Remembering Cramer

In the Salmon River Breaks of central Idaho, fire is a frequent visitor. The area has a somewhat legendary status in the pantheon of wildland fire, known for the steep slopes that rise seemingly without end from the Salmon River to the timbered ridges high above, where bighorn sheep mingle with rattlesnakes, and firefighters know to take extra care at every step. The Breaks play a role in the stories of many fire managers, some amusing, some somber, all taking into account that this is a place where firefighters must take care, or risk being broken by the land.

In late July 2003 I was a young and ignorant seasonal firefighter on the Swan Lake RD of the Flathead NF in northwestern Montana. On the hot afternoon of July 22nd, in a fire cache a few hundred yards from the cool shores of Flathead Lake, I heard about the two firefighters who had perished in the Cramer fire. Surprisingly, perhaps, it was the first time I’d really thought about firefighter fatalities in my young professional career. At that point in my life, fire didn’t seem all that hazardous compared to what I’d grown up around in a rural logging community. To be honest, it seemed more safety-oriented than anything I’d done previously, so I hadn’t given it much thought. Up until then I’d mainly worked small fires in the relatively wet and heavily timbered Flathead country, where fires mostly stayed small, and IA involved long hours of exceedingly slow work  cutting through thick dead and down trees, dense brush, and digging line through feet of duff and the nemesis of many a high-country line digger, beargrass. It seemed like the standard escape route briefing was “down and out to the rigs,” regardless of where I was. More often than not, there wasn’t enough burned area to make the black a valid safety zone, and the openings in the timber were few and far between. It didn’t seem to matter much though, since the fires I’d experienced to that point had mostly moved slowly. Fast-moving fires in light, flashy fuels on steep slopes hadn’t been entered into my mental slideshow of experiences just yet, although they would eventually.

Given my lack of fire experience, as well as my general lack of life experience, the Salmon River Breaks might as well have been on the dark side of the moon that sweltering afternoon in the fire cache. I’d never been farther south than Lost Trail Pass in the Bitterroot, and had certainly never thought about fighting fire in the hot and dry Breaks country south of there, where flames could move faster than I could. At that point in my career, assignments to neighboring Districts, or to Glacier NP for the occasional lightning fire in the Park, were rare and sought after on the crew. Assignments off-Forest to the west side of the Lolo NF a few hours to the south seemed like a grand adventure. Firefighting in a place like the Salmon-Challis NF, then, was beyond my ken, and would be for some time to come. Still, it gave me pause for a few moments to think about those two nameless, faceless firefighters who’d died on a lonely hillside far away.

A few summers later I found myself as a rookie helitack crewmember for the BLM in southeast Montana, increasingly worried that my experience with slow-moving fires in Western MT hadn’t prepared me at all for working on fast-moving grass fires in the rough and tough badlands of the Tongue and Powder River Breaks. I’d read John Maclean’s Fire on the Mountain the winter before, and during the early weeks of settling into the singlewide trailer that was our barracks, the thought of those BLM helitackers who had died on Storm King was forefront in my mind. As I got to know my fellow crewmembers, I discovered that two of them had just come from the Indianola Rappel Crew, and had been among the new hires after Cramer. I didn’t really dwell on it at the time, but I do remember a few conversations about how strange it was for them to have started on that crew so soon after tragedy had rocked that organization.

As I’ve forged ahead in my career, I’ve worked with a few others who were part of that crew, or sister crews on the Salmon-Challis. I’ve fought fire on neighboring forests, and have gained an appreciation for fire in that kind of country. Each time I think about what those folks went through, and what was lost, it becomes more powerful, and it becomes more evident that we can’t let those memories and lessons be forgotten.

I was sitting in a fire refresher this spring, on the wet west side of the Oregon Cascades, when the instructors presented the Cramer video and case study to a class of mainly young and inexperienced militia, most of whom were ignorant of the ferocity of fire in places like the Salmon River Breaks. Much like me 15 years before, the idea that someone could get caught in a situation like that was a good bit removed from what they knew of working in fire. Lacking much in the way of guidance from the instructors, who through no fault of their own had no personal connection to Cramer, the students reviewed the events and focused on details and lessons. While what they discussed was important, it probably wasn’t what they really needed to take away from the exercise. I shared my thoughts as best I could, based on my experience in similar places and with similar people, and hoped that somehow I’d said something that would stick in their minds as they went into what was looking like a busy fire season.

