Suddenly, November.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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It’s June already?


Above: Burnout operations on the Cowbell fire, Big Cypress NP, Florida. April 2017.

So here we are. Despite my best intentions, a combination of being busy and a lack of motivation to write have led to another two-month break in blog posts.  I’ve flashes of things I wanted to write about here and there, but never pulled the trigger to get it done… so we’ll see what I can remember of the last sixty days as I write this post… I’ll say upfront that it won’t be my best work, as it’s really more of an update. Perhaps I’ll find time to write more eloquently about my Florida trip later in the year.

After writing the last blog post I went to Big Cypress NP in southwestern Florida for a fire assignment, which was my first trip to Florida for fire. After a lot of years of reading about Big Cypress, and running into folks from there on fires out west, I finally got to see it myself, and I have to say I thought it was a very unique area. Not sure it’s a place I could ever live and work, but I was very happy to be there for almost two weeks on a work trip. It was a pretty dry period there, and most places that would normally be holding water at that time of year were dry, which was the reason for the early start to fire season. In the fire area, most swamp buggy trails were bone dry, and the cypress domes and strands were drying out fast as well. Even  in the short time I was there I noticed the cypress in particular drying up at a  pretty noticeable rate. All told it was a fun trip filled with long work days where I was working on grad school coursework in the mornings, and then spending long days on the fire doing the data collection thing. I saw lots of wildlife, including  alligators in almost every body of water big enough to fit one, a few snakes, and lots of birds.  For a first fire trip to Florida, it was pretty good.

After getting back to Boise from Big Cypress I had a few weeks at the end of April where there was a kind of break in the action, but I still had a lot to do. I got caught up on my work that had been put aside for the trip to Florida, squeezed in some refresher training and the spring pack test, and I packed and mailed a few dozen book sets for the Wildland Fire Leadership Development Program. I also started to pack and prepare for my summer detail to northwestern Oregon as the acting Unit Aviation officer for a handful of forests and one BLM district. While it was good to be home in Boise as the warmer and sunnier summer weather started to arrive, it wasn’t exactly a soothing and restful break.

As April rolled into May I found myself throwing a few bags in the back of my Toyota and hitting I-84 with the Mt. Hood NF as my destination. I started out in the sunshine in Boise, and by the time I hit Hood River on the Columbia I was in the famous Pacific Northwest clouds and rain. The month since then has been blur of meetings, new faces, new places, and a lot of driving up and down I-5. The main offices I cover span a distance from Eugene, OR, to Vancouver, WA, with a few outlying offices farther north and south than those two cities, which means I’m in for a lot of windshield time this summer. It’s been a good month so far, and I look forward to seeing what the rest of the detail brings.

Around the time I traveled to Oregon, mom and dad were spending a few weeks up in the Seattle area visiting my sister and her family, and I was able to sneak up and see them all on two consecutive weekends, and again last weekend, although by then mom and dad had left. With my busy schedule for the past few years, it’s been a pretty rare occasion to visit family in May, and especially to see everyone all at once.

It’s been good to be in the PNW so far, although I have to re-condition myself to PNW driving, where you’re almost considered a hazard to other drivers if you’re not driving ten MPH over the limit while texting on your cellphone. I always forget just how many people live along the I-5 corridor from Eugene to Seattle, and I’m slowly getting used to being in a pretty urban area. While I complain about Boise being too urban for me from time to time, the reality is that compared to Portland and Seattle, it’s a pretty small and quiet city. Not to mention comparing it to even larger cities like Los Angeles… Boise is barely a dot on the map compared to urban SoCal.

That’s about all that’s fit to print for now… it’s been a busy year for me so far, and I see no indication that it’s going to slow down much as fire season starts to wind up and things get busy.

Until next time…

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April… Here we go!


Above: Winter selfie, Swan Valley, MT 2014.

March has come to a close, and it’s looking like the time has come for me to head back to the grind. It’s been a good month, and I didn’t have to travel anywhere outside of Boise for a few weeks, but I’m heading back to the busy season starting tomorrow, when I head way down south for a fire assignment in Florida. I’m a glutton for punishment it would appear, but I just can’t say to no to early season overtime. Plus I’ve never been to Florida for a fire assignment before, and I’m more than happy to check another box off on the “places I’d like to see” list. Pictures and blog posts to follow, I promise.

