A lone forest fire spotter sits Zen-like in a tower at the top of a slope in the Gila National Forest as he has done day in and day out for the past twelve years. He cannot read—distracting. He cannot watch television—eyes on the forest. He cannot talk on his phone—bad signal and too much dividing of his attention in case of a fire. He can only sit zazen, staring into the green and blue as they meet just above the tree line on the other shore above the lake below him. He had a canary once, but the canary died. And the forestry department did not approve of the canary.
The fire spotter chose his job and it chose him. He was one of those individuals, along with lighthouse keepers, hotdog stand owners and writers, who must have freedom before they can breathe. Who must be alone before they can ever be with other people. Who must have silence and inertness before any action can arise in them.
When the fire comes, he is then ready, and bolts into action, in the zone required for a sensible and efficient resolution of a dangerous situation.
The lonely lighthouse keeper, wife long dead, groping in the dark on a wind-swept, stormy shore, being overcome with an internal darkness except when in the tower watching out for the boats in distress in the night, is a stereotype that may be closer to the reality than we think. Am I the only person who has ever longed for such an existence?
The independence of the hot dog stand owner-master of his own destiny, answering to no one but himself, is probably a myth. Those buns and condiments have to come from somewhere. But how many of us as working stiffs whose creativity has been stamped out by the gods of bureaucracy have not longed to be our own boss, doing our own thing and doing it in the way we believe to be the most meaningful?
As a writer, I too, must have quiet. I must be alone. No café writing for me. No putting pen to paper before first sitting and emptying my mind of all thought. Only then can the real writing of consequence occur. Only then can meaning come into the writing, for my self and for others who choose to read what I have written.
This piece was written earlier this month in a Tumblewords workshop on zoom from El Paso. The prompt was a painting by Margarete Bagshaw that references forest fire, “The Day The Sun Turned Red” 36″ X 48″
In honor of Indian Market, 2011