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Review: Martha Hardy's Tatoosh

by Joan Burton

In another world and time, during World War II, women filled men’s jobs in the aircraft and shipbuilding industry. But some also filled in as fire lookouts on peaks above the Northwest forests. No one had believed they were capable of scanning ridges and valleys for smoke, and then calling in to report fires. No one had believed they could endure the loneliness of months alone in tiny buildings in the sky. But they could and did.

The most famous was Martha Hardy, a Bellevue high school creative writing teacher, who wrote about her summer of 1943 on Tatoosh, in a book by that name. Because she was an English teacher, her descriptions of the beauty of views of nearby Mount Rainier are lyrical. She is also candid about her fear of making mistakes. She tells about her first call to report a sighting of a smoke column. To her embarrassment it turned out to be a waterfall. A serious real fire threatening her own cabin in Packwood 3,000 feet below also frightens her; she tells how helpless she feels to save it.

She makes friends with a funny and vulnerable ground squirrel whom she names Impie, and who comes to be fed every day. She watches in terror as he is almost picked off by a swooping hawk, and then disappears into his hole. Her relief when he returns the next day for his handout is very believable.

Two Forest Service employees keep her supplied, and she values the occasional phone calls and companionship of Willie and Elmer, who call her “School Marm.”This book is a delightful journal of a woman’s experiences and reactions to a summer on the summit of 6,300 foot Tatoosh. Martha Hardy was a woman who loved wilderness and solitude and wrote about both.