22 December 2010

Sheep Hill Lookout: Sunday 8/29-Thursday 9/2, and the trip home

SNOW!! It actually began last night, around six, maybe? It started moving in earlier--Pilot Knob called across the radio to say he was going out of service for a walk in the snow. He now has a complete collection of snowy months at his L.O. In his 25 years up there, it has snowed in every month but August. 20-30 minutes later, Oregon Butte came on to say only "Snow." When it hit here I called and squawked "For the love of SNOW!" It didn't really accumulate last night, but now, this morning, there's a good coating holding strong, and it's been snowing since 5 AM without stopping. Yahoo! We're completely socked in. It's raining down below, so they're beginning to demobilize the fires.

With this snow, I feel like I've gotten the full-meal deal with this fire season. Snow pack to start, blazingly hot days, railing thunderstorms, some good exciting fires (finally!) and now season-ending snow, cold and rain.

Found out today that they're going to staff the lookout for a week after me, with Cody and Sage presiding, so I don't have to do the final clean up and shut down chores. Nor will I know exactly how it was done and where things were put away, how well the food was stored, etc. I won't get to really say goodbye to the lookout, either. Basically, the boys all get here Wednesday, and Thursday morning we'll load up the pack string, and then Tim and I will walk away. Exciting, and sad.

The worrisome part is that Elli is lame--since this morning, her front left leg has been giving her serious trouble. I've never seen her favor a leg so heavily, or cry when she rolls over or moves around. She's had some aspirin, which so far as I could tell didn't help much. I have no idea what happened, but I assume that she slipped this morning in the snow, and it didn't hurt badly enough for me to notice anything was wrong until an hour later. If she can't walk out Thursday, then she'll stay at the lookout with the boys, who can bring her out in a week to Tim's house, and then Tim can bring her over to Washington at the end of the month.

It was sunny and nice all afternoon, despite nearly continuous threatening clouds on the 4 horizons. It's looked liked Oregon Butte's been getting puked on all day. Around 4:30-5:00, it snowed again, but stayed sunny. Now the clouds have blocked the sun, but no precip.

Woke up to snow again, all nice and socked in. Around an inch or two, but melted off and the sky brightened up pretty quickly. Had a complete inversion in the valleys--the first time all summer that that has happened.

Elli was moving much better this morning, though she is still keeping most of her weight off the leg. Not 9 miles better, but hopefully she'll continue getting better at this pace, and will be with me. I would really hate to leave without her.

This is my last day alone at the lookout. Tomorrow the boys hike in. I fixed the screen door, so tomorrow I can just seal up my boxes, wash the windows and scrub the stove.

No more sunsets...unknowingly saw the last one a few days ago when it was clear out.

I've made decisions, some right, and some wrong
And I've let some love go I wish wasn't gone
These things and more I wish I had not done
But I've done them 

But I can't go back, and I don't want to 
Because all my mistakes
Have brought me to you

-the Avett Brothers

I think the lookout is trying to make me feel better about leaving. It's raining sideways, socked in, windy as hell, and I slept crappily again, as my mind was worried about Elli, and whether she was warm enough, and was cold myself. Also, seeing as how it's a west wind, and the window panes leak when the rain is blown against them, the leaks were (and are) above my bed and my boxes of packed stuff. There is also a rogue leak by the propane heater. Sometime before 4, I started getting up to deal with the leaks, lying back down for 5 minutes, and then getting up again. At 5 AM I gave up, turned on the overhead light, built a fire, and made some cocoa.

Apparently it will be dead shitty all day and most of the night, including possible heavy snow above 6500'. However, the forecast for tomorrow is for mostly sunny skies, and up to 70 degrees on the ridges. Here's hoping. I've done the dishes, and made pizza dough for dinner. I'm going to have hot coffee and sourdough donuts waiting for the boys when they get up here. What a terrible day for a hike. Elli hasn't gotten off the bed all morning, not even to take a poop in the weeds. Hopefully she just feels the same way about the rain that I do, and is recuperating for all she's worth, rather than being so injured still that she doesn't want to move.

The packer is already at the Dry Saddle trailhead, though he'll have to wait for the boys before he can set out. They just left Red River for the trailhead at 10:15, so they'll probably get here around 4 this afternoon.

I've been working my way through the National Geographics. It's interesting reading, of course, but I have to choose to focus, and there's nothing else to focus on, currently. There are a few other small chores I could do, but they involve going outside. This is the first time I've felt all cooped-up and shitty all summer. Gaack.

The crew is leaving the trailhead--12:20.

Almost all packing is done, and chores finished. When the boys call from the saddle above the lakes, I'll start frying donuts. Weather still shite-y. I'm going to sign off for now, and pack this journal. Here's to a wonderful summer...thank you, Sheep Hill.

a few of the kajillion donuts 

[There the summer journal ended, and here on is memory]

It rained more than an inch that day they hiked in, how much more is uncertain, as the rain gauge overflowed at some point, and I didn't know. To have the little house full of people and dogs (5 and 3, respectively), with tasty dinner and hilarious conversation, was lovely and distracting. I also learned just how fantastic cheap whiskey (Seagrams 7) and cheap cocoa (Swiss Miss with marshmallows) taste together.

The next day dawned bright and drippy. Got the mules and horses loaded up with my 20 tons of shit (for which I received plenty of teasing about from the packer), and headed out. Elli did well, carrying a nearly empty pack, with the hope that it would psychologically slow her down--partial success. On the way out, Tim showed me the spot at Spread Creek Point where there had been a tree-roost lookout platform, many moons ago.

last sight of the lookout, the tiny bump on the left hand ridge. 

Tim standing next to the lookout roost tree

When we got back out to Red River, I packed all the rest of my stuff into my car, before we went for delicious and huge bacon cheeseburgers at JJ's Cafe in Elk City.

 photo credit: mr biggs, who apparently didn't have bacon

As early as I could get going, I said goodbye to Red River, Tim and Brooklyn, and made my way over the Mother Lode Road into Elk City one last time. Evaluations and goodbyes out of the way, and I was on the road. Highlights of the drive home included 10# of peaches and 2# of cherries from a stand in Ellensburg,
and This:
If anyone I know can comment and tell me why this is significant, what is being portrayed here, I'll mail you....something.