That experience, of seeing the generational knowledge gained in the aftermath of the event drift away, made me feel sad. A large slice of a generation of fire and aviation managers was influenced by Cramer, and it changed how a lot of us thought about fire in many ways. To see those lessons fade, however slightly, from our cultural memory, is a melancholy thing, because if we fail to remember our past we are doomed to repeat it, on some other lonely hillside, on some other fire that would otherwise go unremembered.

Never forget Shane Heath, Jeff Allen and the Cramer fire. Be students of fire, in all the ways that you can.

(photo credit: Wildfire Today via the Wildland Fire Leadership blog)

Cramer Fire Six Minutes for Safety

http://www.wlfalwaysremember.org/incident-lists/114-cramer.html

Lessons Learned Center Cramer fire page

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Seagulls, sunsets, and jogging on the beach

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Above: Seagulls at sunset in Seaside, OR. March, 2018.

(In the spirit of being a bit more productive on the writing front, and also because I had a photo or two to share, I’m back for a late March entry.)

The past week found me on the road again, for the 6th week in a row. It’s been a busy month and a half, with some unexpected personal travel in mid-February, and then a whole bunch of work travel in the weeks since then. This particular road trip was a bit more mellow than the previous few, as it involved a drive up the Oregon coast to Seaside, OR, for the yearly Forest Service PNW new employee orientation that’s held for all employees new to the region, the agency, or both. Somehow I was invited, and thought since I was new to the region last year, it would be nice to attend.

While the orientation was pretty generic for the most part, complete with bland presentations from most folks, it was good to see just what kind of folks are coming to work for the agency these days. Somewhat surprisingly to me, most of the 125 or so people in the room had been with the agency for less than three years… while I know it was “new employee” week, for some reason I expected to see a higher percentage of people like me, who were just new to the region, but not new to the Forest Service. Surprise number two came when a presenter asked folks to raise their hands if hey’d ever worked for the agency as a “1039 or temporary” employee, which at least in fire is a large part of the workforce, and how many people, if not most in some regions, gain the experience that they need to earn an entry-level permanent position. When asked, less than 25% of the room raised their hands to indicate they’d ever worked as a temporary, which meant that most had gone directly to a permanent position… seemed strange to me, but perhaps I’m a bit out of touch with how folks are hired these days.

It was nice to see some new parts of Oregon as well. I hadn’t been to that part of the state before, and my hotel (and the conference center) were only a few blocks away from the beach, and I’ll admit I took full advantage of the proximity almost every day. Funny as it sounds, I’d never gone jogging on a beach before, so I made sure to get in my daily PT with a jog on the beach three of the four days I was there. While I can’t say that I jogged particularly fast, it was enjoyable pounding out some miles on the beach instead of the pavement for a change.

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Above: Seagull and waves at sunset, Seaside, OR. March, 2018.

Two of the evenings I was there we had clear skies and colorful sunsets, and I had brought along one of my cameras just in case I had some time after work to wander around a bit. While I ended up not having a huge amount of time to hunt for good photos, I was able to get to the beach one evening just to see what I could see, and what I saw was seagulls. Since there wasn’t a whole lot for clouds in the sky or big rock formations like a little farther south, I was forced to look for other interesting things to work into the images, and the seagulls cooperated quite nicely. I’m pretty happy with what I got for images from maybe 20 minutes worth of shooting in the cold-ish stiff breeze that was blowing.

The town of Seaside I didn’t quite figure out in my short time there. Being as it’s still the off season for tourism, the town was pretty quiet mid-week, and it was nice to go out to eat at the local brewery without having to wait or deal with crowded streets as I walked around town and the promenade. On the flip side, it was pretty obvious that the whole downtown was targeting tourists with lots of gift shops and gimmicky eateries, and I have a feeling that during the busy season it’s pretty packed with folks from Portland and surrounding inland areas heading out for a weekend beach experience. Regardless of what it’s like during the busy season, I had an enjoyable time while I was there, and I think I’ll probably have to go back at some point as a tourist instead of on a work trip.

Until next time…

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A Short Update

So, here I am yet again… chronically late when it comes to writing. I had the best of intentions of writing at least once a month this year, but that got shot up pretty early. Maybe I’ll change that goal to something that I can still achieve, like writing 12 or more blog posts this year… Anyway, here’s the news that’s fit to print in my world, mid-March 2018 edition.

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Above: Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, January, 2018.

