Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout MP3 CD – Apr 1 2011
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“[A] lyrical, masterly debut from a first-class writer.” (Men's Journal)
“[A] finely, wryly, at times poetically wrought first book. . . . Connors has succeeded in weaving many stories into one [and has found] a voice and new literary life in arid terrain where I, for one, had suspected there was little new life to be found.” (New York Times Book Review)
“A fine prose stylist with a splendid eye for detail, Connors allows his readers to see the natural beauty he witnesses. . . . All lovers of nature will understand the allure and wonder that Connors so gracefully describes.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“This is a book for all nature lovers, and more importantly, those who fail to see the beauty of the natural world. Connors’ prose is so mesmerizing, so enthralling, that even the most committed city dweller will be tempted to head for a remote, quiet destination.” (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
“[T]his is modern nature writing at its very finest.” (Daily Beast)
“[R]eading this book is like taking a vacation in beautiful scenery with an observant and clever guide. So relax and enjoy.” (Associated Press)
“Compelling and introspective, Fire Season lingers like a good poem.” (New Mexico Magazine)
“Philip Connors is the typical run-of-the-mill U.S. Forest Service employee. Except, you know, he can write like hell. . . . This book is great, like Norman-Maclean-’Young-Men-and-Fire’ great.” (Mountain Gazette)
“[A] compelling study of isolation, wildness, and ‘a vocation in its twilight’.” (The New Yorker)
“[A] quietly moving love letter to a singular place. By the last page, I wanted to hike up to the tower, sip some whiskey with him and just look.” (Los Angeles Times)
“[R]ife with breathtaking moments. . . . [T]o turn the last page of Fire Season is to emerge from a journey that enlightens and leaves the reader hungry for more.” (Denver Post)
“Entertaining and informative. . . . Connors mixes natural, personal, and literary history in this remarkable narrative.” (New West)
“This book captures all that is grand about our western wilderness.” (Vail Daily)
“For those lacking the freedom, gumption or plain will power to taste such a romantic life for themselves, simply reading Connors’ account sure is fun.” (Deseret News)
“Fascinating. . . . Connors’ narrative is crisp and accessible.” (The Tucson Citizen)
“[E]ngaging. . . . [Connors] sends thoughtful word from deep in the wilderness. . .” (Seattle Times)
“A clear overview of America’s shifting attitude toward its own wilderness. . . . [H]is affection is catching.” (Portland Mercury)
“[A] fascinating personal narrative . . . and a poetic tribute to solitude and the natural world.” (Paris Review Daily)
“[A] fascinating, pyro-charged reflection. . . . For a man so drawn to solitude, Connors has a particular knack for writing characters. . . . [Fire Season] proves a nifty way to shake off the last of winter’s cold.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
“An excellent book, an entertaining read, and a lot of food for thought. . . . Without doubt, this was the most enjoyable read I’ve had all year.” (National Parks Traveler)
“[F]ull of wry wisdom and humor. . . . [O]ne of the best books to come out of a government gig since Ed Abbey turned a ranger’s wage into Desert Solitaire.” (Outside magazine)
“[C]harming. . . . [Connors is] a careful observer delighting in nature and aware of what threatens it.” (Bloomberg News)
“[A]n exultant take on the natural world. . . . [Connors] describes his lookoutry with understated exuberance, an engaging and measured enthusiasm for being alone in a beautiful place.” (Nina MacLaughlin, Bookslut)
“[R]uminative, lyrical, occasionally suspenseful. . . . [Fire Season] bristles with the narrative energy and descriptive precision of Annie Dillard and dovetails between elegiac introspection and a history of [Connor’s] curious and lonely occupation.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Print journalist and fire lookout: When it comes to paying jobs, Connors has a death wish, but he has made the very best of it.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“[A] poetic, thoroughly researched, thrilling account of [Connors’] job as a fire lookout. . . . [I]lluminates the joys of solitude and the complicated nature of life in a volatile, untamable environment.” (Booklist)
“Fire Season is a beautiful narrative, evoking a reverent appreciation for protecting some of nature’s remaining wild places.” (San Francisco Book Review)
“What a wonderful book. Philip Connors went up to the mountaintop to serve as a lookoutand he has come down with a masterwork of close observation, deep reflection, and hard-won wisdom. This is an unforgettable reckoning with the American land.” (Philip Gourevitch)
“An excellent, informative, and delightful book.” (Annie Proulx)
“In an age of relentless connectivity, Philip Connors is a conscientious objector. His adventures in radical solitude make for profoundly absorbing, restorative reading. The soul that learns to keep its own company, this book reminds us, can never be alone.” (WALTER KIRN, author of Up in the Air)
“FIRE SEASON is an urgent, clear, bright book; it is both lyrical enough to arrest breath and absolutely compelling, reminding us why we need fire, solitude, wilderness. Find room on your bookshelf next to Wallace Stegner and Norman Maclean; Philip Connors is here to stay.” (Alexandra Fuller)
“Philip Connors’s remarkable account of his seasons as a fire lookout in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico is enlightening and well-informed. The surprise in the book is the author’s willingnesshis courage, actuallyto examine his own naïveté about the natural world. His is a most welcome new voice.” (Barry Lopez)
“Philip Connors has crafted a book illumined by the gob-smacked, wide-eyed, inquisitional wonder at creation. . . . Fire Season is for pilgrims, pedestrians, hikers and anchorites, city dwellers, and solitary sorts: a treat for the senses, fit for the long haul. Bravo! (Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking)
“FIRE SEASON is enlightening and well-informed...and Philip Connors is a most welcome new voice.” (Barry Lopez)
“[A] stunning gift of a memoir. . . . [A] profound (and at times hilariously profane) perspective on the relationship between humans and the earth. . . . Passionate and funny, Fire Season is an exciting new addition to the canon of American nature writing.” (BookPage)
“[A]n engaging and highly readable mix of wilderness reflection, ode to solitude, and reasoned assault on forestry techniques.” (AARP Magazine) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
A decade ago Philip Connors left work as an editor at the Wall Street Journal and talked his way into a job far from the streets of lower Manhattan: working as one of the last fire lookouts in America. Spending nearly half the year in a 7' x 7' tower, 10,000 feet above sea level in remote New Mexico, his tasks were simple: keep watch over one of the most fire-prone forests in the country and sound the alarm at the first sign of smoke.
Fire Season is Connors's remarkable reflection on work, our place in the wild, and the charms of solitude. The landscape over which he keeps watch is rugged and roadless—it was the first region in the world to be officially placed off limits to industrial machines—and it typically gets hit by lightning more than 30,000 times per year. Connors recounts his days and nights in this forbidding land, untethered from the comforts of modern life: the eerie pleasure of being alone in his glass-walled perch with only his dog Alice for company; occasional visits from smokejumpers and long-distance hikers; the strange dance of communion and wariness with bears, elk, and other wild creatures; trips to visit the hidden graves of buffalo soldiers slain during the Apache wars of the nineteenth century; and always the majesty and might of lightning storms and untamed fire.
Written with narrative verve and startling beauty, and filled with reflections on his literary forebears who also served as lookouts—among them Edward Abbey, Jack Kerouac, Norman Maclean, and Gary Snyder—Fire Season is a book to stand the test of time.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. See all Product Description
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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