I stand upon the canyon rock at dusk, the evening sunset like a blaze. The orange hue meets the tops of distant trees and, despite all that has happened here – the trauma and emotion – it still feels welcoming.
It has been two years since I last played Fire Watch and a lot has changed for me, both professionally and personally, but the world of FireWatch – like any national monument or state park – remains fixed in time; a scene with static properties. I don’t think I truly appreciated the story of FireWatch the first time around. The significance of Henry’s and Delilah’s friendship was lost on me.
I trek towards Cottonwood Creek and night is approaching. It’s hard to not know where you are when you get there; the giant cottonwood tree stands out. Its thick, crooked branches turn towards the sky, giving the appearance of a monstrous scarecrow, there to turn away lost wanderers. I continue though, for beyond the tree there lay a series of gentle streams, trickling through the twilight.
I look towards the west and the forest. The fire that raged across the woodland and towards my watchtower has long finished. In game, it served as a tool for narrative pacing. It started small, an orange hue humming against a summer night and racing towards me as all the drama and intrigue came to a head.
FireWatch’s story resonated with me on the second play through and I think that was mainly because of where my life was at that point. Henry’s plight is one of fight or flight. His wife, Julia, develops early onset dementia and rather than stay to help, he leaves her in the care of her blood family and takes a job as a watchman. The choice for Henry to immerse himself in a location very much cut off from the world was preferable for being there for Julia; than being accountable. You never see another human in Firewatch and your only companion, Delilah, exists on the other end of a radio.
There is something about the idea of abandoning all responsibility and duty towards yourself and others in favour of a life of solitude. This is very much what Henry was after, although he had no clear idea or real expectation of what he would find. His decision was very much instinctive; borne out of wanting to put physical distance between him and the bad thing that had happened. By doing this, he was able to emotionally distance himself as well.
And yet I look over towards Delilah’s old watch tower. It stands as a small beacon of light against the night sky. I am not sure if she is there now or if someone took her place. It does not matter. Like the actors of a stage play; one enters stage left and another exits stage right. I feel the instinctive twinge to reach for my walkie-talkie and speak with her. I no longer have the radio. However, I know that I would only hear silence.
The relationship between Delilah and Henry further compounds his isolation. She is within arms reach via his radio, yet he cannot see or touch her. Despite this, a warm relationship develops between the two. The formation of his relationship with Delilah further embodies his willingness to escape from the reality of his own life. He wants to find new love to replace his own.
What remains of the Wapiti Station still lays nestled away. The place was abandoned, and I never really come to understand what it was they were doing there; were they monitoring me? It doesn’t matter now anyway, the more I think about it. Everything of that summer was all hijinks and adventure – a manifestation of my desire for escapism.
I am not far from Jonesy Lake. I leave the camp and head in that direction. The water is as still as I remember it. The island in the centre is empty. We’re those teens the last two people to stand on it, I wonder?
That incident down the lake was in many ways the catalyst for what happened between Henry and Delilah. It is odd too that FireWatch’s biggest plot points take place near or around the lake. The drunk teens whose stereo Henry wrecked; being attacked by the lake side; the incident at Wapiti Station. Was Ned behind it all? There is something about Two Forks and the type of person it attracts. The broken and the left behind; the people with questions which the answers seem so far out of reach that wandering about this little zone of wilderness is all they can do.
Henry and Delilah, both victims of circumstance, find themselves drawn to the solitude of working for the Fire Watch service. Sitting in towers, staring at trees and contemplating. Finding peace. Both are assisted through their creative pursuits. Henry writes, and Delilah draws. They talk whenever possible but never stand face-to-face. They share intimate details about their own lives with one another and confide insecurities and fears, yet the end game reveals that they both fundamentally misunderstood what the other wants. “It’s possible to love a human being if you don’t know them too well” – a quote attributed to Charles Bukowski – is perfectly apt here.
What is striking about their relationship is its truth. It is a fact that we sometimes meet people who become so significant to us for a time. But in the grand scheme of things, they end up being such a small part of our lives. People move on and meet new people. Maybe Delilah met someone new; maybe Henry did too. Maybe their watch towers have new occupants in the throes of a new and exciting relationship. Maybe they don’t. Just like real-life, not every infatuation ends in lasting love and sometimes, people leave or go home, and you never see them again.
It’s night now. Crickets hum and flies buzz. I stare again at Delilah’s tower, a single point of light against the darkness. The light flickers several times before extinguishing, like the flame of a single candle keeping a darkened room alight.