Things About Today

I am not readjusting well, y'all. Today I used the excuse that I was off of my thyroid medicine for four days and it will take me awhile to rebuild my energy, which Josh bought, but I am not sure what I will use tomorrow. I go through these phases, a couple times a year. I wander through my house and stare at things. I could fold all of that laundry. I could vacuum my floors (again). I should wash my windows. But I do nothing. I wander from room to room and do nothing. At least today I got dressed and drove to the post office. It felt like nothing since there was one boring letter from the IRS and nothing exciting. I visited a friend and gossiped until my back hurt from standing, and then I came back and did more of nothing. I guess I did a couple loads of laundry. And helped Aspen go through her clothes and clean her room a little. That was overwhelming and I was forced to take a nap afterward. I looked at a recipe for orange marmalade, thinking I would use this pile of questionable looking oranges I brought home from the fires. But I didn't make it. I feel so uninspired. I have sat down with my computer three times to think of something poignant to say, so that I can feel like at least I waxed eloquent today, if I have done nothing else, but I ended up wandering through Monica and Serge Bielanko's blog and was much happier. I feel caught - in between something and something else, but I can't identify either one. Fire season and school? Cleaning and remodeling? Summer and Fall? My sweatpants are too hot and my shorts are too cold and everything else makes me feel REALLY FAT. Therefore, bed is the best place to be. Or in the kitchen, rummaging through the cupboards over and over, looking for something that isn't there. I have been waiting impatiently from meal to meal today, anticipating something to eat that will appear out of nowhere. Apparently the fire caterers didn't follow me home. I tried to make tuna for lunch, but we had no tuna.  So then egg salad, but no eggs. Finally I found some canned chicken to make chicken salad, we had no mayonnaise. No bread, no vegetables. Nothing. I made chicken salad with creamy italian dressing. It was weird but the kids ate it. Or Josh did. He ate dinner left overs for brunch, which was slightly disorienting when I shuffled out of bed at 9:30 am and he had a plate of BBQ chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans. It was like I had accidentally slept through the day. But he did make me coffee and it was really good coffee.

I just feel... OFF. How do I get back on? It doesn't help that I still have a lingering cough, and maybe a teeny bladder infection, among my usual afflictions, but I can't seem to find a reason to get motivated. I am un-animated. Maybe I need some socialization. Or a drink. I haven't had a good solid drink yet. Maybe it really is my thyroid. Maybe it's depression because I gained ten pounds and my face is all broken out. Maybe I am not getting enough caffeine. Or enough naps. I definitely need to get my heart rate up, get moving, but I can't think of a good reason to. Maybe I just needed a couple days off and tomorrow I will wake up ready to kick the day in the bum. Maybe.

Things That I Am Recovering From

Every year I go through this ritual: being gone too long working on fires and coming home to total household collapse. It's like my house is not my own, and I don't even know where to begin the restoration process. This year I swore I wouldn't put my family through the traditional freak-out demon-mom session, since it really isn't fair to them, so I have spent the last 17 hours employing all types of breathing exercises and chanting little mantras to myself. One step at a time. It's only dirt. It's all fixable. It will be better soon. One load of laundry. Clean the toilet. Wash the dishes. Look in the refrigerator. Walk away, save that for when you are drunk later. Of course it doesn't help that I came home feeling like the worst kind of crap you can imagine. The kind of crap that I can't even tell anybody about because you'd look at me forever like the girl that feels like that kind of crap. Damaging crap. Damaging to my body and mind and soul. My body had the kind of break down while I was away that bodies just shouldn't have. Even old people bodies. The kind with stuff happening that you can't really pay people enough money to deal with because it's that uncool. Like, "kids, when I get old, if I ever start to ______, then just shoot me, ok?" Except I am 36, which granted is old, but not old enough for this stuff. I just want to crawl into my bed and hide. Or die. Or both. But I can't, because then people, like my husband, are like, why are you hiding in bed? And I am like, because I don't want to talk about it. And he is like, what did I do now? And I am like, it's not about you. But go away. And he is like, but we need to unpack the car. And the household has collapsed. Someone needs to re-erect it. And I am like, crap. One more load of laundry. A shower. Put on a bra that has been worn less than 5 days in a row. Vacuum. Cut hair out of power head. Vacuum. Do more dishes. Imagine cooking dinner. Do not cry. Imagine going to store to buy dinner. Do not hyperventilate. You used to know how to cook. Vacuum some more. Hide in bed. Succumb to guilt. Clean the bathroom sink. How does it get so gross in a month with less than one person using it? Consider folding laundry. Save that for the drunken later. Put on cleanest pair of sweatpants. Curse broken body. Take a nap.

This is what the day after a month of fire looks like. I just want someone that is dressed like a fairy godmother and who smells really clean to come over here and pat me on my head and say, there there, I know how much your ______ hurts right now, you just relax with these Very Strong Narcotics and some cheap wine while I tear out all of your disgusting carpets and paint your walls and make you Chicken Divan for dinner. That's all. Just that.

