(Just another) article about Fire Lookouts, origins, backstories, notable residents and how to rent… by Ben Goldfarb (original date Sept. 4, 2020)
Edward Abbey, the late author and environmental activist, worked as a lookout in the Grand Canyon (and by all accounts did an abysmal job). The poet Gary Snyder, stationed at Sourdough Mountain in Washington, described “Looking down for miles / Through high still air.”
Snyder extolled the lookout life to his friend, Jack Kerouac, who spent a summer on Desolation Peak and mined the experience for material in his novels. Although he’d expected quiet contemplation, Kerouac spent his tenure swatting bugs and craving cigarettes so badly that he smoked coffee grounds in desperation. “Many’s the time I thought I’d die, suspire of boredom, or jump off the mountain,” he lamented in “Desolation Angels.”
I am not, in general, in favor of human-built structures on otherwise untrammeled landscapes. It brings me joy to see derelict chalets dissolved to moldering timbers or roads vanish beneath thimbleberry and huckleberry.But I’ll make an exception for fire towers, which, during this tragic, disorienting summer, have brought me and Elise bliss and perspective — and, I suspect, provided thousands of other people with the same pleasures. Even Jack Kerouac could probably use one right now.