Saturday, January 23, 2021

A Fire Lookout Manual

Originally appeared at MOJAVE HEART, now defunct, January 2019.


A Fire Lookout Manual

Wind from the southwest

sitting on the east side of the

tower catching enough to keep

bugs at bay with a big dark rain

cloud over Ola tracking east

across High Valley tho north

mostly clear with ‘fair weather

cumulus’ according to the poster

Boise Dispatch weather guy

gave us lookouts in June

now its July and I’m in jeans

and a hoodie because when

clouds go over the sun and the

wind too the temperature drops

drastically—other days I might

be just in shorts or naked usually

in the morning when no one will

be dropping in since its a 2-hour

hike minimum from any of the

trailheads—more really— not

counting the drive though one

guy did show up around 8:30

one morning with his two dogs

said he'd left Boise at 4:30

actually did get caught one time

doing laundry on a hot day

just some dish soap in a bucket

and hot water squeezing it out

hanging underwear and shirts on

the fence tho they tend to blow

off in the wind but I was naked

inside heating the second round

opened the screen door and whoah!

people down by the helispot

so I threw on jeans and shirt

and continued like nothing

they came up and said nothing

so maybe didn’t even see me

the mom had been up before

she was friendly but the rest

didn’t stay long—nobody does

tho my tower in Arizona

(Ed Abbey’s old Aztec tower)

which had a road all the way up

attracted different types

people driving 2 hours from

Phoenix past all kinds of trails

and creeks woods and meadows

all to walk 20 feet from their

cars to the tower stairs and sure

the view was nice but many

seemed to want to see me

to talk to me as if I were a wise

man or kook (that last is true)

and there were always Visitors

whereas here I go days w/o

people which is nice—to quote

Bukowski ‘I don’t hate people,

I just feel better when they’re not

around’ but now I hear voices

coming up the trail who would

come up on a wednesday

w/a rain storm to the south?

oh hell I might—wonder

if there'll be lightning today—

tomorrows my day off I’ll

go into Boise to buy food—

I’m eating a salad every day—

but I guess I’ll brew some tea

and get ready for the Visitors

when the wind dies down

up here bugs do come out

flies mostly and horseflies

and the big fat hovering kind

that never land or bite but just

seem to watch me but too

butterflies of all colors

and sizes flitting and fluttering

around rocks below the tower

and sometimes my head

when I’m out on the catwalk

aggregating rubbing antennae

looks like they’re playing—

looping around in pairs or

groups or singly climbing

diving and swooping just for

sheer joy tho some bugologist

would spoil everything and

explain I know the explanation

would even be interesting but

there would be no play so yes

here I am wanting to remain

willfully ignorant—the attitude

I despise most in americans

and people in general but today

is cold and rainy a cold wind

possibly lightning tho maybe not

and I’ll still sit out on the catwalk

and read and it will be good

but a butterfly or two is nice

there is a fire lookout manual

there’s a manual in the federal

government for everything

(even apparently torture) but

really looking out for fires is

basic (I fear trained monkeys

will replace me) it’s just a sense

of familiarity with the landscape

and watching it every day all

day changing w/the light and

weather like Manet water lilies

and haystacks except bigger so

when a smoke puffs up you

notice it right off tho yes during

storms you pay attention to

downstrikes and look in those

areas first thing in the morning

and yes I do get out the binos

scanning the far mountains

especially to the north—cells

seem to track over there I’m

not sure why tho Francis an

older guy who’s worked on the

Forest for 40 years thinks

because there’s what he calls

a heat wall to the west in the

high desert BLM Land blocking

Oregon and Nevada clouds

or that’s what’s happening

this summer anyways

I should probably shave today

worried not taking advantage

of time here to do more

constructive things like write

but most people would think I’m

an idiot for being anxious

about anything up here but

it’s my nature as one ex-

girlfriend pointed out when

she gave me a worry stone from

Fire Island (though she didn’t

know about Frank O’Hara)

it’s round and flatish smooth

and I kept it in my jacket pocket

all through my time in New York

rubbing it with my fingers

turning it in my hand I still have

it though don’t carry it so much

as keep it in my little pile of

sacred things I bring with me

wherever I move tho I’m not

sure where it is now probably

in my truck but the point is why

be anxious until the end of summer

and even after why be anxious

about anything anywhere? just do

what needs to be done well—but

what about the future and money

why even write or play music

they feel good in the moment

but don’t earn me money tho

jobs are interesting too or can

be and should be else why do

them? and they get me meeting

people which I guess is good

tho I like sitting on this mountain

alone watching clouds build

over the Middle Fork playing

mandolin and reading Basho

tho even Buddha said friends

are everything or at least

friends gathered to meditate

tho he also said that if you

can’t find good friends you

should go alone which is what

I’ve been doing for forever

met some good people

on the way tho our paths went

always different

a cow elk bathes in the alpine

lake below almost every day

when there’s sun—sometimes

joined by two sisters but mostly

she wades in up to her neck eating

lily pads like catnip I mean she

thrashes her head around in what

can only be pleasure though I’m

sure being in the water keeps flies

away which cows up here (the

Forest still sells grazing allotments

at a loss) haven’t figured out they

just shit everywhere and tear

up the whole mountain

always go barefoot—that’s the

blessing of being a fire lookout

you don’t have to put up with

silly social rules tho no women

in hosiery up here—no women

at all hardly tho 2 weeks ago

a teenage girls church group

hiked up from Sagehen Camp-

ground and my eyes about

bugged out but they were

mormons so—en masse any-

ways—they’d be even gooder

girls than any others but to

answer the question I get most

no I don’t get lonely—only

when I go down for a day off

in Boise and see the women

especially in the grocery store

where they’re not even trying

to look good but they look

really good because real and

I have thoughts like if I didn’t

run away out to the woods all

the time maybe one of those

women would like to sip green

tea with me and then I get a

twinge of loneliness but then

I come back up to the mountain

and think no it’s ok I’m alright

the firefinder is called an

adelaide I don’t know why tho

most people call it a firefinder

except old-timers or else sometimes

they say aladaide you can check

the official manual if you care

but just call it a firefinder and

the real skill you need is to read

maps to look out at a mountain

and find it on the map so you

can rough estimate how far

away the smoke is and a

tentative legal the township

range and section number which

matters as to whether an

engine crew gets sent up the

east side or west side of a

mountain and how far they have

to hike in which can make them

very angry with you if you

fuck up but mostly Dispatch

sends a helicopter first and/or

air-attack plane and they

gps the fire exactly but still you

need to get the right mountain or

drainage because sometimes

at the end of the summer when

the forest is nice and wet the

upper-ups may decide to just let

the fire burn if it’s out in

the middle of nowhere which

is a good thing to just let it

burn like fires did all the

time until about 100 years ago

when we started putting them out

now our forests are glutted with

dead and down fuels so in the dry

season we get catostrophic fires

which burn everything when healthy

fires burn the dead and down but

leave bigger trees and in fact

some trees need fire either to

cause their seeds to sprout or

to kill off invasive bugs and

so I say to you are you letting

your own fires burn sometimes?

sure fire is dangerous if

you’re not careful but imagine

your inner forest clear of

debris your inner trees strong

and healthy that comes from

embracing fire not feeding it

but not fighting it either let

it do its thing and keep a

lookout on high to observe

and can you read the map

of your heart can you tell

someone where your fires are?

the best

way to

find the


of a fire

is two






a cross



Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Gillian Welch's Boots

 My essay/review, “Gillian Welch’s Boots,” about Gillian Welch, and her new “Boots vols. 1, 2 and 3” and older albums, up now at SPLICE TODAY: