"Drawn to Flame: Women Forged by Wildfire"
gives insight into the life of women on a number of different types of fire crews; why they chose this career, and why they love their jobs. To be honest, I filled with jealousy that they can do this and I can't, and wished my career had never ended.
After I caught my breath, I noticed the comment from one woman crediting those that had preceded her made it a bit easier fitting in with the men on her crew. I've often wanted to believe that my hard work and perseverance did help prove that women could handle this job. It feels good to hear that maybe it did.
What I didn't expect, however, was that fires didn't act the same up there as they did in my prior experiences. Despite raining nearly 5 days a week, fires did break out, and to my amazement, they burned on water-soaked tundra! And once the fire got going, it consumed huge swaths of forest in an amazing amount of time.
I discovered this article on firefighting in Alaska, and it answered many of the questions that I didn't know I still had.
The Science of Firefighting in Alaska.
If you love nature and the outdoors, you probably want to believe that the original intent of the U.S. Forest Service when it was formed in the early 1900s was to protect our forests from annihilation by rampant logging. However, that was far from being the case. In the 1870s, forest reserves, which was what our national forests were called then, trees were considered resources that needed monitoring in order to extend the harvest, like one would grow a crop of tomatoes. The Federal Government never thought about how someday these forests would be our Nation’s few remaining places where we could connect with nature without worrying about a subdivision springing forth. The Government was more concerned that if they didn’t manage tree harvesting, they would lose revenue. Note the goal to “manage” harvesting. For revenue. The Forest Service is the only government agency that generates revenue by selling off natural resources, including lumber, minerals, and grazing permits for cattle. Where did preservation come in? It didn’t.
However, I could go on and on about that, but instead I want to say that I didn’t find it a surprise to read about how severe drought in the early 1900s led to massive wildfires threatening to wipe out all of the West’s “stored lumber,” sending the Forest Service into a panic. “Put out every single fire!” they vowed. Fire was an enemy to be conquered. Total suppression of every single solitary blaze became their goal.
The first firefighters were not permanent or even full time employees. In fact, firefighters weren’t hired until there was a fire. Rather than keep fire crews on call during fire season (expensive for the under-funded agency), officials opted to build fire lookout towers in strategic locations in order to spot fires before they became a big problem. But now to find men who wanted to sit in a “box” on stilts for days on end, looking for smoke.
This is where it gets interesting. Men didn’t want to do this, but the Forest Service didn’t have an alternative. They didn’t employ one single woman. Not even in the office.
The first woman to break into the all-male agency was Hallie M. Daggett in 1913. She snagged one of those “undesirable” fire lookout jobs on the Klamath National Forest. And what a gal! When the men on her district snickered and laughed behind her back, saying she’d be too scared to last up there in the lonely tower and she’d be on the phone the first night, begging to go home—it served them right when the phone didn’t ring with a call from her—then, or the entire 14 years she’d held the position. Seems to me she was braver than they were by putting up with snide comments and hanging onto the challenging position for years—the one men didn’t want to be bothered with.
There is only one other early accounting, about 1914, of a woman holding a Forest Service job. However, her job description is vague, only saying that Helen McCormick patrolled the Willamette National Forest on horseback, carrying emergency camping gear in case she had to spend a night. This the only such mention of women in the Forest Service, outside of fire lookout positions, for many years. It’s not that women didn’t have a presence—they did—but only those whose husbands worked for the agency, and only when there were fires that required additional help. Women were expected to support their man, many volunteering their time organizing fire crews and supplies, cooking meals, acting as radio operator, and managing telephone communications. And if that wasn’t enough, they stepped in to be managers of entire districts while the men fought fire. If the women balked at working for free, Forest Service officials were quick to label them as unloyal, not only to their husbands, but to the agency. (Oh, give me a break!)
However, at least one man recognized that these women outdid the men they filled in for—including their husbands, or so said one district ranger. I’ll bet he treated his wife quite well.
Think about this: only one woman was hired between 1913 and 1957. Joanne G. McElfresh became the first woman Forester for the agency. But women in fire suppression other than fire lookouts? Another nineteen years would pass until the agency would allow women on fire crews. Yup, you read that right. Nineteen years.
When I tried to research the exact year the Forest Service began hiring women on fire crews, I couldn’t find much. I did land on one accounting that 1975 was the magical year, which made sense, as my first year with the agency was 1976, and I experienced everything I read about women entering this field then. Men had one heck of a time accepting, much less knowing how to deal with, women working by their side. That was exactly what I’d found out, the hard way.
My decision to accept a firefighting position had nothing to do with me fulfilling a lifelong dream of being a firefighter. It also had nothing to do with me out to prove that I could do a man’s job. However, that’s what I usually ended up doing. What not only saddens me, but makes me angry, is that it is still happening to women on fire crews to this day.
What do you think is the reason? Why do you think men still treat women the same way they did 40 years ago? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
|My friend Smokey 1976|
Thanks to Caitlin Lambert, I had the opportunity to exchange blog posts with her the other day. Here's my post on Caitlin's website on how I came about writing my memoir, and my publishing journey.
My guest today is Caitlin Lambert, who kindly offered to write about what she perceives as a strong female character in literature. Thank you, Caitlin, for a wonderful, well-written piece!