Since the last update in January, a lot has happened, but I’ll be brief. Shortly after the first of the year my parents came to Corvallis for a visit, and I toured them around a bit, and had a short but good weekend with them. After they left I took a short day trip down the coast to the Oregon Dunes, and managed to snap a few images that I was happy with while hiking around on the John Dellenback trail. I’d had a few ideas of composition rattling around my head for a few months, and it was neat to make it come together. I haven’t done much photography around here yet, but the few times I have gone out I’ve been pretty happy with the images I’ve captured and the places I’ve seen.

After that early January visit I had about two weeks with not too much happening, which I’ll admit was pretty amazing after the summer and fall I had. The weather was pretty mild by my standards, and I was fairly productive at work. That changed in mid-February though, when my sole remaining grandfather took ill and passed away, which prompted a trip home to MT and a shifting of work schedule that meant what had been a steady but not too busy February and March turned into a marathon of back-to-back travel. In the past month and a half or so I’ve only been home for a few full weekends, and have spent most of the time in travel status either for work or family visits. Busy busy…

Above: The Washington Monument and the National Mall, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, March, 2018.

On the positive side, the past week involved a work trip to Washington, D.C. for a meeting/training event that was the capstone for a professional development program I participated in at work. I hadn’t been to D.C. before, so it was an eye-opening and humbling experience for sure. Some things were as I expected, with the D.C. culture at the Forest Service headquarters being one, and the overwhelming number of things to do and see being another. Some things weren’t quite like I thought, the sheer size of the Lincoln Memorial for one. Although I’d seen it in images and on television many, many times, somehow that didn’t even come close to preparing me for just how massive the monument really is when seen in person. Also a bit surprising to me was how easy it was to get around by foot in the area where we had our meetings and hotel… between the Metro and plain old-fashioned walking, there was an incredible number of places to go within 30 minutes or so of the hotel, which made for a smooth visit. We had a packed schedule, and packed even more into the evenings, so there’s a lot more that happened than I’ll share here and now… maybe later.

I’m sure I’ll post up some more thoughts about the past month or so when I’ve had more time to reflect, and frankly when I’m not so tired (5 weeks of steady travel with a death in the family, and a time change with cross-country travel in the middle, plus another week on the road starting tomorrow will do that) I’ll be better prepared to talk about it all. In the meantime I thought I’d better get something out while I had a short moment.

Until next time…

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Favorite 5 images from 2017

I didn’t get to do as much photography as I’d like to last year (2017), but I still thought it’d be fun to take a look back at some of the pictures I did take. So here’s an impromptu look at five of my favorite images from the last year or so… in no particular order, and for no particular reasons…

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Above: Milky Way over the Snake River Plain, July 2017.

I like this image for a few reasons. It was the only time I got out for a night shoot this year, and wasn’t really planned. I had rented a copy of the new Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art lens for a potential hiking trip into the Sawtooths, and when I ran out of time to do that (it was my last week in Boise, and making sure the move went smooth took precedence), I took a random drive into the desert south of Meridian one night when the skies looked reasonably clear. I drove around a little while, and after getting a wee bit sketched out by an abandoned car at the spot I’d though of trying, ended up pulling over at a random side road. Once I stepped out of the truck I realized that not only was I far enough from Boise to avoid most of the light pollution, but the Milky Way was also shining clear and bright. I spent maybe 15 minutes taking some different shots (with my Canon 6D), and called it an evening around midnight. Given the mostly random way it unfolded, I was tickled that I was able to capture a pretty neat image, and only about a 40 minute drive south of my apartment. I still haven’t brought myself to purchase a copy of the lens for myself (it’s a pretty specialized tool), but it’s on my “to-get” list for capturing these kinds of images.

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Above: Passenger jet taking off from Newark, June 2017.

When I went back to Grey Towers (in Milford, PA) for a USFS training session in June, we flew in and out of Newark, NJ. On the night before my flight home, we stayed at a hotel airport, and I got lucky and had a view toward New York City from my window. I woke up early, unable to sleep too well for a variety of reasons, and was treated to some neat light as the sun rose. I didn’t have one of my “big” cameras with me, just my Canon G7 X point and shoot, but I’m still happy with how it turned out. This was my first real trip to what I consider “back east,” as until then the only places east of the Mississippi that I’d visited had been in the south… Kentucky, North Carolina, and Florida, and while they are “east” by most geographic standards, don’t quite have the same vibe as the Northeast.

