Thursday, December 08, 2005

Paid to do nothing?

In a conversation I had last night, a friend remarked that she would like to have a job doing nothing, reasoning that she could do something else with the time. I met someone doing such a job once, and I don't think I'd want that job!

This woman works up at the top of a mountain. I went up there to see the view, and it is beautiful. You can see for miles in every direction. In fact, that is the purpose of the job. She is a lookout. Every six minutes during daylight hours, she is required to stand up and survey all 360 degrees thoroughly. She looks for smoke. If she sees any, she uses an instrument to measure its direction accurately. Then she radios in the information, and lookouts on other hilltops do the same to triangulate the location.

The shift for this job is seven days on, followed by seven days off. Another woman works the other seven days. For the seven days on duty, the lookout lives in a small, single-room cabin, with windows all the way around. I don't remember whether the cabin has electricity. If it does, it comes from a generator, and is probably just enough to power the radio equipment and a few lights. Except for the occasional hunter (and even those usually stop at the end of the paved road, a couple of miles below), she is completely alone for seven days at a time. She is nonetheless expected to wear the uniform for the California Department of Forestry.

This particular lookout passed the time by crafting elaborate duck decoys, carved in wood and decorated. I don't know if she uses them as decoys or just as decoration, but she showed me one, beautifully sculpted in six-minute increments.


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