Former Wall Street Journal editor Connors ruminates on his eighth summer in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico.
A small, glass-walled perch on stilts on the middle of nowhere—a fit milieu for misfits, from the curmudgeon to the bliss-seeker, as Edward Abbey and Jack Kerouac so amply demonstrated—but Connors brings a fresh eye to the fire-lookout job. He combines explanations of his interest in the vocation with a professional’s thoughtful considerations on the role of fire in the greater environmental good. He is there (with his dog, an important character) for a multitude of well-considered reasons: to witness, undiluted, an eclipse, lightning, sandstorm and fire (watching “pine trees explode in a blue ball of smoke”). He is also there to master the act of solitude: “Once you struggle through that swamp of monotony where time bogs down in excruciating ticks from your wristwatch, it becomes possible to break through to a state of equilibrium, to reach a kind of waiting and watching that verges on what I can only call the holy.” For him, there is no better job on Earth. With balance and experienced insight, he provides sharp discussions of burn policy and our rich, evolving understanding of fire ecology. Meanwhile, if suspicious plumes aren’t calling, the author revels in nighthawks, ladybugs, long walks and the squid-ink dark of a moonless night.
Print journalist and fire lookout: When it comes to paying jobs, Connors has a death wish, but he has made the very best of it.