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Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  1,593 ratings  ·  288 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 ...more
Hardcover, 246 pages
Published April 5th 2011 by Ecco (first published March 10th 2011)
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Petra X
Five stars because I enjoyed reading the book, but for everything else, content, prose, direction, it's closer to a three-star. The book is absolutely ideal to listen to as an audio book because nothing much happens and so if you drift away, you won't miss anything. It is a bit like a day dream, you come back to reality with a pleasant, peaceful feeling and don't even give a thought to what was going on meantime.

I probably wouldn't be so hard on this book in the review if I hadn't just finished
Jeffrey Keeten
Jul 30, 2014 Jeffrey Keeten rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jeffrey by: Kris Rabberman, Will Byrnes
”I do not so much seek anything as allow the world to come to me, allow the days to unfold as they will, the dramas of weather and wild creatures. I am most at peace not when I am thinking but when I am observing. There is so much to see, a pleasing diversity of landscapes, all of them always changing in new weather, new light, and all of them still and forever strange to a boy from the northern plains. I produce nothing but words; I consume nothing but food, a little propane, a little firewood. ...more
Will Byrnes
Philip Connors tried his hand at a number of jobs and did pretty well. But his true love was the outdoors, particularly the remote outdoors. So, when an opportunity presented itself for him to spend half a year in a fire tower in remotest New Mexico, he dropped his reportorial gig at the Wall Street Journal and headed southwest. He knew a fair bit about the outdoors before beginning, from his Minnesota upbringing, and learned even more on the job. He kept on learning as he kept on re-upping for ...more
In 2002 Philip Connors quit his job as a copy editor at The Wall Street Journal to head to a lookout tower in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. His home for the summer was a small cabin, and a lookout tower topped by a 7'x 7' glass room. His job was to call in weather conditions and to scan the mountains for signs of fire. After his day in the tower was done, Connors would take his dog Alice for a long walk before cooking dinner. He often went for weeks without seeing another human, but had ple ...more
When I bought this book, I was excited to read it and hoping for insight into solitude and a different way of life. What I got instead was a steaming pile of self-absorption. Connors seems to fancy himself another Kerouac, going off into the wilderness to drink alone, be manly, and have profound experiences—none of which came through in his writing. There was a lot of hero-worship going on in the book, and I get the impression that Connors wants to see himself added to the list of great wilderne ...more
Reported tonight on the national news, a 150,000 acre fire in New Mexico's Gila Forest is not yet under control. After reading this book, I wonder who first spotted the fire; who was in the tower. The author spends summers solo in a fire watch tower in the Gila. This book about that solitude, the beauty of the mountain, and his contentment with both is a slow read. You really have to love the mountains and wildlife to love this book. Which I do, and did. Along with his musings, he veers off into ...more
Rebecca Foster
A meditation on nature and solitude fit to rival Sara Maitland’s A Book of Silence, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and, I imagine (I hate having to sheepishly admit I still haven’t read such a classic), Thoreau’s Walden.

“That thing some people call boredom, in the correct if elusive dosage, can be a form of inoculation against itself. Once you struggle through that swamp of monotony where time bogs down in excruciating ticks from your wristwatch, it becomes possible to break through to
The fire tower lookout (aka "the freaks on the peaks", as they are called by the Forest Service) is a dying breed and Philip Connors gives us a tantalizing glimpse into that isolated existence - which only last 3-4 months, but can feel like a year of misery depending on the hardiness of the person. This is a life that he embraces, considering he has done it for 8 seasons, and his descriptions of the joy of solitude, the contentment of watching and listening to the mountains, experiencing all the ...more
This is a beautiful book about a rare man with an even rarer summer job--he's one of the last fire spotters in existence. 5 months of the year he leaves civilization behind, drives 40 miles then hikes 5 more (sometimes having to literally crawl through snow on his first trip up in late April) to a lookout tower and a small cabin and millions of acres of trees, desert, and mountains. On a clear day he can see for 200 miles from his posting. Alice, his dog, is generally his only company other than ...more
A beautifully written memoir of Connors time in the American wilderness as a lookout for fires.

It is tinged with melancholy, because of the tragedy of his brothers suicide, but this is the place that he feels most alive in.
He writes of the wildlife that he sees, the majesty of the views and the terror and power of the amazing electrical storms.

