An unlikely refuge above the trees

Although dwindling in number, thousands of fire towers still dot forests across the US. Stay in one during off-season for unparalleled views from high above.

When Joey and Shannon Hodgson used their last match to burn the pages of a book titled How to Take Six Months Off, they didn’t know if they’d survive the night.

The couple had been hurrying home from a winter weekend getaway at Warner Mountain Fire Tower in Central Oregon, but the storm moved in fast, dumping 3ft of snow on the trail. Frostbitten and scared, they were eventually rescued by a search party just a mile from their car after spending a long night in sub-freezing temperatures.

Some might be deterred after such a dangerous experience, but the adventurous couple were spurred on to fulfil a dream that Joey had been entertaining since he first stumbled upon a fire tower while hiking when he was 12.

The fire tower in Pickett Butte (Credit: Credit: Britany Robinson)

The fire tower in Pickett Butte (Credit: Britany Robinson)

Passionate about protecting the nation’s forests, they quit their jobs and for six months each year they work as fire lookouts, taking up residence in basic structures perched on stilts or peaks and surveying thousands of acres of forest. Joey reckons he reports an average of 100 forest fires per season.

“Lookouts are our life,” he told me over a static-y cell phone from his current lookout position at Lava Butte in Central Oregon, 19 years after that frightening night.

First appearing in the early 1900s, around 8,000 fire towers once dotted forests across the United States, from busy state parks to secluded mountains, manned by paid lookouts and volunteers who spent their summers with a bird’s eye view of the surrounding trees. It was a profession romanticised by the likes of Jack Kerouac, who wrote a fictionalised account of his time as a fire lookout in the book Dharma Bums.

Light over Oregon's forests (Credit: Credit: George Rose/Getty)

Light over Oregon’s forests (Credit: George Rose/Getty)

Fire towers and lookout positions have dwindled in number in recent decades, mainly due to budget cuts, but the 2,552 surviving towers (of which only 826 are staffed) are often available to rent when they’re not in use. Built for optimal vantage points of the surrounding wilderness, they offer an inspiring escape for adventurous souls.

Wanting to experience the solitude and thrill of a fire tower without the responsibility, I decided to escape the daily grind as a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon, for a weekend above the trees. I was looking forward to channelling Jack Kerouac and feeling the freedom from civilisation that might allow me to write, or simply relax, more so than I could in my busy city life.

Pickett Butte, approximately 200 miles south of Portland and my home for the night, was originally constructed in 1934 and a paid lookout still lives here from July through September. But from October through June, when forest fires are extremely rare, it’s a coveted campsite for families, couples and solo sojourners like me. I reserved a night in early May, with reservations booked solid for weeks on either side.

Sleeping above it all (Credit: Credit: Britany Robinson)

Sleeping above it all (Credit: Britany Robinson)

The prospect of spending a night alone in the woods was a little unnerving for my city-minded senses, but when I reached theTiller Ranger Station in the Umpqua National Forest the warm sunshine gave me courage. My dog, Jackson, eyed me from the passenger seat as we bounced along the dirt road past the station. He seemed to understand that my Hyundai Elantra was not meant for off-roading.

A slow seven miles later, I pulled up to the sign for Pickett Butte. Faded and pockmarked with bullet holes, it did nothing to ease my nerves, and I looked back at the long, quiet road we’d just covered. One bumpy mile later, the 40ft-high tower — a wooden box balanced at the top of three flights of steep, slatted stairs — revealed itself in a clearing of trees, looking astute against the baby blue sky.

Jackson and I surveyed the grounds, which included two picnic tables, a fire pit and an outhouse. We snacked and lounged in the grass. Then, it was time to climb.

The climb to the top (Credit: Credit: Britany Robinson)

The climb to the top (Credit: Britany Robinson)

The steps were too steep for Jackson’s liking, so I clutched 40lbs of trembling dog against my chest while slowly making my way up. When I released him on the final platform, my arms ached with relief.

A line from Kerouac came to mind as I slowly absorbed my surroundings.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple,” he wrote in Dharma Bums.

This was how I felt as I took in the landscape below: layers of rolling hills in a palette of green and gold spread out in all directions. A narrow porch wrapped around the square structure, and I circled it once, twice, three times, trying to soak in the bizarre sensation of being surrounded by so little, yet so much.

A view from the top (Credit: Credit: Britany Robinson)

A view from the top (Credit: Britany Robinson)

There were sounds; a snapping twig; a singing bird; a strange, hollow drumming in the distance. But there was also a silence in the air that was completely new to me. I was alone.

