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Becoming an Adrenaline Junkie after a Fire

It appears that the forest fire crisis just missed South Fork CO and is moving towards Creede. Please don't let me move towards Creede! It was the direction I was heading before all this nonsense started. But the real draw is that now I know what it's like to be a "storm chaser", or some other adrenaline junkie.

I wonder how the firefighters adapt to the psychological let-down of off-duty normalcy. Even before this experience I appreciated some things written in "War" by Sebastian Junger. (And I hope the reader appreciates how rarely a modern book gets a plug from me.)

Recall that the book was based on Junger's experiences as an "embedded" journalist with American troops in one of the dodgiest valleys of eastern Afghanistan, close to the mountainous border with Pakistan. His object was to avoid politics and write about the experiences of the combat soldiers from their perspective.

page 144: War is a lot of things and it's useless to pretend that exciting isn't one of them...but the public will never hear about it. It's just not something that many people want acknowledged. War is supposed to feel bad because undeniably bad things happen in it...

...war is life multiplied by some number that no one has ever heard of. In some ways twenty minutes of combat is more life than you could scrape together in a lifetime of doing something else.
The soldiers who survived combat had a tough time going back to the "real" world:
Page 233: Civilians balk at recognizing that one of the most traumatic things about combat is having to give it up...To a combat vet, the civilian world can seem frivolous and dull, with very little at stake and all the wrong people in charge.
When men say they miss combat, it's not that they actually miss getting shot at... it's that they miss being in a world where everything is important and nothing is taken for granted. They miss being in a world where human relations are entirely governed by whether you can trust the other person with your life.

Page 265: The petty tyrannies of garrison life have returned, and the men do not react well to getting reprimanded by other men who have never been to war. O'Byrne gets yelled at for not sitting in an armchair properly...
The let-down. Back to civilian or garrison life. Back to pissing life away one day at a time. Useless, futile housekeeping, house and lawn care, shopping, television; and at work, the same old commute, meetings, reports, etc.

But I've preached too much about living at the point of diminishing returns to hypocritically live at "the edge", that is, to make a career out of chasing adrenaline highs. So I won't go to Creede. Besides, the highway from South Fork to Creede has been closed. Of course I could go around the long way...


Anonymous said…
I suppose I got all that stuff out of my system as a child, with the Southern California wildfires in the local hills and fields every couple of years or so. I and my young peers would go right up to the front lines and watch the firefighters in action. Or sometimes help wet down our own or a neighbor's wood shingle roof, for what good that would do. Only twice, years apart, did the blaze get close to my house, torching the cow pasture across the street once, the eucalyptus trees in the gully across the other street another time, but it was always within a mile and we'd get a lot of smoke and soot, depending on wind direction.

I must have burned all that storm chaser urge out of me, for I have found no attraction in such things since becoming an adult.
XXXXX said…
I'm going to have to get that book.
Lots of things come to mind with this post. If we had our druthers, and I mean, completely, absent the effects of defined morality, civility, society, family, etc., perhaps this is the way we would be.
Perhaps why the Clint Eastwood type of shoot-em-up movies were so popular. Followed by thousands of similar movies (with added special effects, the burst of blood when shot, things blowing up, etc. All very graphic indeed. Why do so many love, absolutely love, seeing all that on the big screen?)
In war, men are allowed to kill and are deemed heroes for doing so (except for some recent exceptions.) They'll never face trial or have every detail of their actions scrutinized and judged. No possibility of conviction or social disgrace.
You call it adrenaline. But it's more than physical. I'm trying to bring in the psychological impulses that make it all so satisfying. Part of the reason wars occur is that the generals speak to their necessity for a soldier cannot shine unless he is in battle.
But we can't be honest about it. We have to walk a center line of saying we hate war, blaming the enemy for making it necessary, etc. perhaps, just perhaps, in order to control the avalanche of chaos (and killing) that would ensue if there were no controls. Most will not agree.
I don't expect that to be a popular point.
Secondly, the value of a more solitary life is in being in touch with such urges and impulses that you described.....starting with an impulse to chase the fire which led to an insight into one of the attractions to war. The real loss in chasing rainbows, whatever its form, which is how most people choose to spend their lives, is losing touch with the rich inner world we all can have. It takes both solitary and the elimination of all its many forms.
But the price paid is such realizations that you speak of, which are too uncomfortable for most, who prefer to paint a polyanna world for themselves.
Your experience with the fire caused me to pick up (off the librarians' favorites table) the book "Fire Season" by Connors, who manned a fire outlook station, a very solitary existence. Interesting thoughts, interesting reading.
Great post.
Desert Scruff said…
Yes, Boonie, great post. You hit the mark with me by giving good food for thought--and I don't necessarily have to agree with you. Also, good posts bring George out. Always interesting to see what he's thinking.
Is this Ted talkin', or is it the New Mexican state park lifestyle doing the talking? Don't let the latter produce, in you, an old-mannish "welt-schmerz", and then confuse that with a higher form of wisdom.

Once you get back on the road, your spirit of adventurous playfulness will revive.
Anonymous said…
Don't confuse silly thrill-seeking with healthy adventurous behavior. I have little of the former, suffirient of the latter. ;)
Thanks, John. Indeed I do almost measure my success as a blogger in terms of the response it brings from George. I've said it before: he is the sort of commenter whose comments should come with a Paypal donation box.
Ted, I'm glad you weren't too miffed at me for taking you to the woodshed on the NM state park syndrome. Remember that I resist henpecking you 10 times for every time that I weaken and give in.
Gee, George, your comments are becoming essays. Grin.

Lots of good stuff in the top half. I don't need to add anything.

Bottom half. I did a little homework on the book you recommended. Reviews are good. But it's hard for me to put my anti-metropolitan prejudices aside. What makes a Manhattanite an expert on natural or outdoor experience just because he takes a little vacation in a fire tower?