In a burnt-out, distressingly sticky dive bar in Boulder, Colorado I met with three versions of the same fictitious man to discuss the events of last year’s breakout indie darling Firewatch. While the three Henrys that I met with had all experienced similar events in Shoshone National Forest during the summer of 1989, they had all internalised – and responded to – those events in very different ways. One had made an obvious effort to come to terms with the situation he found himself in regards to his wife, Julia. One was happy leave those problems at the foot of the Thorofare trail, seeking an unassailable refuge from the ugly realities of his life. Our final Henry fell in love with the Wyoming wilderness, the stories it had preserved, and the objects through which those stories were told.
In an article that oscillates wildly between obfuscated critical analysis, parody and fan-fiction (and features liberal spoilers), I present to you the entirely imaginary, totally unsolicited result of that interview.
Hi guys. Before we begin the interview proper would you mind giving a short introduction and then a quick recap of what happened to you in 1989?
Henry the Healer: Hi, I’m Henry.
Henry the Hider: Yup.
Henry the Hoarder: Me too.
Healer: So, I think it’s safe to say we all… Hmm. We all went out there – to Wyoming – to get away from our lives. Which were pretty shitty at the time.
Hider: Yeah. My wife, Julia, had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and her family had moved her back over to Australia to look after her. I… I was not doing a good job, on that front. On any front, actually.
And what happened to you guys out there?
Hoarder: Well, not much really. At the time it felt like we’d been sucked into this huge conspiracy, but looking back it was just some wilderness nut-job trying to cover his ass.
Hider: You mean Ned?
Healer: Yeah. So, what did we do? Shouted at some dumb firework-loving teens, got led on a wild goose chase by Ned, who was trying to stop us finding the body of his son, Brian. Brian died in a climbing accident a few years ago. It was Ned’s fault… We might have stopped a fire? It all seems, I don’t know, it’s insane looking back. Just how caught up in it we were.
Hider: Delilah didn’t exactly help; especially given she was supposed to be supervising. Don’t get me wrong, she could talk your ear off, but she was hardly the voice of reason. I think we could’ve done with a little more reason. All of us.
You guys spent most of three months on the radio to Delilah. All in all, do you think you got a good sense of her as a person?
Hider: I don’t think so. Probably a better sense than this self-important bozo though.
Healer: Bozo? Really?
Hider: Really. She kept her cards pretty close to her chest. I don’t know if that was a privacy thing, or if she was just more interested in other people. She’d been out there a while; I’d guess after the first couple of seasons you get bored of telling the same old story-of-you to strangers. She told me she still dreams about her ex. That she was thinking about going back to him, trying to make it work again. That’s something personal, I suppose.
Healer: She didn’t tell me that…
Hider: No surprise.
Healer: Funny. Well, I thought Delilah was great – what was it Ned said, “a real firecracker”? She was smart, funny, interested, a little dark at times – I think at that time in my life, I couldn’t have asked for a better companion.
Hider: Are you reading this out of a lonely hearts ad?
Healer: Hey that’s a cheap shot, pal. Anyway, we were both paranoid as hell by the end, it was getting pretty unstable out there. I think Brian’s death really hit her. I don’t know how you come back from something like that when you blame yourself like she did. Anyway, seems like she found somewhere new to run to.
Did you ever meet up?
Healer: No. Didn’t even know where to look. That conversation in her tower was the last I ever heard from her.
Hider: Nope. Who knows what happened to her. Maybe she really went for it, made her way back to Javier.
Hoarder: I think… I think I saw her in a diner once, on the I-80 or I-84. She was just passing through I think. I mean, I wasn’t certain it was her, but it looked a lot like her. She didn’t recognise me, guess my description wasn’t so great.
Healer: What do you mean you saw her? We don’t even know what she looks like!
Hoarder: She was in post during the biggest forest fire of the decade. I don’t know if you guys are aware, but they have these things called newspapers now? They’re kind of like short books. Some of them even have pictures in. Not really sure what they’re for but I like to keep ‘em around, makes good kindling.
