Monday, May 4, 2015
Burning with the Boys
Sometimes I get to visit the life I used to have. The fire crew wanted help with burning 540 acres in the forest, and I tagged along. Once, I used to be a burn boss, in charge of setting thousands of acres ablaze for habitat renewal purposes. Others, younger than myself, are now in those positions. I've let most of that life go and for the most part, I'm happy with that. I'd love to have the 20 year retirement plan, and I miss the excitement and the loose knot of people who moved in a migration across the country. If I start getting wistful, it's good for me to go visit that country again. It reminds me of why I've made the choices I've made and how I can't really go back.
Bearing the world's best brownies, I gathered with the crew to get our briefing. I quickly noted how much has changed over the few years I've been out. Hardly anyone wears the high heeled logger boots anymore, choosing the mountaineer/hiking boot option. The end of an era, I thought. Everyone had their radios tucked into their (fancy) lumbar packs instead of strapped onto a chest bra. And everyone was. well, young.
I felt like someone was going to ask, "Who is the Grandma?" but nobody did. And even though I have years on these guys, I didn't want to be in charge of anything. Just give me a torch, I thought, and point where to walk. I have enough responsibility in my job.
We split up into two groups and headed around the unit with our drip torches, walking in parallel lines about twenty feet apart. The idea was to create a blackline near the unit boundaries so that the helicopter could light the interior safely. We were right on the line with spring green-up, so parts of the unit burned well and others did not. We tried, making several passes, fighting our way through brush, up hills and down. How did I ever do this for days on end, I wondered. I could keep up easily, but now I prefer my workouts on my own terms.
I've never really wanted to let fire go, but I am getting better at it. One of these days I won't want to go on the line anymore. "Can I have that in writing?" J asks. He rolls his eyes. But it's getting closer to the truth.
Our burn wasn't that exciting, not like the ones I used to supervise in the Glades, where they would rip through the prairies faster than we could run. Those were the days, and they won't come again. But you can't live in the past and be happy. I put up my drip torch and headed back home to my life. Let the young guys live in this one. Everyone is where they are supposed to be.