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Above: Mt. St. Helens from Coldwater Peak repeater, October 2017.

I’m not quite sure why I like this image more than some of the others I took that day that are probably “better” in a technical or artistic sense, but I do. I think it’s something to do with the fact that it’s not just a “normal” landscape shot, but shows some of the “behind the scenes” of the spot… in this case, we’d flown up to the peak to install the radios in a new building for the USFS, USGS, and local SAR group radio repeaters, and you can see the three radio techs, the building, and the various short towers and solar panel arrays that are on the site. In this shot, the new building isn’t completely finished: the antenna hasn’t been raised, and the solar panels haven’t been put on top yet. As my job-related roles and responsibilities have changed in the past 5 years, I’ve really seen a huge decline in the number of times I can actually get into the field and do neat things with helicopters each year, so I have to be sure to slow down and enjoy each project and flight I do get to work on. I used my Olympus E-M5 and 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO for this shot… It’s becoming my “travel” camera and lens for those times when I don’t have the space to bring my Canon 6D and the big lenses (which is most of the time when I’m working), but do have room in the line pack or flight bag for something more than just a pocket camera.

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Above: Totality during the eclipse, August 2017.

It wouldn’t do for me to have a top 5 list without including one of my few eclipse photos. The eclipse was a big deal in this part of Oregon, and having it occur during the middle of fire season made for a lot of extra work for just about everyone involved in fire management, including me. Needless to say, I would have liked to made some big plans, but the busy fire season, plus the move a few weeks before mean that I was lucky to just have my camera handy, and by in a spot where I could see the eclipse. In all honesty, I failed pretty hard on the prep for this… my tripod was somewhere in a pile of boxes and other stuff in my new apartment, and I was lucky to even remember to grab the Canon 6D with a few lenses as I walked out the door that morning. I didn’t do much research into how to photograph the event, and only had a few moments to snap a few images with the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 and Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art. Probably not an ideal shot for a wide angle (I used the Rokinon 14mm), but I’ve got something to remember the eclipse with, so I’d call it a success, all things considered.

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Above: DC-10 drop testing at sunrise, Fox Field, October 2017.

Just as things were starting to wind down a little bit at the new job in Oregon, I got a request to go help with an airtanker drop test that some of the folks from my last job were working on, and so I found myself on one last little work adventure with them as October came to a close. I didn’t really have time for much in the way of taking photos, and I’d again traveled with only my Canon G7 X point and shoot. In hindsight I could easily have brought either of my “big” cameras and had enough time to snap a few pictures, but I’m still pretty happy with how this one image, snapped quickly, turned out. It was yet another one of those work experiences where I feel pretty lucky to have been able to participate in it, even though it was a week of long days that left everyone pretty bushed, mentally and physically. I only hauled out the camera a few times, but it was definitely worth it when I did.

So there you have it… my five favorite images of 2017. Maybe not my five best images, but the five I feel I like the best, for whatever reasons. I didn’t have a huge sample to draw from, but there’s always (this) next year!

Until next time…

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Hello 2018, Goodbye 2017

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Above: Waves at Cape Perpetua, Oregon Coast, December 2017.

And here I am, at the start of a new year, pounding away at the keyboard, fueled by coffee and music, after another two-month break in posting… so much for my 2017 goal of writing at least once a month.

As is usual, the change in calendars makes for a good opportunity to step back and take a measure of where I am and where I’m heading. I think most obvious is that a year ago I had no idea I’d be where I am today… While I was actively pursuing professional opportunities, this one, in this place, wasn’t even a blip on the radar. To be honest, a year ago I probably would have had to pull out a map to see where, exactly, Corvallis was in western Oregon. I knew in general terms where it was, but that was the extent of it. I also knew at some point I wanted this kind of job, but I thought that it’d be a decade or so before I got there. Professionally I made some great headway this year, and I’m excited to see what the coming year brings.

At the start of 2017, I was  burnt out, fried, frazzled, and stressed out from an extremely trying year and a half. I really wanted to lower my stress levels, both at work and at home. In this regard I didn’t even come close to meeting my goals… if anything, I was more stressed out for most of the year. Lots of work travel, a major personal and professional move, and an incredibly busy summer pretty much blew up my plans to reduce my stress this year. I wasn’t able to to get any hiking trips in, and definitely didn’t do as much photography or writing as I wanted to. So personally I came up a bit short in my goals for the year, and while I’m not too happy about that, I’m heartened by the potential for 2018 to provide more opportunities for being less stressful.