When we got back to Blaine, it was just dark, and I let Elli out of the car to run the final couple hundred yards home to the house, like always. So good to be home, and so strange to be capable of time and space travel.

Thanks for reading along through my summer. It's been a deep and sometimes disorienting immersion to write through and revisit each week. Reliving experiences and emotions has made me joyous, delighted, nervous, sad, stoked and content all over again. Coming up to the surface, to real time, is like waking up from a deep nap with vivid dreams that take a bit to shake off. Thanks, in particular, to those friends whose company and written words and kindness and encouragement joined me there on the peak. Thanks, as well, to the Red River District--the firefighters who ran with me, laughed at/with me, encouraged me so much; to James, on Oregon Butte, whose calm advice got me through every fire I sized up; to the supervisors who helped me a ton (and hired me to begin with!); to the trail crews, rangers, packers, office folks, and all who were kind and helpful and great every way they knew how.  And thanks to all the other lookouts who were my radio-voiced companions and help.

I can't wait to go back.

Sourdough Donuts

note: this is the quantity I made for 3 hungry and wet firefighters and one hungry and wet packer.
a generous batch for myself was a 1/4 of the recipe. I used powdered egg, which made that easier. 

1 cup Sourdough Starter
1 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Oil or melted Butter
1 Egg
1 cup Buttermilk, or Milk 
4 cups Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
Cinnamon and Nutmeg-1/2 tsp each, more, or less.
1 tsp Salt
-Combine first 5 ingredients (wet, plus sugar)
-Combine dry ingredients
-Combine wet and dry mixtures. should be thick, but loose enough to drop from a spoon.
-Let hang out for 10-30 minutes.
-Heat oil to 360-ish degrees. If you are me, overcook and undercook a few donuts until the temperature is just right, since you don't have a thermometer.
 -Using two spoons, scoop a nice glop of dough in one spoon, and use the other spoon to scrape the dough glop carefully into the hot oil. Fry until floating and golden brown, assisting the turning process if necessary. 
-Drain well.
-While still warm, toss yer donuts in sugar. If desired, add more cinnamon and/or nutmeg to the sugar. I like to make the dough fragrant with the spices, and leave the sugar plain. 

21 December 2010

December 21, 2000: Graduation Day

Ten years ago today, I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. A few favorite memories, a lot of them having nothing to do with classes: Getting a six-pack of delicious beer apiece, and watching Iron Chef together. The time that the boys ordered hot wings, "As hot as you can make 'em!" Turns out they can make those bastards REALLY hot. Meat classes with Chef Ligouri, one of the best inspirational speakers I've ever heard. The walk through the woods on twisting paths, across meandering steams with ruins of stone bridges and dams, to get to the grocery store, that first year without a car. A weekend trip to see King Arthur Flour company. Osaka Sushi. $5 large cheese pizzas that were the best pizzas I have ever eaten. U-pick-ing apples in the fall. Wine tasting class--who can forget getting to taste 6-12 wines every other day for a month? Chef Loibl's lumps and kirsch. Bryon dressing up as the devil for Halloween and painting 85% of his body red--and then finding red paint all over our house until we moved out. The time I went to a reggae festival down in the City and got sunburned and didn't have money for the train home and the ATM was broken, so I walked all over Harlem looking for another one while old dudes laughed at my sunburned white ass from their porches, and I got a great red velvet cupcake from a bakery and finally got on the train home, only to find I'd locked myself out of my house and had to climb the fire escape to break in. Chef LaRoux making all of the women in our class wear hairnets, including Anne, whose hair was shorter than Chef's at the time. I could go on, I'll stop here.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I am still in contact with just about everybody I care to be from school. We have scattered across the country and around the world. Some of us are still cooking, some own or have owned restaurants or catering businesses, some are traveling the world cooking, some work for the Food Network and have books in the works. Some have married and have kids. Some are school teachers, some no longer work with food at all,  and some still don't know what they want to be when they grow up. That would be me.

Since graduating on Winter Solstice 10 years ago, I have been a Lift Op at White Pass (2 weeks), Fellow at the CIA (3 months), Produce clerk at Rhinebeck Health Foods (6 months), Sous Chef at the Omega Institute (5 months), Lift Operations Foreman and Supervisor at Stevens Pass (5 winters), Pub Cook at Uncle Uli's (1 summer), Pantry Chef at Visconti's (1 summer), Park Aide at Lake Wenatchee (2 summers), Line Cook at Adrift (15 months! A lifetime best!), Produce clerk at Skagit Food Coop (6 months), Reiki Practitioner (intermittent), Sous Chef at the North Cascades Institute (3 years, March-ish to November-ish), Diesel Tank Cleaner (intermittent), Chef on Alaska on the Home Shore (1 trip), Bookkeeper (once a month for 3 years), Barista at the Coffee Boat (6 months), Fire Lookout at Sheep Hill (1 summer), and back to the Boat, Tanks, and Bookkeeping. Some of these jobs have been held simultaneously, or overlapped each other.

I know for a fact that I do no want to work in restaurants again, though I do know that local food and the personal relationships with farmers, fishermen and other producers make me more excited and satisfied than anything else (except being a fire lookout, and I still need a job the other 8 months of the year). Working at the North Cascades Institute, where the number of people at any given meal, what they will be eating, what time it will be served, and even what dietary restrictions they have are known in advance; while getting to cook gorgeous vegetables, fruits, chickens, fish, eggs, etc, from farmers and fishermen I know personally, was pretty close to ideal. Now I just need that sort of arrangement closer to home. We'll see what happens.

Here's to all of my classmates and friends, to our lovely and dysfunctional family that saw us through our time at the CIA: cheers.

