Surviving Smokey

The perils of wildfire prevention

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

It was a lazy, sun-drenched afternoon at the Skykomish Ranger District bunkhouse and my crewmates and I were milking it for all it was worth.

Fresh off a 10-day trail-relocation project deep in the storm-wracked clutches of the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness area, we inaugurated the festivities by airing out our feet and exploding the rain-soaked contents of our backpacks all over the lawn.

The layers of grime were prevalent, but with the aid of a high-pressure fire hose we progressed seamlessly into a sustained relaxation session.

Soon, a mountain of meat was sizzling on the grill and somebody wheeled a beer cooler to the fore. Frisbees flew. A croquet set was busted out. The dulcet tones of the Allman Brothers Band came wafting out of a boom box.

Then, just when the workaday world couldn’t get any further away, a mint-green Chevrolet Suburban with a full crop of CB antennas and an officious array of emergency lights swung into the parking lot.

With bated breath, we watched a spry silver-haired lady in full Forest Service uniform hop out of the vehicle and approach us briskly with a clipboard.

Her name was Mo, and she was recruiting volunteers for a mission of national importance.

“Hmm,” Mo muttered, profusely expectorating chewing tobacco as she zipped around the crowd with a tape measure, appraising each of us from head to toe.

“Well,” I finally asked, “what is all this about?”

“Visitor services is currently understaffed,” she barked, turning abruptly toward me, “and our wildfire prevention unit has a full slate of community service events to attend.”

Although this predicament sounded legitimate, it certainly didn’t fall within the trail crew’s bailiwick.

“Okey dokey,” she announced once she finished scrutinizing me. “Although you’re actually a little shy of optimal height, I’m desperate enough to take that chance.”

“Chance?” I said, growing incrementally more alarmed as she beckoned me to the rear of her vehicle. “Chance on what?”

The Smokey the Bear costume was folded neatly in a giant Rubbermaid container tucked between a five-gallon water jug and a box full of “Only YOU can prevent wildfires” brochures. Everything fell into place when she handed me the iconic ranger-hatted headpiece I’d dreamed of donning since I was a Cub Scout.

“Those dungarees run a little long so we’ll need to roll them up a bit extra at the cuff,” my handler advised as I peered through a pair of semi-constrictive wire-mesh eyeholes. “But the torso, paws and feet should fit you as-is.”

Over two sweltering, photo-op-packed days I dutifully endured dehydration, heat rash, heat exhaustion, jeering teens, combative adults and a twice-stolen ursine headpiece to spread the word that no matter how dry or wet conditions in our wildlands might be, it is always our personal responsibility to be careful with matches, lighters, hot sparks and fire.

Definitely not an Oscar-worthy performance. But I did earn pretty decent bragging rights.

Hotseat Silver Reef
More Outdoors...
Road Trip
Weekend wonder at Long Beach Peninsula

Long Beach Peninsula is the kind of place I dream about when I imagine quiet walks along a seemingly endless shoreline, ocean-inspired meals and blissful silence but for the whoosh of the waves.

This 28-mile tongue of land cradled by the Pacific Ocean, Willapa Bay and the Columbia River…

more »
Go Steelers!
A slo-pitch story

It was 1969, the year of Woodstock, the moon landing, and the formation of a slo-pitch team called the Parberry Steelers.

At least two of these three events have already been remembered and celebrated, and we are hoping to celebrate the third from 1pm-5pm Sat., June 29 at Lake Padden Park…

more »
Bottoms Up
Expedition to a bath

It was just past noon and the sun beat mercilessly down upon an exposed stretch of remote North Cascadian mountainside where Uncle Don and I were attempting to overpower a violently out-of-control rock drill before it bounced into the ruinous abyss below.

“Hit the kill switch!” Uncle…

more »
Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Fairhaven Summer Repertory Theatre

8:00pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Stories in the Park

10:30am|Marine Park

Kids Can Cook, Dough Edition

11:00am|Community Food Co-op

Cook It and Book It

3:30pm|Lynden Library

Paddline Whatcom County


Artist Workshop

6:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

History Sunset Cruises

6:30pm|Bellingham Bay

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Books on Tap

7:00pm|VanderYacht Memorial Park

Mama Caught Fire

7:30pm|Reverie Gallery

Support Vertical
Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Fairhaven Summer Repertory Theatre

8:00pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Summer Noon Concert Series

12:00pm|Performing Arts Center Plaza

BFM Community Concert

12:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Photography Workshop

1:00pm|Sumas Library

Wednesday Farmers Market

2:00pm|Barkley Village Green

Ferndale Book Group

2:30pm|Ferndale Library

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Downtown Sounds

5:30pm|Downtown Bellingham

Mach One Jazz Orchestra

6:00pm|Seafarers' Memorial Park

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm| South Whatcom Library

Brewers Cruise

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Support Vertical
Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Skagit Guided Adventures


Tall Ship Tours and Sails

10:00am|Squalicum Harbor Marina

Summer Reading Bingo Challenge

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

Bow Farmers Market

1:00pm|Samish Bay Cheese

Bard on the Beach

2:00pm|Vanier Park

Dig Deep

3:00pm|Deming Library

Blues and Brews

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Elizabeth Park Summer Concert Series

6:00pm|Elizabeth Park

Riverwalk Concert Series

6:00pm|Skagit Riverwalk Plaza

Pub Run

6:00pm|FrinGe Brewing

Chuckanut Radio Hour

6:30pm|Village Books

Atwood Beer Dinner

6:30pm|Old World Deli

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

The Birds

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Good, Bad, Ugly

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Fairhaven Summer Repertory Theatre

8:00pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Support Vertical Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Trove Web