From Leschak (Letters from Side Lake, not reviewed, etc.), a good look into the mind of one wildland firefighter, his motivations and methods of operation.
Though there are episodes throughout about fighting “magnificent, dangerous fires in remote and rugged terrain,” what Leschak focuses on here are the questions of why he chose such a supremely high-risk job and whether he measures up to the quick-thinking, life-saving acts of Reverend Peter Pernin during the hellfire that struck Peshtigo, Wisconsin, in 1871, killing an estimated 1,200 people and burning 1,800 square miles. Leschak, too, had trained for the ministry, but he bridled at the authoritarianism and yearned for more direct personal responsibility in his life. There’s plenty of zeal-touched imagery here, from “the romantic attraction of hardship and hazard amid a corpulent society obsessed with mammon” through phrases like “grasp the hot iron,” referring to a trial by fire believed by Saxons to distinguish the innocent from the guilty. It might be a stretch to say that the plain-speaking Leschak has a death wish (“I sure wouldn’t want to miss it. Miss what? Let’s slice to the core: miss the chance to die”), though on the daring meter he rates very high. “Action,” he says, “is the crux of sentient life,” and the crazy-sublime world of wildfires is just the place to find it, though he admits that “anyone who does it for the money is either desperately derelict or requires remedial arithmetic.” Like Pernin, who led dozens to safety during the Peshtigo conflagration, Leschak “accepted the duty of decision” by becoming a crew chief. The urgency and drama that infuse his story never feel overstated but aptly fit the circumstances.
History, danger, and courage, intriguingly rendered.