The quad-state tornado dominated the news as our own forest roads opened to the area of the Giant Sequoia National Monument that was devastated by the Windy Fire.
Visions of storm-ravaged communities hung in my vision as my older son and I drove with some loathing and heaviness through our hiking stomping grounds in the forest this week, surveying what areas the fire had spared.
We went with first-hand reports ahead of us, and so we were prepared for the devastation we found, and we tried to be grateful for the small pockets of mature trees that did appear to be alive.
We spoke very little about what we saw but may have been the perfect kindred pair, inspecting the loss, knowing the depth of our loss and not needing words to communicate it.
Frederick was focused on the places untouched: “That’s where I’m going in the spring!”
(Though admittedly there are few of those places here.)
I focused on visiting some of the devastated areas: “I think that canyon will be filled with elderberry in a few years.”
Life really gives us few other options in response to these completely apocalyptic events:
(1) Lean on the good the remains and/or
(2) Find good in the new.
The effect of the Windy Fire on our lifestyle is really fairly extreme, and it’s hard not to be completely devastated by it, especially when you cannot escape the reality.
I simply look out a window for a reminder.
Thinking of the heaviness, my heart hurt for the Eat Like a Bear community in the heartland, living in the devastation of the quad state tornado (and the whole series of storms that took many lives and homes). I sent out an email to the community with one of my tiny little bits of salve to put on the wound.
Here’s part of the email:
I am living in the middle of a forest fire-devastated forest and the real core problem is pretty obvious: If you’re living in it, there is no real escape from it on a day-to-day basis.
I suppose we could hole up in a room or under the bed covers and try to ignore it, but I do know that I can’t walk out of my house without a reminder of the fire’s devastation.
Add to all of this the regular seasonal challenges of the holidays, and all of the daily life challenges, and life is simply real hard.
What have I been doing in those dark moments? I’ve employed a lot of coping techniques, but this morning I do this:
I open my Spotify app and I play Tom Petty’s legendary song, “Wildflowers.”
It’s December and there are no wildflowers here, but I do know they are coming.
In the fire-devastated areas I am not sure what flowers will even re-germinate, but I have traveled through many regenerating forests and I know this for sure: there is ALWAYS a wild flower that makes it through.
It may not be the flower you imagined, but it is likely to be magnificent.
I expect this is one of those times that we should not look to a specific sort of flower germinating in the spring. We just need to lean hard into the point that the flowers are coming.
It’s interesting because Tom Petty wrote Wildflowers on the inspiration of basically “the general feeling of springtime in the countryside of Santa Barbara.”
Tom Petty was not envisioning anything specific, but rather a deeper feeling of belonging and peace.
He had a few chords and a vague notion of the feeling of those wildflower fields. He sat down and wrote the song, start to finish, in one sitting, and created unexpected perfection.
I wonder if we all just see ourselves in that future, among the wildflowers, wherever they are and whatever they look like, what sort of future we may find ourselves in.
On the Windy Fire
So many of you have asked about the Windy Fire, and thank you for that. The Windy Fire ravaged our area of the Giant Sequoia National Monument in September 2021. I’ll post more about it in bits and pieces as I have the energy to do so.
Inside the Giant Sequoia National Monument on private land, our house and property are untouched, as are much of the views to the north, west, and south of us.
No lives were lost in the fire and there were no major injuries.
Our little mountain valley was completely spared.
I try to stay grateful for these points, but the reality is that 100% of our hiking areas have been impacted, and most of those are completely devastated.
Many, many times I’ve said this about myself at my high weight of 280 with an injured knee: “I was limping around my house with an injured knee and wanted nothing more than to hike with my sons. I could see giant sequoias from my windows and I could not hike among them.”
To be specific, in 2017, I could see four specimen giants (1000+ years old) from our property, on ridges to our east and north.
Two of those four trees survived the Windy Fire.
The impact of the fire on the specimen-sized giant sequoia trees was severe.
My son Frederick observes a grove in the photo above. I’ll have a lot more to say about this particular photo and grove in time.