In the meantime, I’ve continued to spend the winter and spring doing some soul searching. I celebrated surviving another year a few weeks back, and that usually puts me in a reflective mood for at least a few days, if not more. It seems I’ve hit a point in my life where things are going pretty well, but I’m finding myself pondering just what I want to be when I grow up, personally and professionally. I find myself not being particularly satisfied with the current state of affairs, and wondering what, if anything, I should do about it. Not to say that there’s anything wrong per se, as by most measures things are going well.

I say that somewhat jokingly, as I’m pretty sure I’m grown up now, and I do have goals… but the question has become one of what I’m willing to do, or even need to do, to pursue them. I’ve pushed myself pretty hard professionally the past three years or so, taking every opportunity for growth or development I could, and it’s definitely starting to feel like I need to back off a bit… It’s a long-distance event, not a sprint after all. It’s been a good few years, but the stress of pushing myself like I have is getting old. I feel mentally fatigued more often than not these days, and I can’t help but think I need to dial it back a bit… Sometime. Maybe next week, or next month. Or next season. When you grow up like I did, with the personality I have, it’s tough to say no to any opportunity. But like I said, it’s been good, just fatiguing.

Between work, school work, the weather, and whatever else I had going on I didn’t really do much photography or other fun stuff this month. Lots of grey weather and rain (and meetings) kept me inside more than I’d like. I did manage to start back on a more solid outdoor PT schedule around the middle of the month, which meant a lot of biking on pavement, and jogging outside for a change. The warmer weather toward the end of the month was welcome indeed. When you tend to get hit by seasonal affective disorder a little bit in the winter, a change to sunny weather is nice, regardless of the temperature.

I’m crunching away on quite a few projects really, but not many of them are very exciting to anyone but me, and really don’t make for interesting blog posts. I have a feeling that the summer will bring some more interesting happenings, but for now I’m happy to just cruise along, working on my boring projects and getting ready for fire season and all that it will bring.

Until next time…

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February La-Dee-Blahs


Above: Goat Lake in the Sawtooths, fall 2015.

It’s been another relatively dull month for this fella. That’s not to say it hasn’t been a wee bit stressful or busy at times, but there hasn’t been much going on that would qualify as “exciting” by most definitions. And really that’s just fine with me.

A few highlights:

The winter weather has sucked in Boise this year. Don’t get me wrong, I like snow and cold, I really do. But cold and snow in Boise is less enjoyable than in say, Missoula, Montana. For starters, folks know how to drive in the snow in Montana. Not so much in Boise. The near record-setting snowfall in the Treasure Valley also piled up and stuck around for a while in the form of hard packed snow and ice on all my normal running and biking routes, so I found myself staying inside more often than I normally do during a Boise winter. Sure, I could have gone and played in the mountains on the weekends with everyone else, but that gets expensive, and I’m just not all that into driving 45 minutes or more just to go skiing, and still be surrounded by the same people I see on the Boise streets during the week. Not saying that’s not fun, it’s just not my fun. So it’s a fair assessment to say I’m happy to see the snow gone for good on the streets and sidewalks around my neighborhood, and I’ve already started to hit the streets on my bicycle in the past few days.

I was able to get out of town for a week or so in mid-February to attend some leadership training in Missoula, and I made the most of that, making the rounds at some of my favorite restaurants in town, and just enjoying being back in Montana for a bit. I also took advantage of the long weekend to go visit the family in the Swan, and while the weather wasn’t really good for much other than staying inside and visiting, it was a nice few days. I even got to see some wolverine tracks crossing my parents place while I was there. Sad to say, conditions weren’t really good for photos, so my camera gear stayed packed away for the entire trip.

Grad school continues to eat up a lot of my time. It’s not really that difficult per se, as I’m taking it slow and easy with one online class per term, but it does require a lot of time and puts some stress on me mentally. Right now I’m closing in on the end of my second course, with ten more to follow over the next few years.

All told I’m pretty much over winter at this point, and I’m still behind the curve a little bit, trying to recover from last year’s burnout. The next few weeks look relatively slow, and I’m not seeing any travel on the horizon until April or later, which is good. Even over the winter I’ve been averaging a week or so on the road each month for work, which isn’t really great for “taking it easy” as I’d planned.

