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LCN Start » LCN » 2013 Community Engaged Research to the Classroom Collaborative Research Projects » Fire Lookout Anthology

Fire Lookout Anthology

During much of the twentieth century, one of the major fire-suppression tools the forest service employed was fire lookouts.  The forest service would put an observation tower on a mountain top—Black Butte near Sisters, or Mt. June near Dexter are two examples—and hire a minimum wage worker to live in the lookout and report any smoke columns via radio.  Because such employment offered great freedom and isolation, it became very attractive to aspiring writers.  Writers such as Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Norman Mclean, Edward Abbey, and Doug Peacock all spent time in lookouts getting paid to write.  There are currently books on the lookout experience—Don Sheese’s Mountains of Memory, Ira Spring and Byron Fish’s Lookouts: Fire Watchers of the Cascades and Olympics, and Ray Kresek’s Fire Lookouts of the Northwest.  But there are no collections of the literature that was produced by these writers while working as lookouts.

Professor David Sumner's intention for this project is to collect both the known pieces of fire lookout literature, and also to discover and publish previously unknown, overlooked, or undervalued pieces alongside the more famous.  After gathering these pieces in one place, Professor Sumner can then provide a critical framing essay for the collection and really start the critical conversation regarding this important, but overlooked genre of American literature.  In short, this project will bring to light a currently overlooked area of western and northwestern literature.

Benefit to Linfield Students

In the humanities, it is rare to collaborate on a research project, especially as an undergraduate.  This will allow student Austin Schilling to work directly with a professor who has a strong record of publishing and to see how research in the field is conducted.  By doing so, he will learn firsthand how to do research in the humanities.  Austin will also gain the experience of presenting work to others in the field.  This is the best preparation student could have for graduate education within the humanities.

Sumner with Austin Schilling discussing hikes to fire lookouts