Tower Point Lookout | John Yohe
Updated: Sep 22
Low cloudfog down from British Columbia all day in the mist cant see one hundred feet out my lookout tower. Twentymile winds shaking drops from juniper berries, mountain mahogany hiding little brownish birds whose names I never got in my bird list but spook when I come down out of my box—porous got to keep heater high and sit by it or else wrap up in sleeping bag and read Jimmy Baldwin, amazingly on the clock with occasional radio traffic—season-ending event though a small smoke only three days ago one last lightning strike out to the southeast in juniper—one last open flame before being swallowed in these clouds. Yesterday frost covering the whole mountain I walked in, now drip of drops on cold tin roof and heater klank—have I wasted my life? Playing guitar and singing. One time I sang an Eagles song to an eagle. He sat in a snag and listened or seemed to while hunting—my nighthawks gone dont know if they migrate or scared off by the Cemetery Fire and month of smoke in from BC though also up from California thick as the fog and I breathed it. I dont know though I think I haven't made the world worse—just followed the opening in front of me which led here to the top of this mountain. People ask don't you get lonely no I don't. Only time I get lonely is when I go into town.
Socked in—northwest zephyrus wind. Last night in the cold sky something fell to earth—glowing beams of yellow light across the Star River, burned out south beyond horizon. I want to walk in the trees and lose myself. 1760 Road down a mile and a half to the crossroads. The 1750 right or left will take you out the shorter rougher way or the longer smoother—I like the first but recommend the second to friends. It's all been interesting even if sometimes bad living a life of becoming rather than just being though sometimes days (now into evening) feel like just being which makes me restless and guilty but we need these days to rest recover and gather for the next adventure—to make a clearing in our lives a base camp. Tomorrow to Prinetucky and Redmond—last week, last few days on the rock before unreality. Up here you cant get hurt by people or hurt anybody, just flies and yellowjackets with extreme prejudice. Wind blows harder on this ridgetop, funneling like water through narrow arroyos, pouring up over the cliff down back. Not complaining—kept the bugs down and me cool in July. I worry about the news and politics and lies below, grateful to be out of it though wondering if avoiding. What could I do to help? Call a bought politician?
Walking in fog wind from all directions somehow, torn between Buddha and Walt Whitman—are we our bodies or are we not? I think we are but maybe if I was in pain I would not want to be and did Whitman really get tarred and feathered? Where was that leaf of grass? But we are not shame—we are not what others would shame into even if or as we go along with it. Chili for dinner which might be nice to share, or a bowl of popcorn and gin and tonics even in this weather. Or a fire—wood stove would be nice up here though I'd have to chop wood myself but I already carry the water so I'm halfway to enlightenment, which is not a stable thing but a process no matter what anybody tells you. I think I'm a better person than when I was younger, a process not yet done ever but I wasn't bad—the same really—spent a lot of time alone playing music, baffled by the cruelty of other people and lost—I'm not sure I even want to be found. Though I was cruel to a few people back then, maybe I have been since—not intentionally. Never quite believing that people might like me, or scared of the obligation that might impose. I'm not talking about the past right now.
Cold clear night of Star River stars. Morning frost and fog down in river valleys and ghosts here in the Maury Mountains—of sangha companion Michael died at Breitenbush, and these mountains named after Colonel Rueben Maury, who never attended military school—just a rich guy in the Oregon Territory during the Civil War and so-called Indian Wars, so an Indian killer. Temperature from freezing to 70 inside the tower. Sun so far to the south coming thru windows all day—said windows warped ingrained flysmash of years—if there was ever a smoke had to step outside to verify and never did use the fancy computer program with the rifle scope to get township range and section number and corner—I just John Henry'd it with the fire finder azimuth and my map-reading skills and did a decent job though air attack recon spotted the Cemetery Fire two minutes before me which was the only biggish one in this area—most of the lightning storms skitted west past Prinetucky though at some point lightning struck the antenna here and blew it out not sure when or even if it was this past winter. Thinking about the LO down in New Mexico who went for a walk after work one day and had a heart attack—they didn't find him until a day later which—that's better than most options.
Time to pack the things. Time to put away the dishes and silverware. Time to sweep and bleach the floor. Time to bag up books I'll be leaving behind. Time too to take one more walk, one more run down the road and back. Time to stand on the bluff and check blind spots, to check the valley for any hunter fires. Time to just stand there and enjoy. Time to think about the city and what it holds. Time to think about the future and what it holds though we never know. Time to think about the past and how it led here to the top of a mountain—inevitable somehow, though certain paths might have got me here sooner and somehow different though not in a bad way. Does the path end at the top or is it an out-and-back or do you bail off the other side off the path into the pondos. Time to play guitar one last time. Time to go over notebooks and thoughts. Time to think about change and becoming—never static maybe a sojourner on this rock. Time to leave soon.
For the time being sit. For the time being think. For the time being watch the mountains move. For the time being short. For the time being long. For the time being finding that balance. For the time being breathe. For the time being write. For the time being written—and told and spoken and felt. For the time being identify one last bird, a small brownish back with short black beak—probably a thrush? What are they still doing here? Though for the time being sunny and cool, warm and bright and not winter yet. For the time being watch the clouds. For the time being all we have. For the time being say goodbye to the Sisters Snow Mountain Wolf Mountain Pilot Butte. For the time being make one last bowl of guacamole with blue corn chips. For the time being think about idols and fetishes—leave the idols take the fetishes. For the time being short. For the time being long. For the time being passing away. For the time being gone.
