One year ago today I had been in Idaho for a week. I had just passed my pack test, and was already under the spell of Idaho's narrow and winding rivers, stands of lodgepole, and yellow-orange mud roads. I was learning new skills, making new friends, and learning the ways of a new place. False hellebore was 6 or 8 inches tall, everywhere; nothing much else was going yet, except a few late nodding glacier lilies. Hopes for morels were stewing under the surface, as well as hopes for drier and warmer weather. Amongst the crew, the prayers for a dry and lightning-filled summer were in hearts, and prayers for an exciting-enough, but not-too-overwhelmingly-exciting fire season was in mine--I was still nervous about sucking at my job.
I yearn to be deep in the South Fork Clearwater River canyon, following its bends and whitecaps downstream, and then to climb the Mt Idaho grade, looking down for the last view of the canyon before the land opens out onto the high prairie. I wish to be walking the dogs over and down the hill behind the house, looping along the South Fork Red River, quiet and smooth in its rush; to the joining with the main Red, with a view from the bridge down the broad valley, its grass-filled bottom and aspen grove and forested gentle sides; along the road below huge Ponderosas looming on the cutbank above; crossing the Red again by the old Ranger Station, climbing back up Snob Hill to the old log house--a walk of perhaps 10 minutes. I miss riding in the Forest Service rigs, early in the morning with the crews, crossing the Mother Lode Road into Elk City for yet another interminable class, where I sit, trying to stretch my aching legs that have had more straight-up workouts in the last week than in the last 10 years. And riding with a truckload of favorite 20-somethings from the crew to Guard School, listening to music, talking and napping, driving through the rain and terrain. Looking out at fields tinted purple-blue above brilliant green, full of camas blooms, old wood and barbwire fencelines and wandering elk horses mules.
My brother will be leaving Idaho this year, too, as he takes a post in Central Washington on the Columbia River. He spent enough time in the Red River Valley to fall in love with its ways and grow fond of its ridiculousnesses, gain a comfortable existence, and have the relationship grow old, tiring and trying in ways, despite the love. But my time there is also threaded through with his presence: it was so terrifically awesome to live and work with him, and I miss that. I'm sad that he will be gone from the landscape, too.
I am fully mourning these things--my heart aches and tears fall when a memory rings too clearly or a smell, sight or sound hits home. Thoughts of the lookout do the same, but right now my mind is given over to the lowlands. Last year I couldn't wait to escape them and get to my post, but oh my good god, I wish I was there now.
cross-valley view, photo Jeff G.
this is an echo
this is the glory
this is the pounding of a midnight heart
this is the mountains
this is the lightning
this is the man pulling on his iron chains
this is the light that shines
and I can see the pines are dancing
this is the leaving of another love
this is the howling at the moon
these are the arms you fell into
I am a fire and I must burn today