The fire ignites

The Nitty, Gritty Beginning

The Hiller family ignited among the rocks, flames and dirt; we were truly established in “the rough.” Before subjecting you to the nitty, gritty beginning of our adventurous marriage, however, I will take you back another five years to the long forgotten days of perfect makeup and hairdos.

The journey to meet My Man had actually started while I sat next to a different cute boy in high school Biology. He was a freshman while I was a junior and he was adorable. In fact, even now, he is often mistaken for a famous Hollywood heartthrob. A lot of older girls flirted with him, but I will only admit to teasing him like an older sister. I convinced him to let me wear his wrestling jacket with his name embroidered on the front and when I graduated I told him he might not survive without me.

Important men in my life before My Man

High school graduation with three other wonderful men: my brother, stepdad and Dad

The boy from high school did survive without me. He met a beautiful and level-headed young woman, his high school sweetheart and future wife, and I never could have guessed then what a big role they would play in our lives.

Our paths crossed again four years later at college. It was the end of the spring semester and I had volunteered to sit at an informational table for a campus Bible club. The high school boy appeared with that same lovable manner. He was so excited to see me and soon inquired about my summer plans. Most of my summers prior had involved working with my dad and his cattle operation but that wasn’t an option that coming summer.

Watch out for those cute smiles!

He piped up with a smile, “You should work for my dad’s wildland firefighting company!” It is amazing how a sweet smile can convince you to try something so foreign–you may want to warn your children of such dangers!

We exchanged phone numbers and my life’s trajectory was forever altered. In no time at all he had me on a workout regime and in just weeks I was running up hills with a fire pack on my back and a tool in hand–with rapid commands being barked at me, nonetheless! Little did he know that he was training me for the adventurous marriage I would soon lead with My Man.

Homecoming queen turns firefighter

There I am on the fire crew—a crew of interesting characters

Meeting My Man was dramatic alright, but not the dramatic love story I had once-upon-a-time imagined. Being a former high school homecoming queen and rodeo princess you can imagine that I had a heavy dose of unrealistic ideals–better known as foolishness! My world was about to be turned upside down.

The fire ignites

I worked with that other boy and his crew for close to a month without seeing very much active fire. Our summer had mostly been spent thinning and piling. We finally had a call that promised some excitement—there was an active fire in Modoc County where we had gone to high school. We were going to be meeting up with Crew 1 and their crew boss–the future My Man, “Hiller”.

I didn’t know that I was a whiner until I met “Hiller”. Maybe I was subtle enough to have gotten away with it for the first twenty-one years of my life.

Oh, were things going to change!

On our first meeting I could not find my fire pack—a big problem when we were supposed to be hustling out to the fire. After ten minutes of nearly an entire crew scrambling to no avail, I remember complaining (whining) that maybe one of the other guys had taken it. This is where I got to see Hiller in action for the first time.

My Man in control of fire

My Man in action is always a sight to behold

He didn’t look pleased as he jumped up into the cargo carrier on top of the van.

No sympathy, no nonsense—and presto! He found my pack inside an ice chest.

My Man has a startling ability to think beyond the normal human.

I am not sure if it is the Italian in him or the Irish. He threw the pack down to me and we were off.

We hiked to an area where the fire was actively burning. I must have been spellbound at the sight of flames consuming the evergreens across the road from us because I don’t remember doing much work of any kind. The fire was crowning in the tall trees and then it jumped the road toward us. This was what I had been trained for, but feeling the heat for the first time made me forget everything.

Raging fire


The bushes near me caught fire and my first instinct was to run. All the guys immediately surrounding me ran as well!

Guess who didn’t run?  Hiller! He ran to the flames and was able to dig around the bushes and stop the spread of the fire. Part of his radio and safety glasses were melted in the process, but he was otherwise unharmed. There was something different about that man.

Next Hiller led us on a hike to a different location. It was a challenging hike with him hiking faster than anyone I’d ever met. Our only choice was to try our hardest to not fall out. If anyone fell out they were in danger of being left behind. Soon it came to my attention that many of us were running out of water and Hiller wasn’t offering any sympathy. As the only female on the crew I figured I needed to speak up, AKA whine.

“A lot of us are almost out of water.”

“Conserve it then,” he answered as he maintained his speed.

Kate Hiller "The adventurous journey begins"

Are you whining? Here, grab some water

I must have gone on with my pleas, because the next thing I knew I was being ordered to haul a “cubee” of water up an impossibly steep hill.  Another whiner had been assigned to help me. We had to lay down on the steep incline and roll the thing up ahead of us, passing it to each other. He and I finally managed to get it and our dirty faces up the hill—just in time to see a helicopter dropping off multiple “cubees” of water. We couldn’t believe the injustice!

My Man and I had quite the romantic beginning didn’t we?  Let’s recap what I knew about him so far:

  • He thought beyond the normal human
  • He met danger head-on
  • Whining produced a negative response
  • If you don’t keep up with him you will be left behind

Was I in love? Not yet. But I was definitely paying attention. In my novel there is a fictional character a lot like My Man and I compare him to a honey badger–maybe it would be wise to keep your distance but you just can’t help but stay and watch.

Humor has been a mainstay of our marriage—we laugh nearly everyday. But I hope you will continue reading and see that beneath the laughter, hardships and adventure, our foundation remains strong as it was laid with the faithfulness of God.

The next incident will begin to unveil My Man’s kind side—in spite of my whining!

Heart mountain

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