By Peter M. Leschak
In a chain of essays, the writer explores the myriad of relationships among nature--from the north woods of Minnesota to the mountains of Mexico--and his consistent fight to understand the price of every second of lifestyles. UP.
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I pointed them out to Richard, and he stared for several seconds to make them out. We quickly moved on, noting the location so we could allow it a wide berth for the rest of the day. During decades of living in the woods I had never seen woodcock chicks, and it was an unexpected gift, a moment of revelation. If I hadn't nearly hit the birds with my planting bar, they would have remained undiscovered—their aim, of course, but I was satisfied no harm was done. I just hoped they—and we—can thrive in an old country.
I nodded, reckoning the slow hours of monotony and drudgery that are often the most formidable challenge of a wildfire crew. Contrary to vivid impressions offered by the media, boredom is more customary than terror, yawns as potent as adrenaline. "It all pays the same" is a proverb of the fire grunt, but it's easier to dig line, drenched in sweat, than to stand by—waiting, waiting—for transportation, for deci- 41 sions, for the fire to lie down. It often seems that most of our time is consumed bumping along in buses or trucks, fidgeting in line for meals or an empty privy, patrolling for unlikely hot spots on cold mountainsides.
The reality fit the old daydream to a literally hair-raising degree, except there were no photographers from the national media to record the grin that lit my face when I realized I was actually living a fantasy. I wondered—had that conjured image of August 1973 directed my life choices in some subconscious way to ensure its fulfillment? It could have been coincidence, but felt grander. To end up on a fire crew in Oregon at age thirty-six was an unlikely prospect, and certainly not consciously planned nor anticipated.