Sixty-six for Sixty Six, Part X:The Hotshots Trail

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February 25, 2017, Yarnell-

A lone cactus wren croaked, as I came up the first stretch of hillside, on the way to the spot where, on June 30, 2013, nineteen formidable men met their doom, while working to safeguard this small community at the southeast edge of the Mohave Desert.

I encountered a moderate trail, whose increase in elevation is tempered by long switchbacks, frequent stops to read and ponder each of 19 memorial plaques, set in stones along the way.  Wooden benches and informational signs also provide respite, for anyone who finds the place more strenuous than anticipated.

Yarnell Hill abounds in granite boulders, much as does the back country between here and the east side of Prescott, nearly 50 miles away.  One of these boulders resembles a praying monk.  It is one of the first sights greeting the hiker, on the way up from the trailhead, 1 1/2 miles southwest of Yarnell’s center.  He stands, as lonely as the wildland firefighters must have felt, on that blazing final day of June.

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Each man left people in grief- parents, a loyal woman, young children, siblings and entire communities, from Prescott itself to places as far afield as Oregon, Idaho and North Carolina.  Each man is immortalized by his own plaque.  Crew Chief Eric Marsh founded the Granite Mountain Hotshots, and was responsible for the recruitment and training of the men he led, for ten years, in the aftermath of the Indian Fire, which came close to obliterating downtown Prescott, in 2002.

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I know some of the family members, of four of the Hotshots.  Each of the families has a solid work ethic, reflected in what their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers gave, however long their terms of service were.

The terrain that presented itself, that blustery, torrid weekend, was no gracious host to anyone hauling 50 pounds of gear uphill.  It was, as I say, of moderate difficulty for me, with my 15 pounds of day pack, and for those between the ages of 15 and 75, who I encountered along the way.  A couple of ladies said they found the trail scary.  I could easily figure out which places to which they were referring, though long ago, I stopped fearing secured heights.

Following, are some scenes of just what the wildland fire crew faced, in terms of terrain.  Three red-tailed hawks circled, above this rock.

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Notice the charred mesquite, above, and the manzanita, below.

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Unlike today’s hikers, the Hotshots had to pick their way up granite-strewn hillsides.

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The town they were working to save survived, and will be a more vigilant place, with regard to fire safety.  Like the boulder below, Yarnell shows a large, if broken heart.

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I continued from the main trail’s overlook, at the two-mile marker, to the memorial at the fatality site, another 3/4 mile to the east. At the site, 19 cabions encircle 19 crosses, one for each man who gave his life that day.  Some mementos have been left here, as well as at the flagpole that stands 500 yards to the east.

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I sat here, in the wind, contemplating the meaning of sacrifice, while a lone woman circled around the memorial, lost in her own thoughts.  It is said that the mystery of sacrifice is that there is no sacrifice.  That can be understood, but, I would venture, not easily by a small child who wonders why Daddy went away.

Long may the heroes comfort the grieved, from their own private Valhalla.

 

 

Time, Times and Half A Time

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Rev 12:14″ And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.”

It has been just shy of a year, since one of the most horrific events to befall my adopted town took place on a remote ridge:  The Yarnell Hill Fire, which claimed the lives of 19 Wildland Firefighters.  Every family left behind has suffered unimaginable grief.  A widow, just shy of 30 years of age, has the task of raising four children, albeit with a strong, emotionally-supportive extended family and an upstanding Faith Community.  For the past seven months, she, and they, have dealt with a bureaucracy and its supporters, whose mantra has been “Life happens.  Make do with what you have.”

Fine words for those who may have suffered through the Depression, by taking in laundry, picking weeds or digging ditches, but the world has changed a tad.  Much water has gone under many bridges.  The issue in this case, though, is that while all the crew members worked equally as hard as the next, only some, by the interpreted letter of the law, were well-tended by the system.  The rest were to find other means of support.

After 1 1/2 days of hearings, the regulatory authority in this case determined, by majority vote, that the young widow and her children were indeed entitled to full benefits, under the appropriate system.  Our system may be slow, may often need careful, patient action to correct its mistakes, but today is proof that it works.  Today is proof that, even in our times of instant gratification-or-nothing, not giving up is essential.

On a far different note, I came home and read a  lengthy rejoinder to a comment I had made, relative to the Islamic Faith.  The author cites chapter and verse to show that Islam is inherently evil, and that anything said to the contrary is naive and “PC”.  I will obviously have to do a lot of research before responding to the innuendo, just as the legal team which prevailed in this week’s hearing had to do an enormous amount of work, in righting  a serious wrong.

Saint John the Divine, in the passage above, alludes to a desperate soul getting assistance from unlikely sources, and in a most unexpected way.  Those with a stake in an established system will naturally do all they can to guard that system- be it a governmental structure, or a code of beliefs. We must also bear in mind that many a misguided set of beliefs or codes of regulations themselves are rooted in correcting both real and perceived injustice. The needs of the  weak, the suffering, and the pure in heart, however, have a far more powerful set of allies to meet them.  It just takes longer to address them fully.

I also note that another young family, on the other side of the country, received word that THEIR anxiety and difficulties will now also be relieved- on a long-term basis.  Time, and time again, we seek relief.  Never give up!