, Murry A. Taylor, the oldest smokejumper in
the services sixty year history, describes the world of fighting
wildfires. Its action encompasses the entire Alaska season of 1991
from refresher training in early May to the leave for home in late
September. The work is a fascinating inside-out story of unbowed
spirits and the stamina of people who have chosen the thrilling,
perilous, and nearly legendary occupation.
Always close to death, smokejumpers
claim that not everybody gets as close to life as they do. The uncertainties
of the jump, a fair share of aviation and landing mishaps, chronic
sleep deprivation, hard work next to a blazing inferno, and food
shortages are the "prerequisites" of the profession. At
the same time, some of their heroic efforts turn out to be pitifully
inadequate; many young men and women are burned and killed and "no
amount of land or trees could possibly be worth the sacrifice."
All these extremes raise the value of warmth and security, exacerbate
the sense of "transitory domesticity," and increase the
pleasures of simple things like an occasional nap, clean jeans,
combed hair, and a temporary respite from danger.
Mr. Taylor reflects on the trade-offs
these people make in a life imbibed with fatigue, sorrow, and loneliness;
an average smokejumper's marriage lasts only about two years and
the rate of suicide is high among wildfire fighters. Nevertheless,
he depicts a triumph of the spirit over the body. Medical records
chronicle that many firefighters remain in incredibly good physical
The book offers a breathtaking
account of a jumper's emotional experience during a season
the elation and dread of the jump, comradeship and melancholy of
the nomadic life, excitement of the first firefight, and grief over
the loss of a friend. The author paints a portrait of the human
mind in the extreme situation when a detached observer from within
says that you are finished. The fire fighter then faces a horrible
recognition: one can no longer spare concern for anyone's safety
but ones own. Mr. Taylor describes his emotions amid the busy
fire season interspersed with reminiscences of a loving past relationship
and the boredom, monotony, and difficulty of handling downtime.
Mr. Taylor details a spate of
smokejumper's lore, tactics, and safety instructions to be followed
with religious dedication. The rules must be so thoroughly mastered
that their application becomes second nature; failure to remember
one detail can be a fatality.
The book describes both the
atrocity that natural forces can create and the picturesque scenery
of the majestic and lofty northern terrain. The quiet of that country
and the bird's-eye views of the mighty Alaska rivers contrast with
the apocalyptic canvas of burning woods and smoky sunrises.
Carrying some elements of a
day-to-day diary and a record of personal reflections, the book
is essentially autobiographical. It provides the reader with a pleasure
of the vicarious consumer; someone had already lived this incredible
life for you. Interspersed with a number of humorous notes, anecdotes
and jokes, it is an easy read. Although slightly overloaded with
technical information and terminology, Jumping Fire
candid storytelling and gripping narrative, literary evidence that
faith may work miracles not only in jumping and catching fires but
also in passionate and captivating writing.