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November 24, 2010
Winter had come early to the Methow Valley. When we arrived last Friday night at our weekend cabin near Mazama we were disappointed to see that there wasn’t a flake of snow in the valley, but by the time dinner was over and we let the dogs out to stretch their legs, it was coming down hard and the ground was covered. We awoke Saturday morning to a six inch blanket. Winter, and the Holidays, have arrived.
Later on Saturday the sky lifted and we could see the top of Goat Peak and the Forest Service fire lookout. It reminded us of a wonderful hike this past summer. Two and a half miles from the trailhead, with 1,400 feet of elevation gain, the lookout is a perfect half day trek. Besides the beautiful scenery, successful hikers get to visit with the Forest Service employee who has manned the lookout every summer for 16 years – Bill Austin, commonly known in the Valley as ‘Lightning Bill’, aptly named for all the times his lookout has been struck during lightning storms.
Bill is one of those people you meet and instantly realize is unforgettable. He genuinely enjoys visitors and you can’t make the hike there without touring his lookout. While I’m not sure I could spend even a week doing what Bill does, there is definitely a sense of peace and serenity that’s instantly appealing, sitting on top of this mountain at 7,000 feet, with a sweeping 360 degree view of the Methow Valley. As you chat with Bill you begin to think – maybe he’s the one who has figured life out and found his own equilibrium and sense of balance and harmony.
With all our technical innovations today, it seems a bit incongruous that we still spot forest fires the old fashioned way, by posting strategic lookouts. There isn’t anything particularly high tech about what Bill does – he just keeps watch and reports fires as they develop. One modern wrinkle for Bill, though – he’s adopted social media. He has a Facebook page where you can follow his work on almost a daily basis. He also photographs his visitors and posts the pictures. We were honored to have our photo on his page this past August.
The lookout has been abandoned for the season and we know, based on Bill’s Facebook postings, that he is spending the winter (Bill is a seasonal Forest Service employee) working at a Carleton laundry. No doubt waiting for summer and his return to his post.
When we were in the lookout we asked Bill to point out the area where our cabin is located. “Right there”, he said, pointing. “And I always keep a close eye on your neighborhood.”
Thanks, Bill, and Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll look forward to summer and your return to Goat Peak. I sleep better knowing you are there, watching.