The story be­gan sim­ply: ‘Don’t tell Mom’

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Rick Ma­cLean Rick Ma­cLean is an in­struc­tor in the jour­nal­ism pro­gram at Hol­land Col­lege in Char­lot­te­town.

Hand­some Son gave me that look. “Don’t tell Mom.” Only out of his teens by a year or two, he’d just re­turned from two weeks fight­ing for­est fires in north­ern Que­bec look­ing, for all the world, like a man. It was dis­con­cert­ing.

He’d been fight­ing a fire one day when he stepped into moss. He looked down and saw some­thing a fire­fighter in the woods doesn’t want to see — fire run­ning across the toe of his boot.

The very ground he was walk­ing on was on fire.

His train­ing kicked in. He backed out slowly, des­per­ately try­ing to avoid any soft spot in the ground be­cause if you go in up to your hip, you’re on fire. I didn’t tell his mother. Ever.

But Nor­man Ma­cLean – no re­la­tion I’m aware of – de­cided he had to tell the story of the Aug. 5, 1949 fire in a re­mote lit­tle spit of land in Mon­tana. That day, 15 men parachuted into Mann Gulch to fight a fire. They met another vol­un­teer on the ground.

About two hours later three were alive, two more were dy­ing hor­ri­bly from burns.

The rest were gone. The story’s fa­mous be­cause the team leader stopped with the run­away fire, and its 100-me­tre high wall of fire, just 30 sec­onds be­hind him. Wag­ner ‘ Wag’ Dodge lit an es­cape fire, dropped face first into its hot ashes, and let the main fire burn past him.

He lived. So did two of the youngest mem­bers of the team, who out­ran the inferno. A third man missed get­ting to the top of the ridge by sec­onds. He died a day later.

No fire­fighter had done what Dodge did be­fore. How he man­aged to avoid panic and think his way out of cer­tain death has been the sub­ject of aca­demic study ever since.

But Ma­cLean’s book, Young Men And Fire, is not a piece of dry, aca­demic literature. It’s a page-turn­ing de­light. Good enough to be a best­seller and to earn a Na­tional Book Critic’s Award. Oh, and the same guy wrote A River Runs Through It. Brad Pitt was in the movie.

The book is a great bet if you’re look­ing for a sum­mer read, if sum­mer ever ar­rives, that is. Here are a few other sug­ges­tions. Con­sider this part two of my sum­mer read­ing sug­ges­tions. Part one was two weeks ago in this space.

• 11-23-63. Yes, that’s a book ti­tle. It’s also the day Amer­i­can pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy was shot dead in Dal­las. Au­thor Stephen King tried some­thing dif­fer­ent with this one, mix­ing his macabre sense of sto­ry­telling with his­tor­i­cal re­search.

“It was re­ally strange at first, like break­ing in a new pair of shoes,” he said later of the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Mix time travel, hor­ror and King’s won­der­ful sense of pac­ing and the 849 pages just seem to whip by. No, re­ally.

• Buy-ol­ogy: Truth And Lies About Why We Buy. Au­thor Martin Lind­strom spent three years and $7 mil­lion hook­ing peo­ple up to an MRI ma­chine to see what their brains were do­ing when they en­coun­tered com­mer­cials, brand names and prod­ucts. Ever won­der why the ear buds for Ap­ple’s iPods and iPhones are white? It’s not an ac­ci­dent. Ditto the smell of John­son’s Baby Pow­der. You think you’re mak­ing up your own mind? Lind­strom begs to dif­fer.

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