Wednesday, May 30, 2007

When I Grow Up

When I was in sixth grade, a fire lookout/forest ranger came to talk to my class. I was so excited to ask questions, since I wanted to be one when I grew up. My family camped a lot throughout Washington, and I could think of nothing better to do than be a ranger and hike and camp all the time(or so I thought was the job of a ranger) or sit on a mountain and watch the world and take care of the forest.
*
Time for questions, and my big moment--”Can a girl do it?” And my big disappointment—“No, the forest service will never hire women”(this was, ahem, 1976). Of course by the time I got through college they were hiring women, and I found out the USFS always did hire at least a few women. But I remember how that comment went deep, and knocked me sideways from what I thought I could be, for a while at least.
*
So I’m not a fire lookout or a forest ranger, I've been happily a mom. And now I can sit on a mountain and watch the world, too. Yesterday this cloud poofed on the western horizon on a cloudless day. It soon drifted north, proving itself to be smoke(there is always the exciting possibility of seeing volcanic poofs of Mt St Helens too, but that’s off to the northeast). Usually there's been a few fires at that spot every year, the local timber company has some sort of yard over that ridge. One year there was an enormous smoke cloud and we got in the car and went looking for the fire to see how close it was and how worried we should get. A large pile of logs had caught fire(a Paul Bunyan sized campfire!), and the fire crews were on top of it.
*
The smoke cloud in the picture above was a pretty shade of shell pink. And I admit, I enjoy seeing how the upper winds shape the cloud, and how the cloud reveals the layers of winds(and how smoke behaves differently than water vapor)--in other words, I like to watch. The fire didn't last long.
*
Our local (defunct) fire lookout is called High Heaven. It's well-named!
*
The other day, during my evening walk, I saw five ravens flying west out over the valley, like they always do as the sun goes down. One raven, the right “wingbird”, half tucked its wings as if it was folding them back for not-flying, and also held them in a curve, like a ballet dancer curves their arms in front of them.. Then it barrel-rolled upside down clockwise(from my view), cronked at the upside down point and rolled back up the way it came(counter-clockwise). Quick, tight, one-two. It didn’t fall, tip fore or aft, skew or tumble, but simply rolled and unrolled like a homebound Blue Angel. And then, because it knew I wasn’t sure I believed what I saw the first time, it did it again, exactly the same, and again once more so I got it straight. Really.
*
I’m reading Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek(for the third time—1997, 2002, 2007) she describes the indulgent free-fall of a mockingbird…
“The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” (Page 8)
*
And so I was there for the raven’s trick. Although it has taken six years of being “there” to see it.

4 comments:

Wanderin' Weeta said...

Re the ravens antics;

For a few years, I lived on the 11th floor of a building, with nothing taller than 3 stories anywhere near. Fantastic views!

Not least of which were the crows. We had a large community of them in the evergreens nearby. They were always entertaining, but especially so on windy days. Then they would play in the wind. Often one would soar high, then go limp and drop, tumbling in the air like a paper bag caught in a stiff breeze. The first time I saw it, I thought he had had some kind of attack (heart?). He fell free until he was about to crash on the roof next door, then suddenly "recovered" and flew up to begin again.

It was a favourite game and I never tired of watching it.

Trailhead said...

"No, the forest service will never hire women."

Nice.

I had graduated from law school and was on a month-long backpacking trip before I realized I'd missed my calling to be a ranger of some kind. We were at Moose Lake in Olympic National Park and the ranger had a primitive station there. They worked in three week shifts, I think. Why, why why didn't I do that, at least for a few years?

wyldthang said...

Hi weeta! I really think birds HAVE to have a concept of fun to experiment with flight like that!

Hi trailhead! I know what you mean!! But I can rangerfy in my twilight years. There's a lookout tower on China Hat that still uses a real person, maybe I can score that someday. I will say that all the forest service people I've met since then have been wonderful guys that really loved the land and have a real sense of stewardship and conservation, and no issues about women rangers either(as long as they didn't need coddling or were able to pee in the woods without complaining;0)!)

Larry said...

Nice description of raven aerobatic play, Celeste!