A new forest rising from ashes
Published: Thursday, July 31st, 2014
I hesitate to take long drives through the forest this time of year. It can be relaxing and wonderful. It can also be disturbing. Bear Mountain Lookout tower is a famous Forest Service landmark in the Southern Black Hills. From the catwalk around the outside, Steve Mauck and other dedicated lookouts can watch the forest for miles and miles, usually catching the first signs of smoke that signal initial attack forces they have a fire.
Being a lookout is not for everyone. Many of us loved it, sitting in the peace and quiet of the old watch tower, the horse hair sights on the Osborne Fire Finder tuned and ready. There’re usually a few comfortable chairs, a bed, radio, lights, rations, fire tools and maps. Lots of maps. And there’s history on the walls, in the daily logs, on the ground and in the memory of the old-timers who once worked there but now just drop by for a visit. Lookouts are anchors of stability and sameness in a rapidly changing world. Plus the cell phone reception is outstanding.
It’s a heck of deal when lightning is blasting the rocks and pine trees, lightning so thick and so persistent it turns the air to ozone and fills your nose with blue electricity. You have to have been there to know what that means. It’s not fun but it is unforgettable. Every lookout hopes to see Saint Elmo’s fire at least once in a career.
Lookouts are the first line of defense as they have always been. The fiery beacons on the mountaintops ready to call Rohan to the defense of Gondor in the “Lord of the Rings” are the romantic version. The humble cabin on stilts in the woods is probably reality. The purpose is the same. They are the first line of defense, the watchers on the walls. And because they watch the same ground year after year they see things first.
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