Catastrophe and What Comes After

Here’s a thing I wrote for RKP during California wild fire season three years ago.

You can not think, sitting in an evacuation shelter with your wife and kids, of what will come next. Yes, you can think of the days in front of you, wondering when you’ll get to go home, if you’ll get to go home. This might actually be all you can think about, but it’s not really what comes next.

A few times in my life I can recall walking or riding into greening moonscapes, the recovering acres left by wildfires or planned, controlled burns. The first time I was barely a teenager, hiking through the Pisgah National Forest with half my body weight on my back. The second time was in college, when I worked one spring break in Apalachicola on a reforesting project. Another time was on a recent trip to Colorado, riding mountain bikes in the Sandy Wash section of Buffalo Creek.

It is aberrant in the extreme to see swathes of land that have burned, but also inspiring to see either green shoots or immature saplings struggling back up toward the sun, to see the soil self-tilling, turning from ash back to fertile earth.

In Colorado, even up high where the trees strain to reach modest heights, the signs of renewal were everywhere, wildflowers and tall grass. I had to stop, despite the trail snaking away in front me, despite my 12-year-old brain screaming DON’T STOP, just to breathe in the beauty and ruin, to look at a landscape at war with itself, and to know that beauty would win.

Our friend Padraig can not think like this today. No. He’s sitting in an evacuation shelter in Santa Rosa, the sky black overhead, his kids fighting with one another as brothers do, almost oblivious but not quite. There are days when beauty is no solace, and renewal has no value, and the bike just won’t take you there yet.