Sunday, September 03, 2006
Articles I Wish Someone Would Write
Whatever happened to fire towers and how have they been replaced? Back in the “olden days” when I was growing up there were fire towers scattered all over the place.
Around 1935-6, my parents and my grandparents (they had a car, we didn’t) took a vacation to Cape Cod. I suspect that the place we stayed resembled an RV camp of today more than anything else around today. It consisted of a group of tiny cabins grouped around a “clubhouse” and restaurant. Several nights a week they had dances in the clubhouse. Music was provided by a scratchy Victrola. I remember because my folks tried to get me to dance with a precocious little girl at the next table. I seem to remember diving under the table to escape.
But the chief feature of this vacation resort was the fire tower right on the property. The fire warden that spent every day in the little observatory on the top welcomed visitors. So, of course, nothing would do but that we climb the tower. Pop, Grandpa, and I started out. Not too far up, it dawned on me that I could see right though the metal mesh steps and down to the ground. I don’t know if it was then that I discovered I was frightened by heights ,or then that I developed the fear. Either way, I froze. This led to a lifetime of being told, “Don’t look down!” From there to the top was a struggle, but well worth it. The cabin on stilts where the warden worked was fully enclosed and very comfortable. He explained his maps and his instruments and pointed out other towers on the horizon with which he was in constant communication by phone. They would triangulate on smoke and pinpoint its source very quickly. He said that they usually waited to see if the smoke spread before dispatching fire crews. It could be a campfire or something else small and under control. Either I was fascinated or afraid of getting down via that open mesh. I stayed as long as possible.
Today I only know of one fire tower and as many times as I’ve driven by it, I don’t know if it is manned. How are beginning forest fires spotted now? Maybe I just live in an over-developed part of the country.
An aside: years later I was recalling that vacation with my mother. I asked why she and grandma didn’t go up the tower with us. Her answer was a reminder of the changing times. That was before “ladies” wore slacks or shorts on vacation. They wore skirts.
For only that fleeting moment in my life I thought being a woman or a Scotsman might have advantages.