When the morning sun blasted into the lookout this morning, it seemed that today was going to be hot. When reporting the morning weather over the radio at 10:00, my temperature was 15 degrees warmer than yesterday.
The Cirrus clouds in the blue sky indicate fair weather. There have been no recent lightning strikes in the area that I need to monitor. The radio was quiet most of the morning. When scanning the landscape, I paid particular attention to places where people were likely to be–campsites, boat launches, and roads. My assumption was that if there was any smoke to report today, it would be human-caused rather than weather-caused. There have been no recent lightning strikes in the area that I needed to monitor.
Since it is the weekend and the weather is clear and hot, there are more motor boats down on the reservoir than usual. From this far away, they look like small toys leaving long white wakes behind them, almost like jets making contrails in the sky. The reservoir is much lower than usual this year. Last year, the water met the tree line in most places. This year, there is a wide beach between the water and the tree line as though someone has drawn a line along the shore and around every island. (See the pictures above and compare last year and this one.)
Perched up high in this lookout, I never tire of looking at the land around me. The landscape speaks to me about its history of fire and logging. Yesterday I sent an email to Leif Haugen asking for information about the fire scars around the reservoir. I learned from him that most of them are the result of a lightning burst that occurred on August 20, 2003 that kicked off multiple fires in the South Fork, Hungry Horse Reservoir, and Middle Fork about a month after the start of the Wedge, Robert, and Trapper Fires. There were about 20 fires along the reservoir called the Ball Complex. I also learned that the rubble from the Pioneer Ridge Lookout, that had collapsed after the snows of 1996-97, burned in the fire on Pioneer Ridge caused by the same lightning burst. Another fire scar that runs up Paint Creek to Unawah Peak was the result of a prescribed burn around 2000. Knowing this history makes sense out of what the landscape has been trying to tell me.
This afternoon another group of Backcountry Horsemen (Rick, Pam, and Dawn) arrived with five horses and one mule packing in a new picnic table purchased by the Northwest Montana Forest Fire Lookout Association. They unloaded their cargo, ate lunch in the lookout, and packed up to haul out a huge pile of trash from other lookout projects. I enjoyed watching them make up pack loads and weigh them so that the weight would be evenly distributed on the pack animals.
This morning, I thought it would be a hot day. However, at 6737 feet of elevation, the wind was chilly and all that was needed was an open window and door to keep the lookout below 78 degrees. Putting up the shade on the west side of the lookout that kept the afternoon sun off the windows certainly helped too.
One thing that I love about being a lookout is that this experience forces me to slow down and look. At my cabin in the North Fork, I am always busy with one project or another…..driven, you might say. Here on top of the world, my job is to look. I find that when I look at the wild world, I am looking inside myself at the same time. The wilderness around me enters my heart and mind and I realize that I am part of it and not separate.