Book excerpt - The Adventures of Chip Tower: P.I.


Who hasn't dreamed of taking a break from the rigours of everyday life and retiring to a cabin in the forest for a few months? Well, welcome to the lifestyle of the forest fire lookout, a job that, while obsolete in many parts of the world, remains alive and well in the western Canadian province of Alberta.

As a member of Alberta’s team of lookouts, you’ll get approximately four months of quality alone time – ample opportunity to contemplate life and catch up on some reading. But there’s one catch: a 100-foot tower that must be scaled numerous times a day and occupied for countless hours through blistering heat and violent storms.

And the accommodations aren't exactly five star. You’ll be doing your laundry by hand, hauling rainwater by the bucketful and taking a casual approach to bathing.

If you’d like to live this transformative experience without the inconvenience of dropping everything and moving to an isolated tower site, The Adventures of Chip Tower: P.I. is the book for you.

From chapter 10 – Chip Tower: P.I.

I’m continuing to ride my mountain bike quite a bit, mostly in the mornings. Lately my reason for taking to the saddle has been to do drudgerous errands, such as delivering mail or a grocery list to the forestry cabin at the airstrip. Despite the routine purpose behind my outings I’ve had some exhilarating rides and have experienced increased enjoyment from the activity.

This raises an interesting point about life out here. Sometimes when I least expect it, I’m reminded of the uniqueness of this experience. Just the smell of the forest – that bed-of-needles, woodsy smell – is enough to make me stop and involuntarily grin my ass off.

On the operations side, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the cupola lately, as we’re in the midst of a warm, dry stretch and the hazard level is high. For a solid week or two, my daily routine has been to start my cupola occupancy shortly after breakfast and remain in the tower until 8 or 9 p.m., with the only relief coming from my midday weather gathering and my self-imposed mid-afternoon shade break.

These extended hours of cupola occupancy, even though they require nothing more than just being watchful, represent a gruelling routine that is taking a toll on me. I’ve noticed that my mind is starting to slip, not that I’m on the brink of insanity or anything, but I’m just not sharp. I often fail to make simple deductions and make more than my share of dumb mistakes, like with weather calculations and the like. Sometimes when talking on the radio I’m unable to bring my thoughts to a conclusion and just trail off, leaving my listener to extract some meaning from my mumblings.

Around my site, with no one to talk to, I find myself blurting out things without warning – quotes from movies or random catch phrases. I parade around the place like a Shakespearean character but my soliloquies contain far more F-words. I’ve also taken to yelling stuff out the cupola window, deriving great glee from the liberal use of vulgarity and atrocious grammar.

“WHERE’S MY FUCKIN’ GROCERIES ... FOR FUCKSAKES?!” has become my favourite thing to shout. There’s no reason to shout this, of course; I know exactly where my groceries are and when the next shipment will arrive. But I have to shout something.

As well as slowing down, my mind is wandering away from reality in increasingly large concentric circles. My imagination is growing more and more active, commandeering my mind’s movie screen to display all sorts of fictional footage, mainly scenarios that involve me actually doing something rather than just sitting around observing.

Heroic deeds are a common theme for these imaginings. For example, I often imagine what it would be like if lightning struck right close to the tower site and started the nearby forest on fire.

The scenario begins with me calling in the smoke over the radio. Of course, I’m cool as a cucumber. But wait, here comes the best part. Just as matter-of-factly as you please, I add, “I’m going to have to action this myself.”

Ka-zing! There you have it, every tower person’s fantasy — a smoke that you not only get to call in, but get to put out as well!