Instead, I will load up my long dormant Scentsy warmers that seem to mock me with their futile and fictitious clean smells. I will stare at the family pack of chicken thighs and contemplate how to cook them. I will change my clothes three times, thinking some outfit will make me feel better and like I didn't gain 10 pounds sitting in a very uncomfortable car for 30 days. I will just breathe. And maybe I will start drinking. And as that sets in, I will start to imagine how great our house will be with the new, clean, fresh-wood smelling floors that the fires have bought us. And the new, clean, smooth tiles in the not-disgusting-anymore bathroom after it gets fixed up in a couple of weeks. And all of the other amazing changes that a month of getting-through it has earned. It is so good to be home. Even if the household has collapsed. Every dish needs to be re-washed, every towel folded, every surface decontaminated, de-haired and dusted. By the time my head cold and these other too-bad-to-talk-about maladies have subsided, the house will be clean enough that I won't feel like I need toilet seat covers in my own bathroom and nitrile gloves to touch my own dishes. It's just the combination of a new-old house that still has remnants of someone else's dirt and the haunting aura of a smell that isn't ours, with a month of feral dogs and kids and Nobody That Really Cares, and being out of control. It really all boils down to control. I am out of control of my body, my house, my kids, my life. I put it on hold for too long and lost control. And it isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's a chance to figure out what I can, and should control in my life, and re-evaluate where my priorities are. Clearly in this case it was a clean toilet, since that's the first thing I did last night and then just to be safe, repeated the procedure this morning. I have also had no fewer than three pairs of sweatpants on since nine o clock last night, as if I have been gone from them for so long that they all needed a turn on my body when I got home. Sweatpants are another item of Major Importance in my life, apparently. And I haven't yelled at either of the two kids that have been around, which means that they must be pretty important too. I think I have gotten enough small things done to warrant a nap. Just a small one. And then I will start again.

Things About Feminine Hygiene (rated NSM [not suitable for mother])

Dear Bethany:

John told me you were toying with the idea of getting a pee-valve for your dry suit. I thought I would share with you some of the finer nuances of hair removal and outdoorsiness as it relates to your crotch. This being my tenth season in wildland fire, I don't think it differs terribly from scuba diving, in the sense that I am completely immersed in a sea of grungy males, usually devoid of space to pee without an audience. I have often bemoaned the lack of the apparatus for discreet relief that doesn't force me to wander several miles from working crews. Listening to his description of a pee-valve, I am curious about the prospect of retrofitting such a device for hiking/ camping adventures. I know that these exist already in some form, but obviously I am much too prudish and/or embarrassed to go into REI and inquire about such. After ten years I have adopted the mindset that whatever the fire grunts happen to see when nature calls is really enough consequence for their sin of looking, but I can't help but think there must be an easier way. Like being male, or something. In discussing the dry suit contraption, aside from the worry of the occasional trailer floor spill incident (eww) I would share your concern for allergic sensitivities to glues and plastics Down There. I am also of a somewhat delicate makeup in this area.

You'll have to let me know how the female pee-valve works out for you, and which drug combination you use to cure the burning reaction to the glue. In discussing hair removal, I can't recommend the Brazilian wax highly enough. The momentary pain, something akin to getting a tattoo, but less permanently gratifying, really is worth avoiding weeks of razor burn, ingrown hairs and missing those hard to reach places that make up most of the crotchal region. In terms of outdoor hygiene, this fire season has been a severe reminder for me that nothing beats the Brazillian for long term comfort and cleanliness. Except maybe laser removal, for which I have recently seen Living Social two-fer deals lately and would be totally down for a girls outing one of these days...  But if you decide to go the wax route, I cannot stress enough that the do it yourself kits at home are a TERRIBLE IDEA. I tried one once, and probably lacking the resolution to pull firmly or quickly enough, I was left with a bloody, hickey looking type wound, and most of my hair intact. Pay the money for professional help. I would also recommend researching Yelp or some other source to find a good waxer, because the bad ones are, well. Bad. I could share some experiences with you, but I have happily blotted them from my memory. A good waxer should be personable, but not invasive. For example, it's kind of disconcerting to have a deep conversation about father figure relationships when you are getting a Brazilian. My favorite topic of conversation when in this very vulnerable and compromised position is the the waxer's experience level, which can also be nerve-wracking if the experience is revealed to be less than two weeks in evolution, but if you've done your Yelp homework, you should be safe. Always ask the waxer is she does male brazilians. This question serves two purposes: 1. It provides a distraction for both parties that alleviates insecurities about body image (if she's waxed guys, any girl looks "normal") , and 2. It gives you insight into the skill of your waxer. Clearly males would be more difficult, and require more skill. Plus the question usually cues some fascinating, if not hilarious stories.

If you're too discreet to go and get waxed, then spare no expense shaving. I have long been an advocate of Venus razors,  the ones with the built in shaving cream, as well as some good shaving gel (I like Aveeno's sensitive skin one, it serves double duty with Josh's baby face), and only go "down there" when the razor is new-ish. I am sure there are cheaper razors that would work, but I haven't found them. I just stock up at Costco on the best ones. Unless I forget to. I did that enroute to this last fire, as well as frugally skipping the wax, and had to send Josh into town for a razor for me. I used an old disposable one of his once, and paid for that for days and days.  He was really excited that he scored a deal on the Venus Spa razors at the local grocery store, proudly boasting that he got them for way less than I do at Costco, 5 blades for $12, til I pointed out that all five blades he had purchased were on one razor head. He was quite perturbed, and rightly so.

