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Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookoutby Philip Connors
Every summer Philip Connors runs away from home. He spends half the year in a remote fire lookout savoring the solitude and the joy of monotasking. His wonderful book, Fire Season, will make you want to quit your job, sell the house, and find your own little piece of wilderness. You've been warned.
Synopses & Reviews
A decade ago Philip Connors left work as an editor at the Wall Street Journal and talked his way into a job far from the streets of lower Manhattan: working as one of the last fire lookouts in America. Spending nearly half the year in a 7' x 7' tower, 10,000 feet above sea level in remote New Mexico, his tasks were simple: keep watch over one of the most fire-prone forests in the country and sound the alarm at the first sign of smoke.
Fire Season is Connors's remarkable reflection on work, our place in the wild, and the charms of solitude. The landscape over which he keeps watch is rugged and roadless — it was the first region in the world to be officially placed off limits to industrial machines — and it typically gets hit by lightning more than 30,000 times per year. Connors recounts his days and nights in this forbidding land, untethered from the comforts of modern life: the eerie pleasure of being alone in his glass-walled perch with only his dog Alice for company; occasional visits from smoke jumpers and long-distance hikers; the strange dance of communion and wariness with bears, elk, and other wild creatures; trips to visit the hidden graves of buffalo soldiers slain during the Apache wars of the nineteenth century; and always the majesty and might of lightning storms and untamed fire.
Written with narrative verve and startling beauty, and filled with reflections on his literary forebears who also served as lookouts — among them Edward Abbey, Jack Kerouac, Norman Maclean, and Gary Snyder — Fire Season is a book to stand the test of time.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"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!" Philip Gourevitch
"Philip Connors's remarkable account of his seasons as a fire lookout on 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 naivete about the natural world. His is a most welcome new voice." Walter Kirn, author of Up in the Air
"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." Alexandra Fuller
"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." Publishers Weekly
"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." Barry Lopez
"Fire Season is enlightening and well-informed...and Philip Connors is a most welcome new voice." Thomas Lynch
"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." Publishers Weekly
"[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." Annie Proulx
“An excellent, informative, and delightful book.” Barry Lopez
“[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
“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
“[R]eading this book is like taking a vacation in beautiful scenery with an observant and clever guide. So relax and enjoy.” Associated Press
“[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
“[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.” New York Times Book Review
“[A] lyrical, masterly debut from a first-class writer.” Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[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.” Philip Gourevitch
In the tradition of Desert Solitaire and Shop Class as Soulcraft, a remarkable debut from a major new voice in American nonfiction — a meditation on nature and life, witnessed from the heights of one of the last fire lookout towers in America.
“Fire Season both evokes and honors the great hermit celebrants of nature, from Dillard to Kerouac to Thoreau—and I loved it.”
—J.R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar
“[Connorss] adventures in radical solitude make for profoundly absorbing, restorative reading.”
Phillip Connors is a major new voice in American nonfiction, and his remarkable debut, Fire Season, is destined to become a modern classic. An absorbing chronicle of the days and nights of one of the last fire lookouts in the American West, Fire Season is a marvel of a book, as rugged and soulful as Matthew Crawfords bestselling Shop Class as Soulcraft, and it immediately places Connors in the august company of Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, Aldo Leopold, Barry Lopez, and others in the respected fraternity of hard-boiled nature writers.
About the Author
Philip Connors has worked as a baker, a bartender, a house painter, a janitor, and an editor at the Wall Street Journal. His essays have appeared in n+1, Harper's, the Paris Review, and the Best American Non-required Reading anthology. He lives in New Mexico with his wife and their dog.
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