Richard Wilbur, Mayflies

In somber forest, when the sun was low,
I saw from unseen pools a mist of flies,
In their quadrillions rise,
And animate a ragged patch of glow,
With sudden glittering –as when a crowd,
Of stars appear,
Through a brief gap in black and driven cloud,
One arc of their great round-dance showing clear.

It was no muddled swarm I witnessed, for
In entrechats each fluttering insect there
Rose two steep yards in air,
Then slowly floated down to climb once more,
So that they all composed a manifold
And figured scene,
And seemed the weavers of some cloth of gold,
Or the fine pistons of some bright machine.

Watching those lifelong dancers of a day
As night closed in, I felt myself alone
In a life too much my own,
More mortal in my separateness than they–
Unless, I thought, I had been called to be
Not fly or star
But one whose task is joyfully to see
How fair the fiats of the caller are.

Richard Wilbur

The Lookout

Although fire lookouts continue to be critical front-line components of our forest system’s battle to detect and prevent wildfires, their roles often times go unnoticed, due largely to both the manual nature of the work involved and the quiet, extremely solitary nature of the working environment.  Leif Haugen is a fire lookout in a remote corner of the Flathead National Forest in northwestern Montana, and each summer he lives and works alone on top of a mountain three miles from the Canadian border.  A simple, somewhat primitive one-room structure serves as both his home and office; however, what it may lack in amenities (neither electricity nor running water are available) is more than compensated for by the majestic, 360-degree views of the world that his perch provides.  With only a remote radio to keep him connected to the outside world, Leif’s primary responsibility is to scan the valley floor for any signs of destructive fire activity – one which calls for enduring long stretches of tedium and an eagle’s eye and quick response the moment fire is spotted or lighting strikes in the distance.  There are approximately 500 active lookouts currently operating in some of the most rugged and desolate outposts of the American West.  The Lookout captures both the critical nature of one fire lookout’s work as well as the life of quiet, contemplative solitude which accompanies his job.