In recovering from the desperate use of Josh's dull disposable razor in the nether regions, I used a balm that I don't think I will ever be caught without again. It's called Herbal Savvy ($5.40 on Amazon!), and I originally got it to help with scars and acne on my face. It really heals and soothes, and it's not super expensive. I slather it on after every shaving now.

I know that preceding generations couldn't (and don't) understand hair removal in these regions. I think that there is a scandalized mindset that brazilians are the new Nair, justifying short shorts and high-cut bathing suits and feeding into a sex oriented vanity that should never have become an issue for civilized humans. For me, I will admit that my first Brazilian was about impressing a guy, but now, it is 100% comfort and hygiene driven. And so I never have to worry about the stray hairs sneaking out of even the most modest swimsuit. Which is a heinous and nearly unforgivable social violation.

Good luck with your pee valve. Please let me know how it works. And your hair removal,  however you choose to accomplish it. And don't forget, I'm totally up for that laser two-fer....

Yours in feminine hygiene,


Things I Think About

There is a task force leader here named Rattan. Is he named after porch furniture?

I had josh go to the store and get me celery and blue cheese dressing to eat here, because fruit is plentiful and vegetables are found only in the salad bar at dinner. I have been dutifully eating the fruit, at the expense of my stomach, to the point that it tastes like poison to me. The celery is awesome. Especially since Josh delivered it with a bouquet of bright flowers. AND blue cheese. He is, as always, my hero. But chewing through giant crispy stalks of celery, even with the not-fat-free dressing, leaves me feeling like maybe I just did an aerobics routine. 

When one ear is burning, does that mean that people are sort of talking about me? Like peripherally? 

Yesterday as we were driving off the fire line, josh decided, perhaps prematurely, to take off his yellow Nomex shirt. Technically we were still inside the fire, and yellows are supposed to be on in ANY proximity to the fire, but Josh was having shirt difficulties. Apparently he decided that it's too hot to wear a t shirt under his Nomex, but the Nomex on skin is kind of itchy and uncomfortable unless you have stolen some of the old school shirts, which he hasn't. So he's always in a hurry to get out of his yellow. Josh made several mistakes here. 1. Wearing Nomex without a t-shirt underneath. 2. Deciding to remove Nomex while still inside the fire 3. While driving 4. Without knowing where his t shirt was 5. Or knowing it was inside out 6. Or realizing the entire night division (12 or so vehicles) was coming around the corner of the Very Narrow Road. 7. Getting his wrist stuck in one yellow sleeve 8. Trying to hide his nakedness behind a narrow seatbelt 9. Looking extremely guilty when the safety officer drove by 10. Not just waiting til we were stopped outside of the fire to switch shirts. I feel like I probably looked like a deer in the headlights, riding through smoke and flames next to a naked man. The seatbelt really didn't hide much. I hope josh learned his lesson. It's just lucky we didn't have to stop and get out since I was already out of my fire boots. ;) 

Things About Fire Camp

This is my tenth season in wildland fire. You'd think by now that I would have it figured out, surviving this mini-world with its own rules, but I am still learning. For my fire and non fire friends, I'd like to share with you some of the survival techniques I have adopted. 

Fire Camp Survival Guidelines

1. In a wildland fire setting, the more smiley and friendly you are, the farther it will get you. Being cute helps, but isn't entirely necessary. I have heard that this approach works well all hours of the day, but because of personal handicaps, I can only vouch for the hours of the day beginning at about 9 AM. 

2. Personal hygiene is a highly subjective and easily justified area of compromise in the wild land fire world. The necessity and frequency of showering, with or without shower unit availability, is hotly debated and widely considered to be of a personal nature, except when you share a crew rig with one or more other people. At this point, it must be decided as a collective whether bathing is a requirement, an option, or strictly forbidden. Thank heavens most Hotshot crews are moving away from the idea that a shower is a sign of weakness, but we still have some paradigms to overthrow. I, personally am of the every-other-day school of thought, any more would seem indulgent, any less, assuming you have showers at you disposal, would just be unnecessarily gross. In the event that showers are not available, dry shampoo does serve a purpose other than decorating the inside of Paris Hilton's overnight bag. Also hats. Hats are good.*

