Too many years ago I wrote a review of Norman Maclean’s Of Young Men and Fire, about the deaths of fourteen firefighters in Mann Gulch in 1949, using the title above. I was experimenting with a particular voice, thinking about trying to break into creative nature writing. That little review is one of the pieces I kinda like, more of a mood piece reacting to the work rather than an out-and-out review where I mused on the likelihood that those of us going out to the woods could get caught in a similar situation.
And then the thing hit the street on July 5th 1994. The day before fourteen firefighters on the South Canyon fire on Storm King Mountain in Colorado died in similar circumstances as the firefighters in Mann Gulch. The timing rocked me back a wee bit, but I guess it only had a meaning for me as we went camping through another dry, hot summer with high fire danger.
Time passed. We got too busy to do a lot of camping, and started focusing on other things. Woodland fire was a concern but only as it affected specific events, plus we went through several cool summers.
Now we’re back in a long, hot, dry summer. We’ve moved back to a rural community where fires can affect our lives not just by air quality but whether we can go out to the woods to harvest firewood, where we travel, and possibly even where the horse lives. We notice things like how green the grasses are under the trees and how many little burn scars by the interstate are new since the last time we drove through.
We survey the horizons, and pay attention to wind patterns and cloud formations in the hope that lightning will bring rain. Most of all, we think about the autumn rains to come.
But the rains are still at least six weeks out. That’s a long time when the world around you is a tinderbox.
Six weeks or more of thinking about wind, and grass, and fire.
Hopefully thinking is all I’ll have to do about it.