Fathers are important

February 13, 2013 10:32 am

In a mad rush to return to Wallowa County last week, my parents picked me up from the airport and in two cars, we sped east for a reading at Fishtrap’s Coffin House in Enterprise.

My father offered to ride with me as Mom commandeered the Prius. He said he wanted to “philosophize” and five and a half hours later we crept into the back of Coffin House and found seats at John Maclean’s reading of his latest work, “Esperanza Fire.”

Since I left home many moons ago, Dad’s and my conversations generally ebb between theology and ecology — and a variety of topics in between. One summer day we drove as high as you can on the east side of the Colorado Rockies and he told me the story of his forestry career. Since then, I get break-out versions of the story in fuller detail, relevant to various other topics on which we alight.

Dad heard Maclean speak before and wanted to hear him again during the “Wallowa County Reads” celebration. Dad has investigated fire-related deaths and worked countless fires in almost every position from ground pounder to fire behavior analyst. He’s also a great reader.

Maclean’s work appeals to firefighters and those who live in areas of high wildland fire activity. He said despite the notoriety of the Storm King Mountain Fire on which he based his first book, “Fire on the Mountain”, he said he didn’t get much of a turnout for a reading in Denver, just two hours from the scene of the disastrous fire that killed 14 firefighters. 

Instead, he said, he gets good turnouts in places like Enterprise, places where people are keenly aware of fire’s place in the natural world.

Well-known in his own right, Maclean had a very famous father, Norman, who wrote “River Runs Through It” and his own fire disaster story, “Young Men in Fire”. In an interview last month Maclean said writing a book about fire-related deaths was a worry in light of his father’s work, he didn’t want to be in his shadow. Yet John was able to write books in his own style and escape the shadow while continuing to honor a family tradition of excellent writing.

Yet how much of our parents’ influence can really be helped? 

Friday I got an email from a reader that cheered me after a particularly arduous week of bronchitis and breaking laws of physics including “being in two places at once” and “things in motion tend to stay in motion”. A nice lady wrote that her husband worked with Dad on the Fremont National Forest and remembered him fondly and would I say hello?

As a child Maclean lived in Chicago near the University of Chicago where his father taught literature, but said he “grew up” in Montana where his family spent its summers between grandparents and the family cabin at Seeley Lake fishing and hiking into the Rocky Mountains.

I was luckier – I grew up living in and next to national forests with the woods as my playground, and I still do. 

Shortly before Maclean came to Wallowa County I sent him a fishing update and told him my father would be joining me at his readings. He replied, “Please keep me posted on the river conditions. And give my best regards to your father. Fathers are important.”

Yes, yes, I know.