Sunday, July 7, 2013

Beautiful World

Every July 6th I post a remembrance on this blog. I want to remember my friend Roger who died fighting a fire on this date, nineteen years ago now. I don't want his memory to slip away like water. Even if you didn't know him, never heard of the fire that took his life, it's worth pausing for a moment to think about those people who march into the wilderness, or just into the woods with pulaskis and shovels and hoses.

Roger's smile lit up  wherever he was.

Most of the time we hikers bitch and complain about walking through burned areas. Hot. Fallen trees. Not pretty. Rarely do most of us think about who has been there before us. Because I used to be a firefighter, I still do. I have my stories of terror and fatigue, though I rarely trot them out. I doubt very many people in this town even know I used to walk the line.

Just a few days ago, nineteen firefighters were trapped in similar circumstances to Roger's fire. Even though this time I knew none of them, everything from that day in 1994 and the days following it came rushing back. I felt as though I was back there, looking at a typewritten list and seeing the name of my dead friend. Wondering what he went through on that mountain. Standing in our old shared trailer, unable to comprehend that he was never coming back. A wound I thought was scabbed over broke open again.

I don't want to maximize my loss; there were others who knew Roger far longer than the paltry four years that we lived together and fought fire together, lay on creepers under swamp buggies together, all the things that friends do together. But it felt like a blow to the heart to hear about history repeating itself. It was all too familiar--the tributes, the processional return of the bodies, the subtle blame placed on those who are not here to defend themselves.

So I went away, to the only place that works. I had never been to the south side of the Wallowas. It was tooooo faaar. So easy to stay up north where there's plenty to see. But I had time and J wanted to go, and so we went. And I don't think it is out of the realm of possibility that wilderness can heal your heart.

I hiked up the lovely Main Eagle trail. Though it is one of the most popular, I saw few people.

 A dog guarded our tent.

I was surprised how different the south end is from the north. Walking through this valley, I felt like I was in the Sierras.
I hurried up to mile 4 before I knew I had to turn around. Those out and backs are the hardest of all! I wanted to keep going.

In the end there is this: It is a beautiful world. When people leave us, it leaves grooves on our hearts that never really go away. A mountain can't cure us, a river can't save us. Roger was so young when he died, and there is so much he never got to see. It's easy to rage at the wind, the decisions that were made, the whole ridiculous idea of putting people on a fireline in the first place, an idea I am more and more sure is fruitless and insane.

But, it's a beautiful world and you can't live wrapped in sorrow and rage without turning to a bitter kernel. So, I hike. I hope. I remember, and I believe. I try to live my life in the best way possible, not wasting a minute, to honor those who don't get that opportunity.

Miss you, buddy, always.


  1. You could not remember, or honor, him in any more meaningful way, Mary. Your words brought tears.

  2. Well done, Mary. Your comments are so well done, I could never come close to writing how I feel. You have done well. So many people don't understand what our families and friends go thru after a loss on the fire line.

  3. Thanks Jim. That means a lot. ((((hugs))))


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