Sunday, August 16, 2015

Thoughts from the Abro Box

"If I come to America again, I need my own printer and computer," Mike says. I laugh. He is from Alaska and that is how we referred to the lower 48 when I lived there. We sit in our trailer waiting to dispatch  helicopters. There are nine of them, with two more rumored to show up. The National Guard threw a fit yesterday because we didn't send them out, but everyone else has been flying. The cost summary we prepared yesterday for total aircraft cost, for one day, is more money than I will make in four years of working. It's hard not to get annoyed by this. I both love and hate firefighting.

Mostly I love firefighting for what it can be; the pure, simple essence of it, a person with a tool, dig a line, put it out. I used to love being on the line, the camaraderie of strangers, the sweet-acrid smell of smoke, the thrill of being somewhere high on a mountain. I hate firefighting for what it can be also: a glut of overhead with burgeoning costs, often unjustified.

It's coming to an end for me, but I still hang on to some of the qualifications I once had. Doing this job, in what is affectionately known as "The Box", is not for everyone. It's either slammed or not busy. "Would you rather," I ask Mike, "change gender every time you sneeze or mistake a baby's head for a muffin?" I do pushups when I make a porta potty run. I go for a run with a headlamp. It's hard to be inactive. "Did you forget your medicine?" Mike asks.

I don't know why I hang on to some of these fire qualifications. I'd really rather be hiking in the limited summer we have. It's like anything else from your past: you remember how it was, not the way it is now. I'm glad I was part of the glory days, when fire was my life, when I felt like I could do anything. 

Kim brings me a quinoa, oatmeal and fruit mixture. An extraordinarily good looking pilot strolls by (don't worry folks, just looking). All the helicopters come back in safely for the night. And I realize that even though this isn't what I want to do all the time, it's easy to get stuck in a comfortable, controlled zone, where you know you can exercise for a certain amount of time, you  know what food you can eat, and so on. Fire is the ultimate loss of control over your life, and it's good to be a little uncomfortable sometimes. 

It's Day 2 in the Box. I have: water, internet, snacks, and plenty of time. I'm making up a novel in my head. I'm going to surpass my pushup level today and maybe throw in a few planks. I'll be back in the mountains soon.

I think up Two Truths and A Lie for Mike. He looks worried and scuttles off to Briefing. It's good to be part of a team again. I have missed this.


  1. Love that "would you rather", good one. Sounds like you're enjoying yourself amid the chaos.

  2. You have a gift for bringing your readers right on to the scene.

  3. Mary, Shane and I just spent the weekend in east eagle with friends helping them move some things out of their cabins because of the fires burning on main eagle. The smoke was so thick at times you could not see the mountains around us. It breaks my heart to think east eagle might burn, it's just about my favorite place to be. The fire fighters told us that this fire would probably not be fought due to the super steep terrain and recourses are stretched thin because of all the other fires. They said they would try and save any cabins. Our friends land and cabins have been in their family for 80 years, it's surrounded by forest service land and only a couple miles from the wilderness. Hurts to think they could loose it all.....

    1. We are supporting the Eagle Fire right now with all we have, so keep the faith,

    2. I will Mary, and I do thank you all so much for everything that you do. I have tons of respect for all the fire fighters and everyone that supports them.

  4. It's unbelievable the number of large fires that are burning in Oregon right now. Glad there are folks like you there to fight these infernos and organize the troops.

  5. A? Base Radio Operator? We will keep checking on your fire status, as well as those in Montana and the fierce one at Chelan.

  6. Keep 'em flying young lady! Thank you for all you do. I'm hearing "red" and "pink" are the IN colors right now.

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