Leschak, Peter M. 1951-

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LESCHAK, Peter M. 1951-

PERSONAL: Born May 11, 1951, in Chisholm, MN; son of Peter (a miner) and Agnes (in retail sales; maiden name, Pavelich) Leschak; married Pamela Cope (a writer), May 4, 1974. Ethnicity: "Russian/Croatian." Education: Attended College of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN, 1969-70; Ambassador College, B.A., 1974.

ADDRESSES: Home—Box 51, Side Lake, MN 55781. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Lumberjack in Roseburg, OR, 1973; printer in Baton Rouge, LA, 1974; water plant operator in Chisholm, MN, 1975-79; City of Hibbing, Hibbing, MN, operator of waste water plant, 1979-84; writer, 1984—. Fire chief of French, MN, volunteer fire department and wildland firefighter for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

MEMBER: Authors Guild, Minnesota Fire Chiefs Association, Minnesota Wildland Firefighters Association, Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness.


Letters from Side Lake: A Chronicle of Life in the North Woods, Harper (New York, NY), 1987.

The Bear Guardian: Northwoods Tales and Meditations, North Star Press (St. Cloud, MN), 1990.

Bumming with the Furies: Out on the Trail of Experience, North Star Press (St. Cloud, MN), 1993.

Seeing the Raven: A Narrative of Renewal, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1994.

Hellroaring, North Star Press (St. Cloud, MN), 1994.

The Snow Lotus: Exploring the Eternal Moment, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.

Rogues and Toads: A Poetry Collection, North Star Press (St. Cloud, MN), 1999.

Trials by Wildfire: In Search of the New Warrior Spirit, Pfeifer-Hamilton (Duluth, MN), 2000.

Ghosts of the Fireground: Echoes of the Great Peshtigo Fire and the Calling of a Wildland, Harper-SanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 2002.

Author of regular column in TWA Ambassador, 1985-86. Contributor to magazines. Contributing editor of Twin Cities, 1984-86, and Minnesota Monthly, 1984-89.


SIDELIGHTS: Peter M. Leschak grew up in a small mining town in northern Minnesota. In 1969 he left the Mesabi Iron Range to attend college in the city of St. Paul. The author never felt comfortable with city life, however; so, after earning his college degree, Leschak returned to rural Minnesota. He and his wife settled near Side Lake, where they built a log home and began to explore the wilderness around them. Their experiences form the core of Letters from Side Lake: A Chronicle of Life in the North Woods. "Mr. Leschak is an acute observer with genuine affection for his material," wrote John Tallmadge in the New York Times Book Review. His book is a collection of "dozens of stories told in a breezy, journalistic style." Washington Post Book World critic Vic Sussman likewise found Leschak "a fine writer with an eye both for natural wonder and for irony . . . [and with a] great sense of humor that carries this lively book along." He added: "Leschak's engaging essays are happily free of bile, evangelism, and Thoreauvian moralizing on the evils of modern life." Sussman saw Letters from Side Lake as a celebration of "the beauty and adventure of the north woods . . . and the simplicity of small-town life."

In addition to his writing, Leschak has another vocation—or a "calling," as a Publishers Weekly writer put it. He is a wildlands firefighter, battling blazes that threaten hundreds of thousands of woodland acres. "These firefighters aren't pulling kitties out of trees," noted a Baltimore City Paper article by Scott Carlson. "They're saving ancient sequoias and million-dollar retirement homes." Leschak chronicled a firefighter's lot in the 2002 book Ghosts of the Fireground: Echoes of the Great Peshtigo Fire and the Calling of a Wildland. This part-history, part-memoir recounts the Peshtigo, Wisconsin, wildfire of 1871, which killed 1,200 people and charred 1,800 square miles of land. The Peshtigo disaster is told through the eyewitness account of a priest who survived the blaze; Leschak, himself trained for the ministry, uses spiritual references throughout the book, "citing sources as diverse as Carl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche, William James and Walker Percy," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. As Leschak wrote in Ghosts of the Fireground: "Wildlife firefighting is a path to pain and not to a fat stock portfolio. There is mystery here—the romantic attraction of hardship and hazard amid a corpulent society obsessed with mammon."

Carlson remarked that Leschak "found what amounts to a new religion fighting fire, one influenced by Christian notions of suffering." Indeed, "there's plenty of zeal-touched imagery here," stated a Kirkus Reviews critic, who added that the "urgency and drama . . . never feel overstated but aptly fit the circumstances." In his assessment of Ghosts of the Fireground, Carlson felt the author "brings to life the horror of being trapped in . . . Peshtigo as it burned," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer likewise found such scenes "crackle with energy." In describing the duties of a present-day firefighter, the author "explains the theory and practice," commented Dean Neprud of the Star Tribune, "in crisp, factual prose. The emphasis is on logistics and backbreaking labor, but he adds a sense of urgency that helps one understand firefighting's 'gritty verity of action and life.'"

In a 2002 interview with Fred Turner for National Geographic Adventure, Leschak compared his job at the dawn of the twenty-first century with the techniques used just a few decades earlier. Both yesterday and today, managing wild areas with controlled fire is part of the job. "Fifteen years ago I worked fires—and notice I don't say 'fought' fires, I say 'worked fires'—[in] some of the most forbidding, rattlesnake-infested land on the continent," Leschak said. "There were no structures at the time, but now there are people there with houses and it's become very complicated and very expensive to fight fires in these former 'wilderness' areas. Yet if we wish to maintain forests, as opposed to tree plantations, then fire is an integral part of the natural life cycle."

Leschak told CA: "I agree with novelist Philip Roth that 'We writers are lucky: nothing truly bad can happen to us. It's all material.' One of the goals of a writer is to weave his own life into the tapestry of the culture. We're entertainers as well as reporters and teachers, and if we wish to reach others, we must be willing to offer a piece of ourselves. If you can tell a story (and all writing boils down to that) in such a way that the reader feels he knows you, then you are successful. In the terms of our ancient forebears, we are closer to the shaman than the scribe. It's just too bad it doesn't pay better."



Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2002, review of Ghosts of the Fireground: Echoes of the Great Peshtigo Fire and the Calling of a Wildland, p. 718.

New York Times Book Review, June 28, 1987, John Tallmadge, review of Letters from Side Lake: A Chronicle of Life in the North Woods; February 12, 1995; September 15, 2002, Stewart O'Nan, "New Age Firefighting: To the Author, Fighting Fire Is God's Work, Both Now and Long Ago," p. 22.

Publishers Weekly, July 15, 2002, review of Ghosts of the Fireground, p. 66.

St. Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch, July 7, 1993.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), July 21, 2002, Dean Neprud, "Trial by Fire," p. 14F.

Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2002, p. D6.

Washington Post Book World, July 12, 1987, Vic Sussman, review of Letters from Side Lake.


Baltimore City Paper,http://www.citypaper.com/ (August 19, 2002), Scott Carlson, "Hot Stuff."

National Geographic Adventure,http://www.news.nationalgeographic.com/ (August 19, 2002), Fred Turner, "Firefighter-Author on Battling Colorado Blazes, Scandal."