A fond reminiscence of a man’s coming-of-age summer working as a firewatcher in the Montana Rockies.
Greene seemed to always have a love of the outdoors. But after the watershed summer of 1943, he devoted his life to nature, becoming an esteemed biology professor, director of an educational nature center and president of the American Nature Study Society. The foundation for this impressive life was laid when he was a wide-eyed 16-year-old on a journey to the unexplored spaces of northwestern Montana. There, far away from his home in suburban Philadelphia, he planned to work on a trail maintenance crew and gain a Thoreauvian appreciation of life. Cabinet National Forest was a desolate, uninhabited and supremely beautiful place—but also terrifying at times, particularly to a teenager. Like any great journey, the summer was not without its ups and downs. Greene switched crews several times in the first weeks and experienced homesickness and longing for his girlfriend more than 3,000 miles away. What lay ahead, however, would prove to be the most challenging. Within a week of beginning his sojourn as the solitary firewatcher atop Berray Mountain, Greene had several near-breakdowns. In one suspenseful, touching scene, he flees down the mountain, unable to bear the loneliness of his station, seeking civilization or human contact in any form. A wise ranger calms him with a stern lesson, and from there, Greene is a changed man. Through it all—or at least through the retelling of it—Greene maintains a humility, sense of humor and earnestness that is wholly appealing and endearing. The story itself is well written and steady, and some of the most enjoyable sections are the author’s open, honest analysis of his younger self’s less attractive emotions. Most importantly, this is no sad, elegiac memoir; instead, it’s a man toasting his youth and celebrating life with the same vitality he earned so many summers ago.
An excellent memoir for those who have experienced the wonder of open Western space, or the delayed rush of maturity.