3. Getting dressed. This continues to be one of the Great Challenges of life in fire. For those of you who sleep in tents occasionally for "fun", it is readily apparent that standing to dress can be problematic for any adult of an ordinary size, unless your tent is the Taj Mahal of outdoor lodging, which I would frankly be too embarrassed to unfurl at a fire camp. The Taj Mahals are here, and widely mocked by hotshots who still insist that people who are not weak sleep sans-tent on any not-flame-engulfed piece of ground. But a reasonable tent of the 1-3 man variety still leaves room to be desired (literally) when one goes to get dressed in the dark, cold, early mornings. Over the years I have learned to dress myself in a laying position. This is pretty easy, except for the Bra, which as we saw in recent stories, becomes a day long issue at times. The other danger in this lying down approach to dressing, is the risk of catching something in the Velcro of your nomex pants without noticing. This could be something innocent, like a sock, or one of the many hats that are placed strategically around the tent for quick retrieval. More often than not, the thing stuck to your Velcro will be a pair of dirty underwear.  Dirty underwear on a fire are different than regular dirty underwear at home. Whether this is because of the generally understood rule of 4 (inside, outside, front and back, gets you four days of "clean" underwear out of one pair), or because squatting to pee in the ash results in a gray/black dusty effect regardless of the color they started as, dirty fire undies are just embarrassing. Especially when you wear them to the morning briefing in the Velcro of your Nomex pockets. So always check your Velcro. Also zippers. Zippers on Nomex pants are notorious for refusing to go up, stay up, or close without catching the yellow tail of your Nomex shirt. The standard fire fighter finger sweep of the zipper fly is at least an hourly occurrence, and can be pulled of deftly, as if one was just reaching casually for one's pocket -  but making sure the zipper pull is exactly where it is supposed to be for maximum modesty. Again, no one wants to see fire undies. Especially if they're on outside or backwards days. I have arrived at briefing with almost every article of clothing on inside out and/or backwards at least once, luckily never all at once. On nights when I am really tired, I usually don't bother to take anything except my pants off to sleep, knowing that an equally tired 5 AM will make dressing a disaster. Nomex clothing on a fire can be exchanged for standard issue stuff at supply, rather than washing it, but if you buy the fancy designer Nomex, it's up to you to keep it clean. My new favorite hobby is visiting supply to see if anyone accidentally turned in some name brand Nomex, and have completely overcome both my pride and my fear of poison oak in digging through the bin of turned in dirties - dumpster diving ala Wildland Fire. This tactic won me 8 old school Nomex shirts last year, the vintage, smooth ones that are WAY more comfortable. This year I stumbled across a pair of Kevlar pants in almost my exact size! $200, y'all. My partner, Lee, was both impressed and envious, so we went back the next day, just to see, and I scavenged another pair, in almost his exact size! We were a little giddy with our good luck and vowed to check supply morning and night for the duration of the assignment. 

4. Eating. Everybody knows that we eat great on fires. 4000 calories a day, all you can eat salad bar, and lots of snacks. The dark side of fire-food is the mystery meat sandwiches for lunch, pastrami that is rainbow colored, mixed veggies for dinner that are a suspiciously high concentration of watery Lima beans, and really bad coffee. I will leave coffee it's own space and address the rest. Dinner is usually great. There's almost always something edible for dinner, if nothing else, the salad bar is often a safe fallback. I usually eat the meat that is the main course and salad. I've learned to skip the bread, and often the starch sides and cooked vegetables. I've even managed to avoid most deserts. Except for the strawberry shortcake last night. And milk. I drink a lot of milk at if camp. It's just tradition. After ten years in fire, I have finally come to the realization that I don't like fire lunches. I still get them so I can take the two granola bars, dried fruit and grandma's cookies home to the kids (or Husband), and eat the fritos, but I find little that I can really digest. As I mentioned, if you can identify the stack of meat in your sandwich, it will undoubtedly be translucent, at best, and usually technicolor. Survival techniques for this fire problem vary. Usually a run to the closest store for chips and bean dip do it for me, maybe stealing yogurt and cold cereal from the breakfast bar, some people I know save part of the giant portion of meat from dinner the night before. Any fire overhead personnel worth his mettle will be packing a Jetboil. The Jetboil is the line firefighter's mealtime salvation. In addition to making your own coffee (next section), e Jetboil is amazing for soups, frying salvageable parts of fire lunches (I.e. burritos, thin sliced ham, etc), and just giving you something to do if you are sitting on the line all day waiting for someone to have an emergency. Last year when it was late season and it was cold and I had a little bit of camp crud, i got some of the Bear Creeek soup mix and some crackers. I had the best little cheddar and brocolli picknick on my tailgate. Always pack snacks. Always. Unless you are me, and forget to, and whine for days. 

5. Coffee is the single most important part of fire camp survival. Most food units make their giant vats of coffee with a coffee concentrate as opposed to grounds. It's pretty disgusting, unless you scald all of your taste buds off early into the fire because it's also much hotter that humanly reasonable. Our medical unit, and many of the other fringe overhead organizations, bring a coffee maker and "real" coffee to camp with them. Sometimes the secret leaks out and you find yourself waiting in line for the third pot because the entire overhead roster has come for a cup. My biggest issue personally is finding acceptable cream sources. I've often had to resort to powdered creamer, which I honestly prefer to the sickly-sweet, coffee mate flavored creamers which are available in great abundance and basically just a compound of poisons and sugar. This fire has almost real half and half, of the tiny cup, non-refrigerated variety, and since the coffee tastes bad, I've been adding a packet of honey. Later we will discuss honey. But it makes my coffee taste almost like a carmel latte. The ideal set up, especially for a line medic, is a Jetboil and a French press, or the available combination thereof. I'd prefer to have them separately, because ultimately, after seasons of unwashed use, the French Press is a robust and well seasoned shrine to good coffee, and I don't really want my broccoli cheese soup tasting like java. On my last assignment, I took a pint of heavy whipping cream, my coffee additive of hedonistic choice. The paper carton didn't hold up well in the cooler of ice though, so I am rethinking my approach. Probably a Rubbermaid bottle from home? A good buddy of mine packs Starbucks Via with her Jetboil, no press needed. I'm not in love with Via, or Starbucks in general, but it's better than coffee syrup coffee, by a long shot. **