Inside the structure was a single cot, a desk and a stove. In the centre of the room was a topographical map of the area enclosed beneath a circle of glass. Joey would later explain that this device, called an Osbourne Fire Finder, is used to pinpoint the location of a fire within 50ft. Lookouts line up a sighting aperture on the map with the smoke in the distance, and note the degrees on the edge of the glass circle, which gives them coordinates on the fire’s location. Luckily, I would not be responsible for watching the forest or locating fires during my stay.

The Osbourne Fire Finder (Credit: Credit: Britany Robinson)

The Osbourne Fire Finder (Credit: Britany Robinson)

It was only 2 pm when we settled in. I’d anticipated a need to fill the afternoon with some activity, but now that I was here, it seemed more fulfilling to do as the fire lookouts do — watch and enjoy. I’d barely cracked the pile of books I brought along when the sun started setting. Jackson and I sat on the cot, watching the greens and golds slowly transform into pinks and blues. I thought about how a sudden plume of smoke might jolt me out of my dreamy state. But the sky stayed clear as the sun disappeared behind the furthest mountains and dark purple seeped across the skyline.

That evening, I heated a can of soup over the little gas stove. The night sounds seemed louder as darkness surrounded us; the owls’ hoots bouncing between stars.

The little gas stove (Credit: Credit: Britany Robinson)

The little gas stove (Credit: Britany Robinson)

I woke with the sun’s return at 5:30 am, the blood-red orb casting streams of light through the picture windows. I’d never get up that early at home, but here it felt natural to rise with the day. Jackson, stretching next to me and wagging his tail, agreed.

Jackson enjoying the blood-red sunrise (Credit: Credit: Britany Robinson)

Jackson enjoying the blood-red sunrise (Credit: Britany Robinson)

I spent the morning wandering around the campsite, taking breaks to read or toss Jackson’s ball, or simply stand on a rock and stare at the peaks and valleys below. It’s amazing how doing nothing at all can feel so fulfilling when you’re enveloped by nature at its most raw, yet inviting state.

I wasn’t ready to leave that afternoon. But I also knew, thanks to the men and women who watch over these sites and the surrounding trees each summer, I could always return. Back in Portland, I immediately booked a second weekend at Pickett Butte in October, with confidence that Joey, Shannon and the rest of the lookouts would be keeping the forests safe for another season.

In the meantime, I’d find myself a copy of How to Take Six Months Off.

1,059 Responses to “ An unlikely refuge above the trees ”

  1. Finley says:

    The HCA recorded isn’t added to the product, but just
    represents the number of HCA within the Garcinia cambogia
    extract.

    my homepage :: garcinia cambogia weight loss pills in india, Finley,

  2. Eliza says:

    Hey! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a outstanding job!

  3. Darlene says:

    Research has shown that testosterone deficiency is associated with
    a number of significant health issues such as metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and
    bone fractures Guys who meet medical standards for treatment should
    receive therapy.

    My blog testosterone therapy pricing (Darlene)

  4. Good way of explaining, and pleasant piece of writing to
    take data concerning my presentation subject matter, which i am going to
    convey in institution of higher education.

  5. Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Spending some time
    and actual effort to make a superb article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and never seem to get nearly anything done.

  6. Thank you for any other excellent article. Where else may just anyone get that type of
    info in such an ideal manner of writing? I’ve a presentation subsequent
    week, and I am at the look for such information.

  7. Have you ever thought about including a little bit
    more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental and everything.
    However imagine if you added some great images or videos to give your posts more, “pop”!
    Your content is excellent but with images and video clips, this site could undeniably be one of the very best in its niche.
    Superb blog!

  8. I’m truly enjoying the design and layout of your website.
    It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come
    here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme?
    Superb work!

  9. dui attorney says:

    Hello, all is going well here and ofcourse every one is sharing
    data, that’s really fine, keep up writing.

  10. custody laws says:

    Very nice article, just what I wanted to find.

  11. Hello There. I discovered your blog the use of msn. That is an extremely smartly written article.
    I will make sure to bookmark it and return to learn more
    of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I will certainly return.

  12. Heya i’m for the first time here. I came across this board and
    I to find It truly useful & it helped me out a lot. I
    hope to offer one thing again and help others like you helped me.

  13. Hi there, the whole thing is going fine here and ofcourse
    every one is sharing data, that’s truly fine, keep up writing.

  14. Top prostate supplements comprise clinical strength ingredients like vitamin D, zinc, DIM, quercetin,
    saw palmetto, and others that help your body keep estrogen and dihydrotestosterone levels in balance.

