Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness LookoutFire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

i can’t help but think of this book in comparison to Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which i also recently read (i wrote a review of it, then goodreads ate it before it posted. grrrr). so i shall compare, which isn’t quite cricket, but too bad.

Connors’ book is a memoir of sorts of his time spent as a wilderness fire lookout; Strayed’s book is a memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. they have a lot of similarities–wilderness, solitude, self-reliance, joy in relatively unspoiled places and the denizens who live there full-time (i.e., critters and plants). but the two books almost feel like entirely different genres.

Connors’ book is full of historical detail of the region, the history of wildland firefighting, lots of biology field notes on the creatures that inhabit the region. how did we get from Smokey the Bear’s sad injunction to prevent all forest fires to today’s current desire to let some of it burn naturally? this makes for some excellent historical reading, along with thoughts on future fire management and what these two paths mean for healthy ecosystems.

Strayed’s book is full of intensely personal detail on why she needed to withdraw from “civilization” and undertake such a grueling and inward journey. she tells us about her family history, her mother’s death, her bad relationships, and why you don’t need a curved saw on the trail. she tells us about losing a boot 20 miles from nowhere. she tells us about blisters, and how intensely beautiful and moving the natural world is, even when you don’t know what the butterflies are called.

in short: i felt after finishing Connors’ book that i knew something about firespotting, firefighting, and the history of the region he so clearly loves. after reading Strayed’s work, i feel like i know a human.

i don’t mean to shortchange either writer. both are excellent books. Connors’ book does contain some intensely personal stuff (his brother’s suicide, a lovely moving story about his finding an ailing mule deer fawn). Strayed’s book does contain some history about the trail, some interesting info on how people interact on it (they generally look out for each other a lot, which is really good to hear, coming from a lot who take off to get away from people), and actually some pretty good info on how to backpack light but well-equipped. (no, she’s not an ultralight fanatic, you hiking geeks.)

in the end i have to say i preferred Strayed’s book, however. she wrote it so close to the bone. there’s a distance in most of Connors’ work. who knows, maybe it comes from Connors’ being so often up in a tower, and Strayed being invariably very firmly on the earth.

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