6. Sleeping. One word: Benadryl. Until I get my own camper with a memory foam mattress, no configuration of stolen gray foam mats from supply, thermarests, sleeping bags and quilts from home can fend off the inevitable back spasm after several days of tossing and turning. This morning I woke up with a bruise in my left gluteal muscle, presumably from a flashlight or pair of socks or something that was easily mistaken for part of the "bed".The best approach to sleeping in fire camp involves identifying and avoiding floodlights, smoking areas, cell phone reception pockets, and poison oak, taking a Benadryl and not remembering the night at all. NyQuil is another camp favorite, but may be harder to talk the resident EMT into handing out, depending on how benevolent they're feeling. An EMT who has fixed a lot of BooBoos in a day is usually feeling pretty high on their protocol administration, and is likely more pliable than a bored camp EMT who hasn't had a chance to flex their medical knowledge for the day and is dying to tell you why they can't give you NyQuil. So always look for the dirtiest medic in the unit. Which will very likely be me. 

7. Socialization is another key factor in this microcosm. Learning where it is important to make friends will get you a long way. Some of the most important people to buddy up to included communications (you'll never have to beg for batteries), medical (dibs on the rare Green Gold Bond?), And supply (vintage Nomex and unlimited duct tape and glow sticks). Food is also a good place to have friends, you can get a preview of meals which can determine a detour through town for a quick stop. It never hurts to have the  Incident Commander and a few assorted operational bigwigs on your side, in case of unruly bosses, ordering up friends and/spouses or snagging primo spots on the line. "we need medic Weston for this float assignment on the Rogue River." "I'd like Medic Weston to fly the fire with me for some strategic medical planning." Friends in high places, y'all. See guideline 1. 

I'm always looking for new tricks and interesting fire-coping mechanisms. Feedback welcome!

*I am in search of a reasonably cool and not-itchy Denver Broncos beanie. 
**Dutch Bros should come out with an instant coffee, y'all.

Things About Near Death Experiences

Ok. The cool thing about near death experiences is that you don't actually die. No matter how close you come, you can't die. Because then it wouldn't be a near death experience. You never know how you'll respond to imminent death, all up in your grill. My first thoughts were A) how ticked my kids would be to miss the Avett Brothers show in October, and B) whether I was wearing my super grodiest undies for when the medics (who would inevitably be friends of mine) cut the clothes off of my body. The final decision to NOT die was based entirely on the memory that the side of my bra was twisted and I hadn't bothered to fix it so I would look like a blind three year old had put my under garments on. Clearly this would be an unacceptable condition for body discovery. 

My near death experience started when one of the other medics brought this huge native kid into the med unit from the line with some sort of a "sting". He was pretty sure it was a scorpion, since his face and arms were "tingling". This is type 2 firefighter speak for "I got a pine needle in my shirt and I am tired of working." We gave him some Benadryl and made him sit in the sick bay for awhile, but pretty soon he realized the medical unit was even more boring than the murky pond next to an old mine where his crew was hanging out, so he asked for a ride back. 

Being in my fragile condition, my team has graciously made it possible for me to do work around camp instead of hiking into poison oak laden gorges of sharp rock. As we've already established, the medical unit can get pretty boring, so I volunteered to drive him up to his crew. Most of the drive was spectacular, up the Rogue River, twisting and tumbling into yellow green hills that stood like gnarled rock sentinels guarding the path to the ocean. We turned off on a narrow gravel road with a sign that said "Last Chance Mine", and weaved our way up the deep ravine. The road was one car wide. Only one. Not one and a half. Not two. I was rambling on about how two way traffic on this road would be a nightmare, blah blah blah. We got to the top, or at least the end of the good road, where some crazy person lives. Tingly-Arms said his crew was up a road that only barely qualified as one, and that the other medic had driven it, so it would probably be ok. 

A couple things to know about the other medic, Gary, is that he is in his mid sixties, has worked for Fish & Wildlife for 1000 years as well as raising cattle and several kids. He can't hear a thing, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't feel much either - I have worked with Gary a lot and I really truly like him. But Gary has absolutely no fear of death. He is an animal. Of course he drove this hill. In his F&W truck. Casually, I'm sure,  not even noticing the insane slope or the deep water-worn trenches and frost heaves around mastiff sized boulders. So here I go, up the hill. I did have the foresight to put my rental Jeep Pioneer in 4WD, which may or may not have saved my life. Tingly-Arms didn't seem at all nervous about the hill. The thing about boys is they're really good about doing things without thinking about them. The thing about girls is that they change their minds way too often. Which is exactly what I did, halfway into the 50 degree slope on the first turn. As I tried to dig a hole in the floorboard with the brake peddle, and engaged the emergency brake, I could almost see Tingly Arms giggling out of the corner of my terror filled eye. The jeep was sliding backwards, diagonally, between two not-friendly looking edges of the road, which were even steeper. I had the underwear and bra conversation with myself as I hung suspended, looking out my driver's side window, towards Certain Death. I was completely convinced that we were hanging sideways with one axle hooked on a big rock, and there was no way down but rolling. Which, based on the accident last week on these roads where a water tender rolled and killed the 19 year old driver, seemed like a terrible idea. Tingly Arms had a mischievous grin, and told me I should "just gun it" which I snapped back would be really easy to do if I could stop sliding. His smug 18-year-oldness, combined with my underwear epiphany, and the fact that I had basically NO other choice, compelled me to follow his instructions. I'm fairly certain that I closed my eyes, and somehow made it up on the second attempt at "gunning it". The next corner wasn't much better, but at that point I had decided if I was going to die, my body should be lost in an unrecoverable ravine. I ALMOST changed my mind again halfway through, but the beautiful thing about being a girl is that I can change my mind about changing my mind, and after a glimpse of a waver on the gas pedal, I held my breath and chewed up the corner. Tingly Arms giggled and made some comment about how fun that was, and I tried not to paralyze him with my eyes. 

