The Fire Tower

The wife and I were doing a “Town Walk” when I saw the old fire tower cab on the front lawn of a local museum.  I had to go over and look inside it, considering the last time I’d viewed it was from 70 feet above the ground, (and still looking up at it), about 20 years earlier.   It kinda looked as I expected, small, cramped, and uninteresting.  Unless of course, you consider that to view it from the side (when I saw it last) would’ve ended my story, on a decidedly more tragic note.

Saturday, May 11th 1991, Ranger had been talking about hiking up to the old Fire Tower for quite some time.  He recited the tower’s history as we hiked across the forest floor and began the long climb up the hill.  I assumed it had been abandoned for some time before we sought it out, and it was just a question of time, before it was gone forever.  We wanted to see it in all its glory before that time was upon us.

fire tower

As we began the final approach (a sandy hill, making for difficult climbing), I felt a sudden flash of déjà vu.  I was 11 years old again, and I looked up in trepidation at the tower rising into the sky.  My Father eased himself under the ladder’s safety rings and began to climb.  I had no intention of climbing that thing, though the view of Algonquin Park would likely have been spectacular …

“A long way up eh ?” Ranger’s voice was muffled by the smoke he was lighting as he climbed up onto one of the concrete base posts. Yanked back to reality, I began snapping pictures of everything in sight.  I was camera crazy back then (and still am I suppose).  Then, we both knew it had to happen.  One of us had to climb that silly-ass tower. As I type this, I can almost hear Ranger’s voice saying “And it damned -well isn’t gonna be me, ya crazy bastard”.  So, we both knew who was headin’ up that ladder. Ranger, (much like myself), has a healthy respect for the rather impressive effect gravitational forces have upon soft, gooey bodies and brittle bones.  He often tells the story of when he visited Niagara Falls.  He was up in the Skylon Tower, and while everyone else was over on the Falls side, he was being the responsible one.  He stood on the other side in an attempt to counter-balance the weight and save all their lives !!  And save their lives he most certainly did.  And did he get any recognition for it ?  Hell no !! I always tell him, next time, stay on the ground and let ‘em all splatter like bugs on a windshield.   Ungrateful SOBs.

fire tower 1

Clutching my camera, I eased myself under the rings, and started climbing, and climbing, and climbing.  Each rung felt like the previous one, though why it felt like my feet were turning to lead, I had no idea.  I snapped shots on the way, but all I could see was through the old SLR style camera viewfinder.  It wasn’t until I looked up and saw the padlock on the cab hatch that I realized where I was.  The wind suddenly whipped my hair into my eyes.  My shirt collar and sleeves roared like thunder.  There wasn’t a whisper of wind on the ground, but it was like a hurricane up there.  I held on and waited for it to calm down again.  Once it did, the rewards were dead silence, a fantastic view, and a rather fortuitous vantage point directly above Ranger.

fire tower 3

“Heay Ranger” I shouted, “I feel like a gull !” implying that I could crap on him from my vantage point.  “What?” came the innocent response.  “I feel like a gull, a gull, you know?” I shouted.  “A what?” came the response.  “I … feel … like … a … sea … gull … up here, ya know ?” I tried staccato that time, but to no avail.  “You’re what ?” came the now all too familiar response. I decided to dispense with the implications, and by-pass straight through to open threats.  “I’m gonna sh*t and p*ss on you from up here, OK ?”.  Likely only hearing the “OK?” part, he replied “Oh, Yeah, OK” probably just to shut me up and make me leave him alone.  If only, if only, I could’ve released the death-grip my hands had on that tower ladder.  No! I wouldn’t have actually peed on him, but I would’ve peed close enough to make him jump.  However, the gusting wind combined with my afore-mentioned death grasp on the ladder, dashed any hopes of that scenario coming to fruition.  I finally gave up and snapped a few pictures from up there, and slunk back down the tower.

fire tower 2

fire tower 4

I don’t think I ever told him what I was shouting about up there.  As we walked back to his truck, across the forest floor, a thought occurred to me.  Though Ranger might not have heard me, I wonder if anyone else did ?  I can just picture a group of hikers communing with Nature, when a voice from above wafts in, threatening to relieve itself upon them.   I guess they’d have figured Mother Nature gets bitchy like anyone else eh ?

