Sunday, 14 July 2013

Mr. B’s Reading Year No. 1: Fire Season by Philip Connors (2011)

Hilary gave me this great present last year – 11 books through the year selected by Mr. B’s wonderful and award-winning bookshop in Bath - but I only started getting the books towards the end of 2012.  First book up, Fire Season by Philip Connors, is this fascinating description of times in the Gila National Forest on the Texas-Mexico border as a fire-watcher.  This is a no-road wilderness, something we can only dream of in the UK.  There are lyrical passages of life alone in the high mountains with Alice, his faithful dog, over the summers.  The characters he meets, the fire teams and some passing through on the long-distance hiking trail, are interesting and varied.  There is romance, with his wife, Martha, how they met and increasing tension as to how they can carry on living apart over the summers.  The unanswered question is will he have to return to the Wall Street Journal after ten years and do a “real” job again. Philip Connors has a great feel for nature and ecology and brings to life the history of US forest management and the policies of individual foresters that have shaped that history.  Local history and characters colour the book.  Alongside Martha, Alice and himself is a fourth major character in this book – Fire.  Fires are dangerous – tragically reconfirmed very recently with the deaths of 19 men, an entire forest fire crew, in the US. Hence the old policy that US forests would no longer burn and firewatchers were installed across many national forests.  However, as Connors so well describes, fire is a natural force and without it, the ecology of huge areas of the US have been damaged.  Many forests are adapted to fire and require it for tree succession.  Slowly, natural burns, which often start from lightning strikes, are being allowed, though closely monitored by the fire watchers and fire crews, with the result that the natural ecology is returning. There is spectacular scenery in the US, especially the National Parks, a little of which Hilary and I saw on our 3000 mile road trip from Texas, via New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, a little bit of Wyoming to Denver, Colorado in 2007.

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