He has a way of writing that makes you feel like you are breathing the same air, looking from the same tower, watching the same wildlife.
In the spring and summer of 2011 the mountains and prairies of the southwest United States burst into flame. Some fires were started by lightning, others were man-made. No matter what started the fires the end result was that large swaths of land became charred wilderness. While fires that started in populated areas were easily spotted the fires in more remote areas were harder to see and therefore to control. The forest service’s first line of defense in these remote areas are the fire lookouts ...more
After reading a glowing review of this book, I was both pleased and surprised to find it on my local library's new book shelf. So, Philip Connors worked as an editor for the Wall Street Journal until he couldn't stand it anymore and September 11th happened. Then he moved to New Mexico where for five months out of the year he has what he considers to be the world's best job. He lives alone in the New Mexico mountains working as a fire spotter for the National Forest Service--which calls the peopl ...more
Perhaps it was a little unfair for me to turn to this book immediately after finishing Edward Abbey's DESERT SOLITAIRE. As in that book, not much really "happens" during the author's tenure as a government-appointed overseer of a stretch of Western wilderness. His love of the place--in this case, the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico--is just as palpable as Abbey's, and he has his moments as a prose stylist, especially while reflecting on the experience of solitude. But I think I expected more to "h ...more
Grayson D
Dec 31, 2011 Grayson D rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone, especially lovers of nature
Fire Season. There's a lot for me to say about this book.

As an agriculture technology student that plans to go into Forestry. Living in Texas, close to where this book takes place. I guess it simply just struck a, common ground with me. A ground very intimate and close to my heart. As a lover of nature and the wild this book has kickstarted me on a habit for wanting to delve deeper into the literary minds of lookouts and nature loving individuals and stories in general.

This book, while it may s
Philip Connors’ Fire Season, about the author’s experience as a fire lookout in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, is a praise-song to the Gila, a memoir, a history of wilderness fire management. Connors’ writing is impeccable, beautiful yet I felt reading it a sense of easy compatibility with the author. He made me laugh and left me, in the end, feeling quite vulnerable and moved by his experiences and the way in which he shared them. I’m putting him up there with Dillard, Maclean, Abbey and other o ...more
Loved this book! Glad I bought it. Romanticism meets pragmatism. Should become another classic about the West. Besides being an introspective book it's also a primer on the natural world and the American West. We meet Jack Kerouac, Norman Maclean, Aldo Leopold, and the ghosts of the Apache and Buffalo Soldiers. Great prose, vivid descriptions, and lines/aphorisms that will linger with me. Now I have to visit Silver City, NM.
Aldo Leopold, the American ecologist, forester, scientist and environmentalist once remarked thus: "nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings". Philip Connors in his occupation as a 'fire look out' in the serene wilderness of the Gila mountains experienced first hand the splendid and pure salutary experience - an experience recounted in a restorative manner in this fascinating recollection.

Inspired by the experiences recounte
Kurt Shetter
The authors story of his Summer seasons spent as a fire lookout in New Mexico. I liked the book for it's insight to the workings of the Forestry Service. Both current and historic about the lessons learned in wilderness management. I wonder if the author had permission to write the story and if he still has his job. He is being honest about government policy and at least for me it served as a report about how public land is being miss handled. It's not a whistle blower book but I think it made t ...more
It doesn’t take much in the way of body and mind to be a lookout…it’s mostly soul. --Norman Maclean

Perhaps it is not so strange in this day and age to want to have time alone to think about the world and one’s place in it. It may be necessary to first take that step away to appreciate the benefits of solitude. Some of us imagine we would revel in it, but surely one must also have a sense of loss—a sense of disconnectedness and of strangeness with the world. Perhaps this sense of being apart is
This slim book is part memoir, part historical account of the job of "fire lookout", and part analysis of the blunders of human efforts at controlling nature, particularly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Personally, my favorite parts of the book by far were those details Connors' personal experience as a look out. The lookout's season is April through August, and the book is divided up into five sections, each surrounding a month and based off journals he wrote about his activitie ...more
Phillip Connors has spent the last eight spring and summer months in an isolated part of The Gila National Forest helping the National Forest Service keep an eye on forest fires. This book is part history of the landforms, part history of the cultures that settled the area, part history of the National Forest Service and their own connection with forest fires, and part daily confessional of what it is like to live such a solitary life cut off from almost all human interaction.

Lest you think thi
A two-week wait at my local London library culminated in an email notifying me that Fire Season had finally arrived, there for my taking. It was entirely worth the wait. Every page has passages of lyric prose, Connors' voice more meditative than that of one of his inspirations, Edward Abbey, whose Desert Solitaire this book comes close to matching in its descriptions of the beauty of the West.

