Non-FictionWinter 2023

A Story of Robertson Draw: Observations on Wildfires, Firefighting, and Working in the Wilderness — Oliver Scofield

The Layout
descent starts
gradually, two ravens caw                                                  Fossil Lake
against gray skies                                                                       falls into

trickling down, snow
creates East Rosebud Creek
paintbrush, stonecrop                                                    Dewey Lake
                                                                                                  falls into
white bark left behind,                                                            Twin Outlets Lake
the agenda is downstream,                                                               falls into
to fall, fall – what joyful
                                                                                                  Duggan Lake
thunder – land, slide on,                                                              falls into
mountain goats, snow’s movement
gone, polish of granite

then forest – thick
undergrowth, sonorous boughs, 
tributaries cold                                                                       Big Park Lake
                                                                                                              falls into
quick drink,
mosquito’s delight, rush
against eroded cliffs                                                      Lake at Falls
                                                                                                  falls into
oh to stop, cascades
braided light down green
walls, trout and deep                                                                      Rainbow Lake
                                                                                                            falls into
fields of rock, grizzly
prowl – to pass those paws
by – the plunge                                                                    Rimrock Lake
                                                                                                                   falls into
smooth expanse
ripped over ragged edge,
to crash in boulder
                                                                                                      Elk Lake
foam, broken pines:                                                                            falls into
fire’s wake, plains in sight, sunlit 
and hot
                                                                                                  East Rosebud Lake
draw of space,                                                                            falls into
cabins along the shore, thickets
of willow, moose                                                                                    the Stillwater
                                                                                                                  the Yellowstone
unhurried, end                                                                                       the Missouri
awaits in miles of sky and grass                                                          the Mississippi
that slow ocean flow                                                                             and the Gulf


Smoke seeps down sheer glaciated rock over the course of the day. A Wednesday in early June and I am camping 8 miles from the trailhead in East Rosebud canyon with two co-workers. When first light broke down the far canyon wall – a cascade of illumination that mirrored the snow’s retreat to plateaus above – the sky was that deep, pale shade of blue it can only be when far removed from the cloying and thick exhaust of human development. In the three hours since our workday began, a haze has descended in between vertical granite walls and the smoky smell that has become all too common in the west these last few years starts almost two months early.

We stand at a large patch of bare dirt surrounding a circle of rocks near the shore of Rainbow Lake. This is one of the most popular camping spots in the canyon – looking around at the cool turquoise of the glacial water, the steep peaks that rise 2000 feet above the canyon floor, the meadow still awash in flowers, it is easy to see why. A closer inspection reveals some of the impacts of this use: large bare patches of dirt amid the trees, castle looking constructions that smell of ash and smoke, trees hacked by amateur axmen into four-foot-high stumps, the sparkle of partially burnt foil and, of course, the ever-present white and brown alpine lilies, growing singly or packed in sodden clumps a predictable 15 to 20 feet outside each campsite.

As Wilderness rangers, we will spend the majority of the summer alone, on solo patrols of the four most visited canyons on the eastern end of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in southern Montana. This week we hike out together and I – the only returning employee – am showing the other two where the hidden campsites are located, how I approach talking to tourists and what, ideally, we want the canyon to look like after we have cleaned up behind the campers. We are also learning how to use ArcMap on handheld Trimble GPS devices in order to inventory campsites. The three of us are trying to objectively categorize the level of impact present at every campsite in the entire drainage.

Trimble units in hand, we pace off the amount of bare mineral soil present at the current site, using our stride length to measure area. Inventorying is a daunting task: hundreds of fire rings space themselves along the 11 lakes that spread up the 17-mile canyon, each with different usage patterns, and we need to complete a 40-point inspection on every one. This includes measuring distance to firewood and water, counting the number of trees present and the amount of damage on each tree, the number of fire-rings and camp “furniture,” the percent of vegetated ground cover and so on. After this week, I will tackle the project on my own, as the other two split off to patrol different areas.

A couple of hikers approach us from down the trail. Despite the accumulated dirt of two full days in the woods, the three of us look official. We are wearing the not-quite-tan, not-quite-green uniform shirts, green pants, name tags and badges of the Forest Service. Despite our current debate on whether a broken piece of tree trunk on the ground should formally count as a “user-constructed chair,” it’s clear that we are comfortable in our surroundings and might be able to answer some questions.

