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Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 5, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 119 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For almost a decade, former Wall Street Journal reporter Connors has spent half a year keeping vigil over 20,000 square miles of desert, forest, and mountain chains from atop a tower 10,000 feet above sea level. One of a handful of seasoned, seasonal fire-watchers in New Mexico's Gila National Forest, Connors introduces us to his wilderness in this ruminative, lyrical, occasionally suspenseful account that bristles with the narrative energy and descriptive precision of Annie Dillard and dovetails between elegiac introspection and a history of his curious and lonely occupation. Poet Gary Snyder, environmental advocate Edward Abbey, and beat novelist Jack Kerouac once stood watch over the woods, but today, 90% of American lookout towers have been decommissioned, with only a few hundred remaining. The world at large intrudes in Connors's account of contented isolation only in a discussion of evolving forest fire–fighting policies, in which advocates of ruthlessly suppressing fires are pitted against a new generation of Forest Service professionals who choose, when it's safe, to let forest fires burn themselves out. (Apr.)
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“[A] lyrical, masterly debut from a first-class writer.” (Men's Journal)

“[A] finely, wryly, at times poetically wrought first book. . . . Connors has succeeded in weaving many stories into one [and has found] a voice and new literary life in arid terrain where I, for one, had suspected there was little new life to be found.” (New York Times Book Review)

“A fine prose stylist with a splendid eye for detail, Connors allows his readers to see the natural beauty he witnesses. . . . All lovers of nature will understand the allure and wonder that Connors so gracefully describes.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“This is a book for all nature lovers, and more importantly, those who fail to see the beauty of the natural world. Connors’ prose is so mesmerizing, so enthralling, that even the most committed city dweller will be tempted to head for a remote, quiet destination.” (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

“[T]his is modern nature writing at its very finest.” (Daily Beast)

“[R]eading this book is like taking a vacation in beautiful scenery with an observant and clever guide. So relax and enjoy.” (Associated Press)

“Compelling and introspective, Fire Season lingers like a good poem.” (New Mexico Magazine)

“Philip Connors is the typical run-of-the-mill U.S. Forest Service employee. Except, you know, he can write like hell. . . . This book is great, like Norman-Maclean-’Young-Men-and-Fire’ great.” (Mountain Gazette)

“[A] compelling study of isolation, wildness, and ‘a vocation in its twilight’.” (The New Yorker)

“[A] quietly moving love letter to a singular place. By the last page, I wanted to hike up to the tower, sip some whiskey with him and just look.” (Los Angeles Times)

“[R]ife with breathtaking moments. . . . [T]o turn the last page of Fire Season is to emerge from a journey that enlightens and leaves the reader hungry for more.” (Denver Post)

“Entertaining and informative. . . . Connors mixes natural, personal, and literary history in this remarkable narrative.” (New West)

“This book captures all that is grand about our western wilderness.” (Vail Daily)

“For those lacking the freedom, gumption or plain will power to taste such a romantic life for themselves, simply reading Connors’ account sure is fun.” (Deseret News)

“Fascinating. . . . Connors’ narrative is crisp and accessible.” (The Tucson Citizen)

“[E]ngaging. . . . [Connors] sends thoughtful word from deep in the wilderness. . .” (Seattle Times)

“A clear overview of America’s shifting attitude toward its own wilderness. . . . [H]is affection is catching.” (Portland Mercury)

“[A] fascinating personal narrative . . . and a poetic tribute to solitude and the natural world.” (Paris Review Daily)

“[A] fascinating, pyro-charged reflection. . . . For a man so drawn to solitude, Connors has a particular knack for writing characters. . . . [Fire Season] proves a nifty way to shake off the last of winter’s cold.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“An excellent book, an entertaining read, and a lot of food for thought. . . . Without doubt, this was the most enjoyable read I’ve had all year.” (National Parks Traveler)

“[F]ull of wry wisdom and humor. . . . [O]ne of the best books to come out of a government gig since Ed Abbey turned a ranger’s wage into Desert Solitaire.” (Outside magazine)

“[C]harming. . . . [Connors is] a careful observer delighting in nature and aware of what threatens it.” (Bloomberg News)

“[A]n exultant take on the natural world. . . . [Connors] describes his lookoutry with understated exuberance, an engaging and measured enthusiasm for being alone in a beautiful place.” (Nina MacLaughlin, Bookslut)

“[R]uminative, lyrical, occasionally suspenseful. . . . [Fire Season] bristles with the narrative energy and descriptive precision of Annie Dillard and dovetails between elegiac introspection and a history of [Connor’s] curious and lonely occupation.” (Publishers Weekly)

“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.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“[A] poetic, thoroughly researched, thrilling account of [Connors’] job as a fire lookout. . . . [I]lluminates the joys of solitude and the complicated nature of life in a volatile, untamable environment.” (Booklist)

Fire Season is a beautiful narrative, evoking a reverent appreciation for protecting some of nature’s remaining wild places.” (San Francisco Book Review)

“What a wonderful book. Philip Connors went up to the mountaintop to serve as a lookout—and he has come down with a masterwork of close observation, deep reflection, and hard-won wisdom. This is an unforgettable reckoning with the American land.” (Philip Gourevitch)

“An excellent, informative, and delightful book.” (Annie Proulx)

“In an age of relentless connectivity, Philip Connors is a conscientious objector. His adventures in radical solitude make for profoundly absorbing, restorative reading. The soul that learns to keep its own company, this book reminds us, can never be alone.” (WALTER KIRN, author of Up in the Air)

