Monday morning, before the predicted Tuesday snowstorm, I went for a short hike. Arriving at the trailhead, I realized that this was my first time walking on Marshall Mesa since the Marshall fire started near there last December 30. Fueled by hurricane force winds and a desiccated landscape, more than a thousand homes and businesses were destroyed, and open space areas burned. More details here if you’re interested.
In the aftermath of the fire, Marshall Mesa, like many affected areas of open space, was closed. In some cases for damage assessment and repair, sometimes for restoration, and I wonder, in this case if it was also for forensic reasons as the fire’s origin was near here (the cause remains pending).
Today is eleven months since the wildfire swept through our community. As we approach a year, community events of commemoration and processing are being advertised. Walks, movement, yoga, grief and trauma groups, ceremonies to honor first responders. Some events are open to all, others are listed as being for “affected individuals and families”. From context, I take this to mean those whose homes burned. I wish they would say that directly, as I certainly am affected and I am also quite certain that I am not the only one still with a home who is affected, dealing with the trauma and loss of this event. True, I didn’t have to find a new place to live, replace all my belongings and documents, deal with insurance companies, sift through ashes for tangible remnants of my previous home. I’m not grieving the loss of a beloved animal who perished in the fire. And I am sad, traumatized and grieving. As I think about, read about, walk through my neighborhood where the smoldering remains and burnt skeletons of vehicles and trees have transformed to scraped lots, new foundations and some sprouting homes, along with lots for sale signs, I grieve. I note the changes, wonder at the choices I would be making had my home burned, weep quietly at times.
At times, I don’t particularly feel the loss, the routines of life carry me along and the near neighborhoods I see often just feel normal, if different, and I note the progress of new construction. What’s happening now? What’s that machine? Hey, they cut a jack o’lantern face in the house wrap over the window. Cool. Progress, change feels good, hopeful. Then, as happened Monday, I see the detail of an area I haven’t seen before. The Marshall Mesa trailhead has reopened, its wooden restroom structure now replaced by a pair of portapotties. The short handicapped accessible trail is closed for restoration. And I walk on, on a hike I’ve probably done more than 100 times over the years, and in all seasons.
Higher up, I walk along an irrigation ditch and I begin to encounter burned trees. Some still standing, others broken or bent over. A downy woodpecker hops along burned branches, looking for lunch. There is loss, and there is life, growth, recovery. Today, I’m feeling the loss and that my relationship to all these places and events is changed. I’m acutely aware of the transient nature of all life and places, and that people, places and things can be gone in an unexpected instant. This is challenging to absorb ever more deeply as the long intellectually understood concept penetrates my old defenses. I’m aware that the pain I feel is not only for my personal losses, but community losses, and the cumulative toll of so much loss and change in what seems a short amount of time.
We live in a society that often tries to sell us the idea that more is better. More stuff, house, bling, money, etc. But what about the other side of that coin–more loss, death, pandemics, climate change, war, mass shootings, violence of all sorts? I’m thinking that a bit less on both sides of this coin might be desirable. Maybe, as we rebuild, from whatever ashes come our way, we can be more aware of of choices, and able to recognize that in many cases, less is more.
And no matter what, let’s be kind to each other. Peace and healing to us all.