So, that’s that. Not much to report from the edge of the Great Basin, except that it’s been pretty dull and I’m curious what the next few months will bring… Hopefully some opportunities to get out and get better at mountain biking and the chance to get some photo hikes snuck in here and there. I’ve already put new tires on the bike, and got my eye on some new photo equipment to put to use this summer. Now to hang in there until summer rolls around.

Until next time…

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One Month Down, Eleven To Go


Above: Sunset and Moonrise over Oklahoma City, January 2017

Despite my best efforts, January has turned out to be busy for one reason or another, in some pretty boring ways. I did have a few moments of quiet to get some semblance of “caught up,” but I’ve got a little bit of work ahead before I can hopefully set the cruise control for a while.

Like most of my winters, it’s been a lean period for exciting things to write about. While I could go on political rants or talk about sports and entertainment, that wouldn’t really be a good idea… especially the political writing. There’s already enough folks doing that, and for the most part I’d rather keep my opinions to myself.

I spent a week in Oklahoma City for an aviation safety workshop at the FAA’s Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center, and while I didn’t really get out and explore OKC that much, it was neat to see a new place. The perpetual wanderer in me approved, even if it was a work trip to “fly over” country. I even managed to dodge an inbound ice storm that rolled in as I left. I’ve had experience with mid-west ice storms from my two winters spend working for the Park Service in Missouri… I don’t feel the need to live through any more if I can avoid it.

The weather back home in the Treasure Valley has been pretty icky, to be honest. While the near-record snow hasn’t bothered me too much, the valley inversions have made my sinuses pretty unhappy. Whenever the air gets trapped for more than a few days, something that normally doesn’t bother my allergies really builds up, and after about day three of a strong winter inversion I start to feel like I’ve got a cold or sinus infection. Whatever it is, it makes my eyes water and nasal passages sting, and prompts many sneezes. At least we’re hopefully heading toward the cleaner air of spring… a brief respite until my seasonal allergies kick in. As I drink my coffee this morning the sun is shining weakly through the haze, and if I look intently to the south I can spot the outline of the snow-covered Owhyees through the brown smudge that hugs the horizon.

It’s also been an interesting winter in terms of the development around my apartment complex. When I first moved into this apartment two and a half years ago, most of the lots around it were still vacant, waiting to be developed. Every now and then I’d see a fox running around chasing whatever small animals it could find, and it was relatively quiet. In the last few months the development has caught up, and in the view from my kitchen window I can count over a dozen homes that have been started or finished since this time last year. The growth around here is pretty impressive. When I first moved here from Alaska in 2012, this area felt like it was on the ragged edge of the developed part of Meridian. Now it’s well within the suburban fringe, and infrastructure struggles to keep up with the increased traffic. Four and a half year ago, the immediate area still had an almost-rural, nearly-agrarian feel to it, but now it feels just like every other section of subdivided suburban sprawl in the greater Boise area. Things change quickly around here.

So that’s the news around here as January winds to an end. Maybe February will be more exciting… but I doubt it.

Until next time…

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The Year in Review


Above: Stars over the Mission Mountains, December 2016.

The last minutes of 2016 have ticked away, and as I type this I’m a day deep in the beginning of 2017.I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what the past year has brought – a kind of talk-therapy via writing if you will.

It was without a doubt a whirlwind of a year. All told I spent roughly half of it on the road, away from my home in Boise, in one way or another. When the year started I had no idea I’d end up spending 145 nights in travel status for work, and another 33 days away from Boise for personal reasons. While I got to see a lot of new country this year (Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, new parts of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona) I can say I was completely spent by the end of it all. In the end, January was the only month where I didn’t have at least a week of travel, and I was frequently gone for two weeks or more with only a few days at home in between.

It all got off to an interesting start, as last January found  my whole family reeling a bit as my mom went through a cancer scare over the holidays, having surgery right before Christmas, and going through the follow-up treatments around the New Year. Fortunately the treatments have worked so far, and I’m grateful for that. But even though the outcome was positive, it still shook all of us, mom and dad especially, and it reverberated through the year.

