On Mockingbird Hill

Memories of Dharma Bums, Madcaps, and Fire Lookouts

In the same vein of tree planters and lighthouse keepers, Mary Kelly flips the over-romanticized lifestyle of fire observers made popular by Jack Kerouac and shows us how lonely freedom really is. 

When Mary meets Daniel, a handsome quirky potter, sarod-player, and fire lookout observer, she falls in with a tribe of young people who earn a living by watching for smoke and fire in the mountain foothills of Alberta. For several summers, Mary commutes each weekend from Calgary to Daniel’s isolated post on Mockingbird Hill, where she gets a close-up look at the job in the clouds. Dissatisfied with her own job in a health food store selling vitamins and herbal remedies, she and Daniel concoct a plan to leave the city and move to the woods of interior British Columbia. On a remote acreage above Shuswap Lake, they erect a yurt, and dream up ways to earn a living without joining the local pot growers. Debt and unemployment ensue.   

Disillusioned with the limited employment options in a rural community, Daniel rejects the pressure to sell his art work, and decides to go back to fire lookouts. In spring of 1992, Daniel is posted to Moose Mountain Lookout west of Calgary, a rocky summit at 8,000 feet. Unemployed, Mary follows him back to Calgary to resume their weekend visiting schedule and hunt for work. But that summer a series of betrayals and violence explode apart relationships and friendships, transforming the group of lookout friends.   

On Mockingbird Hill is an account of the idealized lookout lifestyle made popular by Jack Kerouac. It is also a story of couple’s search for meaningful work. Kelly’s reflections look humorously on gender, and how sometimes, our lives mysteriously and briefly intersect with others, leaving an imprint and forcing us to look inward.

Mary Theresa Kelly


Mary Theresa Kelly grew up a large Toronto-based family. As a young woman, she journeyed west and became mesmerized by the Rocky Mountains in southern Alberta. Since then she has made many regions of Western Canada home: Calgary, Grande Prairie and the Peace country, the Okanagan Valley, and East Vancouver. She currently resides in the north Okanagan. In 1999, she completed a master’s degree in communication studies at the University of Calgary and now works as a consultant for leading health researchers in Canada. In the same way her life has criss-crossed rural and urban places, she writes across literary nonfiction, academic social sciences, and performance reviews. Her work has appeared in diverse publications from Event to The Journal of Integral Theory & Practice to The Dance Current. In addition to a writing practice, she maintains a meditation and yoga practice, plays piano, and grows organic kale and cilantro. On Mockingbird Hill, published by Caitlin Press, 2017, is her first book.

Marketing & Publicity
  • desirable to readers of Cheryl Strayed's Wild, Jack Kerouac and Edward Abbey books
  • memoir set in BC and Alberta — rural appeal, especially to Oregon, Washington, Utah, etc.
  • marketing directed at Forest Fire Lookout Association national members