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Yarnell Hill

Years ago in Arizona, the members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots lost their lives fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire. You may have seen the movie about it. Their story shook me, as a former resident of Arizona and a witness to what wildfires can do to the dry desert landscape. 

It wasn't until years later that I read a profile of those hotshots and their last moments in the Yarnell Hill fire in Outside Magazine. The story terrified me and sent me into something of an existential crisis, contemplating what it meant to die for something, and to live for something too. 

The lyrics for Yarnell Hill came much later, after the music had been written and recorded. i was sitting in a hotel room in Tucson, Arizona on a work trip and they hit me all at once, the idea of Heaven and Hell living together in that desert where the hotshots died, both claiming those young men for themselves. 

The horror those hotshots faced in the desert that day still makes me shake. But their purpose, and their bravery for walking into that desert among plumes of smoke and flames they knew could kill them, strikes me just as strongly.

I suppose in a sense this song is a small honor to them, but really, it's a coping mechanism for me. It's how I processed the horror of it all and contemplated the final moments, what those moments could have meant to those hotshots. Like all homages, this one falls short of true honor to the people lost. But it's the best I can do. 

The lyrics, in case you're interested: 

Heaven and Hell lived together in a clearing

On a hillside surrounded by flame

We walked for days just to find them

On paths cut through cactus and sage

They danced so quickly

A blur of dust and smoke

Defining lessons of love and pain

If you see them you're with them for the first and last time

We laid down at their feet

They lulled us to sleep

No one will do this for you

No one will do this for you

Above them through flames

Shooting high is a a sky

We'll never see again

It's behind us now

Take off your shoes

Cast aside your tools

Lay down in your shelter and sing til the end

Lace fingers together behind your head

Sing a song to the clearing

It's all just a language

Instructions to Heaven and Hell

Their children

Death and Life

It's a gift and a burden to bear

Of equal weight

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