By the time I got to the murky pond and the animal Gary, I couldn't stand. Turns out that a pucker of that magnitude engages and tortions core muscles that I would rather not even acknowledge were there, let alone use at that intensity. I skidded back down the mountain without dying, miraculously, and managed to put off throwing up my Olive Garden leftover lunch until I was out of sight of all of the firefighters, who didn't seem the least bit impressed that I had just accomplished a Feat of Unnatural Courage. By the time I got back to camp, I was only mildly nauseous, my full on shakes were reduced to a slight buzz and the adrenaline overload was demanding a nap. And a pain killer. I said a few choice curse words instead of having a little cry, and made a beeline for my tent, where I immediately straightened my bra out. 

Things About Old Men

I love old men. I just do. And old ladies too. But old men can tell stories like no other. For clarification, by old I mean over 70. They've lived life. No more games, fear of consequences. Just say it like it is, old men. If I could encapsulate every old man I have ever met in a colorful story book, I think that I would be pretty happy with myself.  Theirs are stories worth telling, and worth hearing.

This week I worked with a man named Jim. He's 74, and he's out here, running a skidgeon. Or a squidgeon, if you're Josh, and easily confused by words. For anyone who doesnt know, a skidgeon it a cross between a log skidder and an engine. It can dig and cut and drag and squirt and drench.  It's pretty cool. And when you run it, you get tossed about the cab like a bobble head, breathing dust and smoke like crazy, especially when you have a home-made number like Jim's skidgeon, with an open screen, welded cab. Most skidgeon operators are of a certain age, and deaf. It's that disregard for consequence I think. The nothing-left-to-lose and what's-a-few-bumps-and-aches-and-pains. I think it makes them feel young and useful and alive.

Jim told me a story about his family. He's been married to Betty for 54 years. They had two daughters. One is a roller operator for a road constructions crew and the other he said, got into "drugs and bullshit", and well, it finally killed her. The heavy equipment operator daughter lost all of her fingers and a good chunk of her left hand working at the mill, but she still has her thumb so she manages just fine driving.  The other daughter, Bobbi, got married to a local boy named Blue, who turned out to be no good. 

About 27 or so years ago, Blue took his refer truck out to Kansas, with Bobbi in tow, leaving their two week old baby back in Oregon with family.  They set out to make some money, but after bouncing from state to state fruitlessly, Blue finally saw what he wanted  somewhere in central Kansas. He set Bobbi up driving the refer truck and he hid in the sleeping compartment. He told her to hail another trucker pulling a load of cattle. She talked the other driver into pulling over for a joint, and when he the sucker climbed into the cab of the refer, Blue shot him twice and killed him dead. He bundled up the body in the back of the refer trailer, which he left on the side of e desolate road, then he hooked his cab up to that beef and hauled it back to Oregon and sold it. Bobbi watched in horror  as he cleaned up the blood that streamed down the side of the truck, and as he got a neighbor to dig a put to bury some of the steers that had died in their overlong and miserable transport. Blue told the neighbor to leave the pit for some other trash, and went back to Kansas to get his refer, complete with dead body. He wrapped that body up and threw it in the mass cattle grave and dumped it in, covering it before he had the neighbor come and bury the whole damn pile.

It took two years for Bobbi to tell Jim and Betty what her husband had done, after Blue had run off with a dingbat hairdresser. Jim went straight to a lawyer friend and they got Bobbi's statement all done up. Sure enough, the guy that Blue had killed had a warrant out for HIS arrest for stealing the cattle in the first place, so the only people looking for him were the Kansas police. Bobbie took them out to the property where the body was, where the sheriffs, looking for all of the world like neighborhood rednecks in their cowboy hats (cause that's how they do it out there in Mitchell, Oregon), lured Blue out of that trailer and arrested him right there in front of that dingy hairdresser.  They found the body, sure enough, and when they got Blue down to the police station and upstairs towards the interrogation room, the guy wrestled away from the cops in his handcuffs and jumped out of a second story window. As you can imagine, he didn't get very far, and after a week long trial in Topeka, he was sentenced to 25 years. After that, he sent love letters to his dingbat hairdresser girlfriend who had just inherited a good bunch of money and had moved to Kansas to be close to her jailbird boyfriend. After buttering her up with lots of mushy stuff, he told her to hire somebody to go out to Oregon, get Bobbi hooked on drugs, get her to recant her statement, and then overdose her. Blue told the dingbat to destroy the letters, which had all of these instructions in detail, but she kept them, because they were sweet. The hairdresser paid $3000 to one druggie to go out and take care of business, but, surprisingly, he disappeared with the cash.  Then she gave a convicted felon $1200 to carry out the deed, who took the money and copies of the letters to the police. Something about those letters made it so that Blue managed to stay in prison past his 25 year sentence, but Bobbi didn't make it that long. Her own bad habits got the better of her. Her daughter, Heather, stayed with Jim and Betty until her delinquent father tried to weasel his way into her good graces for help with a parole hearing. Lucky she was smart enough to know better, and she'd read the death sentence letters about her mother. Heather is an ultrasound tech now, with three kids, and another one on the way.

