Tower and in­ferno,

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

peo­ples who’ve lived there, like the Apaches, for in­stance, so I wanted to weave all of that in, be­cause I wanted it to be deeper and more in­ter­est­ing than just a mem­oir of one man’s ex­pe­ri­ence. I wanted it in part to be a bi­og­ra­phy of place. Pasa: I like the idea of the look­out. That word im­plies, not just about fire, but look out for the Earth and how it’s be­ing “man­aged.” You kind of be­come a scout for the en­vi­ron­ment. Con­nors: As a look­out, you’re paid to watch and paid to no­tice. You’re also do­ing that from a fixed lo­ca­tion, where you climb the same tower ev­ery day and look out over the same land­scape ev­ery day, so you’re go­ing to get to know that land­scape. And you’re go­ing to get to know its moods, its wild crea­tures who share it with you. I think there’s def­i­nitely some­thing pro­found about spend­ing that much time in the same place try­ing to be­come in­ti­mate with that place. It is about depth. Peo­ple travel to get new ex­pe­ri­ences, but you can get new ex­pe­ri­ences by stay­ing in the same place. Pasa: That soli­tude amid all that beauty can make us re­al­ize how in­signif­i­cant we are — and yet sig­nif­i­cant enough to re­ally mess things up. Con­nors: That’s one way we’ve al­ways done it — by mak­ing a mark, putting a mark on “our” place, “our” land — even in a place as wild as the Gila. There is no such thing as a place that’s com­pletely pris­tine na­ture any­more. There is such a thing as land health, how­ever, where an ecosys­tem has the ma­jor­ity of its na­tive fauna and flora in­tact and thriv­ing. That’s the thing that Aldo Leopold was try­ing to grasp — what makes healthy land and how can we en­cour­age it. Pasa: The book ex­plains the his­tory of the For­est Ser­vice and its early de­mo­niza­tion of fire — its view of fire as a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter rather than a nat­u­ral force. Do you find it dif­fi­cult to trans­late the lan­guage of the For­est Ser­vice when you’re back home? Do you ever bite your tongue when you talk about a “good” sea­son be­ing one with a lot of fires? Con­nors: This win­ter’s been dry, for in­stance, and around town peo­ple will say, “It’s shap­ing up to be a bad fire sea­son.” And I can no longer bite my tongue un­der those cir­cum­stances. I don’t want to tell them that they’re wrong to think that way, be­cause it could be bad; it could threaten peo­ple’s homes. We’ve built homes in places that are prone to burn, and it would be bad if they burned. But I do at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity try to make a civ­i­lized ar­gu­ment in fa­vor of fire as a cre­ative rather than de­struc­tive force and to point out that we can call it good or we can call it bad, but it just is. It’s been that way for a long, long time.

Light­ning is go­ing to strike a tree, and the tree is go­ing to catch on fire, and it’s go­ing to shower the ground with em­bers, and the grass is go­ing to catch, and you’re go­ing to have a wild­fire. That’s just na­ture do­ing its thing. And in places where trees grow and die, it’s healthy to see fire be­cause, in an arid land­scape, that dead or­ganic ma­te­rial is not go­ing to rot. It’s too dry to rot. So how does na­ture deal with it? Na­ture burns it. In the Gila, where we get 12, 13, maybe 20 inches of rain in the high coun­try, it’s not go­ing to rot, so it has to burn or it’s just go­ing to pile up and suf­fo­cate the for­est. I do try to give my anti-Smokey pub­lic mes­sage when­ever the sub­ject comes up. Pasa: What about the fu­ture? Do you see your­self do­ing this in­def­i­nitely? Con­nors: Not in­def­i­nitely, no. I see my­self do­ing it as long as it makes sense based on the needs of my mar­riage and my wife’s ca­reer and where it might take her. She’d like to be a nurse prac­ti­tioner, which in­volves ad­di­tional school­ing, and it can’t be done in Sil­ver City. We might have to go to a city, but that’s OK. I think life is best en­joyed with a di­ver­sity of ex­pe­ri­ences. I take as my metaphor and model for that the for­est I look out on. When it’s health­i­est, it’s very di­verse — a mo­saic of dif­fer­ent tree types and habi­tats and places in var­i­ous stages of re­growth from fire. I think when I’m hap­pi­est in my life in gen­eral it’s when I’ve achieved that same sort of di­ver­sity and mix of ex­pe­ri­ences. I know it’s a lit­tle ex­treme to have one of those ex­pe­ri­ences in­volve such a long pe­riod of soli­tude ev­ery sum­mer, but that’s just part of what I need. But I also need good jazz clubs and good red wine and an oc­ca­sional fancy meal in a restau­rant. I don’t want to apol­o­gize for those things.

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