Gone friendships. Gone lovers. Gone family most of them. Gone years of fire. Gone years of work. Gone mountains. Gone rivers. Gone truck miles and roads. So quick so quick. Gone fifty years almost. I have tried not to let them be wasted. Would be nice to have a new lover or two, a new friend or two though everyone scattered all over the country—all over the world. Time for a journey road trip to see a few, to see the new, to become new, to leave this clearing—junipers and mountain mahogany though even up here never leaving movement of the world—gravity equals mass through time—I've been a threedimensional straight line.
One last fire on my last night at the tower—turns out to be r-x burn by Nature Conservancy just nobody tells me anything and at night?? But some last red flames and trees torching across valley north of Highway 380 in juniper foothills of the Ochocos—after days of clouds and rain fire still possible. With sunset behind the Sisters—Venus below crescent moon. All the farm lights winding on in valleys—their own constellations with west city glows of Prinetucky Redmond Bend. Cascades Mountains a humpbacked Great Wall—somedays clouds building on the far side while we stayed dry on the east, othertimes spilling over through passes, slipping around from south or northwest, up the Columbia up the Deschutes. Lightning always came from the southwest though not quite monsoonal weather patterns here. Long red line of flame across the hills Sometimes you ignite smaller fires to prevent big ones. When you put out your fires all the time, fuel builds and one spark can explode. By that point sometimes letting your small fires burn isn't enough.
The what-am-I-doing-with my-life blues—always even though by now at fifty you'd think I'd figure it out b/c this is it—this is my life so maybe perhaps I have the what-have-I-done-with my-life blues—become a hermit on a mountain—in the rest of life too really. Not even sure I've become one—always been, so have I become someone i.e. new or have I always just been someone sliding through the cracks of life—can it go on? Is this just a seasonal job and poverty? What ever happened to the sophisticated european girlfriend and being a sophisticated ex-pat in Berlin. I guess I never went to Berlin that's what. But still: Barcelona Marseilles Sevilla. Instead I don't shower for a week spending day off in Prinetucky buying groceries seeing bad movies at the one theater in town talking to no one yet this is living the dream—or a dream, looking out the window sideways at stars curled up in sleeping bag reading—Conservancy Fire glowing orange across the valley—fires and cities always look beautiful at night. I miss the heat, crackly embers. I miss fire though I have rock and wind and rain.
Old Tower Point Lookout looking rickety and rackety when I leave her after a quiet clean and bleach floor. Turn the gas off someone else will shutter her up. Wish I could live there year round, wondering what winter nights look like in snow glowbut not sure the heater could handle that wind, and what would I look out for? Moonsliver west behind trees. Camping on Lookout Mountain to get one last look out to the Maurys though too late, too dark. Earlier in season couldn't recognize them with all the clearcuts you cant see from highway but one last night in Ochocos among the pondos and turning-yellow larch—only evergreen to not be—in a clearing off the road, distant wind in trees but not here just bird peeps. Could be a double bag night though warm today—t-shirt and jeans in Prinetucky to get processed out. Will I be one of those men who lives in a cabin back in the woods? I already do half the year, just with the cabin on stilts. Thought about one once on the shore of Lake Superior but I'd just end up writing manifestos and never bathing. Not like I talk to anyone in the city hardly—just pine after young baristas who brew me tea.
Salve lector I wish you were here now. We could stroll up the road waiting for the long dark cold and talk. I dont know about what—politics would defile this. If there were enough of us we could have a fire—no danger in it this later in the season though I'm on an early schedule with sundown? Or if it was just one of you we could sit on the hatchback and listen to evening birds although it's good by myself—which is my life. But I figure if you've done me the honor of reading this the least I could do is invite you here tonight—eat cheese and crackers and carrots and drink good water. Why do I not do this more all the time?. Caught up in city things and bad sleep. I dont even go out on weekends, just maybe a movie to be alone with others in the dark or stay at home listen to radio stories and chat with strangers across the country. I have dream animals: a puma and a snow monkey. I've realized I'm happy where they would be happy: puma basking on the catwalk =, monkey climbing around support beams. Neither likes apartments much, thus the cabin—thus my life. Though women in yoga pants have their appeal. Not sure I could take another person in my cabin though. So to find balance. Maybe my life balances though doesn't feel it. Balance is on the beam and something to have. Balance active. Balance on the rope. Balance most challenging when out in the middle. Balance of becoming with out losing your being. Scared of losing balance. That I've lost balance. How do you know until you're already falling? But no you know before you fall you just cant stop. I dont feel like I can stop though many more years. I don't want to be qualified to do anything except sit.
Forest in moon profile of glowing moonsliver. Mañana over the pass into rain country. No tower rattles or creaks tonight. No midnight squirrel dashes around the catwalk. No owls or ranch lights or coyote howls. Tower Point Lookout the worst name for a lookout ever. The mountain didnt even have a name before the tower? Lookout Mountain already taken though that too showing lack of imagination. If I were writing a story I'd steal Wolf Mountain. But some good fire names this summer: Cemetery Ridge Devil's Hollow Hammer Creek Willow—though mostly assigned numbers. My knees are cold and I almost want to cry. That damn tower with its yellowjackets and flies, the heat the cold the sun frying my face—vale amica.
Born in Puerto Rico, John Yohe lives in Colorado. He has worked as a wildland firefighter, wilderness ranger and fire lookout.