 2011
By John P. Jones III - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Phillip Connor once worked in the very "heart of the beast," as an editor for the Wall Street Journal, in lower Manhattan. His quest for a bit more elbow room, physical and mental, carried him about as far away from everything NYC represents, and still stay in the "lower 48." He came to a very special spot, in what we like to call the Land of Enchantment: the Gila Wilderness, purportedly the largest contiguous area in that lower 48 that is rated "pristine." For eight seasons he would hike five hours into work, and normally stay for 10 days, before hiking out for four days off. Almost always, he was alone for that period, save for the company of a very faithful dog. He manned a watch tower, alert for wisps of smoke, denoting the commencement of a fire in the forest. Sometimes the fires were caused by lightning; sometimes by humans, and their careless ways.

Connor's memoir rambles and sashays, usually in a delightful way. He provides an accurate historical account of the US Forest Service, its origins, and in particular its policies, outlook and techniques for fighting (or not) forest fires. For those interested in more details as to its origins, and the catastrophic fire in American history, I highly recommend Timothy Egan's The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America. Connor's daily life is naturally shaped by this past. Identify a fire, locate it as best one can, and then sit back and listen while the "Big Boys" determine if it should be fought or not, by whom, and with what techniques. Like the traditional journalism that he has left, he has chosen another occupation that will not exist in a few years, and he realizes it.

The memoir is rich in musings about the relationship of humans with the natural world, and so it is not surprising that Thoreau, and in particular Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac; with essays on conservation from Round River, and the person responsible for creating the area Connors helps watch over, are frequently quoted. Consider one: "Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings." But Leopold did not become one of the patron saints of the environmental movement ripped from whole cloth. Unlike most humans, Leopold did seem to learn from his mistakes, and Connor reminds us that Leopold supported efforts to hunt wolves to extinction as well as numerous other environmental "sins." Jack Kerouac also, once upon a time, was paid to spend a season watching for fires in the national forests, and where he did so is now apparently a place of pilgrimage for his fans. I never was one, and to me, it is somewhat surprising that Connors is. Also, in terms of different strokes for different folks, he apparently listens to baseball games from his watch tower in the evenings.

This IS New Mexico, and as the author says, it is "the birthplace of the wilderness idea and the birthplace of the nuclear age." So, there is this yin and yang element which I thought the author beautifully captured in an anecdote about one of his customers in the bar he tends in Silver City during the off-season. After a few beers, the customer philosophizes: "Thing about them Aye-rabbs, they breed faster'n we can shoot `em. Kinda like them Kennedys."

Connors is married, very luckily so, he says, so there are also meaningful insights into how that works, with his self-imposed isolation for five months a year. And there was a telling section on 9-11, so, all in all, there is a lot to sashay along with.

In 48 hours I should be at my favorite campground, deep in the Gila, along with some good friends. This book will certainly be enjoyed by my companions around the campfire (I checked, even though it is high fire season, and a major one is burning, fires are still permitted in designated campgrounds!) 5-stars, even if you intend to only enjoy the Gila vicariously.

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