It’s Winter… Finally

It’s safe to say that the two months since my last update didn’t really go as I’d planned or hoped. They went well, but I was much busier than I’d anticipated, and didn’t have a lot of down time for writing, or doing much else for that matter.

I ended up spending a lot of that time on the road for work. After 33 years of life in the west – without ever going east of the Mississippi – I had three trips that took me back east for roughly four weeks in a six-week period.

In late October I went to Louisville, KY for a training event, where I helped instruct a few aviation risk management classes, and managed to catch a cold while wandering around downtown Louisville after work. To a rural western fire guy, having a week-long series of classes in a downtown hub always seems a bit wonky, but it makes for a fun environment to mix and mingle with folks. While I didn’t get out to “see the sights,” I did get to wander around enough to feel I’d seen what I needed to see.

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Above: Had to stop and be a tourist! Blue Ridge Parkway, NC.

In mid-November fire season made an appearance in the southeast, and after a quick visit with family over Veteran’s Day, I found myself heading to Asheville, NC for fire work. I had mixed feelings about the trip – I was more than ready to be done with fire season, but the prospect of some “bonus” overtime hours and a chance to see the country around Asheville was too much to pass up. I’d wanted to see Asheville for quite some time, as I’d had friends from Missoula who had told me if a person liked Missoula, they’d love Asheville. After visiting, I can see why they’d say that. My time there was mainly spent waiting for new fires, and thankfully for the folks living there, most of the extreme activity had died down by the time I arrived, which left us with some time to explore the area as we drove around getting familiar with the lay of the land.

Asheville itself was a bit of a hoot to explore in my free time. The best way I found to describe it is a mountain town with Southern hospitality and a Portland hipster attitude. A local brewery boasted a mean artisan kimchi slaw topping their grass-fed bison burger, and a few blocks away you could get artisan pumpkin-spice lattes in a coffee shop that looked like it was straight out of an episode of Portlandia. Meanwhile, down the street was one of the better-known barbecue joints in the country.  And the beer… while I’m not a real serious beer drinker, I was amazed by the sheer volume of breweries, including some satellites of large western brewers Sierra Nevada and New Belgium.

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Above: Blue Ridge Parkway, looking south from the Craggy Garden area, NC.

And then there were the mountains. I’d long heard that the mountains of southern Appalachia were something I needed to see, and despite missing most of the fall colors, I’m glad I was able to explore a bit. While they are very different from the western mountain ranges I love, they are still pretty neat. Ever a forester and ecology nerd at heart,  I was excited to see and learn about some of the unique high elevation ecosystems of the area. For whatever reason, I got a kick out of the high elevation spruce-fir forest type, and would love to explore it a bit more. While I’m sure it’s nothing like it used to be, and the sheer volume of people in the area kind of boggles my mind, it’s still a unique area that I find intriguing.

After spending Thanksgiving on a fire farther west in North Carolina, and watching the rain start to move in shortly after that, I was able to head home for a short weekend before heading out on my final work trip of the year, to the western coast of Florida for a meeting hosted by the Florida Forest Service.

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Above: Withlacoochee Training Center and the Florida Forest Service Fallen Firefighter Memorial, FL.

One thing I’ve been pretty blessed to be a part of in the past few years is the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee, where I’m a coordinator for the professional reading  portion of the wildland fire leadership development program. This fall the subcommittee meeting was hosted by the Florida Forest Service. After spending a lot of years thinking about Florida for various reasons, I was pretty excited to finally see a small corner of it. The training center had a summer camp vibe to it, and it was nice to spend evenings after the meeting around a fire, chatting with good people under the Florida stars. We also were able to visit the Special Forces Memorial and the Joint Special Forces University which was a humbling experience.

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Above: Tampa Bay sunset.

It was a good feeling to return home to Boise, right as the snow and cold temperatures begin to settle in. It was definitely nice to spend a week in Florida in early December, with temperatures in the 70s and sunshine in abundance, but after having spent most of the year in warm and sunny places, I’m ready to see some winter. For all intents and purposes, it’s been 11 months since I really saw winter, and I’m ready for it. Call me crazy, but I like snow and cold temperatures in measure. Comes from growing up in Montana I suppose.

As I skirt the edges of work burnout, I’m also ready for a few weeks of relative quiet over the holidays. It’s been a very busy year, with at least a week of travel every month since February, and I’m ready for a break. While it’s been a good year, there were a lot of personal goals for the year that were pushed aside by work demands, and I regret that to a degree. At least there’s always next year to try and establish a more reasonable work-personal balance in my life. In the meantime I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had this year, and I’m looking forward to what 2017 has to bring.

Until next time…

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About Justin Vernon

Fire and Aviation Specialist (aka jack of all trades) for the US Forest Service, based in Boise, Idaho. I'm also an amateur photographer, wanna-be writer, tech aficionado, and a classic introvert who values quiet time as much as I do the mountains and people of the Pacific Northwest. All opinions voiced are mine alone and do not represent those of the US Forest Service.
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