We have nearly all agreed that we look terrible in this photo. I don't care. I love it. To the other 3/4 of our graduating class: you have been spared.

And a special nod, here, to my friend, R. Solstice Brown, who drove across the country to see me graduate on Solstice Day, and then was a spectacular roadtripping partner on our way back to WA. Thanks, yo.

04 December 2010

Sheep Hill Lookout: Sunday 8/22-Saturday 8/28

Just got buzzed by a shiny red helicopter. Was headed straight at me for miles, then lifted just over the lookout and carried on straight east. Too fast, and too head-on, to be able to catch its tail numbers.

Morning walk involved finally checking out the unusual tree-pattern on the ridge directly to the north. I stare at the thing all the time, so we finally went and walked it. It's like a reverse mohawk, only the razor slipped just off to one side of the head. From a distance, it looks like it would have to have been cut that way, it's so even, so straight. However, on close inspection, it looks natural. If it was cut, it was cut a very long time ago, and nothing has ever grown back. I've read about wind alleys that occur, where prevailing winds sweep through all the time, and so things just don't grow. That doesn't really apply, here. Anyway, here's a photo taken from near the 'top' of the mohawk, looking south, back toward the lookout:

Frozen this morning. The rain that fell on us last night is all ice on the catwalk and rocks and grass. When I did the weather at 9:00, it had warmed up to 35 degrees. Keeping the fire going, and for once, it isn't cooking us out of the lookout. Nice and cozy. Tried another experiment for brekkie: made french toast with powdered eggs, powdered milk, powdered bananas, and vanilla. Yum. That'll be another good Bowron breakfast, when the bread or bagels have taken a beating in the dry bags.

I have no recollection of anything exciting happening yesterday, outside of breakfast. We'll see if I remember anything further. Tried french toast again today, minus the bananas, and sure enough, the powdered egg is really noticeable. Not gross, but way better with nanas. Put lots of raspberry jam on to hide the egg.

Coolwater Lookout got packed out today. Sad, as I liked hearing him on the radio. Pleasant voice, nice guy, good at his job, good on the radio. Not sure why he's down so early, and for whatever reason, I feel relieved not to be the first one off. Although the district knew I needed to be down early when they hired me, and were fine with that, I can't help feeling a little guilty (and sad) to be leaving before the season's truly done.

I've been ticking through my to-do list this past week or so, like moving those shingles. I've also burned the boxes that I packed in with that I don't need anymore, largely completed the inventory, and scrubbed down the cookstove and oven. Today I scraped down the rusty surface of the woodstove. Rusty dust everywhere. I donned a villains of the wild woodstove west bandanna as face mask. When that was done, I put a layer of polish on it, which will have to be heated up to cure, and will be smoky toxic gnarly, thereby creating a dilemma. I don't want to be inside when I do it, but if it's cold outside, I don't want to be out there while the stove keeps the house warm. And, seeing as how it's hot as balls in here on nice days, lighting a fire on top of that is not appealing. I'm sure I can manage to figure it out.

It has been a beautiful day. I washed a few pieces of laundry, including my Duluth Trading Co. pants, which I'd previously decided not to wash all summer. Something smelled like goat butt in here the other day, and it wasn't anything else I was wearing, and I shouldn't have smelled like that, so washed they've been.

Showered, read book, didn't do a whole lot. Excellent day off. Two visitors on horseback, who've been camped down at Rattlesnake Lakes.

I am beginning to worry that I will not be getting out of here on time. It is a bit after 7 pm, and I am surrounded in smoke.

Seeing as how it is one of our very last days off up here, Elli and I took a hike down to Lake Creek Lakes, leaving here around 8 am. It was beautiful on the way. At one point near the saddle above the lakes, the wind was blowing, the sunlight was crystalline over the meadow, trees and cirque-wall of rocks--and my yearning? love? something for fall hit me so strongly that it literally made my chest ache, hard to breathe.

We went and inadvertently checked out the lowest lake first, which was in the middle of a brilliantly green wet meadow. After hauling back up the trail we'd come down, we came across the upper-most, largest lake. It has a great number of campsites, and has been a bit trammeled by so many horse camps, but we found one lovely site on a bit of a point and had "lunch", though it was only 10 o'clock.

looking down on the upper Lake Creek Lakes

I'd planned on also going down Bargamin trail a ways, too, just to make a day of it, but as we started gaining elevation, I started picking up bits of radio traffic about a fire over on Moose Butte that couldn't be triangulated. I can see the east side of Moose Butte from the lookout, so we picked up the pace, even though we had several miles to go, and it was likely they'd figure it out by the time we got back. Then, just as we got close to the top, there was a report of a skidder that caught fire in the timber sale above Tim's house and the Red River compound.

When I got up here, I discovered I could see the entirety of the Moose Butte fire, though they'd already figured its location. I couldn't see the skidder fire yet, but Tim was on initial attack for it, and it sounded like it was going pretty good. In a matter of minutes, it was running, torching and spotting up the ridge, and was altogether too easy and nerve-wracking to see, with my brother on it. A good number of crews and an air attack were on it swiftly.

Besides that, early this morning, before we left, there were reports of a small fire not far from that Meadow Fire. I was unable to see it then, but by this afternoon I could. Resources are already on the Meadow and Moose, and understandably are being focused most on the skidder fire (which has been named the Fitness fire, after the F.S. fitness trail that runs though the area), so they decided not to staff it.

...And then, around 3:45 pm, I noticed a slender column of smoke to the west above Cache Creek. I called dispatch, when wind around 40-50 mph with rain hit the lookout and blew a window open. When it subsided, I called back, and reported the fire. Within minutes it exploded. It's 8 or so miles from me, and I could see trees torching, with flames 50-100 feet tall, and spotting way ahead of itself. James could see the flames from Oregon Butte, and he's at least 21 miles away from it.

at 3:59, after I'd called it in

at 4:17


4:23, from inside the lookout, hence vertical reflection on right

4:34, about 40 minutes after I'd called it in, and already near its final size of an estimated 300-400 acres. The wind had pretty well knocked the column flat by this point, and I couldn't see flames again until the night, when torching trees were visible again in the dark. 

