Up from Ashes

Two years ago, forest fires throughout the Pacific Northwest were closing freeways and making air quality miserable. It felt like the natural world that cradled me was becoming a charred skeleton, and I wondered if its bony remains would nurture me again.

The Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge. From KGW TV, September 2017

Near my home, a fire was consuming forests and moss-lined hollows of the Columbia River Gorge–a place that gives me so much solace. And as the acrid air filled my lungs, it put a pall over my soul.

It all felt so tragic, so pointless, so permanent. I thought that in the future I’d always be hiking in the Gorge and remembering what was lost.

Last year, most of the trails through the fire zones remained closed. Tracks were dangerous or hard to follow, and land managers wanted sensitive wildlife to have a chance to begin recovery without human intrusion. But I could look from afar and be encouraged as I realized that the fire left much of the forest standing. It was a patchwork of survival that depended on topography, weather, and fire behavior.

Angles Rest Trail, 2019

Gradually the closed trails in the Gorge are being reopened, and we are getting glimpses from the fire zone. Although some trees have become gnarled bones, their hollows are sheltering returning insects, critters, and birds. With increased sunlight, flowers are taking hold and views have been opened for hikers to enjoy. However, while I celebrated new views, I dreaded hiking in areas with large stands of trees that will never recover.

Hikers were allowed onto some of those trails this summer, and I found that amidst a charred forest, a stark beauty remains. It reminds me that looking back in my life won’t change tragedies in the past. I can only savor what remains today.

Herman Creek Trail, 2019

To try and do more celebrating in the present, I’m working on taking pictures with my phone and fracturing, layering, or shading them. It is an effort that keeps me present.

It hasn’t been easy to learn (and keep relearning) new software for creativity. But focusing on beauty is soothing my spirits and bringing me joy. Like the little bunchberry in the photo creation at the top, I’m working on moving from heartaches that cannot be changed and reaching for a new light.

Yea for the solace of my little phone and the present!

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