I’m sitting in Foxworth Galbraith Home Design Center’s parking lot, just across the street from 501 6th St. in Presott, Arizona. As I listen to reverse horns on a truck from a nearby lumber yard, and all the 3 pm traffic filling up my head, I can’t help but feel somewhat intimidated. Just the noise of this place is deadening. I wonder if that’s how everyone adjusted around here, just let the noise of life take over.
The Granite Mountain Hotshots warehouse isn’t much bigger than an oversized double-wide trailer and resembles a less-than-flashy mobile home. The painted blue sheet-metal siding flakes and peels. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Granite Mountain Hotshots were a group of welders or mechanics, working out of a dilapidated garage. The gate on the fence surrounding the compound is open, but I’m too afraid to go in.
Online I read that the warehouse remains a “de-facto working museum” and a handful of personal vehicles form a row near the front door. The blinds to the windows are pulled down and I photograph the building from a distance, like a stalker or a CSI agent. Why am I afraid to go through the gate, walk in the front door, and say “Howdy guys, drove down from O-R-E-G-O-N” ?
It’s been three and a half years and I wonder if going in is the right thing to do. Do I help them move forward by not going inside? Or is there no moving on and only shared sorrow? I’ve driven 1250 miles to get here and the same to get home. Station 7, going inside Granite Mountains’ old stomping grounds, had never been part of my plan. But I’m here. I could buy a case of Red Bull and take it in for the guys there, or take in a crew shirt, shake all their hands. Nobody has left or arrived in 20 minutes. These are working people, with jobs and things to do. What I’d really like is for there to be another fire order or watch out situation. Something a bunch of overpaid stiffs decided was a critical element in the tragedy of Yarnell, something I could tell younger guys about, as a tip, a lesson learned.
This fire was my generations Storm King. This was a big fucking deal. I remember hearing the news and just being sort of light headed and dreamy. I followed the headlines, read all of the books, the reports. I bought a t-shirt through the Prescott Firefighters charity website because they said the proceeds went to the victim’s families. To this day it’s one of my favorite shirts. Part of that is from some of the “heroism” I’ve attached to what we do. Sure, our work to some seems more akin to “glorified landscapers”. But there is no fucking landscaping crew like a well built fire crew. We are a big and wide organization of spirited people; we are black and white, Mexican, Native American, you name it. We work much harder than we are compensated for, and don’t have anything left for ourselves at the end of the day. We drive 2500 miles to pay respects and honor people we never knew or met. Glorified Landscapers? We are Wildland Firefighters. I decide to sleep on it, get a motel room and prepare for the 1200 miles back home.
I hiked from the Granite Mountain Memorial State Park Trailhead the seven miles roundtrip earlier this morning. Every tenth of a mile or so a granite plaque sits embedded to a boulder along the trail, with a photograph and epitaph carved into it. Somehow I missed Marsh’s plaque on the hike there, because I remember clearly thinking “I wonder if they intentionally didn’t include Marsh on a plaque.” I did find him on the way back to my Jeep, though. His quals read “DIVS, ICT4, FIRB, FALB, EMT”.
The trail is beautiful. A ton of effort went into the construction and it was obvious. This trail takes you through mountains of boulders, and imagining the toil of whoever built it, I say “good job”. I passed multiple people along the trail and wondered if they too were – or had ever been – wildland firefighters. I found my hiking ego was still prevalent on the way in, and the badass in me wanted to push people over just to make sure I was there first, or vice versa. I declined those thoughts for a more mature, contemplative approach when I neared the fatality site. There they were: a 20-foot wide swath had had been enclosed by 19 “gabions”, or metal cages filled with rocks. 19 for the 19. In the background, towards the aspired for ranch, an American flag stood tall. I found the beginning of a t-shirt or patch donation pile on one of the “gabions”, and removed the shirt I’d brought with me to leave here. I put in a chew and sat on a bench and wondered why the hell they decided to make that mad dash, to go on Marsh’s death march. Nobody knows.
Before I came on this trip I was laying in bed and my fiancé asked me a question. She said, “can you understand how it might not make sense to some people why you’d go on a such a long trip to visit a place where a bunch of people died?” She was referring to friends and family who’d heard about this pilgrimage of sorts. I couldn’t bring myself to respond, and instead, lay convinced, reaffirmed of my journey. A lot of people can’t understand why or how we do what we do. But what we do, we do because we want to, even if it doesn’t always make sense.
About a year ago I was having dinner with family and friends. The topic of books we’d been reading or had read recently came up and I mentioned the book I was reading on Yarnell. Most of the people at the table couldn’t really remember the event. I finished the meal, regardless of the sickness in my stomach. That’s why I came here. In a day and age when people move on to the next thing so quickly, its important for the Wildland community to remember those we’ve lost. Because if we don’t, nobody else will.