There was also a fire to the northeast that I shot an azimuth off for as I was trying to size up the Cache. Shortly after that, Jim on Sheepeater called to say he could see a fire north of me. Lucky he could see it, because it took it a while before I could see the smoke column, and I never would have been able to say where it was, as it is behind a large ridge.

It sounds as though there are a couple of fires on the Payette that erupted, too, and so the air is just full of smoke. The wind has finally died down to something "normal", and the temperature has dropped significantly. It was blowing hard and gusting higher most of the afternoon, with high temperatures and low humidity. When the cold front pushed in, the wind became something else altogether. And that is precisely when the Cache Creek fire became visible.

My fires are all in the wilderness, so will likely be allowed to burn, unless they push against the Montana Road. The crews are already all out, anyway. This cold front may subdue things.

I got to watch a bit of torching and creeping in the dark last night on the Cache. Pretty cool--when the trees go up, the flame looks brilliant pink-orange.

My three fires are called the Cache, Bleak Creek (the one Sheepeater located for me), and the Saddle (the one whose azimuth I shot swiftly, and then never saw again all night, leading me to wonder if it existed at all. It does!). The Saddle is off the east side of the ridge the trail to here lies on.

Nothing was visible for a long time this morning, due to fog, cloud and smoke. When it lifted, I discovered there were 2 spot fires well away from the main body of the Cache, at about 1/3 and 2/3 mile away, respectively. When they flew the Cache this morning, they estimated the fire to be at 3-400 acres. Holy crap. I got me the biggest fire of the summer. So far.

Nothing too exciting all afternoon. Doing my final check-look before going off the clock, and whaddya know, but there are TWO fires south of me. One is in the steep-ass country between myself and the Salmon River, and the other is on the far side, in (I think) the Bear Creek drainage. Five fires in two days!

Made sun tea and am drinking Arnie Palmers.

Elli's shot for doggy Penthouse

Another Smoke! This one looks like it's right in Sheepeater's lap, though it's out north of him, over a ridge, so would be hard for him to see. Return the favor on the one he called for me! ......and now that he and I have spent about 20 minutes trying to figure out its exact location, I'm 99% sure that it is a band of rock that stood out because of the way the clouds kept shifting the light--made it look larger and smaller, standing up and subsiding....heh. I'm a moron. At least we didn't call it in. Good practice, and highlights the fact that my USGS quads need to be replaced for that area.

The smoke that really was a smoke yesterday on the Payette was around 25 acres this morning, so at least that one paid off. Apparently the Cache Fire made it onto the national SIT Report today! The only fire on the district to do so this season so far.

Canada geese honking overhead at 12:07. Clever subsitute for phrase cluster-f*ck: charlie-foxtrot. Genius. Thanks, brother. Snow level supposed to be 7500' tonight, 900' below me.

Four days left on duty at Sheep Hill. Tipped up last of Pendleton (Let 'Er Buck!) whisky this evening. I am even thinking back nice and romantically about the days down at the district, running PT and getting strong, bonding with the crew; that, coupled with how thoroughly content I am being up here makes wanting to return next year an even stronger desire than it was already.

23 November 2010

Sheep Hill Lookout: Sunday 8/15-Saturday 8/21

A beautiful perfectly clear morning, free of howling wind. Morning walk clear down below Dead Man's Saddle. Tea, and my sunday morning pancakes. Now reading Sometimes A Great Notion. This is the perfect place for reading this book, with my mind a little more loose and relaxed and willing and able to follow  Kesey's non-linear mental folds and jumps. He manages to describe everything, all at once. Impressive.

We found the dump this afternoon. Shit-ton of cans, mostly. Funny, how when it's old like that, of another age, if you will, I find garbage fascinating and am fond of it. As opposed to how completely pissed I'd be if it were newer, say anytime in the last two or three decades.

We've got a ground squirrel that is feeling brave. It's been coming into the lookout through the hole at the bottom of the screen door. Elli usually chases them out as soon as she notices, but this afternoon she was lying right next to the door and one came in anyway. I think she was in disbelief--she just sat there staring, and the squirrel stared right back. Then the radio squawked, and squirrel was out.

Painted my toenails blue and started the L.O. inventory today. Looking toward, though not foward to (does that make any sense?) shutting down. 19 days left--well, 18, since today's going on by now. It has gotten really nice and warm today, and the bugs are loving it, too. I've got a sweet stomach-roll tan-line going. Slouching in the sun is a bad idea, if you don't wish to look like a jackass. 

Made smoked oyster chowder for dinner; bit of a test drive for the Bowron trip. Ho. Ly. Shit. Fucking GOOD. Best meal I've had up here? I do believe so. 

Walking around down on the southwest ridge in huckleberry, silvered logs and granite, I realized I owed an old and beloved friend an explanation and apology. Got off my chest nervously and stutteringly (while the phone kept cutting out) the fact I was sorry that I was too dumb, all those years ago, to realize that he was in love with me, too. That I never meant to snub him, I was just too dense to realize what he was saying to me. He heard it and accepted it, and when we'd talked about it a bit, allowed ourselves to say how ridiculous it is to be having this conversation 8 to 10 years later.