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Above: Sunset over the Pacific, Cape Perpetua, Oregon Coast, December 2017.

So where will 2018 take me? I’m not sure, but I know I want to make more time for family, photography, reading and writing, and fun than I did in 2017. I know I’ve got a lot of “work” ahead, as I’m still getting settled in to the new place and job, and it’s going to take some time before it starts to feel like home (I’m still a bit unsettled by not having snow on the ground around here as January starts). But I feel optimistic about things, generally speaking, and while I’m sure that I’ll be unsettled for a while, I’m thinking that good things are yet to come.

Happy New Year, and may your 2018 be all that you hope.

Until Next Time…

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Suddenly, November.

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Above: Self-portrait under the stars, on one of my last nights in Boise, July 2017.

The story so far…

It’s been a hectic four months since my last update. July flew by in a hurry as fire season started to gain some steam in the Oregon Cascades and I started the process to move from Boise to Corvallis. August and September remain a blur, frankly, as I was introduced to the area during one of the busiest fire seasons in memory for roughly half of my zone. October saw some slowdown, but between the slow cessation of fire activity, a few non-fire projects, and my bullheaded inability to say no to additional work, it was still busier than it probably should have been. And November… well, the jury is out on how this month will go.

So where to start for this months entry? Of the thousands of things that have happened to me since the last post, it’s likely that hundreds have been memorable, and dozens have been interesting enough to recount here, but I only have a few that are flitting around in my head as I write this.

I guess a logical place to start is with the move from Boise in late July. Although I was by my own admittance ready to leave, it was still a lot tougher than I thought it would be. I’d spent a lot of my time in Boise thinking of other places, but it still remains that I lived longer in the Treasure Valley than anywhere not in western Montana. I’d developed a kind of grudging familiarity with the area that was comforting on a lot of levels… I knew the weather patterns, my favorite stores, restaurants, routes around town, and had my favored escapes from town as well. I knew my office, and most of the people working in it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I felt fully at home where the sagebrush plains met the mountains, but losing the familiar hurt more than I thought it would.

I’ll also add what a lot of fire people already know: trying to move in the middle of fire season sucks. I won’t say much more on that topic, other than I’ve been “moved in” to my apartment in Corvallis for roughly three months now and I still don’t feel like I actually live here. The settling-in process has been slow and halting, to say the least.

Speaking of fire season, it was a doozy in my small part of the world. At one point I couldn’t keep track of the fires themselves, only the Incident Management Teams (IMTs) that were assigned. At the peak we had 5 or 6 IMTs spread out between the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area, Mt. Hood NF, and the Willamette NF, with 6 helibases and around 20-25 aircraft assigned in the area at any given moment. Now, that’s not to say we had it any worse than other units by any means… my neighbors to the south here in OR, and my old stomping grounds in MT also had huge fire seasons that stretched everyone farther than they wanted. It was just one of those seasons for a lot of folks. Honestly, in a lot of ways we had it easier than many others… with the exception of the Eagle Creek fire in the Gorge, most of our fires were relatively deep in the backcountry, compared with some of the fires on the Lolo NF in MT, and the Umpqua and Rogue-Siskiyou NF to the south here in Oregon. While they all presented unique challenges, at least we weren’t evacuating entire towns, like I hear happened back home in Seeley Lake, MT on the Rice Ridge fire.

But even with our relatively good fortune, it still made for a long year. Like a lot of other fire folks, my season started in April and went into October, and as a result I’m just now catching up with the “normal” things in life. For the better part of two and a half months I didn’t have time to do anything but my job. No time for photography. No time for visiting family. No time for scenic hikes. No time for more than a minimal number of days off to stay somewhat sharp mentally and physically. Definitely no time for writing blogs either, which I admit I missed after a while… I’d have great ideas of things to write about, but then no time to jot them down. Now, this wasn’t like being on a hotshot crew or busy helitack crew by any means, where it can be physically and mentally demanding doing 14 and 2 digging in the dirt all season, but it was a different kind of busy that I had to learn to manage (still a lot of 14 and 2, just not as a boots on the ground fire guy). Lets just say I’m glad the fire season is over, and I’m looking forward to the rainy Corvallis winter… I think.

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Above: Totality at the Siuslaw NF HQ on the OSU campus in Corvallis, August 2017.