“FIRE SEASON is an urgent, clear, bright book; it is both lyrical enough to arrest breath and absolutely compelling, reminding us why we need fire, solitude, wilderness. Find room on your bookshelf next to Wallace Stegner and Norman Maclean; Philip Connors is here to stay.” (Alexandra Fuller)

“Philip Connors’s remarkable account of his seasons as a fire lookout in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico is enlightening and well-informed. The surprise in the book is the author’s willingness—his courage, actually—to examine his own naïveté about the natural world. His is a most welcome new voice.” (Barry Lopez)

“Philip Connors has crafted a book illumined by the gob-smacked, wide-eyed, inquisitional wonder at creation. . . . Fire Season is for pilgrims, pedestrians, hikers and anchorites, city dwellers, and solitary sorts: a treat for the senses, fit for the long haul. Bravo! (Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking)

“FIRE SEASON is enlightening and well-informed...and Philip Connors is a most welcome new voice.” (Barry Lopez)

“[A] stunning gift of a memoir. . . . [A] profound (and at times hilariously profane) perspective on the relationship between humans and the earth. . . . Passionate and funny, Fire Season is an exciting new addition to the canon of American nature writing.” (BookPage)

“[A]n engaging and highly readable mix of wilderness reflection, ode to solitude, and reasoned assault on forestry techniques.” (AARP Magazine)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061859362
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061859366
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #240,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book crept up on me like a forest fire which smoldered for a while before turning into a long slow burn not easily extinguished. As I read, there were often passages covering material I knew such as the Muir-Pinchot divide, Leopold's gradual enlightenment, and changes in policy toward forest fires. Sometimes I longed for more new material based on the author's own experiences. But like the author, when Fire Season was over I found myself regretting that I couldn't stay longer.

It has to be a difficult task to write a book about being a fire lookout, knowing you're following in the footsteps of lookouts/writers such as Abbey, Snyder, Maclean, and Kerouac. It also has to be difficult nurturing a marriage while living alone in a remote location for a third of the year, and that is one aspect of the book which gets more attention here than in those previous authors' work.

I enjoyed the reflections on solitude and those drawn to it, and on living a life which is split both in location and lifestyle, since I live a variation of that myself though not to the author's extremes of wilderness lookout and bartender. There are also brief looks at a wide variety of people, some who love the wilderness and try to live in it most of their lives, and others who can't cope with it and quit within a few days to return to urban life.

Despite encounters with bears and lightning bolts, and some social moments, this is a quiet book. Norman Maclean is quoted, "It doesn't take much in the way of body and mind to be a lookout. It's mostly soul." For those with a love of and need for wilderness and personal freedom, this book will be a bit of nourishment for that soul.
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Format: Hardcover
Fire Season chronicles one of the many summers Philip Connors spent as a lookout in the Gila National Forest, sitting alone in a tower, scanning the treetops for smoke. Connors makes the arduous hike to his lookout post every year because "here, amid these mountains, I restore myself and lose myself, knit together my ego and then surrender it, detach myself from the mass of humanity so I may learn to love them again, all while coexisting with creatures whose kind have lived here for millennia." It is writing of that caliber, as much as the content, that makes Fire Season worth reading.

Although Connors writes lovingly of trees and grass, Fire Season is as much a tribute to solitude as it is an appreciation of nature's beauty. Connors writes that he does "not so much seek anything as allow the world to come to me, allow the days to unfold as they will, the dramas of weather and wild creatures." Connors channels (and makes frequent reference to) Abbey and Leopold in his descriptions of majestic nature, but also brings to mind (and sometimes quotes) Thoreau in his loving homage to isolation.

Connors peppers his book with lessons in history (the Warm Springs Apache hid from the Cavalry in the wilderness he now surveys) and biology (while moths, beetles, and tarantula hawks are some of the smaller creatures he observes, bears are a more frequent subject of comment). He provides a brief overview of conservationist philosophy and its history. Connors makes interesting what might in the hands of a less talented writer be dull, but the work still comes across as a hodge-podge: clusters of random facts connected only by their shared geography.
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Format: Hardcover
In 1845 Henry David Thoreau left his cabin on Walden Pond for a trek deep into the Maine woods because he "wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach." Every April, for much of the past decade, Philip Connors, the author of this engaging natural history, accompanied by his dog Alice,takes up life in the Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico for much the same reason. Connors found the opportunity to do so by becoming a Forest Service fire spotter on Apache Peak, 10,000 feet above sea level, in the southeastern quadrant of the wilderness forest. His job called on him to spot and then report the lightning and camper-started fires that occur during his five month tour of duty. His raison d'etre for performing this solitary task is "to slip away from the group hug of a digital culture enthralled with social networking. . . . I prefer to live...out here on the edge, where worship of the material recedes and acquaintance with the natural becomes possible." He describes "the seduction to solitude in a stretch of the world as we were given it, a seduction that stretches across all human cultures and all human history."

Of solitude he has plenty. He may go for a week without seeing another human being. He may be bored sometimes, but never lonely. He is right where he and Alice want to be. Their walks along the Black Range ridge line, down into the valley, off to a trout stream inspire and stimulate both of them. This book, the tale of a "smoke-besotted stylite," grew out of the field notes of his day-in day-out observations about himself and about the natural world around him.
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