A day in the secluded life of a Montana fire lookout; video

Leif Haugen has found a seasonal job he loves, and has done it for the past 24 years. Not many of us can say that about any sort of work, but one look at Haugen’s 14-foot by 14-foot mountaintop lookout in Montana’s Flathead National Forest and it’s easy to understand why he keeps coming back.

The Lone Lookout: The Man Protecting Montana’s Forests from Great Big Story on Vimeo.

Essentially one of the most idyllic tiny homes we’ve ever seen, Haugen resides by himself for around three months as a fire lookout for the U.S. Forest Service at Thoma Lookout. “There’s really no difference between here and home,” Haugen says. “It’s just everything is compacted down to a 14 by 14 room.”

The fire lookout is tasked with living there for extended periods watching out for signs of fire, reporting what they notice everyday and keeping track of the weather.

Surely, many of us have dreamed of such a solitary break away from things to embed ourselves in nature — I know I did when I first read Jack Kerouac’s “Desolation Angels” in high school. As Haugen says, “It’s a pretty quiet existence. Really it’s just you and the wind, the time just melts away. You find yourself sitting on the porch watching the world go by for hours on end — it’s beautiful.”

Sunrise at Thoma Lookout in Flathead National Forest.

Haugen’s day is full of routine: he wakes up with the sun, makes a cup of coffee, enjoys it on the porch, goes for a walk, check’s in at 10 a.m., reports the weather at 2 p.m. and checks out at 4:15 p.m.

“The solitary nature when there’s really no fires going, the only thing I might do is check in on the radio twice a day,” Haugen admits. “That might be the only time I talk during the day, unless I’m talking to myself.”

But it’s certainly not for everyone — you are essentially stuck on top of a mountain for three months with little to no daily human interaction.

“It can be a hard choice at times, too,” Haugen admits. “Over the course of a summer, you might miss a lot of stuff in your life. But certainly every summer I keep coming back because living on top of a mountain for days on end is just such a beautiful chance at making a life of it.”

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