It was probably the absolute best day I’ve ever had in fire. We had loaded up on the jump plane and headed towards the Salmon River as there was a huge dry lightning storm that had moved thru the area and numerous fires were reported. As the plane flew down canyon we looked excitedly out the windows as there were small and large white smoke plumes on both sides of the river.
As we continued we saw the McCall jump plane beginning to throw streamers and soon the first load of jumpers. We then circled around and began our own deployment. It was truly going to be a “good deal” fire for all of us. We jumped in two man “sticks”. It was my first fire jump on our forest and I was partnered with one of the senior jumpers, Robin. She was mostly silent to the rookies and generally kept out of the bars at night and seemed to be focused.
I was nervous because the terrain was steep and the jump spots were very small. One miscalculation and you could end up in the top of a tree or even worse. We were one of the last sticks out the door and by this time I was extremely airsick from the constant circling of the plane, smell of jet fuel and low altitude air currents. Soon I was hooked up and lined up right behind Robin looking down I watched her feet dangle from the door into thin air. I unexpectedly received the “go” slap on my back and Robin fell away into the blue sky and intuitively I followed. After opening my eyes I looked up as trained and confirmed my main chute was open and then within moments the steep rocky and very small jump spot was approaching. I saw Robin’s chute laying open on the ground and could hear her shout “I’m ok” as I went screaming by into the small hole between the massive trees. Soon I was safely on the ground packing my chute as Robin watched obviously frustrated with my slow effort. She quickly turned and took off up the steep mountain towards the fire. She never really said a word to me for about the first few hours as we dug line around a 5 acre fire. We soon were pulling and pushing a cross cut saw together trying to fell the large ponderosa pine that had been struck by lightning. During that struggle to find a smooth rhythm we struck up a friendship. After many hours of bucking the large tree and digging line, the fire was somewhat secured and we took a break. We spent the next three days talking while digging, chunking, cutting and mopping up the fire. It was just the two of us and we were in the middle of the Idaho wilderness.
After checking that the fire was out for the last time we began our 8 hour hike out of the wilderness and towards our pick up. I was amazed at her strength as we had dug some tough line and cross cut a lot of big trees and logs by hand. I was exhausted but she seemed to have even more energy as we began the beautiful but strenuous hike out. We walked carrying heavy loads, almost 100 pounds each. Never stopping for longer than a few moments to pick fresh berries or watch as a bear crossed the path in front of us.
By this time Robin had opened up a little more and we were telling each other stories of fire, friends and family. She was one of the few Grangeville female jumpers and coming in at a whopping 100 pounds soaking wet and under 5 feet tall kicked most everyones butt. As most outdoor woman, she had a natural beauty and sense of intuition that was impossible to ignore. Over that year we became friends and she continued to mentor me as I made foolish rookie mistakes. She will always be a friend, mentor and is truly a leader.
I’ve worked for, with and had many women work for me in my 18 years. I’ve always been amazed by the strength, courage and attitude each has displayed. As in most professions being female does have a undeserved stigma by some and in wild fire, law enforcement and public safety in general it’s sometimes even more challenging. Most successful women in our profession seem to understand this stigma and quickly learn ways to work past the egotistical men and competitive female counterparts. It’s women like Robin who have earned their place in leadership and done so thru surrounding themselves with family, faithful friends and incredible mentors. Taking the lessons learned and making adjustment and change, it’s called resiliency.
I now mentor both young men and women and am continually surprised at the quality of character and work ethic women bring to the profession. I think of the names and faces of women that have inspired me like; Sonya, Julie, Robin, Andrea, Paige, Lenora, Jenny, Pamela, Tricia Michelle, Viola, Connie, Joanne and of course my incredible wife Kim. Each has qualities I will spend my lifetime trying to acquire. Patience, commitment, understanding, passion and inner strength are all elements that make each of these women and many like them very special.
In church last year Jim talked about fatherhood and provided an analogy as he was trying to show the importance of the fathers role in a young girls life. He asked “would you give the keys to your new car to a 16 year old boy and not ask where he was going or when he was going to be back?” Of course not, so why would you let him take your young daughter out of your house without asking the same questions? The point is about how important it is for the father to be part of a young girls life. She needs to know she is loved and that she does not need acceptance for her looks or how she dresses. This foundation along with a mothers gentle hand and special touch will ensure we can raise women like Robin. We need to work early to build resilience so when the challenges happen later they have something to catch their fall.
So I encourage all of the incredible women and fathers of young girls reading this post to embrace that role of leadership. I recently witnessed an example of this mentorship. The young women who coach Aspen’s competition cheer team, organized a “sleep over” which didn’t focus on watching movies and general goofing around but rather on building character and a team. It was wonderful to watch young women mentor young girls building resilience thru teamwork, trust and encouragement. In today’s world we are surrounded by female entertainers and athletes who create a false image for women and set them up for a lifetime of seeking perfection. We need to shift this effort and like Robin and I pushing and pulling that crosscut saw, work together to put a line around our girls and keep out the unrealistic advertising and encourage and build future female leaders.
Join me and build a leader by mentoring and leading a young girl or woman and help build our future…