I don't love the forest like I love a good chocolate chip cookie or my favorite pen.
I love the forest like I love a friend or a sister.
A couple of weeks ago, I paced restlessly around my house as smoke grew and darkened from a newly forming wildfire. I knew it where it started, and no matter what direction it grew, the threat of tremendous loss loomed.
The next morning, I watched from my window as flames climbed up the eastern slope of Fremont Peak in huge, heaving billows of orange and black. The scene was downright apocalyptic. Shock reverberated through my body as Weatherford Canyon quite literally explode in flames. I could picture the old growth forest: lush, diverse, pristine. Gone.
In moments of heartbreak, time wrinkles, stretches, and implodes on itself. I moved through the early days of the fire like a ghost. I felt underwater from both the certainty of what had already been lost and the weight of what may yet disappear.
In total, the Pipeline Fire ripped through more than 26,000 acres, including several thousand acres on the southeastern flank of the Kachina Peaks. In the sense of geological time, the land will be fine. Millennia after millennia of catastrophe have touched this space, and life has always found a way. But in the blink of time my human lifespan occupies, the scarring feels permanent. While new life will eventually be reborn, it is also true that the sudden and severe losses are devastating.
With the people I love, I want to keep them safe. I want them to be happy, thriving, and well. Conversely, I hurt when they hurt. Part of being human is both finding joy in others' happiness and sharing heavy burdens from our wells of empathy. So, too, with the love I feel for the living organism that is the land, this place I have cultivated connection with year after year.
It's a deeply helpless feeling, to watch a living thing I love endure such death and destruction. Love is always a precarious balance between the joy of connection and the devastation of heartache. Watching fire explode before my eyes, the balance tips decidedly in the heart-rending direction.
Fire season and its attendant destruction isn't just a season of fear and uncertainty about safety in our literal homes. It's also about the grief from loss of life and loss of sacred spaces, with whom we are in relationship.
Living in the American West, I feel a poignant sense that wild places hang in the balance. Nowhere is too important, too popular, or too long-standing to be invincible from the ravages of flame and flood. Early summer brings a background sense of anticipatory dread, waiting on pins and needles for what fresh apocalyptic hell ongoing drought and human carelessness will bring.
Every year more is lost, from mundane local haunts to widely recognized icons. The rate of loss is so much faster than the rate of renewal. Data clearly shows that fires are growing both larger and more frequent in recent years. How long until precious little remains? How can the human heart withstand so much loss? How can we live with the fact that so much of the blood and ash of these losses are collectively on our hands? I struggle to even comprehend it.
To the life lost across Weatherford Canyon and the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, I'm sorry we did this to you in the name of self-centered, short-sighted desires. I'm sorry we couldn't save you. I still have so much love for you, and even here, I know you will heal.
I hope we will do better.