Burned and Beautiful

Happy summer greetings to you all! It is vacation time and that means the season is ripe with relaxation, inspiration and beautiful sights to behold as we travel through some incredible natural wonders, on our last potential road trip with kids.

I know, it is probably too soon to make that call and determine this is really the last time we have an opportunity to pack ourselves and our grown children into a vehicle heading toward a vacation destination. But then again, it COULD be the last time we are in synch to pull off this kind of coordinated effort. So, in Finding 52 fashion….let’s celebrate it anyway!

One of our first stops was in Columbia Gorge, a heavily forested area pinnacled in beauty by the rise of its sole peak, Mt. Hood. This location was devastated by uncontrolled fire in September 2017, which we were unaware of when plotting our hike.

Our first viewpoint off the trail was spectacular. A green, lush blanket of Oak trees and Evergreens cascaded toward the snowy edged faces of this mysterious peak that seemed to rise out of nothing. I pondered how this may have occurred. Glaciers, tectonic plates, and erosion all popped up from ‘science-y’ memories of school books, until I decided there was no need to understand how. I could just appreciate now.

Satisfied with that determination, our walk proceeded toward a higher viewpoint of this interesting zenith. After a few more steps, the thick and lush underlay of tall reaching trees transformed instantly. The trees were now sparse, only larger trunks remaining. The stalks of once soaring and vibrant mountain forests were now white and black stubbly ghosts of their former glory.

Fire had removed the dense foliage that made the initial part of this climb difficult, which in a way, makes it easier for humans to navigate. Should I be thankful for that? Seemed a bit heartless to be glad for my easy steps, while treading upon ground covered with great sacrifice. We continued further into this wasteland, still seeking a greater vantage point of the mountain, but reverently quieted our chatter.

Gently, as we gazed around imagining the hell that engulfed these slopes, our eyes adjusted to the images that were popping up before us. Almost simultaneously, we declared – This is BEAUTIFUL!

Branchless stumps allowed the sun to reach the ground, pushing temperatures up from the coolness of the previous path. The warmed ground was bursting with tender, native plants filling ashy gaps. Colonies of bees buzzed happily on blossoms, oblivious to our presence.

Fireweed. Ferns. Bunch grass. Huckleberries.

Bright….cheerful and so alive amongst what we thought was wasteland. Our mood lightened, and our pace quickened, thinking what wonders were yet to be found in this abundantly new landscape….then they appeared.

Two hummingbirds chasing each other. Thudding wings alert of their arrival before my visual focus can be locked into where the sound originates. Mini, magnificent energy magnets glistening in gold and emerald feather flashes. You found me, is the first thought that runs through my head, an uncontrolled smile covering my face. As I hold my breath for fear the exhale will shorten this fleeting encounter, I realize they are not here for me. They exist here because it is home.


We met volunteers on the trail attempting to make hiking trails safe and manageable again. They confirmed this fire had a start. Of course. Every event has a beginning. This time, reckless choices were to blame, from a teenage boy launching smoke bombs into the woodland.

15 years old and sentenced to 1,920 hours of community service which equals about 16 hours every weekend, for just over 2 years. It is not my intention to voice an opinion on the merits of this penalty, but it does make me wonder. Total firefighting and cleanup costs to date….$38 million. Hmmmm….

Surely the debate was rich with this sentence. I cannot empathize enough with the people trying to quantify his accountability, or the people who felt victimized by his actions. The aftermath of his fleeting moment of fun included people fearing for their homes and safety. Hikers were trapped. Firefighters risked their lives. 50,000 acres of natural grandeur was torched.

Yes, big burns have a beginning….with forest fires…and with life.

It is understandable to want to look back and see who is responsible for setting off the flames. Maybe to ensure the correct lesson is learned and avoid the same outcome in the future. Maybe to find closure in knowing why certain wrongs were incurred. Maybe to place blame and penalize those who should make up for their careless or thoughtless actions. Whatever the answers, they do not bring back the forest.



So then what?

Focus on the ghosts of hollowed out stumps that paralyze with thoughts of carnage? Over-mourn the past as though there is no future? Eliminate any chance of vulnerability again? Lash out in vengeance seeking to inflict pain?

To all of the above, I am guilty.

With gentle compassion, for myself and anyone else who has been singed by fire, I do not think these responses to trauma are wrong. It is being human and perhaps necessary to cope during times of toxic stress. From my experience with trauma, these can be temporary reactions that lead to a more helpful result….deciding when the disaster is OVER.

Some hikers may tread the same trails and be so overcome by the loss, any emerging beauty is invisible. Some may worry an invading species will take over this compromised ecosystem and things will not return to how they were before.

I am coming to appreciate that not everything….and maybe even nothing….should go back to the way it was before something changed it. That means every hard thing I have been through; The battles, tears, scars, heartaches, hills and valleys along the way. Decades of fire, after fire….and I would not go back to how I was before.

If fire is a natural element for a well-balanced earth, with a superpower that opens seeds unable to sprout unless temperatures are high, it is kinda perfect. It cleans out overgrown underlay to make way for regeneration of forests and fields.

On the human side, we seek the comfort of fire for its light and warmth. We stare mesmerized into it, seek out fun and flavorful activities around it….heck, we even have a TV channel dedicated to watching a fire dance across the screen. Ever since figuring out how to start and control it, humans have been hooked on fire.

I have loved it and hated it. I have rejoiced over piles of campfire ashes, glad for glorious moments spent dodging smoke, telling old tales and growing new memories to cherish. I have cursed the thick blackness destroying things I love, leaving its charred, twisted madness behind. I have sent flames of spite licking toward those who have previously burned me, without thought of what or who else could be blazed.

And I am still asking….is it over now?

National Parks have signs alerting visitors to a high risk of fire danger and when precautions can return to normal awareness. I do not have a sign signaling when my life has returned to normal. I have a song.

I rely on written notes to help place my fingers on the correct piano keys. Slowly, I head into this musical journey, maneuvering through the cleverly dissonant patterns at least once before attempting to add singing lyrics. They are simple.

It’s over now.  It’s over now.

I feel like I can make it.  The storm is over now.

The evocative harmonies find my deepest scars….my most treacherous burns and begin a checklist for resetting my soul.

No more cloudy days.  They’re all gone away.

I feel like I can make it.  The storm is over now.

During this song, I release my anger for being caught in another storm, voice my greatest fears of not being healed from grievous pain, and find the courage to move through it anyway….even when the storm is not quite over.

If I walk alone, I’m not on my own.

I feel like I can make it.  The storm is over now.

Buckets of tears have fallen at this piano seat; Enough to extinguish many raging fires. I get so focused on the terrible side of fire and pointing out who is to blame for causing the misery, that all I can see is wasteland. This perspective is indeed an ‘invading species’ of my heart, stifling all the benefits the fire intended for clearing my messy, overgrown life in preparation for….


Like the hummingbirds….like a favorite playlist….this theme is looping back again and again.  Fire resets the scene; Undoing years of messy, tangled, rough patches and laying the foundation for beauty to come.