It was botched, there was more I could have said, and I could have said it all better, but the purpose was served and I can let that ghost of a life and husk of sadness go aside, and move on without carrying it in our friendship. And was lucky as hell to get to do so person-to-person.

snowball smasher: triumphant!
hanging upside down out of a tree at 11 pm
walking logs over crashing water
hiking trails + creeks + old logging roads
crossing cedar-covered rocky hill in 
the Big Bottom Valley while
your heel clicked + clicked + clicked
I had put you into a safe spot in my mind 
where you were: Beloved Friend. so that
if you didn't love me as I loved you
it was alright
and I couldn't be hurt
but I did too thorough a job
(you were always very polite, but)
your smiles embraces the way we could talk
didn't get through to me.
flying back east again and I found
hidden in my bag
the best
most beautiful
kind and literate
love letter I have ever received
(to this day)
and still I didn't see it for what it was
I saw it as a thank-you note for our friendship
and was touched
it wasn't for another year or two
re-reading it that
I Finally Saw. 
And it took me another 9 years
to say I'm sorry
and I love you, too, 
and thank you.

later in the evening, different ghost:

exorcising the demons of my past
changing them into friendly ghosts 
to walk the path with
"How?" you asked.
Well, you're one of them, so
let's see
each case is different.
for you, then:
I use the long hindsight of memory
to remember you standing in the snow
singing a song to lighten my hurt
I realize that you, too, were hurting,
were lost, felt alone; perhaps even
more than I did
Realize that maybe you get as much 
comfort out of this
new shape of friendship as I do, and I 
begin to feel less insignificant in your 
blistering gaze.
It helps, too, that this person you are
now is kind and artful and
softer, and grows vegetables
And is someone I truly want to know
and befriend, as I don't feel the same way
about your 17 year old self--
But this is what it's about:
I can finally see past that old husk I'm carrying,
get the fearful monkey off my back, 
apologize and forgive
instead of grimacing with insecurity when that old person
steps in alongside my thoughts
I can smile and enjoy the company, now
as we walk.

And for Kerouac: I ate raspberry jello, like garnets glistening with the sun shining through it.

A gaacky sort of day. A little depressed, a lot of inertia, and a lack of desire to do anything. Sifting through mind and memory yesterday was tiring bittersweet but glad. Another invasion of the tiny ants in my honey and maple syrup; mouse or mice downstairs, chewed through the dog food bag and pooped everywhere. So an ant smashing massacre that is ongoing, and traps set in the basement. I'm nice and irate. Probably a bad morning to have chosen coffee over tea.

Did dishes, aired bedding, swept floor, made bed again. Cleaned up dead ants. Read book, had minor excitement when civilian reported fire somewhere between Mackay Bar and Campbell's Ferry, but I never saw anything, and neither did Nez Patrol.

Mac and cheese for dinner with yogurt. That alone made me feel a little better.

And stayed up finishing Sometimes A Great Notion. Bloody astonishing book. Remarkably cohesive yardsale of writing.

Working a day off--maybe the forecast for the storms was gnarlier than it sounded, or they're just being generous with hours for me. I've had hairier days off. There were optimistic forecasts for good fire-causing lightning today, with a little rain to follow--so far, the rain has been the most impressive thing. Beautiful blowing smearing sunlight rain. And it smells wonderful outside, like the wetted down and therefore condensed version of my favorite smell in this world, of meadow beargrass sub-alpine fir dust heather stone.

This evening, just after the rain hit me, Laura up at Shissler spotted a smoke that proceeded to get after it, and we chatted a bit on the radio; a good batch of lookouts were talking around for a while, during the beauty of a storm, and it made me so happy--our linkage on the peaks of these remote mountains...we don't talk around a lot, so it was lovely.

Have I mentioned that Jello cheesecake I made yet? Effin A. Tastes so good. Had a piece for dessert last night, and another for breakfast this morning, and four pieces left. Already I can feel the chemical poison of it, but holy shit does something that rich taste great. Especially with some jam or peanut butter.

Went for a hike this afternoon--around 6 miles round-trip over and down toward the Salmon River, ostensibly in search of huckleberries. I ate exactly 14, and saved another 37 or so to put into a pancake tomorrow. They were very small, barely ripe, and extremely rare. It sounds like it's a bad berry year all over the district, but I was still hopeful.

It was a great hike, though. Plenty warm. Found the first lupine I've seen up here, once we'd pushed over far enough that the terrain was committed to sloping off to the river. Douglas Fir--didn't realize how long it's been since I've seen it. The little mouse-tail cones on the ground were what made me notice. Rocks with freckles, that looked somewhat like the rocks in the Cascades that harbor garnets, these looking like the ones where the garnets are undeveloped or unexposed. Was looking up at mountains, or across, instead of down at them.  Returned swiftly, and went down to the spring to get an ice-cold drink of water before climbing the final grade to the lookout.

Another piece of cheesecake and a gin with lemonade later, and I'm feeling pretty content with this day off. This morning I even got to call in a fire over on the Payette, east of Arctic Point Lookout site, down the ridge to the east. Tuna pasta salad with pickles for dinner, nice and cool.

 My 37-berry pancake was very tasty, but it was somewhat interrupted by the fact there was another smoke in the NW. Indian Hill could see it, too, and so by our powers combined we got a location on it. It was pretty far from both of us, tucked in a valley, and had had to get going well enough to clear ridges and be visible, so it was pretty big. The sent helitack and jumpers to it, it's way out in the Meadow Creek drainage.

My fire over on Arctic Point got after it, for most of the afternoon. Turns out I am the only one who can really see it well, so I get to be its keeper, make sure that if it makes a run for the L.O., the Payette can get some crews on it.

So, I've been feeling kind of lame, because I haven't had a whole lot of fires, and north of me Gardiner and Shissler have had quite a few, and west, Coolwater, Pilot Knob and Indian Hill have too. Not that this is my fault, is just is what it is, though it makes you wonder if you're just not looking hard enough or something. Anyhow, the other night Behler called from the Umatilla fire to Oregon Butte, to ask him to be their night contact, and James was happy to, because it's the first official business he's gotten to do! There has yet to be a fire to start over near him, while I've a least had a few. And I have had a good few others in the area that our crews have asked me to be the night contact for. So the Gospel Hump has been even more 'boring' for James than my corner of the Frank Church has been for me.

Today was pretty damn exciting. I slept poorly last night. I wasn't in the mood for the morning walk, but I let Elli lead, and we went off into an area I haven't explored yet. It was pretty, and pleasant as well as different, and so she went crazy running around and checking stuff out, which is the main point of our morning jaunts anyway--that she has a good time out and about. Eventually, I found what must have been an old kids' fort in a circle of trees and snags. Plates, cans, a big washbasin, and a shovel, along with a kettle and some pot lids. Pretty neat-o.

