Saturday, August 25, 2012

In the Box

I sit in a trailer, watching helicopters fly. Grounded like this, it is easy to forget that I just spent 19 days in the wilderness. A young helitack crewmember bounces in, looking for scissors. Driven by boredom, the men on her crew are cutting their hair into mohawks.

"Greetings, Box People!" she says. "I'm so glad I'm not in here."

Still, I'd rather sit in a box and coordinate helicopters with Air Attack than do what they are doing, which is trying to fill the hours by hunting up shade and sculpting hair into mohawks. We have seven helicopters working this fire, and at any given time they are either landing, leaving, or being sent someplace with buckets of water. We have eight radios to monitor, which means we always know what is going on with this fire, which is currently racing across the grasslands of Hells Canyon.

I used to be out on the ground like the crews I hear on the radio, but after my epic hike I am nursing a sore tendon and it is good for me to sit for awhile. I drive to the gym at five in the morning to get some exercise. My companion in the Box is Sebastian, who was four years old when I went on my first wildfire. He remembers watching media coverage of the Yellowstone fires when he was five. It should make me feel old, but it doesn't. I am finding it hard to care about things I used to think were important.

I am still figuring out things from my hike. They involve the future and the present. While I do this I direct helicopters. I torture Sebastian with reading from a Glamour magazine. It is mindless and good.

The fire will do what it wants to do. I cringe when I hear about dozer lines three blades wide. I don't know when we will learn that fire is a necessary force. There are no houses threatened here, only deep wrinkles and folds in the landscape, gulches and ridges and drainages that have burned before and will burn again. We learn nothing, it seems.

 The radios erupt in a torrent of sound and fury. The helicopters lift off again, starring the sky.


  1. Lovely moment, Mary, with layered meanings. Well-captured. Can't wait to talk.

  2. Ditto Katey, layered meanings indeed "the future and the present."

    So true Mary, when will they learn?


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