On the road north from Boise this morning I saw a large-caliber automatic rifle mounted on a flatbed pickup with a large American flag stuck in the barrel. I think it was then that the reality of my situation finally set in. I never imagined I would still be in North Idaho at age 26. And I never thought that after all this time I would still be doing the same job I did when I was eighteen years old and just out of high school. But such is life. And I guess I should consider myself lucky to have a job.
I can’t endure sitting still. And the longer I lingered in Boise the more it has appeared as a wasteland. It’s as if all I can see when I look at these streets and buildings and people is the reflection of the utter desolation and loneliness of the barren windswept desert to the south and east. The place itself has become inseparable from a sense of stagnation that is more a physical sensation than an idea. This feeling is as much a part of the place as dust and pollen are a part of the air we breathe and I fear that it’s also contagious. I spent two years working for a small local company that manufactures bouldering gear in-house and pays pitifully low wages. I worked my up to a management position and nine dollars an hour without benefits and ended up broke and in debt. But I guess I should consider myself lucky to have had a job at all.
I also worked as a musician. By which I mean that I worked to secure regular work as a guitar player with all of the zeal of an insurance salesman who works for commission. This came to nothing and all I got out of it was an amusing story about the time I was hired by a country-western cover band and a bit of a drinking problem that came from hanging out in bars night after night. (Because all local music, from country to jazz to rock to folk, is performed in venues that serve booze.) I found out that making a living in music is more dependent on stage presence and networking skills than musical skill or talent and I also learned that although most musicians party like rock stars most of them come off as sad old guys with substance abuse problems whose time is past.
For these reason and others I would compare Boise as I experienced it to the Paris of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer except that it lacks so many of the qualities that redeemed that other city on the eyes of its interrogator. I could see myself growing old there; becoming heavy and slow and way too serious; obsessed with that which could have but now will never be; nursing like wounds those talents and ambitions that I once cultivated and nurtured; not so much living as being slowly devoured by life. I would become one of those unfortunately common souls whose very being testifies to the irrefutable fact that as soon as you’re born you begin to die. It was time to leave.
I start work on a Forest Service firefighting crew in two days. I began the drive from Boise this morning and hope to make it to the station tomorrow afternoon. There are threatening clouds collecting over the mountains which could jeopardize my plans for camping on the Salmon River tonight. The mountains themselves are holding snow unseasonably late and the hills in the valleys are still green (Later in the season they will turn brown under cloudless skies and temperatures into the nineties.) I doubt there will be any fires burning in these forests anytime soon. But it’s good to be back on the road. Living in Boise sometimes feels like being precariously perched between this rural West and the more cosmopolitan and liberal culture of Portland and Seattle. It is neither here nor there and often suffers from an affliction that is as close to a human struggle to define oneself as a municipality can get. From now on I will be firmly planted in the rural and I want this to be a record of my time in a place and profession that too often get unfairly dismissed or romanticized. In other words I don’t think that firefighters or rural Idahoans have had the honor of a candid and honest portrayal (except perhaps in the work certain remarkable westerners like Norman MacLean).
On my last night in Boise I saw a Ghostland Observatory concert with several friends. I wish I could give a coherent account of the show but we engaged in copious amounts of smoke and drink beforehand and in any case a Ghostland show is really something that has to be experienced in order to be fully understood. It is a fully immersive experience that includes a full-blown laser light show and spares none of the senses including the higher faculties. Suffice it to say a good time was had by all. Since I will probably never see some of those people again I want to thank them for their company. And for being the kind of people who refuse to be bored or tired and who not only accept your faults and eccentricities but find value in them. You’ve all been unfailingly generous and you are without a doubt the greatest bunch of loud obnoxious drunken assholes one could ever have the pleasure of knowing.
I can’t tell you the name of the place I’ll be working or the names of my coworkers because one of the drawbacks of an honest and candid account is that it’s likely to contain some things that could possibly jeopardize careers in an organization like the US Forest Service. More on this next time. I have to get back on the road…