2017 Day Seven as a Volunteer Fire Lookout, Sunday, July 23

By | July 27, 2017

The black, black sky with an uncountable number of brilliant stars thrilled me in the wee hours of the morning.  The new moon never made an appearance and the stars ran rampant across the heavens with no competition to their glory.  The Milky Way seemed close enough to touch.  Here in the North Fork where we live off-the-grid, far from the nearest town, and surrounded by wild public lands, our nighttime view is not marred by light pollution.  As one ponders the night sky here, thoughts pop up like mushrooms…..the enormity and awesomeness of the universe, the triviality of our small daily problems, and our place in the middle of all this.

2017 Cyclone Lookout | photo by Debo PowersAs the sun rises, perception changes and comes back to earth.  Our earth.  Although it seems like scientists are discovering new planets every day, there is probably not another one like our earth in all the vastness of space.  Our earth is a treasure, a jewel in the universe.  It sustains us and gives us life.  It is easy for our species to forget this in our never-ending push to accumulate more and more wealth.  Our greed may be our downfall.  But how do we change that?  How do we change the ancient survival pattern that we developed when conditions were so harsh that our survival was in question?  We have now become our own worst enemy.

2017 Cyclone Lookout | photo by Debo Powers

On this quiet Sunday morning alone in this Lookout, it is easy to gaze at the spectacular landscape around me and ponder the deep questions that face us as human beings.

My ponderings were short-lived when visitors started to arrive.  Bill Walker, my friend and neighbor, was the first one to show up.  Bill is the President of the North Fork Trails Association and we talked a lot about the trails that they will be working on this summer and fall.

The Woods Project--2nd group | photo by Debo Powers

Before Bill left, another group of students in The Woods Project arrived.  The Woods Project is a non-profit that takes high school students from inter-city schools (who have been recommended by their teachers) into remote places for backpacking and adventuring.  As with the Woods Project kids from Day 3 these young people were positive, curious, and courteous.

In groups of six, I gave them tours of the Lookout.  They surprised me at the end of their visit by asking if they could carry out my trash or haul some water for me from the spring.  I gladly accepted and helped them position an empty cubie (which holds 5 gallons and weighs 40 pounds when full) on a packframe.  I also gave them a scoop to dip the water from the spring.  After they left, I worried about whether or not they would be able to find the spring, but before long they came jogging (yes, jogging!) up the steep trail with Madison carrying the water in the lead.  Madison, a high school senior, carried the water all the way up the 57 steps to the Lookout!

This group of young people reminded me of the days when I was teaching high school.  Every spring for 15 years, I took a group of ten students backpacking in the Southern Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina for an entire week.  Getting “city kids” out into the woods is one of the best things that we can do to ensure that the next generation understands how valuable our public wildlands are.

Although I loved the solitude at Baptiste Lookout (where I rarely got visitors), Cyclone Lookout is a good fit for me.  I love being an ambassador for the Forest Service and teaching people about fire and the lookout job.  I love how people’s faces light up when they walk inside this cozy little house with windows.  I have especially loved the groups of high school students with their bright eyes and enthusiastic questions.  It almost makes me miss not teaching high school…… well, not really.  Retirement is everything that it is cracked up to be.

2017 Cyclone Lookout | photo by Debo Powers

The evening brought stiff winds which rocked the Lookout and the sky became more and more populated with white cumulus clouds.    Later, some of the lookouts starting playing “lookout games.”  One lookout would contact another (using a phone, not the official radio!) and say that they could see a campfire at such-and-such azimuth.  The other lookout would try to find the campfire and give their azimuth.  These games give lookouts a way to practice their skills and have a little fun on a slow evening.  A few days ago, one lookout called another and said that he saw smoke and gave an azimuth and lat/long.  Once the lookout plotted the point, he discovered that it was his own Lookout!  When nothing serious is happening, this kind of fun keeps lookouts sharp and attentive rather than lethargic.

2017 Cyclone Lookout | photo by Debo Powers

After a busy day, I was asleep from the time the sun set until the sun blasted into my Lookout the following morning.  The last thing I saw was the setting sun.  I never saw the night sky or the Northern Lights that others say they saw.

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