As I continue to reflect and ponder on the nature of the relationships in my life, I’d like to share my thoughts on another aspect of life as a wandering fire guy (WFG) – how I share my life with others, and how that’s different than what’s considered normal in modern society.
My personal view is that one of the most important aspects of any relationship, be it personal, professional, romantic, or otherwise, are the things we share. Whether it’s shared work duties, interests, passions, friends, faith, personalities, or experiences, it’s often what we share that brings us closer.
That got me thinking, what do I really share with the people in my life? My personality and my career have led me to make interesting choices in life, and some of them I only understand now. Even as far back as my early years in college I noticed that outside of work I led what could be called a boring lifestyle when most of my peers were attracted to exciting pastimes. While others pursued hobbies like rock climbing, kayaking, downhill skiing and snowboarding, mountain biking, and traveling the world, I was interested in good books, music, photography, and to some extent writing. I was, and still am to a degree, a thinker rather than a doer. I look back now and see that many of the relationships I tried to initiate went nowhere because I didn’t share the exciting lifestyle that attracts the type of women I’m attracted to. My exposure to people who shared my interests was pretty limited, even to this day. At times I feel I’m an artist trapped in in a lifestyle where opportunities to pursue my creative side are limited at best.
Most people find their excitement or interesting activities outside of work. That alone means that they can share those things with others. Rock climbing, travel, mountain biking, running marathons, these are all things that almost anyone can do, or at least daydream about doing. They are accessible, mentally and to a degree physically. Anyone with a steady work schedule can easily plan these activities for weekends and holidays. Regardless of the intensity level, they are leisure activities.
The nature of working in wildland fire is that during the time of year when most people are planning adventures, I’m locked into my job. I can make plans sure, but keeping them is another story. During the summer, my exciting activity is my job. It’s not a leisure activity I can share easily with others. I can enjoy backcountry mornings with coffee over a warming fire, and sunsets over smoke-draped ridges, but I can’t share that with most of the people in my life. I get paid to travel the west on short notice, to camp in the wilderness, and fly in helicopters to places most people pay to visit. It’s great, but it’s something that can be so taxing that in my off time it’s a chore to muster the mental energy to pursue an exciting and interesting activity with someone else.
Fire is in some ways like the military in that only those who experience it with you can really understand it. It’s not something that most people know about, and for the most part it’s completely outside the realm of normal experience for them. And like the military, it’s almost a lifestyle rather than a job, especially if you make it a career. Between June and October I typically work 60-75 hours a week, most of it far away from family and friends. I leave my apartment most summer mornings not knowing if I’ll come back that night. That’s not a terrible thing until you realize that it’s going to be that way for nearly forty years of your life. I started my fire career when I turned 18, and if I make it until I’m forced to retire from the federal service, I’ll have worked thirty-nine seasons in fire. Cumulatively, that’s a lot of missed opportunities to share life with others.
So here lies the twisted truth: I, as a thinker, chose a profession and the associated social tribe that is largely comprised of doers. While I was blissfully taking life slowly this winter, reading books, cross country skiing, and photographing the mountains in the Montana snow, many of my peers traveled the world, skied in the mountains of Canada, mountain biked in Moab, rock climbed in Joshua Tree, planned trips to places with sunny white beaches, and drank fruity drinks with little umbrellas in them. If I want to create better relationships with those in my peer group, I need to expand my horizons and learn to participate in, and heaven forbid enjoy, some of those activities.
I’m passionate about parts of my job, and I don’t think I could easily make a change that allowed for more “normal” activities. Instead I’m looking at revamping my personal life goals and seeing if there’s room for more growth outside of work. Taking time out of work for other people, making plans in advance so I can actually go to a concert or attend a friends and family campout in July. Things like that. Life is what you make it, and in reality I’ll see the summer fire cycle repeat itself year after year for the next two and half decades. I can’t say the same about the relationships in my life, and I’m going to make priorities accordingly. I’ll strive to share more of my life with others, and to share in theirs as well.
I’m going to find new ways to share my work and personal passions with others in the hope of building new relationships and strengthening old ones. I’ve done a terrible job of fostering relationships by getting outside my comfort zone or sharing in activities that aren’t my passion. I may not be much of a rock climber, but southern Utah is a great spot for photography, and besides, who doesn’t like going somewhere warm when it’s still winter in Montana? Things like that are where I plan to invest time and effort in the future: finding ways to share my interests with others I didn’t see before, thinking outside the box and getting creative in order to build better relationships, and by extension a better me.
Until next time…