Sometime mid-morning, after weather and check-in, I decided to go move all the shingles that were torn off of the outhouse up here, to be stored down with the wood for kindling. I was just getting set to go out the door when I noticed there was a guy out there on horseback. Elli had been napping and made up for it by acting extra-tough now that she knew he was out there. He was a nice guy, been a packer for the F.S., outfitters, friends, etc. He gave me a beer (Keystone Light!) and 4 cutthroat. The trout were still soft, rigor mortis hadn't even set in yet. He told me that if he had known I was here, he would have come up the first day he packed in and brought me a steak! Well, fish'll do.

I then went and moved all the shingles, in two trips, keeping an eye on the hills around. I had a spidey-sense thing going on that told me something was gonna go up. After I finished the shingles, I decided to move all the extra firewood inside, when Nez Patrol called dispatch with a smoke report. I came upstairs to write it down, and saw immediately what they were talking about. It came up fast, from behind a ridge, and right out where I'd been looking. It was useful that Patrol was already there, because due to that ridge, I would have mis-estimated its location. Immediately, Pilot Knob and Oregon Butte called in their azimuths, too, which made me feel better. It may have been huge, but it came up fast, and none of us saw it before Patrol did.

It's called the Soda Fire, now, and has all kind of personnel on it, a few helicopters, and had a couple of retardant drops. Had two of the trout for dinner with fried potato and onion. Pretty and smoky sunset.

05 November 2010

Sheep Hill Lookout: Sunday 8/8-Saturday 8/14

I just experienced my first bout of deja vu since I've been at the lookout: Pappani [My boss, who'd been sent to AK my first week of work, and broke his leg badly immediately upon return, and I hadn't seen or talked to since those first early days] is flying with Nez Patrol [fire patrols from the air, flown once or twice a day in high fire danger], and he spotted a fire to the west of me. Its azimuth is at about 277 degrees. I went out on the catwalk with binoculars to see if I could find it (I couldn't). While I was squinting through the binocs, leaning on the north wall of the L.O., I realized that I had been right there, looking at exactly that, before.

I made really good bread today. I don't bake a lot of loaf-style sandwich bread, but this stuff is good. The original recipe is honey maple oat bread, but it became honey brown sugar rolled mixed grain bread instead.

The trail crew came through today, working to the south of the lookout. They brought up 4 cubies of water for me, on the mules. Hard to say how grateful I am for that. They're a pretty funny mix of guys. Young hippie, 30s-ish redneck, quieter hermit-y older guy, and skinny redneck hippie cross.

Elli and I walked down the trail to the south, and then out the hogback ridge that goes off to the west and overlooks Goat Lake. Beautiful. An old burn, all wildflowers and meadowy-open.

foggy stormy cold (48 degrees inside!) morning
with wood stove and lapsong souchong
am warm, and warmed

long slanting sunlight evening
hot light crashing through the west windows
gin and lemonade with ice(!)
am cool, and soothed

(took me awhile to realize what this reminded me of--Whalen:)

 ...I'm alone in a glass house on a ridge
Encircled by chiming mountains
With one sun roaring through the house all day
& the others crashing through the glass all night
-from Sourdough Mountain Lookout

(Philip says it a lot better than I.)

Mountain goat! Such a funny spot--while it is rocky and steep, this is still awfully gentle land for a goat. It was just standing out by the helipad, stock-still. I got a good look (but never long enough, are they?) and then it wheeled around and bounded off the east edge of the north ridge.

We hiked all the way over to the camp above Lake Creek Lakes this morning. At Dead Man's Saddle we turned and went a little way down toward Bargamin, and to use a cheesy-ass phrase, it was enchanted. Beautiful rock and wildflowers, twisting intriguing 'what's around the next bend?' trail, and silvery-bright light from the overcast sky. And, I noticed the grave at Dead Man's Saddle. Whoa. Nobody's ever mentioned there actually having been a dead man there, or his grave, or any other story. Most curious. [No one could ever tell me anything. Boo.]

"...and rare is a market for minor produce: a bucket of cream, a hen, a few dozen eggs. One cannot [legally] sell milk from a couple of  cows anymore; the law-required equipment is too expensive. Those markets were done away with in the name of sanitation, for which there is apparently no small or cheap technology. Future historians will no doubt remark on the inevitable association, with us, between sanitation and filthy lucre. And it is one of the miracles of science and hygiene that the germs that used to be in our food have been replaced by poisons."  -Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America.


This evening Elli started woofing under her breath at something while she was inside. So I let her out, and she immediately started barking, but I realized too late that it was the mountain goat. It was way down the ridge to the north, and just walked on out out of sight. After that, Elli really started going nuts, so I was worried that she saw or smelled something I didn't. It took me a while to realize that she was getting a complete echo of her own bark from way off in the distance, and so thought there was a dog somewhere going off at her. Now it's been 5 or more minutes since I got her inside, and she's still glaring out the windows and 'hwoofing' quietly. That other dog must have really talked some trash.

