COLUMN: "A dry spring fires up conversation"

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, April 25, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

A dry spring fires up conversation
By Aaron J. Brown

The big red plane lumbered across the sky like a heavy hawk over Lake Boony, the small but serviceable loch set amid the pines down the path from our house. The aircraft looked just like the toy fire fighting plane that our three boys fly low and slow over their Cheerio bowls most mornings. Except, of course, that this one struck a massive shape in the sky, emanating a resonant rumble that shook the earth. In the time this plane passed from one corner of vision to the other was enough for my three small boys to wander from the excitement of “Look! Plane! Ooo!” to “That’s kind of scary” and run back up the hill.

The bone dry spring we’ve experienced demands such flights of the fire bombers. Forest fire danger rises every day it doesn’t rain. You don’t need Smokey the Bear to tell you that in his James Earl Jones condescending bear voice. Just ask the fire bombers. The skill needed to pilot one of these hulking birds is astounding. This is especially true for a non-pilot like myself who would quickly off himself even in one of those new tiny private planes with the built-in parachutes and two-button Nintendo-like controls. Tinking tree tops with steel wings, these pilots must guide their planes through heat blasts that can alter the all-important lift under a wing faster than one would desire vis-à-vis large metal objects not bound by the earth.

I’ll always remember doing a newspaper feature story on the water bombing planes at the airport in Hibbing. First I learned that many of the seasonal flight crews come from Canada. I was told that a particular captain was going to be the subject of my interview. When he entered the room he looked like a blond Tom Cruise, complete with flight suit. He strode across the room the way only a wily, experienced pilot wearing a flight suit could, in my memory, which is badly addled by the aforementioned child-rearing and a variety of other factors, most of them related to the passage of time. He approached me and from his cut square jaw emerged the words “Well, let’s go show you what this plane is all aboot.” It was the classic case of “accent does not match preconceived Hollywood image,” something we Iron Rangers see every time someone with a consonant-laden Eastern European name says “like, whatever” in a valley girl voice.

Perhaps the strangest part of the dry spring is not the lack of water, the slow greening of our foliage or the increased danger of fire. Indeed, the strangest part is how all of these things now become the regular topics of conversation among people who push paper and poke at keyboards for a living. That’s what it is, really? What on earth is going to get these kinds of people to talk about something they don’t see on Facebook or cable TV? The answer is simple: Incendiary fire risk and gargantuan Canuck fire lords flying above tree tops like the ride of the Valkyries. That’ll get us every time, at least until the “Lost” finale.

A couple weeks ago the boys and I were playing outside, picking up all the sticks that fell over the winter. We came in just in time for the nightly bath time and Christina remarked to our oldest, Henry, that he smelled like the outside. After a pause, Henry said, incredulously, “I smell like a stick?” This was good for a laugh at the time, but then again it bears mentioning that these days the outside really does smell like a stick. A dry stick that could burst into flames at any time, particularly if you smoke near it, improperly burn brush in its general vicinity or run an internal combustion engine that’s been maintained by a guy like me, a guy who can’t stop such thing from spewing devil sparks.

Fly low, fire bombers. Fly low for the people.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at his blog or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. “Incendiary fire risk and gargantuan Canuck fire lords flying above tree tops like the ride of the Valkyries” may be my favorite sentence I’ve read in a long time! Most excellent.

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