Radio rituals ...

August 27, 2015

The days at a fire lookout are mostly pretty unstructured ... though you're supposed to be "on duty" at the tower from 8 to 4:30, watching for smoke, the details of the workday are mostly left up to you.  The only exceptions are the required, twice-daily radio checkins, which are something of a lookout ritual.

The check-ins are at 10 AM and 4:15 PM.  We all listen in as each of the on-duty lookouts calls into Kalispell Dispatch, one at a time, always in the same order:  Thoma, Numa Ridge, Cyclone, Huckleberry, Swiftcurrent, Loneman, Scalplock, Spotted Bear, Jumbo, Baptiste, Firefighter, Cooney. Though the transmissions themselves are all business, it's good to hear everyone else's voices, to be reminded that we're part of what Jack Kerouac called "the community of lookouts."

"And there we all were in a high world talking on a net of wireless across hundreds of miles of wilderness," as Kerouac said.

Anyhow, the afternoon check-ins are pretty perfunctory, just letting Dispatch know that we made it through the day alive, but in the morning we call in a brief meteorological summary for the dispatch center's records.  The weather reports are fun to prepare and fun to listen to, though I'm not sure how important they are in this era of weather satellites and computer modeling.  A great part of the ritual, though.

Here's a recording of my morning check -in today:

(My use of the phrase "on direct" in the transmission means that my radio is communicating directly with the dispatch center. Because of distance and terrain, some lookouts need to contact Dispatch using a repeater station on another mountain, which transmits on a different frequency. When I was staffing Cooney Lookout, I'd say "Cooney lookout, on Elbow," because my transmission would go via the radio repeater station at the old Elbow Lookout site.)