...It was one of those things. The crescent of the moon peaked between torn clouds, and then slipped below the horizon with no sign of its planetary companions. But then the darker it got, the clearer the sky became, and I knew that if I didn't do something  about it, it would be a waste of this life here on earth. So I took my pillow and sleeping bag to the roof, and watched and giggled and reminisced about Stargazings of My Life, as lightning flashed on the far northern horizon, and cold wind buffeted me, and shooting stars shot.

tonight I lie on the roof 
of my lookout watching
for shooting stars

ten years ago, we lay side-by-side
on blankets on a small ridge at
the foot of the tetons
and you asked if I ever saw the stars dance
and laughed when I couldn't
figure out your trick to see
but I could see magic + light 
in your perfect fingernails

tonight, I laugh
because the moment I thought
of that night stargazing 
with you
a bright star jumped + swirled 
and danced at last

Late yesterday afternoon I got a radio call from Sam, he's over on Boston Mountain for his days off. Today Jeff arrived. He took off from the compound last night after work and biked to Whitewater Ranch, about 25 miles up and down across drainages above Red River, before dropping all the way down to the Salmon River. He made it a few miles further, to Yellow Pine Bar, before camping. By nine this morning, he had already gone 6 or 7 miles from camp, when he called on the radio to tell me that he was heading up my trail from the river. He arrived here at noon, with another 9-12 miles under his belt. I made him a grilled cheese with that tasty bread, and gave him some chocolate chip cookies to go, as he headed on north, to Dead Man's Saddle, west to Bargamin Creek and back south to the Salmon, where he thinks he'll camp before riding back to the F.S. in the morning.

The sad news is that it's the last time I'll see him. He, and nearly the entirety of the Red River, Elk City and Dixie crews are done at the end of next week and are headed back to college. I thought that by being done on September 2nd, I'd be out of work before most of them and they'd still be around. So bummed.

Definitely getting autumn-y. The afternoon light just...is. It's the wind, too. So I popped open the 22 of Joshie Smithington's beer in honor of the beginning of my favorite season.

Nothing of terrific excitement today, though I did finish the puzzle that Steve and Leslee gave me. Making bread again. Have completed a set of 4 Fat Tire beer can 'glasses'. I'll go for a complete six-pack, to be my contribution to the lookout. There is one glass here, and about 20 mugs. Well, not anymore.

Honey Rolled Grain Bread
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups boiling water
1 cup thick rolled grain flakes (or just oats)
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 T honey
4 T butter
1 T salt
1 T yeast
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups white flour

-Combine water, grain, sugar, honey, butter and salt in mixing bowl . Let cool to lukewarm. 
-Add yeast and flours. Knead 10 minutes by hand, or 5-7 by machine. Rise 1 hour, or until doubled.
-Divide in to two pieces, and shape each into a loaf. Place into well-greased 8 /12" x 4 1/2" bread pans, rise another hour. 
-Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes. Nice and golden brown.

I only made a half recipe at the lookout. Since I've been home, I've been rolling the loaves in a mixture of black and white sesame seeds and poppy seeds before final rise in the pans. I've also been trying out putting 1/4-1/3 cup of millet into the dough, but it needs to soak in water overnight, or extra-long in the boiling water mixture, or it's pretty crunchy. 

Bowron Lakes Circuit!

If I put off writing about what else I've done until the lookout journal is done, it'll be December. However, when I sit to write about the Bowron Lakes trip, I just want to show you a slide show and talk. Trying to write about it overwhelms me right now. So, I'm gonna cheat and send you, once again, to Bananas or Bust's account of the trip, which is like a slide show, but by Kevin, instead of me. Come visit, and I'll give you our slide show. We have hundreds of (and I mean hundreds, Devon took 2 fewer pictures on the trip than I did in all of my time on Sheep Hill, and his camera died before the trip was over) photos. Mind you, I have narrowed it down to a "Highlights Of" presentation.

So HERE ( <--Right there! Click on it! You won't be disappointed! If you are, be sure to leave Kevin a comment and talk some trash!) is your tour of our tour of the lakes. If it makes you feel any better, some of the photos Kevin used were taken by me, and some by Devon.

For those of you familiar with the Betsy Canoes! series, this is the 2010 installment. 
It has the distinction of being the first not taken on Ross Lake.
(l-r: Leslee, Steve, Kevin, Josh, Devon, Betsy)

Bowron Lakes Cheesecake
2 pkgs Jello Cheesecake, plain
Butter, as called for on package
Nestle Nido Whole Instant Milk, to make milk as called for on package
1 pkg Raspberry Stuff From Mountain House Raspberry Dessert That You Have 
Inadvertently Hijacked From The Forest Service

-Combine Butter and Crust mix, press into bottom and up sides of 3-quart pot
-Combine Nido and Filling Mix, then add Water for milk, stir as required, pour into pot
-Combine Raspberry Stuff with boiling water, let cool, put on top of cheesecake. 
-Bungee lid on pot, put in creek until after dinner
-Eat gado gado with bacon for dinner
-Fetch cheesecake from creek, cut into 6 pieces
-Struggle to eat your piece of cheesecake, feed rest to Josh or Kevin, wish you'd eaten less dinner, because the cheesecake is so damn good. 

23 October 2010

Sheep Hill Lookout: 7/29 (cuz I missed it) and 8/1-8/7

Week 4 on Sheep Hill Lookout. Plus the 29th of July, because I forgot it last time. And it was an interesting day, as far as I'm concerned. I'm still not editing, outside of really minor things, so it's good the writing got better after that first week, eh?

I am more susceptible to the beauty of things. Just this moment: "turn, turn, to the rain and the wind / turn, turn, turn again." Thanks, Bob. And Timothy Egan's words sculpting the Northwest in the mythological real heartbreaking way. And Captain John Meares, 1778: "If that not be the home wherein dwell the Gods, it is beautiful enough to be, and therefore I call it Mount Olympus."

I talked to Jodie for around an hour, about God and faith, etc. Not a small bit strange how much of my reading has to do with the arena--some of it was intentionally chosen--but there's more than I thought, popping up in surprising places, and even old magazines here in the lookout come around to it again and again. And I read Dharma Punx again just before I came up here. Just letting things continue to stew/percolate/steep for awhile.

Having a phone and music makes such a huge difference in the ease to deal with the solitude (and distract from it, ech). In this way, I am a million miles from Snyder Kerouac Whalen, alone on their rock heaps in sunlight above Ross Lake. I may be in an area as remote, in its way, as they were then, but I can create company for myself at will.