Jim has more stories to tell, about how Betty is as smart and talented as they come, but prefers to sit around on the computer. She had a run in with "female cancer" last year and she's doing ok now, but she'd gotten pretty heavy and one day, Jim took her by the shoulders, looked her in the eye, and said "you know that I love you dearly, but if you don't lose some weight, you'll be in a wheel chair inside of two years." Betty started walking, taking some pills, and lost 120 pounds. He says she could do petty much anything she wants, but she kind of likes to do nothing. After 54 years, if Josh can criticize me with that much affection in his eyes, I'd be ok with it.

Then there was Steve. Another heavy equipment operator of the appropriate age, who had suffered a Aaortic Anuerysm two years before I met him on the Cub Complex in northern California. He had missed the last fire season, he said, because he had been in a coma for about 6 months due to the massive loss of blood and shock to his system. He said it wouldn't have been so bad except the doctors didn't take him seriously on his first two ER visits. They gave him heartburn pills and sent him home. The third time, he said, he had to lapse into a coma right in front of them to get dome attention. Anyone who works in the medical field, and many other people, understand that an unattended, undiagnosed Aaortic aneurysm is ALWAYS fatal. The chance of surviving one that is caught right away is slim. Steve is nothing more than a CAT driving miracle.

One of my favorite old men of all time is Larry. I worked with Larry for the better part of two summers. He taught me how to ride ATVs, mostly by letting me crash, and groom trails, and dig holes, build signs and drive really fast on washboard roads. Larry was adamant about the legality of the "rule of ...", which was some addendum to state speeding laws that said if it was safer to go faster than the speed limit, it was ok. I looked it up, and sure enough, there was some little loophole that could be stretched just far enough to prevent Larry from ever getting a speeding ticket. I could never get over watching Larry run a Stihl 66 for 8 hours a day, with gnarled arthritic Hands and a habitual hunch in his back, which I can imagine once was broad and strong, back when he was a city firefighter for Bend, and the big brick fire station with the brass poles was't a series of hipster bars that couldn't stay in business. I can see him picking up cleverly on the pretty receptionist that passed the station, and marrying her up right quick with her two kids and all, because Joanne was all that and a bag of chips. I hear that Joanne had a bout with cancer last year, and it wasn't looking good. I need to call Larry.

Then there was the old navy vet with MRSA in his lungs that I rode with in the back of the ambulance to Spokane. He taught me how to say "lint of the belly button" in Italian, which had been his mother's favorite obscenity. I wish I could remember that silly phrase. I swore I'd never forget it. 

I honestly look forward to being married to an old man version of Josh someday - a Josh with absolutely nothing to prove to anyone and lots of nose and ear hairs. I look forward to rolling my eyes at his stories and backing him up when our great grandkids respond in disbelief.  I think Josh will be an old man of the best variety. One with all of the best and most amazing stories. Stories that we're living right now. 


Thing That I Read II

Ok y'all. It's reading season, which happens to coincide with fire season, and days on end of sitting on my aching rear end with no cell service, no one to talk to, and thankfully, few medical crises. So I read. Here's the first set of the summer, and my illustrious sounding opinions of them, rated, as most aspects of my life, in relation to my favorite snack food. Or not so favorite...

World War Z
Max Woods  

Awesome book. So much better than the movie, and I really liked the movie. Mostly because I'm a cheap date/easy to entertain... I am a sucker for pop culture. But this book is extremely well written, a compiled documentary style collection of anecdotes about the war of humanity against human rabies. Fascinating, involving, even as it jumps around from place to place and character to character, it pulls you in. Enough science to explain without losing the layman, enough drama to keep even me entertained, and piquing serious ethical/philosophical questions about dealing death to once-human beings. Reminiscent of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in it's man-as god-role and the moral dilemmas thereof, it left me thoroughly prepared for the zombie apocalypse. Anybody  know where I can acquire a lobotomizer?  This one is buttery, delicious popcorn. With brewers yeast. 

The Woods
Harlen Coben 

Um, scary? This is the stuff teenage nightmares are made of. The book itself wasn't horrific and terrifying, but Harlen Coben, who is new to me, develops thoroughly believable, like able, relateable characters and a gripping plot. Junk food reading I guess, but more cheezits than sour patch kids. You just can't stop. And your mouth doesn't get raw. 

Playing For Pizza
John Grisham 

Meh. Kind of sappy story about a sucky football player. What more is there? I mean J.G. Can write good, but I ended the book thinking... Why?
Salted peanuts. Ok. If you're starving to death. 

The Street Lawyer
John Grisham 

Good book. Thought provoking. Ethics challenging. Couldn't really decide if I totally agreed or totally didn't. It's like Atlas Shrugged - where its hard to identify the good guys because the good guys are really the bad guys and vise-verse. It raises some good things to think about, and it was interesting. Maybe not GRIPPING, but good. Raisins, or maybe dried cranberries. Good for you, tasty but they get old fast. 

