To think it all started when he found out one day that fire lookout was a thing, and maybe just the right job for him.

That's how University of Montana student Austin Hagwood described his accidental stumble upon a job that served him (and all of us in western Montana) well for five seasons in the Bitterroot National Forest, 2017-2021. And how his falling in love with the land led to what became a book that has earned him one of UM's most prestigious writing honors.


Austin is a creative writing grad student at the university. If you are an aspiring author, could there be a better job? Days of solitude high above inspirational, breath-taking vistas of endless mountains and treetops. UM News Service tells us that his days on the mountaintop inspired him to start a book, which recently earned him UM’s Merriam-Frontier Award.

The Merriam-Frontier Award was established by the late H.G. Merriam, a UM English professor. The professor arrived in Missoula 1919 after being a member of the first class of American Rhodes Scholars. He began teaching creative writing in 1920 with five students and with them founded the literary magazine Frontier.

“Fire Finder: Life as a Lookout in the Northern Rockies,” is Austin's account of the solitude and excitement of the job, and its resulting reflections. According to the judges, “Austin Hagwood delighted us with his exceptionally thoughtful and skillful nonfiction work...Austin took us into the lookout and made us want to stay and learn more. We saw it, smelled it and felt the anxiety of wildfire appearing on the landscape and strangers showing up on the lookout steps."


Perhaps you would like to hear the passion in the writer's own voice. Feel that love for Montana's natural beauty and awe-inspiring outdoor lifestyle so many of you share. Austin  Hagwood will read from his manuscript at 5:00 p.m. tomorrow (Friday, April 7) at UM’s Mansfield Library. The reading is free and open to the public.

Congratulations and continued success!

You Know You're a Montanan If You Can End These With 'In the Woods'

Here's a fun way to see if you're a "true" Montanan. If you can end any of these phrases with "in the woods" and it applies to you, you might be a Montanan. Enjoy.

Most Expensive Airbnb in Western Montana

  1. Entire villa available on Airbnb
  2. Near Superior, Montana


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