Hider: Alright, alright…
And Ned? I think we can all agree he was a less than perfect father…
Hoarder: That guy was an asshole. He had some really cool stuff though, obviously had an eye for electronics. Something he passed on to Brian too… ah geez.
Healer: He should have gone to prison, not lived out there like the last surviving member of the Swiss Family Robinsons.
Hider: Yeah, he was not a great guy, no question. But… hell, I don’t know. How many shitty parents push their shitty hobbies onto their kids? That’s not a crime. What happened to Brian and Ned was an accident – it could have happened to anyone.
Healer: Failing to check your son’s climbing equipment and getting him killed is what, culpable negligence? That’s a crime. And we don’t know he didn’t kill him. The guy was nuts and we’re going to just take his word? That he didn’t do it?
Hoarder: Ned loved his son. I think. He had that photo of him in the camp – it was torn off of the missing person poster. Would you keep that, knowing where it was from, if you’d killed your son on purpose? It’s just… it’s heart-breaking that he couldn’t focus on what they had in common – the radio projects, the electronics. Maybe things could have turned out differently.
Hider: Yeah, well, Delilah could have sent him home. You know? That was an option.
Healer: Can we… not do this?
Would you like to talk about Brian?
Healer: What’s there to say? It’s not like we ever really knew him. He shouldn’t have died; what kid can’t you say that about?
Hider: I’ll pass.
Hoarder: Me too.
Healer: I go out every year, if I can afford to, at the start of summer… US summertime that is. I think her family really appreciate the effort. I’ve tried to move on, as much as that’s possible. I consider myself single, except on legal papers. “I fly to Australia every year to visit my sick wife,” isn’t really a killer pick-up line though. It’s good to keep moving forward though. What else can you do?
Hider: No. I went back to Boulder and drank. A lot. I called her family eventually, told them I couldn’t go out there. They took it about as well as expected. It was just… it’s impossible. To go out there and look at the person that I fell in love with, that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and for them to not be there. To know that… that some curtain has closed, and the real Julia might still be stood behind it, but she’s not coming back out. Ever. I couldn’t do that, I’m not the guy that can take that. I don’t think I’ll ever be… at least I know that about myself now.
Have any of you been back out to Shoshone since?
Healer: Once, I think we all had to go out to explain… to show them where Brian’s body was.
Hider: Yeah. Hardly a holiday.
Hoarder: I still go as a lookout whenever they’ll have me. I’m not running from anything anymore, but… there’s always something new out there, even walking the same old trails. I leave notes for Dave. He doesn’t write back much.
What do you think was the most important thing you took away from your trip?
Healer: You want me to say self-belief, tackling problems head on, that kind of self-help guru crap? Well I learned to hope again. You know, even after you’ve faced the music, there are still new horizons? I was disappointed that I never got to meet Delilah – who wouldn’t be – but the future is something I can start to look forward to again. Well, something like that.
Hider: Jesus, can you believe this guy? You know what I learned? That it wasn’t about me. You got that? If you’d just shut up about you and your problems for like, I don’t know, two minutes, you might have actually learned something about the people around you. I mean… you go out into the wilderness to “get away from it all” and the first time someone asks you about your wife all you can say is how she’s sick and what a major ball ache that is for you? Cry me a fucking river, she’s a person still, isn’t she? She’s certainly more than the sum of your fucking problems.
Healer: Would you just calm down? You couldn’t even bring yourself to go see her! At least I can face it. And you know what? It’s shit every damned time. But I can face it.
*Clears throat* Thank you for that, both of you. Hoarder, any closing statements?
Hoarder: Most important… Well, I tried to take my turtle, Turt Reynolds, with me when the fire started. Obviously there was a lot going on that day, but I wanted to at least try and get him home safe. I carried him the whole way but when I finally made it over to the cable car, to get across to D- to Thorofare lookout, I put him down – just for a second – so I could get in a good position to pull the guide rope. I don’t know if he moved, or if it was the motion of the car but… He rolled right out of the door, bounced down the cliff face, cracked his shell open on a rock. It was like he’d been dropped by an eagle.
I… I don’t understand.
Hoarder: Well, I’m just saying… that’s life?