Reader reviews for Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout

This is a beautiful book about a rare man with an even rarer summer job--he's one of the last fire spotters in existence. 5 months of the year he leaves civilization behind, drives 40 miles then hikes 5 more (sometimes having to literally crawl through snow on his first trip up in late April) to a lookout tower and a small cabin and millions of acres of trees, desert, and mountains. On a clear day he can see for 200 miles from his posting. Alice, his dog, is generally his only company other than smoke jumpers, the very occasional hardcore hiker, and his astronomically tolerant wife who visits a few times when work and school permit her to. This book is about the beauty of nature and the history of wilderness in America--its changing values, maintenance, political standing, and its amazing beauty. This book is a rant, a love letter, a fairy tale, a plea and a journal that is both funny, deep, thoughtful, angry but always, always baldly truthful. A fantastic and memorable read.
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Living in New Mexico, and being familiar with the locales and the fear a puff of smoke on the horizon can bring, I of course had to read this book. It was well-written and really captured the feeling of isolation that is so easy to come by in New Mexico. Having seen the destruction first-hand from what fire can do to fracture and rebuild a community, I thought the book made the reader care about the forest and what the consequences are when carelessly tossing out a cigarette butt. Well worth the time and makes you want to come see our beautiful Land of Enchantment.
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Five miles from the nearest road, sitting on top of what is essentially a lightning rod with a roof – that's not something most of us could tolerate, much less crave. Something Mr. Connors chose to do for several summers in his job as a fire lookout. (Something that I, being a bit of a loner, would probably like. Except for the lightning. And the snakes. And the dead mice stuck to the floor when the cabin is first opened for the season.)Despite all the vitriol we've directed at it, despite all the technology we've deployed to fight it, wildfire still erupts in the union of earth and sky, in the form of a lightning strike to a tree, and there is nothing we can do to preempt it. The best we can do, in a place like Gila, is have a human stationed in a high place to cry out the news. If this gets to sounding borderline mystical, as if I've joined the cult of the pyromaniacal, all I can say is: guilty as charged.What makes this book even better is that Alice, a rescued dog, gets to spend her summers there too. Initially, Mr. Connors doesn't want to get a dog. Experience with the dogs of family and friends indicated they were odoriferous, overbearing beasts, dedicated to immediate gratification of whatever urge bubbled up in their tiny little brains, their owners perversely in need of unconditional love and mindless diversion.Adopt they do nevertheless, as a compromise for a wife who will tolerate his solitary job away from her all summer.Now that Alice has been in our lives for three years, I see her for what she truly is: an odoriferous, overbearing beast, dedicated to immediate gratification of whatever urge bubbles up in her tiny little brain, and a reliable and even comforting source of unconditional love and mindless diversion.Also, she's pretty cute.This is more than just a memoir about sitting on top of a lookout tower. It is also about the history and changing view toward wildfire management. It is about ecology, and how we have encouraged nature to get so out of balance. It is about cattle grazing on public land, their ranchers paying a pittance while the cattle destroy the natural habitat. I say this all as a complete hypocrite, living in a forested area with lots of lightning and careless people, due for a natural fire and wanting it to be stopped immediately if (when) it comes.Two stories about specific animals were deeply troubling – one that the author related, about a wolf and her pups. The other about a fawn that the author, in his ignorance while trying to do the right thing, caused.And I even learned a new word: azimuth. Always a plus for me. The book was entertaining and informative, and I think the time I spent reading it was well spent.The quotes may have changed in the published edition. Thank you to ECCO for giving me an uncorrected proof for review.
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I really enjoyed Fire Season for a number of reasons. First it's well written. Connors is likable, a gritty Everyman from Montanan sensitive to the environment who drinks whiskey while waxing philosophical about mans place in the world, holding court with the ghosts of Jack Kerouac, Edward Abbey and Norman Maclean. Secondly I am a big fan of books about social recluses who go into the wilderness, intentionally or on the run, living alone in nature; this book is clearly in the tradition of Walden. Finally I learned about what it's like manning a fire watch tower, managing a large national forest, and forest fires in general. How the history of no burn at any cost has created a huge store of tinder that causes giant forest fires that will take a century or more to undo the damage. This is a great book for a lot of reasons and I highly recommend it for the nature writing, western lifestyle, history, information about forest fires, and hanging out with a new voice in American nature writing.
