Back in the summer of 2015, Amy Pearson spent 98 days alone at Mount Jumbo Lookout 20-plus miles into the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
The Bob that year was very active with wildfires and while life at a fire lookout may mean solitude, one isn’t exactly alone. For one, lookouts are relied on not to just watch for fires, they’re also often used as a repeater site, relaying radio messages back to dispatch from their lofty perch where others on the ground have no signal at all.
Pearson also had company of the four-legged variety — a pair of mountain goats she named Tommy and Leon visited almost everyday and a sow grizzly and two cubs liked to nap on the ridge below the lookout as well.
To pass the time, Pearson also wrote everyday. In 2017, after taking a poetry class with fellow professor and Montana poet laureate Lowell Jaeger, the college’s Many Voices Press, published “100 Days of Solitude” a collection of poems from her time as a lookout.
Some of the best are short.
“wind — 8/6”
as soon as you can’t
take it any more
the wind changes
Pearson grew up on a ranch in Conrad, and in her adult life has worked in Glacier National Park on trail crew and as an ranger-naturalist and on fire crews for the Forest Service. She also has a doctorate in organizational communication from Arizona State University. She started teaching at FVCC in 2016, and has also spent time teaching in Japan.
Still, she’s equally enjoyed her time working in the woods for the Park and Forest Service over the years.
During her time at Jumbo she called in five fires and watched lightning hit a tree just below the lookout. The Bob saw some huge blazes. She also had a fair number of adventures on her days off, hiking in the woods, including getting lost and shacking up in a cabin where the key just happened to work, and an encounter with a grizzly that stood up and growled at her — while it’s too long to republish here, the resulting poem is memorable.
The outdoors is a constant calling.
“I enjoy having a pack on and being outside,” she said. “I think there’s something very wonderful about the Park Service and the Forest Service.”
Pearson’s book is available at Bad Rock Books in Columbia Falls for $16 and at the college bookstore. In addition to the poems, it also includes several photos from her time at the lookout.
Pearson said she’s working on an essay about her time at the Morrell Lookout in the Swan during the fire season of 2017. She also plans on backpacking in the Bob and Glacier this summer — the Nyack Loop in Glacier is on her list as is a return trip to see an old friend — the Mount Jumbo Lookout.