Not too long into January I was offered – on very short notice – an opportunity to take a short-term detail into an aviation safety position with the Forest Service Regional Office in Albuquerque, NM, which kept me busy for the first few months of the year, learning a new job, and a new city. While I was grateful, and undoubtedly blessed to have the opportunity, in hindsight it did take a bit of a toll on me, adding stress I probably didn’t need at the time considering everything else that was going on. While I was there I came down with the worst cold/upper respiratory bug I’ve had in years, and was downright miserable for over a week. I lost my voice for good part of that time, which was something that hadn’t ever happened to me before. Let me tell you, being that sick while in a strange city is never fun. To add insult to injury, a few other events that drug me down happened at the same time – my parents had to put down their oldest dog (and I’m a dog person who spends many, many hours with their dogs), and I came up short up yet again on the “job back in Montana” front. For a few weeks, I was very much battling depression again, tired, sick, and far from from home.


Above: Frijoles Canyon and Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico, 2016.

At the end of my detail in New Mexico, I headed back north to Boise, only to head into another whirlwind bout of work-related travel, hitting Missoula for two separate week-long trips, and Denver for another week of training.

In the middle of the that late-March burst of activity, I was surprised to be awarded one of the 2015 Paul Gleason Lead by Example Awards at a small ceremony in the Forest Service hangar in Missoula. It meant a lot to me to receive the award in Missoula, from a UM professor who’d received it a few years prior, and I’d worked with when I was still in school at UM. Even today I’m still humbled to share that award with many of my peers and mentors who’ve also received it.


Above: Sawtooth Lake and Mount Regan, 2016.

As the year rolled on, work kept me busy. Probably too busy as it turned out, as I wasn’t able to squeeze in some of the hiking and photography trips I’d wanted to. I did manage to sneak a single day trip up to the Sawtooths in late June, and a quick overnight trip to Mission Mountains in late September, but that was the extent of my recreational hiking this year. I had hoped to get up to the Sawtooths for an overnight photo trip, but the drift smoke from the long-duration Pioneer fire north of Boise kept me from pulling that off the few times I did have a day or two open on my schedule. Still, I was able to take a handful of good pictures on those two hikes, and I plan on taking more time for photography this year.

Despite there not being a single part of the fire season that was particularly busy for us, it was quite steady from May all the way through the last gasps of the western fire season in September. I spent the bulk of the summer caroming around from place to place, trying to be in the right place at the right time, and was moderately successful given the conditions. The end result was a lot of long days spent on standby, waiting for something to happen that never did, or if it did, was outside of our response area. That’s fire season, and life I suppose. Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time, sometimes you’re not.

After fire season I found myself volunteering for a few side projects as time allowed, and I kept myself pretty busy while most other folks were slowing down a bit. I even managed to sneak in a fun family trip to the Swan over Veteran’s Day weekend for an early Thanksgiving get-together with family. It’s always good to get to see family these days.

As luck would have it, as we were having our program year-end meeting in Boise, the southeastern fall fire season was shifting into high gear, and as Thanksgiving approached I found myself on an airplane heading to western North Carolina. As is typical of my luck, I was there for the last of the big pushes, and as I flew back home 12 days later it was beginning to rain as resources were being released. After I got back from NC, I turned right around and went to Florida for a week-long meeting, my final work trip of the year.

After that, I had a week in Boise to do some frantic last-minute Christmas prep before heading to Montana for a Christmas visit with the family.

I always have emotional mixed feelings around the holidays, and this year was no different. I was happy to be around family, but sad that it was such a short visit, and sad that so many of my family are dealing with their own demons. I don’t mean demons in a negative or spiritual way, but it seems like most everyone in the family has something dragging them down. My parents are dealing with health issues, some new and some old, that are challenging them every day. My sister and her family are dealing with the fallout from the death of her husbands father this year, which is never an easy process. My grandparents are dealing with health issues that come with being in their late 80s, including the death of siblings. My aunt and extended family are dealing with the sudden and unexpected death of the family patriarch, right before the Christmas holiday. It seems like no matter where I turn this time of year there’s some degree of pain and suffering in those around me.

It’s also a time of looking forward, and there’s so much that remains hidden from knowing right now. Some of it looks positive, much of it doesn’t. It’s the nature of being I think. There’s always hope that year ahead will bring blessing and prosperity, but there’s always the reality that even with blessing comes adversity and challenges.

So here’s to the coming year… may it bring us the strength to face it in a resilient manner. I personally look forward to overcoming adversity and achieving some measure of success as the year progresses. I have no idea what the future holds, but I’m prepared to meet it head on.

Until next time…

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