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A decade ago Philip Connors left work as an editor at the Wall Street Journal and talked his way into a job far from the streets of lower Manhattan: working as one of the last fire lookouts in America. Spending nearly half the year in a 7' x 7' tower, 10,000 feet above sea level in remote New Mexico, his tasks were simple: keep watch over one of the most fire-prone forests in the country and sound the alarm at the first sign of smoke.

Fire Season is Connors's remarkable reflection on work, our place in the wild, and the charms of solitude. The landscape over which he keeps watch is rugged and roadless—it was the first region in the world to be officially placed off limits to industrial machines—and it typically gets hit by lightning more than 30,000 times per year. Connors recounts his days and nights in this forbidding land, untethered from the comforts of modern life: the eerie pleasure of being alone in his glass-walled perch with only his dog Alice for company; occasional visits from smokejumpers and long-distance hikers; the strange dance of communion and wariness with bears, elk, and other wild creatures; trips to visit the hidden graves of buffalo soldiers slain during the Apache wars of the nineteenth century; and always the majesty and might of lightning storms and untamed fire.

Written with narrative verve and startling beauty, and filled with reflections on his literary forebears who also served as lookouts—among them Edward Abbey, Jack Kerouac, Norman Maclean, and Gary Snyder—Fire Season is a book to stand the test of time.

Published: HarperCollins on Apr 5, 2011
ISBN: 9780062078902
List price: $8.99
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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.read more
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Sublime musings from a fire look out. 'I've seen lunar eclipses and desert sandstorms and lightning that made my hair stand on end. I've watched deer and elk frolic in the meadow below me, and pine trees explode in a blue ball of smoke. If there's a better job anywhere on the planet, I'd like to know what it is.’ Philip Conor is fire lookout in USA's Gila National Forest, 5 months of the year he spends his days, miles from civilisation looking for wisps of smoke. It’s a stunning piece of nature writing; blending an engaging memoir, fascinating histories, wry musings on solitude, evocative descriptions of the wild and passionate pleas of conservation. His enthusiasm and literary flights are always grounded in irony, humour and robust facts.'For most people I know, this little room would be a prison cell or a catafalque. My movements, admittedly, are limited. I can lie on the cot, sit on the stool, pace five paces before I must turn on my heel and retrace my steps. I can, if I choose, read, type, stretch, or sleep. I can study once again the contours of the mountains, the sensuous shapes of the mesas’ edges, the intricate drainages fingering out of the hills.' A beautiful, bittersweet eulogy to a life he loves. Perhaps not for those who dislike a gentle pace, intolerant of a tiny amount of repetition (how bad fire repression is) and the odd, uneasy digression. It is on the whole is almost perfect. Highly Recommended.read more
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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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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Reviews

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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Sublime musings from a fire look out. 'I've seen lunar eclipses and desert sandstorms and lightning that made my hair stand on end. I've watched deer and elk frolic in the meadow below me, and pine trees explode in a blue ball of smoke. If there's a better job anywhere on the planet, I'd like to know what it is.’ Philip Conor is fire lookout in USA's Gila National Forest, 5 months of the year he spends his days, miles from civilisation looking for wisps of smoke. It’s a stunning piece of nature writing; blending an engaging memoir, fascinating histories, wry musings on solitude, evocative descriptions of the wild and passionate pleas of conservation. His enthusiasm and literary flights are always grounded in irony, humour and robust facts.'For most people I know, this little room would be a prison cell or a catafalque. My movements, admittedly, are limited. I can lie on the cot, sit on the stool, pace five paces before I must turn on my heel and retrace my steps. I can, if I choose, read, type, stretch, or sleep. I can study once again the contours of the mountains, the sensuous shapes of the mesas’ edges, the intricate drainages fingering out of the hills.' A beautiful, bittersweet eulogy to a life he loves. Perhaps not for those who dislike a gentle pace, intolerant of a tiny amount of repetition (how bad fire repression is) and the odd, uneasy digression. It is on the whole is almost perfect. Highly Recommended.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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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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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