    My web site – http://trinivacation.com/index.php/component/k2/itemlist/user/14515

  15. Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thank you so
    much, However I am having issues with your RSS. I don?t know the
    reason why I cannot join it. Is there anyone
    else having similar RSS issues? Anyone who knows the solution will you kindly respond?
    Thanx!!

    my weblog :: tax accountant germany

  16. I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your blog.
    It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me
    to come here and visit more often. Did you
    hire out does a tax accountant really help you? designer to create your theme?
    Exceptional work!

  17. hello!,I love your writing very so much! percentage we be in contact more approximately your article on AOL?
    I need an expert in this area tips to start your own e business (http://eclipse.demos.motionmods.com) solve my problem.

    Maybe that’s you! Taking a look ahead to look you.

  18. Aimee says:

    Just like orher kinds of testosterone, the testosterone patch can cause low libido, oral
    problems, headaches, tiredness, hair loss, skin irritations and many other alllergic reactions.

    My weblog testosterone therapy side effects (Aimee)

  19. Cyrus says:

    Assessment of possible candidates forr testosterone replacement therapy should conttain a complete medical history and
    hormonal screening.

    Feel free to surf to my blog post – anti aginng supplements (Cyrus)

  20. Why viewers still use to read news papers when in this technological world all is presented on net?

    Feel free to surf to my site – home buyer – http://www.onemorelesbian.com,

  21. Nice read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on that.
    And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him
    smile Thus let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

    Feel free to visit my page :: small business Management (https://www.poyint.com/members/thaorestrepo85/profile)

  22. I feel that is one of the most important info for me.
    And i’m satisfied studying your article. But wanna remark on few general things,
    The website style is ideal, the articles is actually great :
    D. Just right task, cheers

    Feel free to visit my web blog small business tax (http://www.adultmakelove.com/index.php?m=member_profile&id=3130)

  23. I don’t unremarkably comment but I gotta admit regards for the post on this perfect one :D.

    Take a look at my webpage – best tax accountant

  24. I think other website owners should take this internet site as an example,
    very clean and good user friendly style.

    Review my site; tax deduction (http://koinca.com/?document_srl=831280)

  25. What you said was actually very logical. However, what about this?
    what if you composed a catchier title? I am not saying your information is not good, however what if you added a
    headline that makes people desire more? I mean An unlikely refuge above the trees »
    review » biotraverse is kinda plain. You ought to glance at Yahoo’s home page and note how they write article titles to grab viewers to click.
    You might try adding a video or a related pic or two to get people excited
    about what you’ve got to say. In my opinion, it would make your posts a little livelier.

  26. Men with type 2 diabetes should not attempt to increase testosterone
    levels with androstenedione.

    Feell free to visit my web blog :: http://gmefw.com/mediawiki/index.php/User:CarmeloTavares

  27. No two bodies are the same, so we should not expect that the same cookie-cutter protocol will be an one-size-fits-all scenario for
    evedy testosterone replacement treatment participant.

    Here is my web page – testosterone theray risks (http://www.ver3.consolidatedha.com/?option=com_k2&view=itemlist&task=user&id=256624)

  28. We’re also requiring manufacturers of authorized testosterone products to conduct a well-designed
    clinical trial to clearlky addresss the issue of whether an increased risk of heart attack or stroke exists among users off the products.

    Also visit my web blog anti aging supplements for men, http://www.hostabeach.info/index.php?option=com_blog&view=comments&pid=689323&Itemid=0,

    • Anne says:

      To put it differently, the guys who used testosterone treatment had a 30
      percent increased risk of heart attack, stroke orr dying, compared with mmen who didn’t use the hormone, and the results
      held after being fixed forr several other variables that coud have changed the outcomes, according to the study, published today (Nov.

      Here is my web page :: angi aging supplements for men, Anne,

    • Valentina says:

      Some doctors chokse to prescribe testosterone therapy on an off-label basi to otherwise healthy women.

      my web blog: testosterone theraly results (Valentina)

  29. Delphia says:

    There are many bothersome effects of aging that necessitatfe the use of Hormon Thertapy Boca Raton to correct
    them.

    mywebsite – anti aging supplements and vitamins (Delphia)

  30. Thanks , I’ve just been searching for info about this topic for a long time and
    yours is the greatest I’ve came upon till now. But, what about the bottom
    line? Are you sure about the supply?

  31. For pen vaporizers, it is feasible that you’ll observe a scorched
    taste on the vapor due to the fact that portable vaporizers in some cases have a layout where the natural
    herbs are put near the burner.

    Also visit my web-site … best vaporizer (http://www.portablevaporizer.space)

  32. Theresa says:

    Then first lengthy cost it should be only 2-2.5 hours to totally bill the
    vape pen.

    Look into my blog post – best vaporizer (Theresa)