The Gila National Forest covers about 3.3 million acres in southwest New Mexico. During the dry summer season, wildfires pose a serious threat to the area. To spot wildfires in this vast landscape as soon as they start, the U.S. Forest Service relies on fire towers spread throughout the area that are each manned by a lone individual. My guest today wrote a memoir about the unique experience this job offers. His name is Philip Connors, he’s a writer and one of the country’s few remaining fire watchers. Today on the show we discuss what the life of a fire watcher is like and what it’s taught him about nature, solitude, and time. Along the way, Phillip describes the virtues of listening to baseball games by radio and the value of slowing down in an increasingly rushed world.
- The history of fire towers in the West
- The decline of these towers (and why they aren’t used as much anymore)
- Why some environs still require fire watchers, and what drew Philip to the job
- What happens when a fire is spotted?
- Philip’s day-to-day routine as a watcher
- Is the solitude unnerving?
- On balancing solitude with community/sociability
- The changes over the years in how Philip perceives nature
- How fires themselves have changed over the years
- Does Philip get bored? How does he pass the time?
- Why Philip writes in longhand when he’s at the fire tower
- The virtues of listening to baseball on the radio
- The biggest fire Philip has seen
- Takeaways on life and nature that Philip has gleaned from his decades as a watcher
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout (Philip’s book about being a fire watcher)
- The Big Burn by Timothy Egan
- Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It
- Jack Kerouac’s 63 days on Desolation Peak
- Gila National Forest
- Osborne Fire Finder
- The Adventure of Silence
- Lessons on Solitude From an Antarctic Explorer
- How to Score a Baseball Game With Pencil and Paper
- Megafire by Michael Kodas
Connect With Philip
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Recorded on ClearCast.io
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