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.