Visitor queries are not unusual. People are habitually under-prepared, chatty, or just curious about anything they think I might be able to answer. Often the questions are some mutation of “Who are you burying?” as they laugh and gesture to the shovels we all carry for trail maintenance and digging cat-holes for the human waste (see alpine lilies) we find around most campsites. Other inquiries vary from the simply ridiculous “Where am I?” through the alarming “Have you seen my kids?” to the unanswerable “Where was I this morning?” Once I was asked, with no trace of irony, if I was a murderer.

“Where are the bodies?”
straight face, no-nonsense reply:
“Why would I tell you?”

As it turns out, this pair have legitimate concerns about the level of smoke thickening between the trees. They had just started their hike this morning and were curious if conditions would be safe to continue on their planned three-night backpacking trip across the Beartooths. When they learn that we have already been out for two nights and have no information more recent than their own, they pull out a phone and show us a video from the day before.

What appears on the tiny screen is still impressive despite how common it has become: a forested mountainside smothered under a mammoth cloud of ash and smoke, a line of surging red signifies the difference between healthy lodgepole pines and their abrupt emigration to our atmosphere. Through the small speakers, it slowly becomes apparent the scene is quite windy and looking closer, I can see how the flames haven’t been able to crest the western ridge, how the top of each formidable orange tongue is whipped almost sideways – east and back down the hillside – how what at first looked to be a rising chimney of smoke actually has a comet-like tail as it is blown east. Halfway through the four-minute video, a minuscule cloud of pink appears briefly, paralleling the fire line. Out of the haze flies a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker, barely visible against the flames.

I am curious
if red is passion and fire
red, do trees love smoke?

Sunday morning, three days earlier, I step from my car and take a deep breath of the still cool, dusty air. I take a last sip of water and lock my car even though I am the only one at this unknown trailhead. I roll out my ankles and hips in short movements that probably do nothing to actually loosen any muscles or tendons. A map posted on a small signboard near the Face-of-the-Mountain trail distinguishes this spot from everywhere else along the gutted two-track that winds out of town and into the anonymous sage flats of eastern Montana.

Red Lodge comes close to marking the ‘border’ between the two sides of the state and claims with that stubborn tenacity of rural ranch towns to be part of the western half (although it’s agreed eastern Montana starts about a quarter mile away). This puts the town on the edge of two vastly different ecosystems. To the west and south, the staunch glaciated shoulders of the Beartooths are broken by long, half-pipe canyons that delve for miles into the backcountry. These present the rugged northern border to Yellowstone National Park and cap the northern end of the largest intact ecosystem left in the lower 48. To the east and north, the plains begin. Dry, arid land cut through by the clean waters of the Yellowstone and Clark’s Fork rivers. The boundary between the two is easy to mark. Forests of predominantly lodgepole pine and sub-alpine fir march down the hills and stop, waiting in ranks for the last defense of their mountain stronghold. As soon as the land flattens out, sagebrush, wheatgrass and short, hardier plants take over; the only trees are stands of aspen, cottonwood and the invasive Russian olive lining rivers and irrigation ditches.

As formidable as the forests appear looking up from the plains, I can see holes in their numbers where old fires burned and trees have not regrown. South of here, even in early June, brown dry grass surrounds a forest of gray, charred trees that stand like headstones in a cemetery; the water from snow accumulation and spring rain unable to nourish new growth through the heat of the summer. In a stable climate, regrowth into mature trees can take a hundred years or more, but some of these fire scars are 30 years old and nothing has come back except grass.

If these thoughts pass through my mind this Sunday morning, it is only in the vaguest of acknowledgements. Today is my last day off before our field season truly begins and I get to spend five days a week camping in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, maintaining any of our hundreds of miles of trails, patrolling for food-storage, fire, camping violations, and inventorying campsites. I am at the Face-of-the-Mountain trailhead to run before I use the rest of the day to organize, clean, and pack my gear for the coming months.

The trail starts in the sloping flats, amongst sage, yarrow, and the calls of western meadowlarks. The first 2 miles are a slow gain in elevation from 6000 to about 7200 feet. The trail soon leaves the plains and climbs up an old logging road that has since become overgrown with willows, hawthorn, and small shrubs still green from the spring. After topping out at a notch about one-third of the way up Mount Maurice, the trail contours south for 12 miles along the eastern front of the Beartooths, ending at the Robertson Draw and line Creek trailheads near the Wyoming border. I don’t intend to run the whole trail, although once the initial climb has been made, there are only minimal dips and rises for the rest; I would love to make a longer day of it and go further. Instead, I turn around three and a half miles from the trailhead and cruise back down. I take note of several downed trees across the trail and a broken signpost that someone on the trail crew will have to hike up and deal with another day. I’ll save the rest of the trail for later in the summer.

