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Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  2,956 ratings  ·  440 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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3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,956 ratings  ·  440 reviews


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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
Jeffrey Keeten
Jul 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Petra Eggs
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
...more
Liz
Dec 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Connie
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
Krenner1
May 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jackie
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
Rebecca
Oct 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Paul
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.
Scottsdale Public Library
Fire: a tool, a fascination, a hazard…and an important part of natural ecology. With "Fire Season", Philip Connors – journalist and seasonal fire lookout – tackles all of these aspects and more in his narrative version of a season’s lookout-diary in the Gila National Forest of New Mexico. Interwoven with his direct experience are his musings on the history of the area and the nature of America’s national parks and forests, from their inception as rigidly managed resources to the evolving philoso ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature
Philip Connors left a job at the Wall Street Journal ten years ago to work atop a fire lookout tower in the remote Gila National Forest in western New Mexico. He never looked back. Working in the tower for five months out of the year, scanning the horizon for the first smolder of a fire, and hiking, camping, eating, drinking alone for the most part, is Connors' perfect job.

This book is Connors' story of his day-to-day life during a season in the wilderness lookout.
Kerrie
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Mrtruscott
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I give this a happy 3.75 stars...it was not a perfect book, but a radical change of topic.

As I read it, I realized that I was a strange, bookish teenager, and am weirdly well-schooled in the world of fire-watching from reading Kerouac et al. on the topic.

Connors is no Kerouac, and, to his credit, he doesn’t try to be Kerouac. At times he got a bit didactic, but it could be that some of the science/naturalist topics were a lot to take in. He even threw in some Forest Service humor. He had a fai
...more
Kimbolimbo
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was super fascinating. I really truly for-reals want to live in a wilderness lookout for a summer or two. I loved the references to several books/authors/people that I have read over the course of my life and many of which I still need to read. Great read. Does have a few mature topics.
K
Feb 28, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Trish
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 t
...more
Kazen
Aug 24, 2015 rated it liked it
This summer I decided to tackle a bunch of fire-related books I've been meaning to get to. I figured that with the AC pumping and typhoons doing their best to aim at the island I call home they would be less threatening, and they sorta were. Next up - Fire Season.

The book covers one year of lookout duty by Connors, starting with a five mile hike up the mountain with his dog, Alice. His food and other supplies will be brought in by mule. The wet spring quickly turns dry and he spends his time rea
...more
Judy
Jun 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Richard Jr.
Sep 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
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
...more
Bettie☯
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Grayson D
Dec 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Jennifer
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
I have mixed feelings about this book. Philip Connors has some serious writing skills but it seems like he lacks the discipline and drive to really polish and create literary beauty. He is honest, though, about his tendency towards laziness - I'll give him that.

This book does not contain a lot of fire thrills as you might assume from the cover. Connors does give you a pretty good picture of what it's like to spend days on end in the solitariness of a wilderness lookout, a potentially boring or
...more
Mary
Jul 15, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Janis
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Chris
Apr 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: real-world
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.
Jennifer
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
A beautifully written book that combines descriptions of wild fires with the history of the Forest Service; living in solitude for a third of the year with pointed criticism of the joke that is farm/ranch subsidies; and a thousand little observations that tie everything together into a lovely poem of a book. Recommended.
Nathalie (keepreadingbooks)
In my humble opinion, this is a book that is best enjoyed by reading slowly. It became a ten day read for me, due to exams and other business that meant I didn't have much time - but in the end I'm glad it got slowed down, and would recommend that you do it on purpose if you read it. It almost created the feeling that you got to go back into the wild every time you picked it up again, back to the tower and the cabin and the meadow. And reading it in only a couple of days would not give you enoug ...more
Gary
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who are interested in the life of a fire lookout or solitude in the outdoors
Recommended to Gary by: found it in a lookout bookshelf
Shelves: library
Connors describes one season in a fire lookout. You hear about the excitement of spotting a smoke (where there's smoke, there is fire), but you also hear about the peculiar type of person who is successful as a fire lookout. Because you are alone in the tower for extended length of time, your mind ramblers, and Connors story does a lot of that as well

At times there is excellent in prose, like in all rambling, there is a lot of chaff to be sorted through. He gives good background to how we got w
...more
Claudia Putnam
Apr 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I read this with a lot of interest, because sitting in a fire tower for a summer is something I have always wanted to do. There were a lot of nice quotations from nature writers, and poets in general. You get a great feeling for what it's like to overlook the Gila Wilderness in a number of different conditions. I wondered why he chose this summer and not one more fire-ridden, since he had a number of seasons to choose from.

Overall the tale was rather repetitive--the view was described multiple
...more
Kimberly Patton
Mar 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Definitely an interesting concept and experience for this guy, but the material was lacking. Not enough action.
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Play Book Tag: Fire Season by Philip Connors - 5 stars 2 7 May 01, 2016 04:41PM  
Nature Literature: Fire Season discussion 14 25 Feb 12, 2015 09:52AM  
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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.
“By being virtually useless in the calculations of the culture at large I become useful, at last, to myself.” 1 likes
“He [Aldo Leopold] recognized that industrial-age tools were incompatible with truly wild country - that roads eventually brought with them streams of tourists and settlers, hotels and gas stations, summer homes and cabins, and a diminishment of land health. He sort of invented the concept of wilderness as we now understand it in America: a stretch of country without roads, where all human movement must happen on foot or horseback. He understood that to keep a little remnant of our continent wild, we had no choice but to exercise restraint. I think it's one of the best ideas our culture ever had, not to mention our best hope for preserving the full diversity of nonhuman life in a few functioning ecosystems.” 1 likes
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