Moving on… Oh yeah, there was also that eclipse thing which happened at the end of August. I was too swamped at work to try and do anything neat in photo terms, but I was lucky enough to be working in Corvallis that day, which happened to be in the path of totality, and those of us at the office all wandered out into the parking lot and watched the event. I won’t lie: we also spent a fair amount of time watching the other people watching the eclipse… which was pretty entertaining. I was so scattered that I barely managed to grab my Canon camera and two wide-angle lenses to bring with me that morning. I didn’t remember where my tripod was (just moved, remember?), so I felt pretty good about just getting a few decent snapshots… nothing I’m proud of, but at least I was there, right? I wasn’t particularly impressed with the hype (didn’t see birds roosting, or stop singing, or see any stars, for example), but I was struck by how the character of the light changed dramatically during the event… the shift toward a white light rather than yellow “daylight” during totality is something that I’ll remember, for whatever reason. That, and how as it got dimmer it messed with my head a bit, as it was the same kind of thing you’d expect from increasing cloud cover, only it was clear as a bell overhead.

So that was my life in August and September… a blur of learning to fly by jumping off the edge, so to speak. It was hectic, but I managed to figure it out without too many belly flops into the pool of failure. I’d call it a success, in a lot of ways.

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Above: Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lake, with Mt. Hood way off in the distance, viewed from Coldwater Peak, October 2017.

October, and the real start of fall, got kicked off with a continued buzz of activity as things wound down, and I was able to sneak in a few “fun” projects where I got some field time, and even a few photo opportunities here and there. I had a busy week at the start of the month with few helicopter projects at Mt. St. Helens, which provided a much-needed dose of field work. It was my first time to visit the site, and I have to say the nerdy part of me was fascinated by the geology and ecology of the area.

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Above: Early morning drop at the test grid, Fox Field, Lancaster, CA.

The month was finished out with a last shot of travel and work with the T&D folks on a project in SoCal. I’d left my previous T&D crew in the middle of fire season, and really didn’t have much of a chance to close out with them since everyone was out and busy when I moved. In that regard it was good to see a few friendly faces in a mostly relaxed setting after the year we’d all had. It was a fair amount of hard work, especially for a guy who really hadn’t done much PT or field work since mid-July, but it was pretty rewarding in its own way. And despite just taking snapshots with my lower-quality travel camera (since it was a work assignment after all), I did get one shot that I really liked, which in a goofy way made me very happy.

So there you have it, a glimpse into my life during the last four months. Pretty darn busy, with a lot of changes, some challenges, and a lot of overtime worked. I’m definitely looking forward to getting settled into the new setting, and seeing what the next few years bring. I know I didn’t expect what happened this year, so I can only speculate at what craziness lies ahead at this point in the game. I’m glad to report that I’m in a good job with good coworkers, and in a location that seems like it’s pretty good as well, so I’m as optimistic as I ever am about what’s to come.

With that massive and rambling post, I’ll call it a night.

Until next time…

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Independence Day musings

Above: View over the Willamette NF from a Cessna 182, looking at the Three Sisters. Late June, 2017.

As is becoming my “norm” for this year, I’ve spent the past month or so too busy to really spend the time I should on writing, or more accurately, thinking about writing and what I want to write in particular. I’ve had plenty of ideas and inspiration, but I just haven’t had the time to follow through on most of them. If I’m being completely honest, even in my free time in the evenings and weekends, I’m usually zoning out, or practicing  my wicked-sharp self-distraction skills… not a productive use of the time by any measure.

The new job has kept me busy, pulling me in a lot of different directions, and making me think long and hard about what I want out of life and work. Of particular difficulty was the decision to accept the position permanently when they offered it to me early in the month… For various reasons that I might write about in the future, it was a strangely difficult process to accept a promotion and move to Oregon. But I did in fact accept the job offer, and I’m about three weeks away from making the move from Boise to Corvallis, from the edge of the mountains on the Snake River plain to the western edge of the Willamette Valley, mere miles from the Pacific Ocean. It’ll be an interesting and challenging move, and summer as I learn the ins and outs of the new job, but after I came to peace with my somewhat rocky decision-making process, I’m feeling pretty good about what the future holds. As much as I like parts of living and working in Boise, I think I was due for a change of pace if not scenery.

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Above: View looking along the Pacific toward Newport, OR from Yaquina Head.

