The warm morning sun hits the east windows of the lookout as it climbs over Baptiste Peak and raises the temperature inside from 48 degrees to 73 degrees in just thirty minutes. Today is a major contrast to yesterday’s grey clouds and high winds. Under a cloudless sky, the Hungry Horse Reservoir is a deep blue and the peaks and drainages around it stand out in sharp relief.
Studying the landscape is facilitated by the light of the bright sun. On both sides of the reservoir, the mountains tell the story of forces that have changed it over time–some caused by humans and some caused by nature. There is a patchwork of timber sales across the lower elevations. The regeneration in these patches is a lighter shade of green and are haphazardly strewn across the hillsides reminding me of the scalp of a former student of mine who had shaved sections of his head and left other sections alone. The landscape around the reservoir speaks about the heavy hand of humans upon its surface.
The hand of nature can also be seen in the fire scars on this landscape. Although I do not know when these fires occurred, the silvery trunks of fallen trees tell the story of wildfire upon the landscape. One thing is certain…..the forest is a dynamic organism that is constantly changing and regenerating.
This morning, Bridgett and I ate a delicious breakfast of oatmeal topped with nuts and the huckleberries that she picked close to the lookout. After packing her pack, she waved goodbye and headed down the trail leaving me in lookout solitude again.
This was a relatively quiet day. It was reported this morning that the Logging Ridge Fire is dead and firefighters would be picked up by helicopter in the afternoon. Yesterday, all four of the North Fork Lookouts (Thoma, Numa, Cyclone, and Huckleberry) had an azimuth on the smoke and Leif Haugen at Thoma Lookout called in the official smoke report. It is a relief to all of us who live in the North Fork that we have such vigilant guardians watching from the fire lookouts.
The most exciting event of the morning was receiving a phone call from the volunteer at Firefighter Lookout who arranged with me to use his mirror to “flash” me. The location of the sun was perfect and the bright pulsating light from his mirror pinpointed his position.
Around noon, two members of the Backcountry Horsemen (Verna and Steve) rode up to the lookout on horseback. They were delighted to come inside and marveled at the renovations that have taken place since 2003 when they cleared the trail to this remote and forgotten lookout. At that time, they found Baptiste in a state of disrepair and later were distressed to hear of plans to burn her down. As they looked around at the freshly painted walls and new furniture and appliances, they rejoiced that Baptiste had been resurrected and put back into service.
After evening check-in, I notified Kjell on Firefighter Lookout that I was going to hike down into Silver Basin to fetch water and pick huckleberries and that I would be back in an hour or so. This is so that if I don’t return for some reason, someone will know that I am missing before the morning check-in.
I started out with a cubie (a plastic cube that holds five gallons) in my backpack, a container for picking huckleberries, bear spray, and the radio that I am required to carry at all times (even to the outhouse!). The trail switchbacks down into Silver Basin at the foot of Baptiste Peak through lush vegetation and trees. At the bottom, Logan Creek offers cold, clear spring water.
Logan Creek is but a trickle in a hot, dry season like this one. Other lookouts before me have left a measuring cup by the creek for dipping water and pouring it into the cubie. It took a while to fill the cubie halfway with the cup, but I entertained myself (and kept the bears away) by singing Carol King’s You’ve Got a Friend. It was too late in the day for hikers to be on the trail, so I knew that I had Silver Basin to myself.
The switchbacks down to Logan Creek with an empty cubie do not seem very steep, but that changes radically once the cubie is stuffed into the pack and lifted to your back. Taking breaks along the way back, I picked huckleberries for breakfast and was relieved when I got back to the lookout. There were still chores to do once I returned.
This was my third night in the lookout, but my first night alone. As the sun dropped toward the mountains of Jewel Basin, I let the quiet and solitude sink into my bones. On an over-crowded planet like ours, it is a luxury to be alone like this, surrounded by undeveloped country with no buildings or electric lights in sight……alone with yourself and your thoughts…..noticing how good it is to be alive and how lucky you are to be here.