I have to admit it, I'm still in love with you. I don't like what you've become: a massive, bloated machine that takes up over half the budget, but I still love you in your purest form, like yesterday, two lightning struck trees and some ground fire, the four of us with our pulaskis and bladder bags, no overhead, no teams, no media hype. I don't always agree with putting you out, because the forest here is starved for you. It needs you and we've denied it for so long, that dance of fire and forest, that delicate balance.
For years I chased you through the Everglades, the mountains, in Alaska's interior. Gradually things changed and I was no longer welcome as professional firefighter ranks swelled. It didn't matter that I knew you well, had seen you in many forms. I was sent to the sidelines because my job didn't begin with fire.
I missed you but I learned to live without you. I didn't need you as much once I found some mountains that I loved and a man with blue eyes whom I wanted to be with every moment. Life is short, memories are long, and I still watched lightning kiss the trees, remembering. I recalled hiking up endless hills gripping a pulaski, trying to close the gap between the firefighter in front of me. I remembered working my way up through sometimes hostile male ranks, swinging the lead pulaski, taking command of dozers and engines. Being with you was something I could do and I did it well.
I almost broke it off with you completely this year. There are so many young men who want it more than I do, and women too. I remembered a morning in Colorado when I found out that my friend had died at your hands. It didn't seem worth it, love and hate enterwined in a knot of pain impossible to unravel.
But just like a man you can't shake, I came back to you this week. Lightning pounded the forest and I hung around the dispatch board until I got my chance to see you again. There you were, creeping through the grass, chewing up the logs, just like always. The years melted away. I was thirty again, my mistakes still ahead of me, life a wonderful and unpredictable adventure. The guys were kind and let me take charge, though they didn't know of my long and colorful past with you. How could they? They've only seen me without you.
In the end I only got to play with you for two days. You winked out and were gone. I'm left the way I have been when lovers left me, heart in my throat, wondering how to go back to the ordinary. But I don't think we are done yet, Wildfire. We may only tango once a year, but we will never be completely through.