Ricochet River
Robin Cody 

This one surprised me. It's a local Portland Author published by a local Oregon College writing about a local Oregon Boy and his coming-of-age about the time that the ecology of the northwest rivers went all to hell. I really got into this story and was really impressed by Cody's version of the ecologist - a steward, not a protector. Great characters, great storytelling. If you like those local-outdoorsy semi-greeny type books. 
Cheese. Like sharp cheddar. With green apples. 

The Walk in 

This MAY be my second favorite of the summer so far, WWZ being first. I think I liked it because it is co written by a novelist and a for realz CIA operative, retired of course. In my mind that meant that it had to be at least mostly accurate, and probably drawn somewhat from real experiences. That's how I read it anyway. And it was fun. A classic spy novel with just enough twists to elude discovery until the last couple chapters, but still a teeny but predictable. I liked the main character A LOT, which is a little weird. If you read it, you'll know what I mean. Um... Swedish Fish, all the way. Delicious, and possibly healthy, in that they make me happy. FYI this book was a freebie at the humane society thrift store. ;)

Private: #1 Suspect
James Patterson

This one was a bubblegum read. It was fun, but I got almost bored with the same 'ol mystery plot line. Plus everybody was super rich. It's like bubblegum. Pretty good but gets annoying and flavorless after a while. Like rice cakes with not enough peanut butter.  I like some of Patterson's other stuff WAY better. Especially when they star Morgan Freeman. 

Jan Burke

This one was a gripper. So much so that I actually stewed over the unresolved plot throughout my 1.5 hr drive back to camp and for several minutes that I should have been sleeping. It jumps through 20 year increments from 1936-1958-1977-2000, unraveling a complex tale of intrigue, murder, mayhem and revenge. I liked it a lot. But I was always sad to leave an Era and revisit the characters 20 years later when they're old. And then 20 years after than when they're really old, or maybe dead. I think I like my fictional heroes young and strapping and alive when I leave them in a book. The characters were very well developed though, except for the main one. Irene Kelly was a study in mediocrity to me. In fact, I couldn't even tell you what she was supposed to look like. I guess that makes sense, since she tells the story in first person. I mean, most of us don't go around describing ourselves in dramatic detail... But the plot was great. Recommend. Trail mix - complex, yummy, healthy, satisfying. But it definitely needed more M&M's. 

Things About Fire

I was driving off of the line last night, right through a big burn that some hot shots had just fired off. It was beautiful. More beautiful than Christmas Lights on Snob Hill. More beautiful than Pirates of the Caribbean. More captivating and powerful and terrifying and beautiful than almost anything. All at once. As I drove, I thought to myself, you're the luckiest girl alive. Here you are, broken, weak, quite nearly useless, and you get to see this. To be here. Not only that, you're getting paid. Fire is awesome. You know you're doing the right thing when you can't get over how frakking much you love it.

This is fire. There is no camera or artist that will ever be able to capture the heat that radiates over the road, through the windows of the car, warming the side of your face to remind you, ever-so-gently, that it could melt you into a puddle of nothing. If it decided to. If it ganged up with the wind and felt like it. 

Fire is a destructive force. As with almost all naturally occurring elements, given free reign. It is one of the most amazing and valuable chemical reactions. It has the power to heal as much as destroy. But such power. Two days ago, the only road to where we were working looked like this: 

Today, after a few over zealous hotshots had their way, and we nearly lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of heavy equipment, it looks like this:

The fire blew so forcefully and quickly through that the needles on the trees on the east side of the road didn't even have time to burn off. Just blow sideways and fry to a crisp fall orange. Unnatural for an evergreen. This part of the forest isn't healed. If any of the trees survived, they will struggle through decades of fighting with a new ecosystem to continue their growth. In some places, the burn is gentle and friendly, like a mother changing her baby's diaper. Just cleaning things up. It's not pleasant, unless you happen to be a fire junkie (most of us out here are), but it's necessary and good. Kind of like killing all of the spiders in the world.  

I can never get enough. The smell, even when my eyes and throat and lungs are burning - The smell makes me want to strap on a shelter and a hard hat and tromp into the woods just to see it move through the trees. Something so powerful and mysterious and uncontrollable. Watch the silly little people in their yellow and green chase it furiously with their ineffective tools until the fire grows weary of the game and chases them back to the relative safety of their precious lines. Lines that often don't hold, in spite of the countless hours and dollars pumped into them. Whether the lines hold is really more up to the wind, and the sun, and every entity in the woods that isn't wearing green and yellow. All it takes is a singed bunny with a smoking hieny to cross the lines and drag his glowing, emberous cottontail through the crispy green brush. It's happened. But we're here, we draw our lines and chase our smoke and sometimes we get lucky and have the wind and the sun and the rain on our side, when they get tired of the arrogant flame front and his bossiness. And then we win. It's a melancholy win through, killing the passionate beast and trudging through gray sludge as we cool down the messy remains. Every job has its downside. For this one, putting a fire out isn't nearly as fun as outwitting the prolonged chase of it, directing it to where you want it to go in a fashion that will serve the purposes of the forest. Putting the fire out just means moving to the next game of tag, and starting all over. From April Showers til well past the first snowfall of winter, we chase it. Like a virulent  strain of a deadly contagion, we must catch up with it and squelch it. Not much rest. Losing sight of everything else that is important in our lives. Knowing that we can put things off until later. That it's FIRE SEASON and we must go. 

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