I've never been so aware of the moon's position in the sky as I am here. It started as a thin crescent in the western sky, visible only before dark, and has swung all the way across the south windows, getting fatter all the time. Now it is heaving into sight, fat and orange, above the east horizon at 9:45 pm. [This here photo is yet another sunset, however. I didn't take a single moonrise photo.]
Winthrop, again: Mountains should be our noblest friends, our most exalting and inspiring comrades, 
our grandest emblems of divine power and divine peace."

A fairly plain day. Made Twin Mountain Muffins, and ate them with Ma's raspberry jam. Delicious. The dry eggs, once reconstituted, work amazingly well in recipes that call for creaming the sugar/butter/eggs. Will make some more chocolate chip cookies this afternoon, too.

The Three Prong Fire spotted hugely and went a little nuts this afternoon. About the same time, the Copper Fire on the Payette, and something over on, or beyond, the Bitterroot went off.
A hummingbird sat on my finger. It only lasted a few seconds--long enough for disbelief to flash into amazement, and for the hummingbird to bend over and stick its beak between my finger and the National Geographic I was holding--and then it was gone again.

Woke up this morning to a haze so thick that I couldn't see beyond about 8 miles. Now, at noon, I can just make out about 50-60% of my farthest skyline, but everything between 10 miles and that skyline is just a flat wash of different shades of blue. No smoke smell, though.

Got news that a former lookout, who was here in the 80s, will be up sometime this week. She brought her kids with her for the 9 years she was here. Just this morning I was thinking about how that sort of thing would work. Sleeping quarters, food, dishes, bathing, laundry, etc--for 4 people, instead of one.

Pizza for dinner! With beer! Sourdough crust, landjager, onion, soaked dried mushrooms, artichoke hearts. I screwed up the sauce a little--burned the garlic when I was sauteeing it--but didn't exactly slow me down. Literally giddy, I took about 20 photos. Every step of the way necessitated documentation. Here's just one.

Made chocolate cherry almond cookies, to share with visitors. The trail crew will be working along the ridge this week, and will bring me Josh's gin!

I did another 'load' of laundry, with Dr Bronner's only. Took just 5 gallons of water, and went really easily: just the way I thought it would go, last time. Even kinda fun.

This morning Elli and I went down to the upper Rattlesnake Lake. I was hoping to catch a trout with the lure and line here at the lookout, since my dumb ass didn't pack a fishing pole. Lots of columbine, elephant's head, scorpion weed/sky pilot, valerian, paintbrush, hellebore, etc blooming.

the lookout is visible, as the lump on the ridge, just about center.
The crawl down there was really kind of a pain in the ass, and so I was really hoping it would pay off in fish. Sadly, my setup was enormously ineffective, and the mosquitoes too obnoxious to allow me to tinker and brainstorm new solutions on the fly. Saw plenty of fish, scared a few, came nowhere near catching one. Around the lake was wet meadow, and wandering "ditches" of lake, about 1 1/2' across and 2-4' deep. A good mess from avalanches in places, too.  
And then came the hike back up. Holy kee-riste. Without breakfast, it kicked my ass. But it was really gorgeous down there.
Brown rice and lentils for dinner. Tastes like the North Cascades Institute, when I'd cook barley or brown rice with lentils and herbs as a side dish, but would eat just a big pile of it with yogurt for my own dinner. I wish that job could have been a little less heartbreaking. Goes back to eating "plain foods" at the Omega Institute, too--rice and beans and greens, and so happy, with a little nutritional yeast and Bragg's Aminos. Ditto, on the heartbreak, too.

YAHOO! My first fire! All my own! I no longer suck at my job. It is down on the Salmon, to the southwest of me, near Allison Bar. I couldn't see the base, it was tucked behind a little ridge, but apparently my coordinates were right on! Woo!

Jeff, from the trail crew, came up this evening to bring gin and a new door latch. He's the one who cheered me up and encouraged me on during the last half of the pack test. While I was horfing along in last place, I managed to trot to catch up to Jeff, and he kept me going with him--until we got to the last quarter mile, and he lit out--freaking took off. While he came in third to last, I know for a fact he didn't give a shit, and could have gone faster the whole damn time. Plus, it had to have felt good to smoke the living hell out of two people 10-30 years younger than himself. We shot the shit for a little while. He told me they should have named my fire the "Betsy Fire", in my honor (it's named the Big Eddy, 'cuz it's near the Big Eddy in the river). Then he and his horse went back down to camp. With brownies for the crew.

Last night I could see the glowing orange light from their campfire, away on a saddle in the dark. It was nice to feel like I had company, and it was comforting to be able to just lean forward on my glass-insulated chair and see the fire there in the night, while storm cell after storm cell moved by.
My "Two-In-One" washboard. My nearest guess to what purpose number two is? Musical instrument. Plus a photo from Ross Lake '06.

Last night was another big light show--had to give up and get out of bed around midnight to watch strikes, got back in around 2--sleep has been a little rare lately. Daylight breaks around 4:30 or so, remarkably early when you've slept for crap and are in and out of consciousness all night, keeping a few brains cells aware of the proximity of lightning. I can doze, waiting for stuff to move in from the west or south, until it gets close enough.

Sheep Hill Chocolate Chip Cookies
post-lookout-ily named, since I developed the recipe there. a little extra salty, since chocolate and salt are so durn tasty together. You'll probably want to double the recipe, since there may be more than one of you, or you may have more to do than make cookies twice a week, or because it's good to have lots of cookies around...or because the recipe calls for a half an egg.

1 stick (1/4#) Butter
1/2 cup Dark Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Sugar
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
1/2 egg (1T powder, 2T water)
1/2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Baking Soda (1/4 tsp at 8400' above sea level)
1 cup Flour (1 1/4 cup at 8400')
1/2 cup Walnuts, small pieces (or Almonds, and 1/2 cup dry Montmorency Cherries)
1 cup Chocolate (chunked dark Trader Joe's Pound Plus, if you're being authentic)
*Cream Butter and Sugar. Cream in Vanilla and Egg.
*Stir in dry ingredients. 
*Bake at 375 degrees F until done. Makes about a dozen big (4") cookies.