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I tried this one based on a library patron's recommendation. She said she would tell everyone to read it. Our tastes are usually similar, but I just couldn't even finish this one. It failed the 100-page test. This is a book about spending the summer months in a lookout in the middle of nowhere, watching for smoke/fire. Connors is obviously comfortable with this role and the solitude it affords him. What drove me nuts was how often he repeats himself in the writing. In the first chapter (April), he must have said about 50 times that the historic view on firefighting had been to squash all fires as quickly as possible - but that people have now learned that sometimes letting the fires burn is good. This was interesting information the first time...maybe even as he expounded on it the second time. But reading on and on, it was just so repetitive, I couldn't take it.Not to mention, nothing much happens. He sleeps, reads, looks around, eats, sleeps, fishes, etc. - maybe a hiker happens upon him. Essentially this book is about how Connors has come to terms with boredom and managed to find a wife who will let him have his summer months of solitude with only a weekend visit every 10 days or so. Sorry, but I just didn't find anything interesting about it. I only made it through April and May....perhaps there is something exciting in July.
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Philip Connors shares with readers the story of a summer season spent at an elevation of 10,000 feet, doing a job that most of us don't realize still exists- that of a fire lookout. In the tradition of Norman Maclean, Edward Abbey, Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder, all whom worked as fire lookouts, Connors shares with the reader the simple solitude and philosophical meanderings that come with spending time ensconced alone in the wilderness.Using his journals for the core off his story, Connors introduces us to a job that indulges both his love of nature and his natural sloth, yet makes fascinating digressions into the history of the U.S. Forest Service, the changing views of public land use, the balancing role of fire on the land, and the past, present and potential future of an American forest.Both evocative and worthy of comparisons to great American nature classics such a "Desert Solitaire" by Edward Abbey, "A Sand County Almanac" by Aldo Leopold, and "Refuge" by Terry Tempest Williams, "Fire Season" is destined to join these other books as required reading for a new generation of environmentalists and nature lovers.
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Phillip Connors has spent the last eight spring and summer months in an isolated part of The Gila National Forest helping the National Forest Service keep an eye on forest fires. This book is part history of the landforms, part history of the cultures that settled the area, part history of the National Forest Service and their own connection with forest fires, and part daily confessional of what it is like to live such a solitary life cut off from almost all human interaction. Lest you think this book is all about the beautiful nature surrounding the lonely lookout, Connors is a barkeep in the off season and his sense of humor falls somewhere around of college freshman and patron of the local bar. Part poetry, part prose, and part irreverent humor about life the writing is just enough to keep you entertained and interested in Connors’ job, his life, and the natural environment of the area where he works. As a child I spent many summers in the forests of New Mexico. The observation towers of the lookouts high up on the top of the mountains were always intriguing. Connors has given us a view into a life that many people will never experience and he has done it in such a way that the reader feels a part of the solitude.
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To experience and observe nature in such a pure form; an area without roads, artificial light, and manmade noise is something that I can only dream about. Connors as a solitary fire tower lookout in the Gila National Forest has had that experience and very eloquently wrote about it in 'Fire Season.' The history of the area, how and why America became obsessed with fire suppression, all the important forest conservation players in the area, the impact of cattle ranching, along with how 'lookouts' cope with solitude are woven together in a book that I enjoyed immensely.
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For a number of seasons, Philip Connor, a bartender, ex-journalist and aspiring writer, spent his summers in a watchtower in New Mexico, looking for forest fires. This allowed him time to reflect on many things and find out about those who had gone before him. A previous tenant of the tower was Jack Kerouac, subject of one of the many streams of narrative included here. Aldo Leopold spent some life-changing years working in the same part of New Mexico, which helped to form his ahead-of-his-time ethical thinking about conservation. The fortunate reader of this memoir will learn about much more than forest fires. The audio book is well-read in a thoughtful, easy manner by Sean Runnette.
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I really liked this--a mix of awe for nature, history, and psychology (what kind of person would sit alone in a lookout tower?). And, of course, the author is a journalism escapee, which always intrigues me.
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