In other news… as I said, it’s been a busy month. Shortly after writing my last blog entry I took a Sunday road trip to clear my head a bit, and did the loop out to Tillamook, down the 101 Highway to Newport, over to Corvallis, and then back up I-5 (which I’m learning to hate, in case anyone was curious) to the outskirts of Portland. I stopped at a few beaches along the way, as well as the Yaquina Head lighthouse, where I not only saw the lighthouse, but a few whales in the distance as well. Not shabby for a spur of the moment Sunday drive.

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Above: Part of the Grey Towers Historic Site, Milford, PA.

Not long after that I headed back East, to Milford, PA, site of Grey Towers, the USFS National Historic Site that was in previous years the summer mansion of the Pinchot family. For those who aren’t keen on Forest Service or Forestry history, Gifford Pinchot is considered the father of American Forestry, introducing the practice to American lands in the late 1800s, and founding the US Forest Service as we know it today. In the larger scheme of American environmentalism, he was of the same generation as Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, and had a rather large role in creating many of the public land reserves – forests primarily – that we have today. I was there with a group of about 26 Forest Service folks for a leadership class and meeting, and I have to say that while it was pretty humbling to be able to visit a historic site, it was also a reminder that many of the “movers and shakers” of that era, no matter how noble their cause, were also incredibly privileged, with wealth and status that even today remain almost unheard of for the majority of people who live near, or work managing, public lands.

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Above: Passenger jet taking off from Newark Airport, NJ.

On a lighter note, the trip was chock-full of interesting and amusing little things. I flew in and out of Newark, NJ, and immediately understood why a coworker had told me he hated flying in and out of there, and I have to say I share the sentiment. On our drive out to Milford from Newark, we passed Air Force One sitting on the tarmac, which was rather neat in a silly way.  One the other folks flying in later that evening said his flight was forced to circle out of the way for 20 minutes or so as the President departed after a weekend of golfing (I’m assuming) at his property in NJ.

As someone who’s main exposure to New Jersey has been from sitcoms, mobster movies, and meeting a few brash folks from Jersey out and about in other parts of the US, I was pleasantly surprised by how rural it felt once we got farther out toward Milford. Now, I don’t mean to say it was rural by western standards, but it was definitely quieter and greener than I’d expected. Also unexpected was a view of NJ’s highest point from my hotel room on the PA side of the Delaware River. I didn’t make it over there to see it up close and personal, but it was still pretty neat.

Other oddities: I had my first “East Coast” foodie experiences on this trip. Awesome pasta and pizza, and even a pretty authentic Philly Cheesesteak sandwich, or so I was told by one of the folks on the trip who was from the Northeast. Yes, the pizza is pretty good this close the NYC. I was also startled when we stopped by the local Milford coffee shop our second morning there – I was sharing a car with four other folks from the PNW, so of course we we’re going to stop for good morning coffee – and saw Ray Troll artwork on the walls, and Raven’s Brew coffee for sale on the shelves. Raven’s Brew is a Ketchikan-founded, PNW-based coffee roaster that I really haven’t seen outside of Seattle and Southeast Alaska, and Ray Troll is a reasonably famous Ketchikan artist who’s distinctive work adorns the labels of most Raven’s Brew coffees. Talk about a small world – finding Ketchikan coffee in a small town in the Delaware River Valley.

After returning to the PNW, the next few weeks were pretty busy with work related stuff, and a short-lived heat wave where the temps hit 100* F in Portland for a few days. There was a small lightning bust on the Willamette NF the last week of June that kept me pretty occupied, and got me a few hours of flying in a Cessna certifying an aerial observer for the zone. I have to say that the Willamette has some pretty gnarly country, as steep and nasty as anything I saw in Idaho, only with much thicker forests with bigger trees. I spotted a few lakes that I think I might try to hike into later in the year, or next year, and we even spotted few fires, which was what we were actually sent out to do. Sometimes the job can have some pretty nice benefits.

Now, as July gets underway and fire season sneaks closer, I’m getting ready to make the move from Idaho to Oregon smack-dab in the middle of it all, which will probably prove interesting. In any event, life remains entertaining I suppose, and I’m scrambling as always trying to keep up. I think this month I was mostly winning, which is good. At the very least I went well beyond my 600-word goal for this month’s blog, and still didn’t really touch on everything that happened. That’s a sign of a full life I think… too full or not remains to be seen. In any event, I’m moving forward.

Until next time…

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