I run
past old mines, sheer
palisades and steep creeks
under forest’s collective breath
I run

Later that afternoon, I am setting my tent up outside the employee bunkhouse, checking to make sure all parts are present and functional, when the on-duty Type 6 fire engine pulls out of the ranger station with a chase truck behind it.

“Early start to the season if they really got a fire,” one of my roommates remarks, sitting with a beer on our picnic table. Over the last two summers, our district, some 550,000 acres, has had a combined total of 30 acres burned. We are skeptical that the fire crews will actually get a real fire. “Probably off to get ice cream or something.”

There are three main approaches to wildland firefighting: hand crews, engines, and air attacks. Each method attempts to remove combustible material from the path of the fire and their use is dependent on terrain and weather conditions. Resources are pooled from around the country to wherever they are needed. Fire crews from the southeast could easily spend most of their summers in the west; crews from Montana often end up down in Arizona and New Mexico early in the summer before snow melts here. As circumstances change and more or less personnel are needed, the Incident Commander will relocate resources. Even when there is no active fire, crews will be assigned to regions that have a higher fire danger and “patrol” the area – that is, drive around and look for smoke.

When a fire ignites, the local crews respond first. Often this is a combination of Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) engines and county or town emergency services. Depending on the size of the fire and weather conditions, their initial attack will attempt to suppress the fire completely or establish an anchor point from which they and newly arriving crews will begin containment efforts. In most cases, wildfires are never “put out”; they are contained. This means that the fire is completely encircled by human constructed fire-line.

Monday morning: I sit at my boss’s desk, and get the final instructions for our week in East Rosebud. She asks how my weekend went and I describe my run, the downed trees and broken signpost. She makes a note on the whiteboard that details all the “dangles” – small projects that don’t require a full day or full crew – she hopes to cross off this summer. When we step out to the trucks, a small plume of white cloud has formed over Mount Maurice on the south side of town. I ask.

“It’s 250 acres,” she explains. “Started yesterday afternoon in Robertson Draw, the fire crew’s been down there since dawn.” Nothing for us to worry about except in an existential kind of way.

In 2020, 10.25 million acres burned in the U.S., a new national record, roughly double the size of New Jersey. 2020 also set records for the most billion-dollar disasters in the country’s history, the highest overall cumulative cost for climate disaster damage, plus California’s largest wildfire at 1,032,649 acres and the state’s biggest fire season ever. In 2021, over 7 million acres burned nationwide, the number of acres per fire was above the national average, the number of billion-dollar natural disasters ranked second, the overall cost of damage also ranked second and California recorded its second largest fire ever. Most of these blazes were hundreds of miles away, but who’s to say the next big one won’t be here in Montana?

The couple puts the phone away; we reassure them that despite the fire’s impressive growth and the increased smoke, we are quite far from Robertson Draw. On top of this, the district office would have warned us during our morning check-in if the fire was threatening East Rosebud. They ask a few other questions about trail conditions and campsites before continuing their hike.

However, they bring up a good point, something that continues to bother me over the course of the summer, past the time when Robertson Draw has run its course and national concern has turned toward mega-fires in California and Oregon. When a fire can run for 9 miles and increase hundredfold in 24 hours, how can you inform people fast enough that they need to evacuate, especially in Wilderness areas with no cell service?

My job bears almost no responsibility toward people. In the event of an injury or missing person, I only help as common sense would dictate and inform the county’s Search and Rescue, but I don’t participate. I am out here to “protect the resource” – in this case, Wilderness. Yet this is where my mind goes: how do I get people out, and really, who else is there?

In the last week of my field season, before I leave early to start grad-school in Flagstaff, a similar scenario unfolds: over the eight hours from lunch to dark, smoke leaks through canyon walls to the point where, when I step out with a headlamp for my last pee before sleep, inch-long pieces of ash glare like snowflakes in the air.