Lately, there has been lots of discussion about female empowerment, and literature has not skipped out. In fact, “strong female characters” is a term thrown around a lot, especially when it comes to YA books. With the phrase so commonly used, how do we know what it really means? Reviews and readers say that a book has a “strong female protagonist”, but what characterizes such a young woman? What makes a female character strong?
It is easy to believe that strength comes from a lack of emotion – from bottling up the pain and fear and trying to push it out. This idea that fear equals weakness, and that tears signal a lack of strength, has affected the way we see female characters. Here’s a few myths about girls in YA:
They carry a sword, so they must be strong.
Anyone can drag a weapon around. As Gandalf (aka J.R.R. Tolkien) so profoundly said, “True courage is knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one.” Violence and skill in war definitely reflect a certain kind of strength, but it is the harsh kind. What about the gentle, steady strength? Why does all strength have to come from violence?
Someone who quietly perseveres through years of trials without giving in is, in my opinion, much stronger than a person who unleashes one time in passionate anger and slaughters an entire army.
Tears equate to weakness. Characters can never cry, even if they are facing the impossible, or staring into the face of death.
Bottle the pain, harness the hurt. Bury it deep inside until it hardens into strength.
Guys, this isn’t real. In this world – in this life – we experience trials and heartbreak, and we sob until we can’t breathe. We suffer loss and death, and what is our natural, real response?
Why, then, do we need to morph tears into a weakness in literature? When a character oversteps that line between heartbroken and whiny, then they border on weak.
Strong people don’t avoid crying. They cry, but then get up and overcome. Here, everyone, is where you find strength.
WHAT IS REAL STRENGTH?
Strength is staring fear in the face, feeling it, harnessing it, and overcoming it. Sometimes strength is the quiet, steady kind, and sometimes it is more fiery. Sometimes it does require passion, and speaking out for something you believe in. But other times, it is soft. Constant.
Strength comes in all forms. Trying to stereotype a “strong female character” is to try and fit every woman into the same category. Every character will have different strengths and abilities.
Some qualities of strength in literature are…
PROACTIVE, NOT REACTIVE
Weak characters react to the people and world around them, letting other people dictate their choices. They rely on others to protect/save them, so any danger will probably render them completely incapable of action, until someone else rescues them. Sometimes, a character is trapped, and someone else breaks them free. That doesn’t automatically mean the character was weak. It just requires a balance. How many times does the female save herself?
ABLE TO OVERCOME THE ODDS, IN SPITE OF HER FEAR
Strong people fight and overcome in spite of their fear, not in absence of it. Why would we even need to be strong if something is easy? The entire essence of strength is holding up under pressure. If we take that pressure away, we don’t need to be strong. Therefore, fear is not a bad thing. You as the writer just need to decide how your character will react to it.
KIND AND MERCIFUL
Harsh women aren’t always strong, and kind women are not always weak. In fact, it takes a great deal of strength to be kind, especially to people who don’t deserve it. Some of my favorite female characters in YA have been ones who not only fought and overcame, but who were merciful and looked out for the innocent.
Lots of times, young adult novels (especially big worlds like in sci-fi and fantasy) have huge stakes and the main character must make decisions with enormous consequences. Having them remember the small people who seemingly don’t matter shows a huge part of their personality.
One of the biggest lessons to be learned from the Hobbit (and the LOTR series as a whole) is that small people can do great things. One line from the Hobbit movie illustrates this… “It never ceases to amaze me, the courage of hobbits.” Even though the hobbits are much smaller than any other fantastical beings in Middle Earth, they still accomplish and overcome huge obstacles. Bilbo likes his books and his house and his fireplace, but throughout his journey with the dwarves, he shows strength. He is the smallest, and yet often, he is the bravest.
There are many, many characteristics of strength – enough to fill a dozen posts. In the end, I think we should realize that “strong female characters” do not all mirror each other. They are not all weapon-bearing, army-leading, or kingdom-conquering. They won’t always make the right decisions, or have everything figured out. Sometimes they will cry – sob even – and feel the crushing weight of their fear.
And then they’ll get back up, keep fighting, and overcome. THAT is true strength.
Caitlin Lambert is the mind behind Quills & Coffee, where she shares tips, tools, & encouragement for writers. She writes YA sci-fi/fantasy novels, and is currently querying her second book, WHAT LIES ABOVE, while drafting her third. When she’s not writing or working, you can find her reading, composing piano, and adding endless destinations to her travel bucket list. Or quite possibly eating dark chocolate.
Website: Quills & Coffee www.caitlinlambert.com
|This is not the plane she built, but similar.|
When you think of women firsts in aviation, Amelia Earhart comes to mind, as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928. But I’ll bet you did not know that Bessica Raiche beat Earhart by 18 years. Bessica was not only the first woman in the United States to fly solo, but she and her husband built the craft she would fly in their living room. Which, by the way, presented a problem when they realized they had not considered how they would get the silk, piano wire, and bamboo contraption out of the living room once it was built. They ended up dismantling it and reassembling outside.
This feat is not the only event that made Bessica one amazing woman. She was also the first woman to drive a car across the United States. And that’s not all. She excelled as a musician, artist and linguist—and, to the chagrin of both women and men of her time, shot guns. If that wasn’t enough, Bessica became a dentist, and later one of the first women to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.
Mrs. Raiche had to give up flying for health reasons, but pursed her other passions until she died at the age of 57.