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 miss my fire years, but they are all tangled up in being young with no ties, able to jump on a bus or a plane with only an hours' notice. I don't have that kind of life anymore. I want to hike and swim in  lakes and travel, and unfortunately there are drawbacks to every choice. People often say "You live a blessed life" or, "you are so lucky". What they don't see is what I have to do to make my life happen. There is no such thing as luck. You make your own. I sit at a desk. I struggle to get any writing done with a full time job. I have to work out extra hard because I don't get to exercise at my job. I'm not lucky, just determined.

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.

10 comments:

  1. I miss my fire years too. The city I live in now got smoked in last month, and as others were complaining, I spent the day remembering how it used to be - the smell, the adrenaline, that feeling of accomplishment at the end of a long day in Nomex. Oh, the smell of spring rx fire! I hear what you're saying about those years being tied up with other things; for me, it's tied together with my life pre-kids. What you've done is enviable - you've found a way to grow up yet still have those adventures outdoors!

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    1. Well...a big part of it is being child free (is that politically correct?) This would be hard to do with kids.

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  2. Yes, hard work and choices have put us where we are. Love that perspective. It bugs me when people call my lifestyle "lucky".
    Naomi

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    1. Amen, sister! Glad I'm not the only one who feels that way!

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  3. Maybe you don't fight fires anymore, but at least you got to have that experience and were able to travel and see lots of places. Yes, it's easy to look at someone, seeing just the surface, and think they are lucky. But everyone's had to sacrifice and work to get where they are at.

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    1. Funny you say that, because I was just thinking of my friend K, who had tons of fire time and when we were sitting around complaining about how it was different now, he said, "at least we were there when it was great." Because it used to be, at least for us. So there is that. I don't regret giving the full time thing up. I would never have met my husband or gone on such great trips.

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  4. Yep, that is absolutely a pet peeve to have people say I'm "lucky" to have the lift I do. Unless you want to turn over financial and decision-making responsibility to another person (sugar daddy or what have you), you have to make your own life happen. There are ways in which I'm fortunate (for instance, to have been born in a developed nation), but my life is not "lucky."

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    1. So agree! It's like the woman who used to say I was lucky I was thin. Well, genetics do help, but her butt wasn't in the gym or on the trails either, like I was every day!

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  5. With apologies to Robert Frost, you've taken "both" roads, just at different times; that's all any of us can do, I think.

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    1. That's a good way to look at it.

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