I think of all the people I know are camped around the two lakes in this drainage, try to picture how I would evacuate the canyon, assuming the trailhead is still open. I remember there is one group camped 3 miles in the opposite direction and can easily speculate that several others have left the main trail on climbing routes or to get away from the crowds on the lakeshore. I have no idea how I would go about finding and telling everyone to pack up and hike out, and I probably know this area better than anyone. Fortunately, when I turn on my InReach, I have a message from my boss informing me that I am safe where I am and should hike out as planned in the morning.

Still, the question remains. I remember a story I’m sure I heard on NPR the past summer: 200 campers airlifted by helicopters from the middle of a lake in the Sierras, wildfire burning down to the shoreline.

We return to the ranger station Friday, still with minimal information about the fire. Online (, the government tracks all active fires in the country – both wildfires and prescribed burns intended to reduce fuel loads and lessen the impacts of future natural fires. Crucial information regarding evacuation orders, fire size, upcoming weather, predicted fire behavior and the all-important percentage of containment are detailed when you click on each fire’s icon. Every fire is also given a name, typically denoted by the location of its start (an amusing way to spend an afternoon is to come up with fire names if ever put in charge of such a decision: “Trash,” “We didn’t start the,” “This world is on,” etc.). As soon as we are in cell service, the two of us not driving rattle off statistics for Robertson Draw: 25,000 acres, 0% contained, 23 structures burned, a red flag day tomorrow.

Red Day
Inspiration for a Burgeoning Wildfire
eastward cinder wind
gonna take you, spark gonna
make you grow gonna see you
potential make the wild fire
feed you the grass gonna give
you a house
          for dessert

you gonna grow big, spark be
better than you fathers be strong
and fierce
be passionate,
          be warm

they gonna fight you, little spark they
gonna try to destroy
          you nature

you gotta think, little spark you
gotta think like chimney you leap

them lines
wind got you back wind
lift you
wind spread you you,
you just gotta burn gotta take
that inner fire let the world
ain’t no fear ain’t no
shivers just you, spark
          all growed up

The map shows the entirety of the Face-of-the-Mountain trail within the burned area. Some part of me instinctually knows I was the last one to travel that section of trail; the last one to see those trees and shrubs alive, to smell their needles and leaf-litter, to trip on their roots and enjoy their shade. It’s an eerie feeling, like this knowledge, this state of witness should carry meaning or that I hold some sort of responsibility for being in the area, despite not coming within 5 miles of the point of ignition.

Wildfires have become commonplace in the last decade and smoke often clogs the air several hundred miles removed from the actual blazes – this is scarcely news – but something changes when the fire producing the smoke is in an area known intimately, visited the day the fire started. And my run hardly counts the same as watching your house, town, community incinerate the same way. Still, this feeling of connection settles in over the next few days and lingers long after my season ends, the fire fully contained.

We enter Red Lodge. The sign on the Quality Inn reads “Thank U Firefighters!” instead of the usual offering of Wi-Fi and breakfast. I have conflicted feelings toward these ‘heroes.’ For about 20% of their job, they are tasked with the impossibility of stopping an inferno from devouring a town. A vital undertaking, no doubt: to stand in the way of fire, hundreds of feet tall, blown by winds of its own making and – using hand tools, a hose, a chain saw, fire itself – convince the flames to defy their very nature. I have heard stories about working on a fire: the other 80% of their time is spent talking about “that one time, on the fire line.” Also to consider is that such extensive (and intensive) fires are a relatively new presence on most landscapes; developing as the result of a century of fire suppression. Should one be considered a hero for simply doing one’s job? Especially a job that, with correct ecological balance and responsible management, shouldn’t exist in its current form?

Such self-importance is enough to turn Wilderness rangers, trail crews, office staff, and recreation and range technicians into a bunch of cynics when it comes to fire. Especially given the chronically underfunded status with which the rest of the agency grapples each season. Our district has 338,000 acres of remote Wilderness, hundreds of miles of trails, thousands of visitors each year, and three rangers to patrol the entire area. The season prior, 2020, both engines on our district added personnel: 13 acres burned that year. 2020 was so busy for camping, hiking, and backpacking, it was all the three rangers could do to keep things from eroding faster than they did. Several weeks I hiked out 40 pounds of other people’s trash; places that started the summer as vegetated forest floor were packed into durable campsites; fires, built illegally, were left to smolder long after the campers had departed; food was dispersed on the ground for bears, squirrels, and deer to consume; the list goes on. I put out at least 15 unattended campfires that summer, one of which had already escaped its circle of rocks. I’m impressed the whole forest didn’t burn.

