Blowin' in the wind: encountering wind at fire lookouts in the Canadian Rocky Mountains




Walsh, Kristen Anne

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Weather, how we tangibly engage with climate in our everyday lives, is a central underpinning to life in Canada and around the world. This thesis investigates relating to weather through a focused exploration of wind in the everyday lives of fire lookout observers in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Stitching together approaches from anthropology, phenomenology and mountain meteorology, it brings to bear insights on coexisting with weather changes through an understanding of lived mountain climates. Perched atop the front ranges of the Alberta Rocky Mountains are located a string of mountain fire lookouts. Tasked with discerning and detecting smoke plumes that may signal the start of a wildfire, lookout observers, who inhabit these remote lookout places for five to six months of the year, are attentive to the wind’s effect on visibility, its role in wildfire processes, and as a force to contend with in their daily lives on the lookout. Through participant observation, interviews and photo elicitation, I draw on fire lookout observers’ past and present experiences of wind, and its role in larger weather processes. With many lookout observers returning to their posts season after season, the breadth and depth of their experience stretches over three decades. Over the course of a summer’s fieldwork, I hiked in, and at times lived with, lookout observers. Walking, as a contemplative research practice, continued beyond the field and into analysis, engaging in a process I call ambulant listening as an alternative to transcribing interviews verbatim. This involved walking and listening to interviews multiple times, with notes later drawn out visually using mind maps. Through this process, I learned that wind stirs up much more than simply considering air in motion. Entwined in a variety of multi-sensory engagements, wind touches on broader themes of awareness, encounter and wonder that emerge as weather consciousness. This study offers a rare lens into a way of life that has been increasingly shuttered across Canada and around the world, while at the same time exemplifying ways of being and knowing weather inherent to coexisting with increasingly uncertain and unpredictable weather patterns in the midst of climate change.



Fire Lookout Observers, Wind, Sensory Perception, Rocky Mountains (Canada), Awareness, Encounter, Wonder, Ambulant Listening, Walking