I dreamt last night of hanging out with some hotshots. Hotshots are wildland forest firefighters. They are elite handcrews; the shock troopers of the firefighting land management agencies. I was one once, I often dream of those days. In the dream, out the window the heavy black smoke of a grass fire raced along the Southern California landscape. In my dream these hotshots whined about fighting this fire. In reality no hotshot would ever say that. They are all gungho.
This dream on my mind I hiked towards work through the heavy mist of an Alaskan morning. As I pushed through the alders alongside the neighbors immaculate lawn, my thoughts drifted to the “Lupus-Canus”, tar-black and brown bears of yesterday’s training session. While stepping carefully through the creek and tall grass, I heard a growl. I stopped there in the shadows and studied the "muskegs" ahead of me carefully; nothing but mud, moss and bottomless pools. I began reciting aloud to announce my presence to the wilderness “The Jabberwocky”. Only as my mouth sang out the words, my thoughts raced ahead to “the claws that catch, the jaws that bite” and I switched to my daily prayers.
Crossing the watery world in no haste, I mused about the many places I visited as a hotshot and world traveler, that I wrote and imagined and all the glorious things and places I read about. I live a glorious life. To use an old hotshot expression; “I’ve been around the world three times and Heber state fair twice.” I memorized many things for occasions like this out alone in bear country; “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carrol which was clearly a poor choice, the inspiring “King’s Ring” by Tilton, the “Lord’s Prayer”, the hymn “Joyful, Joyful!”, the hope-promising song, “Velvet Darkness” from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” , “bits of poetry fallen from the lips of slave girls” and “A book of verse beneath the bough, a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and Thou.” The last bit I came across is an interesting way back in my hotshot days.
Our tradition in those glorious summers was to party-hardy Friday night, rising early Saturday and drive down to Oak Creek for a barbeque among the Red Rocks. We would return in time to drink wine while watching the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” Show on television. That is, I watched Rocky and Bullwinkle; everyone else took a nap before we headed out for the evening. So one episode, Bullwinkle is taking a bath. The tub is full of suds and toys. When he finishes he puts his toys away, pulls the plug and begins drying off. When he glances a little later at the tub, it’s drained but one little toy boat remains. Bullwinkle doesn’t recognize it. So, the boys (that’s Rocky and Bullwinkle) try to figure out whose it is. It’s a little boat with big red chunks of glass on it. Someone finally points out that isn’t glass, those are rubies. At the same time Rocky realizes that the boat has a name, there on the bow is engraved the “Omar Khayyam”. So Rocky says, “That must mean that this is…” Several of the characters say they won’t touch this line with a ten foot pole. So he takes a deep breath and says, “This must be the ruby yacht of Omar Khayyam.” All the other characters groan. What? I glance around at my fellow hotshots all of whom are asleep. Now Flagstaff is a college town right? My fellow firefighters were mostly college educated. But it took three weeks of asking before I found someone who could tell me about the poet Omar Khayyam’s masterpiece “The Rubaiyat” And this hotshot’s wonderful life has been all the better for it.
And the growling? As I crossed Mitkof Highway, I heard it again, under my rain coat! It was my stomach! Too much coffee!