In 2021, the United States Forest Service allocated $2.4 billion to firefighting, with an additional 2 billion available for suppression efforts if needed. Funding for the entirety of “management of National Forest System lands” including:

    • trail, campground, and road maintenance
    • law enforcement efforts in the backcountry, campgrounds, rivers, rangelands, and forests
    • invasive species assessment and noxious weed spraying
    • mining/rare mineral development and regulation
    • cabin rentals and upkeep
    • ski area leasing
    • wildlife, water-quality, vegetation, and air-quality monitoring

essentially everything the agency manages other than timber and grazing, was allotted 2 billion – less than half the fire budget.

Multiple times, I have walked out of the backcountry – rank from a week of burying other people’s feces, cleaning up their trash, explaining why food has to be hung, fires extinguished, camps kept clean, justifiably tired from a job whose duties never seem to end – only to find five or six firefighters napping in their engine at the trailhead, ostensibly on patrol. This is incredibly frustrating. And yet, I don’t want their job. Trying to fight the result of a hundred years of fire suppression? To stand in the way of climate change with a pulaski? No thank you. I’ll take the poop.

The Heroes’ Hard Day

a hum on the horizon
clouds billow, blow
smotheringly clear

Closed Due To Fire

men lounge behind these signs
their inaction vague
thick and apocalyptic

cavalcade of white trucks—
land agency flashcards—
sit idle in the dust

despite their sirens

trees turn ambition to smoke
numbers blend
evacuate to the nonsensical

cough inducing
the ashy smell of denial
weights the air

dry and cloying
this aroma of apathy

The next few days of work we are pulled off our typical assignments and tasked with installing signs around town, at rest areas, and on the barriers that block entry to affected trailheads. Then comes patrolling those areas behind fire closure signs, escorting campers to collect abandoned gear, and kicking out opportunistic hikers who possess an alarming disregard for personal safety. All of this feels very much behind when it needed to be done. The fire has been burning for a week, has already run to the top of line Creek Plateau, contoured around Mount Maurice, spread into the sage flats. The atmosphere is calm compared to the panic-filled day of smoke and air tankers. While the blaze has continued to grow, this growth has been small, mostly burning green areas fully surrounded by the charred forest. At this time, Robertson Draw has the most assigned personnel out of any fire in the country, but it’s still early in the season. Even at 29,000 acres, what feels like a big fire for us in Red Lodge is dwarfed by what will come later in Oregon and California.

Over the following weeks, the fervor around the fire dies along with the last small flames. BLM and out-of-state Forest Service engines are still common in town, but the impromptu air base that took over the tiny Red Lodge airport has been downsized to a single helicopter. The colossal column of smoke that was so prevalent for the first week has dissipated and all that can be seen of the active fire are small pillars of light gray as single trees on the north edge of Mount Maurice slowly smolder. Occasionally, the helicopter will fly up and drop a bucket on these hot spots, but for the most part they are left alone.

Maurice bisected
green fades south into the black
evening’s smoky plume

Other details come to light. Suspected from the beginning as human-caused, this is confirmed when our law enforcement officer arrests a local man with third degree burns on his feet and legs. If you want to talk about being under-funded: she is the lone armed federal employee for the Beartooth and Ashland and Gardiner Ranger Districts – 1.5 million combined acres in four separate units spread over 300 miles. Hers is an impossible job even with cooperation from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the BLM, other ranger districts and help from recreation techs and rangers like me. An amusing and unlikely narrative unfolds:

How to Start a Wildfire for Dummies

Get drunk,
drive dirtbike to remote trail,
when engine trouble occurs
spill gas on ground and legs,
next, and this is critical,
test the spark plugs.

Bonus: for a better story,
remove shoes and pants.

As with all human-caused fires, the unanswerable question of cost arises. Can one person be held responsible for the multi-million-dollar effort to contain a wildfire they started? It’s unrealistic to think the average person could afford to cover a bill that size, but legal concerns are raised by people, companies, and governments that lose property to a fire caused by someone’s negligence or stupidity. There aren’t easy solutions to these problems, but such incidents are occurring more frequently and with much higher consequences. Some of the biggest fires in recent years have been started by people, either in a genuine accident or through gross negligence. The Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge was ignited by a teenager lighting fireworks. Half of the Mendecino Complex Fire began as a spark from a hammer. Both caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. The teenager was court- ordered to pay 36 million in restitution over 10 years. I would think that if the numerous signboards, warnings, and Smokey Bear slogans were not enough to convince people to douse their fires (or abstain from having one altogether), the threat of insurmountable debt might do the trick.

