I have only known this land “after the fire.” I never experienced the fear and devastation over the loss of what was once a flourishing forest. Nearly four years have passed since those fires ravaged this area, and while no one resided here permanently at the time, nearly everyone lost whatever structures they had. Only remnants from the oak cabin that once stood on our land, a burned and rusted metal chair and an old terra-cotta pot are all that are left. Charred and blackened trees still dominate the landscape interspersed among the living in a mosaic pattern only fire knows.
The largest of the Ponderosa Pines resides just on the shore of the lake, standing stoically even in death. I am struck by how beautiful this tree is, quite possibly more striking in black with her bare and twisted branches held frozen in time. There will undoubtedly come a time when she can no longer bear the weight of her own crown, and will crack or collapse entirely into the lake. Oh how even the mighty can fall.
Despite all that was lost, signs of recovery are everywhere here. And while I will likely not witness the return to its full glory during my lifetime, I am so grateful for the opportunity to steward this land and watch nature find its way forward. There is joy and wonder to see the pine and larch saplings coming up under the seemingly watchful eyes of their dead sentinel mothers, the spindly young aspen trees cropping up everywhere readying the soil for future generations of larger trees, the deer trails crisscrossing through the fire weed between the lakes, and the osprey screeching high in the hills. The plants and animals have come home and have so much to teach us about hope, resilience, and the healing that comes with time.