Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Finished reading Young Men and Fire


I have finally finished reading Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean. As some of you know, it is about the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire in remote Montana where 13 smokejumpers died when a wild fire they had jumped in to fight blew-up. Three survived.

It is more than the story of the fire, Maclean also writes about his own investigation of the fire. He was well into his seventies when he worked on this book. Having grown up nearby the site of the fire, he was familiar with the terrain and had served on fire crews as a young man. So, he was no stranger to getting along in the woods. He made two or three trips to Mann Gluch, once or twice by a boat with a balky engine and once by horseback. He took the trips with a gentleman named Laird Robinson, who I believe was with the forest service. Laird was his travel companion and what I would call a co-investigator as he investigated the Mann Gulch Fire. I have the utmost respect for him. I would of enjoyed walking in the woods with him.

At times his writing is like poetry. I felt a passion in his writing and feel like I got to know him through this book. He was an English prof at the University of Chicago, a scholar of Shakespeare and the Romantic Poets. So, the poetic feel to his writing is not surprising. I also got to know the fire.

More importantly, I learned more about the world of fighting wildfires. One of my mentors from grad school, a prof who specializes in rural planning studied forestry as an undergrad. Or at least took forestry courses. I worked with him as I prepared for my Ph.D. exams. Among the books that I read for these exams were some books on forestry. Anyway, I shot him an e-mail a few weeks back, telling him of my interest in writing about wildfires. In his reply, he told me that the first book that I should read is Young Men and Fire.

So, now I am going to start on a book written by Norman's son John, Fire on the Mountain.

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