Soon Robertson Draw loses even the local limelight as the usual chaos and packed schedule of the field season take over. While nowhere near as busy as the summer of 2020, our trails and Wilderness areas still see plenty of traffic and with this, the typical food storage, camping, parking, and fire violations. On top of educating people about the regulations and enforcing them when folks don’t comply, I have the campsite inventory to occupy my work hours.

Despite this, the fire keeps affecting my summer in small ways. A grizzly bear has been pushed out of the burn and is now competing for space in canyons already occupied by their own ursine residents. This particular bear has been seen near campsites and crossing a bridge in the Lake Fork drainage. Nothing aggressive or alarming, but a situation on which Fish, Wildlife and Parks is keeping close tabs and us Wilderness rangers are using as incentive to get hikers to hang their food properly. As early as mid-June, we get a fire ban implemented on the forest; with resources stretched to cover Robertson Draw and the smaller Crooked Creek Fire, the District Ranger and Forest Supervisor are taking no chances with careless campers starting yet another blaze. My boss, who is usually very invested in our weekly reports on the Wilderness, is consistently out of the office, supervising the fire crews on restoration work in places where the fire has been contained and snuffed out.

The fire ban is something I look forward to each summer. Approximately 80% of the trash I find in the woods are items that optimistic and ignorant campers have tried to burn in their fire-rings: foil, toilet paper, metal cans, glass, wrappers, diapers, plastic bottles. Trash that a campfire has no chance at incinerating and is left in the ash for the next camper (or bear) to find. As soon as the fire danger indicates the need for a ban on campfires, my weekly trash removal drops considerably.

Fire restoration work occurs in places where, through bulldozing, chainsawing, back-burning, and digging hand-line, firefighters have removed fuel sources, creating barriers to limit the growth of the fire. Once a fire has passed through and an area is safe, the firefighters do their best to revegetate the exposed soil, installing water-bars to help forestall erosion, carrying downed and dead wood into bare spots to provide habitat, nourish the soil, and generally try to make these unnatural expanses look better and regrow as quickly as possible. Sometimes this also involves replacing destroyed fences or small structures – anything the local district can get done quickly while the more numerous personnel and finances of the fire world are still present and available.

burst the seeds of new growth
landscapes reset, revitalized,

When I leave for the season in mid-August, Robertson Draw still isn’t 100% contained. The steep, rocky fins and cliffs on the north side of Mount Maurice have prevented fire crews from fully extending their perimeter all the way around the fire. The likelihood of increased fire activity is quite low because fire typically burns downhill slowly and remnants from the last dump of fire-retardant still coat a line of trees between the smoldering hot spots and the ranches at the base. For the most part, the remaining actions around the fire are monitoring and waiting for rain in the fall.

Although only minimally involved in the Robertson Draw Fire, my proximity to the people who were, my location on the day of ignition and the possibility of encountering another fire in the future have allowed these events to linger. Combine this with a broader recognition around how fire is directly impacting so much in the places I live – wildlife face changing food supplies and habitat loss; housing developments engineer fire breaks into the landscaping; air-quality and prized views of the mountains are smothered by smoke; my job requires active fire prevention and support for those fighting them; evacuation orders have had my parents (among hundreds of thousands of others) packing valuables into cars and setting up sprinklers on roofs – and the effects of wildfire are not as distant as they might appear.

Where is the next lonely trail on a mountainside – sunlight dappling through green boughs, birds calling between branches and in the meadows, bears trundling through thick undergrowth – to go up in flames? With each new season, each path I wander, each campsite cleaned, this thought crosses my mind. When I think back to my run on Face-of-the-Mountain, I remember the early summer heat and the smell of the pines, thousands of them breathing together on those hillsides; their exhales now mere remembrances. Had I known I would be the last to see their living, would I have given them more attention? Such speculation is futile; I now cannot.

Robertson Draw

Gasoline likes
a spark




















Oliver Scofield is an MFA student at Northern Arizona University studying poetry and environmental narrative. He grew up on the Idaho, Wyoming border. His writing often focuses on the dynamic interactions of people, place, and nature. He works as a Wilderness ranger for the Forest Service during the summer and is an avid reader, runner, and explorer of the world. His work has appeared in Bristlecone, and Tenderness Lit Mag.


The author: Debra Marquart