In painting an entire season in the Gila, Connors takes us on a tour through time and space - fires in
Mar 23, 2011 Susan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in ecology, lovers of solitude
Five miles from the nearest road, sitting on top of what is essentially a lightning rod with a roof – that's not something most of us could tolerate, much less crave. Something Mr. Connors chose to do for several summers in his job as a fire lookout. (Something that I, being a bit of a loner, would probably like. Except for the lightning. And the snakes. And the dead mice stuck to the floor when the cabin is first opened for the season.)

Despite all the vitriol we've directed at it, despite all t
Ellen Librarian
I think I would have liked this book even if I hadn't read it in the midst of what has to be one of the worst if not THE worst fire season in NM. It's a beautiful meditation on life, wilderness and so many other things - including the role of lookout work in the lives of many fine writers such as Jack Kerouac and Norman MacLean.

Connors also has a lot to say about fire, of course, and as I read this book downwind of the Las Conchas fire, now the biggest ever recorded in NM, I found his perspecti
i can't help but think of this book in comparison to Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which i also recently read (i wrote a review of it, then goodreads ate it before it posted. grrrr). so i shall compare, which isn't quite cricket, but too bad.

Connors' book is a memoir of sorts of his time spent as a wilderness fire lookout; Strayed's book is a memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. they have a lot of similarities--wilderness, solitude, self-reliance, joy in relatively un
Richard Jr.
A Man and His Dog in Fire Country

"Fire Season: Field Notes From a Wilderness Lookout"
by Philip Connors is one of those relaxing airplane ride books or winter fireside reads that really lets you understand how being on a fire watchtower, miles from anyone else could be both exciting and soul refreshing. Solitude is something that many of us don’t get enough of anymore. At the same time, when the storms come in and Zeus starts throwing his bolts of fire and Thor hammers you from all sides, the Go
Part of my wilderness memoir reading binge, Fire Season hits a good medium between personal experience (the author spots fires in the New Mexico wilderness for years on end) and history (describing the fire suppression techniques of the US Forest Service over the past century). There is detail about being out in the wilderness with a dog for a summer, looking for puffs of smoke rising over the trees, and also detail about how the wilderness management fire strategies have basically turned large ...more
Martin Cerjan
This book never really grabbed me, but it grew on me. I thought the end of the book was the best--and some very fine writing. For my money, the best book about fire is still Young Men and Fire--which I would recommend in a heartbeat to anyone with an interest. I don't mean to be too rough on Connors though. He seems like a nice enough guy and a solid writer. Maybe I'm just a little fatigued by the memoir form. I maybe would have structured the book a bit differently, but that's what happens with ...more
Donna Jo Atwood
Mar 14, 2015 Donna Jo Atwood rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Donna Jo by: Nikki KY
Shelves: nonfiction, ecology
I really enjoyed this book. The mix of memoir, ecology, philosophy, and wilderness told in often poetic terms made me almost yearn to spend time walking one of the great trails. (Yeah, I'm not that unrealistic.)

Thanks, Nick KY for introducing me to this book.
Dec 26, 2011 Kiri rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People interested in ecology, the environment, CRM, Forestry, and history buffs.
This was an excellent read. The author is bright, lively, and engaging in his style. I admit to being fond of the general topic having studied fire use and ecology in relation to my degrees. He cites several well known authors in the genre and talks about where he is and what might happen. In case you are squeamish he does not get graphic with the events of the past, nor of the present - he does describe them sufficiently to give a good overview and leave the reader to locate more books or infor ...more
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Nature Literature: Fire Season discussion 14 22 Feb 11, 2015 11:52PM  
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  • Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature
Philip Connors is the author of Fire Season, which won the Banff Mountain Book Competition Grand Prize, the National Outdoor Book Award, the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award, and the Reading the West Book Award. Connors's writing has also appeared in Harper's, n+1, the Paris Review, and elsewhere. He lives in New Mexico.
More about Philip Connors...
All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found New West Reader: Essays on an Ever-Evolving Frontier The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009 n+1 Issue 8: Recessional

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“I’d rather have drugs and liquor and divine visions than this empty barren fatalism on a mountaintop,” he wrote toward the end of his stint. These words are especially poignant when you consider that two years earlier he’d written to Allen Ginsberg: “I have crossed the ocean of suffering and found the path at last.” For Kerouac, the path of Buddhism proved too difficult, too alien to his temperament, and he eventually retreated into the mystical French Catholicism he’d known as a boy. Its fascination with the martyrdom of the Crucifixion jibed with his sense of himself as a doomed prophet destined for self-annihilation. The essential Buddhist ethic—do no violence to any living being—was a principle that tragically eluded him in his treatment of himself.” 0 likes
“By being virtually useless in the calculations of the culture at large I become useful, at last, to myself.” 0 likes
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