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.