As anglers, when we think of Norman Maclean, our minds jump to A River Runs Through It, about never leaving Montana, and how Jesus himself was a fly fisherman. We've all got a copy of the book; personally, I own three, one of which has never been touched. And while it will always be a special book, for me, it simply doesn't compare to Maclean's final novel, Young Men and Fire.
My copy is used, purchased second hand, for only a couple bucks. It's worn and dirty and even carries the slightest hint of smoke, probably due to being read at night around a campfire. With the news of several wildfires popping up all over the southwest, the largest being in Durango, I pulled my old friend off the bookshelf. It seemed fitting.
Young Men and Fire tells the story of the 1949 Man Gulch Fire and the 13 smokejumpers that died there. Maclean tells the story from the accounts of the surviving members of the team. He involves a brief history of smokejumpers and the rigors they endure. But, ultimately, it feels that Maclean is trying to make peace with the mysterious catastrophe that occurred.
Maclean died before the book was completed. Many suspect that he was simply fatigued while others assume it was because he could never find the answers. The Man Gulch Fire claimed more smokejumpers than any other fire and to this day no one knows for sure what went wrong.
Today I am thankful for all those that choose the occupation of smokejumper and wildlife firefighter. For those that work days at a time is the harshest of conditions against nature and all her fury.
May the rains come quickly.