Saturday, September 10, 2011

lunatic fringe

Deep breath. Just ignore it. That's right, don't breathe the smoke that tinges the air a cinnamon shade. Don't notice the sun, turned blood red. Those air tankers and helicopters that bumble through the sky? Don't listen. Drive fast so you won't see fire camp at the rodeo grounds.

This is the big one. The big test to see if you have overcome your addiction. The canyon burns and burns. It is hot. A project fire on your doorstep. People bustle around self-importantly. And you? On the sidelines. Not needed.

One of the casualties of moving to a new place is that you lose all your history. You are a blank slate for people to scribble on. Woman who wears dresses to work=could never have been a firefighter. You are not one to fill the air with decades old stories. "In Yellowstone, in the fires of '88.." "Back in two thousand, in Montana.." This behavior irritates you. You are not that person. You prefer to seep in slowly, a trickle instead of a flood. One day you look around and realize: Nobody here really knows me. They will, someday, at least in a way you can accept. But there are big gaps. They don't know the you that drove a swamp buggy through the Everglades. They don't know the you that rappelled into caves. There is so much they don't know. It will take years, and sometimes you wonder if you are, once again, up to the task.

Instead, think about why you wanted to kick it. Never being home. Nobody willing to wait around that long, to give you a chance at love. Instead, men who whined about your love for fire, thinking, correctly perhaps, that it trumped your love for them. The uneasy balance of keeping them happy but feeding your soul.

Other things too. The chance to have real summers, to hike, to run, to know people outside of that culture, to wear shorts instead of Nomex. Too, the effort of keeping up qualifications when your real job has deadlines to meet. Losing those qualifications, demoted to only a handful. The thing is, you can't really just dabble in firefighting. You are in or you are out, with these big fires anyway.

And still. Like any addiction, it lurks. It waits for you at odd moments. It is more than an addiction, you think. It is your old life. The purr of a helicopter coming to pick you up from a mountain. Your crew, a tight bond after only a day or two. You really don't want to go back to those days. Not really. It was hard, and it was lonely. It is not your dream anymore. But for a long time, it was.

You will get through this. Today you sat at the lake with friends. You swam to the buoy and back. You hugged your pets. You missed your husband, away on another fire, and you now know a little about how those men you left behind must have felt. Tomorrow you will try a big thing, for you anyway, running 11 miles on 9/11. You will think that your problems are very, very small.

The canyon burns without you. From now on, it will always burn without you. Most of the time you are okay with this. Just not today.


  1. Beautiful piece, Mary.
    I'll be thinking about firefighters and all the others on my 11mi tomorrow.

  2. Tears are close to the surface--or beyond it--today and tomorrow. This is such a beautiful, poignant piece from your heart, Marre.

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