Back in Jr and Sr High School, at least when I was a kid, we had to take a test to help us figure out what jobs would be a “good fit” for us when we grew up. I took these time and time again, and the results were so not memorable that I honestly can’t remember one job that I was a good fit for.
There was a time I wanted to be a truck driver, but I think this was mostly due to the song Convoy when I was a kid. With my lack of skills of backing up a vehicle with a trailer, I think the world is VERY lucky I never followed this up. I also thought being a helicopter pilot would be fun as well, but again, I never looked into it.
Then, in high school, I tool a forestry class. I loved it, and thought I wanted to be a forest ranger…
To make a short story shorter, I took one class at WSU, found it boring, and dropped that thought. I went on to graduate as a teacher, then moved into the business world, started at the mighty P, and met my gorgeous wife. I am a lucky man.
There are times though, I look back at 18-year-old Tony and just shake my head, and tonight is one of those nights. I just finished the book The Big Burn
This book not only tells the story of the biggest forest fires ever to hit the United States (1910, in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and up to BC 3.2 million acres) but also the history of the National Forests.
I learned more about Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot than I ever had before. Without the efforts of these two, there would probably be condos at Paradise in Mt Rainier and clear cutting in Olympic National Park. These two men, over 100 years ago, realized that if land wasn’t preserved, those of us in the future would not get to experience the wilderness and natural beauty of forests and mountains.
I thought about doing a book review on this, but decided to go a different route. I decided to share all the different ways this book spoke to me.
First was Gifford Pinchot himself. When I was a kid, my folks were big on camping and going into the Cascade mountains here in Washington
My favorite place to camp was Canyon Creek campground, near Mt St Helens, in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. I saw my first bear there, hunted bigfoot, learned to chop wood and build a fire at that camp ground. Some of my favorite memories as a kid was camping hear, yet I had no idea where the name came from.
When I grew up, I knew who it was named after, but until I read this book, I knew nothing about the man. He was a little bit crazy (claiming to speak to the ghost of his dead wife on a daily basis for YEARS (ok decades)) but I learned I owe him a great debt. Without his work none of these photos would have happened
His entire life he fought to build, maintain and grow the forest service. We are lucky to have had him.
Then there was Joe Halm, a ranger in the service, also a graduate of Washington State College, in 1909 the scorer of the winning points against the “hated Huskies of Washington”, and a hero of the burn who saved 20+ members of his fire fighting crew! A true Coug, and one hell of a ranger. I read about him and wonder what he would think of his fellow Coug, 70 years later, who decided not to follow in his foot steps. (Wish I woulda heard of him back then!)
Finally it is the overall story. The men who started the conservation movement, who risked their lives (and many lost) fighting this fire, did so for all of us. We have our National Parks, our mountain trails, and beauty that many of us take for granted because of them. There is a big part of me that thinks I let these guys (Like Ed Pulaski (worth looking up!)) down. In the great tavern in the sky, there is a good chance they would turn their backs on me and I’d be drinking alone…
I know! Life is life! I have a wife that I love! (and I do) Two amazing kids who are a lot like me (whom I love) and a host of memories and adventures that never would have happened had I not made the choices I made. I am a lucky man.
But reading this book, I wish 18 year Tony would have sucked it up a bit more before giving up. At least then maybe I wouldn’t feel like I let these guys down….
I gave the book 5 stars. It is WELL worth the read!! More importantly, get up into the woods, look to the sky, and thank these guys for all they did. We owe them big!!