Fire towers are an integral part of Ontario’s history, and forest fires were a real and serious threat not long ago.  Not to imply they aren’t a serious threat today, we’ve just improved our methods of handling them now.  I remember a road trip as a child where we saw smoke rising from the forest ahead.  As we approached it, uniformed officers were stopping cars and conscripting citizens to fight the fire.  I remember my Father jumping out of the car and running off to help.  This was in the same lifetime as a man who watched the moon landing, saw the invention of the PC, and the creation of the Internet.

I’m also reminded of the time Paul Macreau and I were camping up on Poplar Lake some 10 years later.  We were drifting down the center of the lake with a shirt between two canoe paddles, lashed to the gunwales as a sail.  Half asleep, I woke up to the droning sound of large aircraft engines.  I sat up and looked around for the source of the drone … which was getting louder.  Paul woke up and noticed a column of smoke rising out of the bush to the North.  We watched it for a moment, and then started to disassemble our “sail”. As the sail came down, I saw the source of the droning, directly above, and in front of us.  A big old water bomber was coming in for a bellyfull, and we were right in its way.  We hit the paddles hard, and took her sharp a-port as that was the closest shoreline.  That must have made us more visible, as the bomber’s engines suddenly roared to life and she banked hard, off to the South.  We slid to a halt in the weeds near shore, and watched the bomber circle back around.  I’ve rarely seen birds so graceful.  She gently skimmed the surface of the lake, and with roaring engines, climbed back up into the sky, banking off to the North.  We backed the canoe out of the weeds and raced for the other side of the lake to continue watching.  The bomber flew toward the smoke column, and we saw a gray mist gently drift down, into the smoke.  The bomber circled a few times until the column dissipated, then slowly wandered off to the Northwest, as the droning faded.   I’ve seen the same thing on TV a number of times since.  It’s not even remotely similar to being there.

Ranger heard the fire tower had been brought down awhile after our visit, and we assumed it would only live on in photographs.  That was until we thought we recognized it in front of the Fire Fighter’s Museum.  Ranger asked around, and confirmed it was the same one we’d climbed.  Since the hatch was locked when I saw it last, I figured it owed me one.  So, I looked around before climbing in through one of the now glassless windows.  I stood there at 0.75 feet above the ground, and tried to recall the view across the rolling hills of Southern Ontario.  The view would’ve been from even higher than I had the nerve to climb that day.  I was well aware of the fact that I was standing in a museum exhibit, but no one seemed to notice or have a problem with it, and sometimes that’s OK.

Bushwhacker

For more about Ontario’s fire towers, visit this site :  http://ontarioftl.bravehost.com/

Addendum

After looking this over the wife suggested I offer a way for readers to enjoy a fire tower – like view, without the “hanging in space 100 feet off the ground on what seems like a rather flimsy ladder with even flimsier looking safety loops ” feeling.  Besides, the tower’s gone now, so you couldn’t even if you wanted to.  So, here’s a quick look at the Sager CA tower.  This one feels very safe and presents a magnificent view as well.  It’s built for tourists to climb comfortably (as opposed to fire towers being climbed by unqualified morons).  It’s located just south of the town of Stirling, just off Hwy 33 (at 30 Golf Course Rd).  Here’s the addy :

http://www.ltc.on.ca/conservation/ca/sager/

The view is spectacular … once you get past the stairs.  Though stairs were a far cry easier than a sandy hill (particularly since this was many years after the fire tower climb).

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The tower isn’t as tall as a fire tower, but it’s much safer looking (and feeling) with lots of unobstructed views in all directions as it’s sitting on a drumlin.

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I dare say one could enjoy a nice picnic up there.  There’s lots of room, on a stomach calming stable platform.

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Not to mention the magnificent view.

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