This weekend, I spent some time exploring the Tintic Mountains of Central Utah with my dad. In our wanderings, we came across a small stream (Though, that it was flowing in it in mid-October said that it was a pretty significant water soucre) that followed the road for a ways. Eventually, we came to a meadow full of shrubs and grasses, much greener than one would expect for this time of year. This meadow was punctuated by the skeletons of juniper trees that had died in a fire a few years back.
As we were driving through this meadow, I said “This is a pretty area. Or was, before the fire came through”.
Dad thought about this for a second. “It’s probably the fire that made it pretty.” He said. “Those junipers would have taken up all the water that let the other plants survive.”
It didn’t take me long to figure out that he was right. I love the pinyon-juniper forests that cover much of my part of the world, but the trees don’t leave much for flowers and grasses. You’ll see sagebrush and rabbit brush abutting the juniper forests, or an occasional tree in the middle of the sagebrush range, but the two don’t play nicely together. Juniper and pinyon generally don’t allow for other plants to grow in their soil. When you’re in a juniper woods, you really could be anywhere in the west.
I didn’t get a picture of the meadow we saw. I wish I had. I just didn’t realize that it would be the archetype that would stick in my mind.
I’ve been thinking about the classical elements–earth, fire, water, and air–all week. I’ve been drawn to the figure of the Earth Mother, and have started–and discarded–several posts about water. My post “Winds” fits the air category. I would never have thought, then, that it would be fire that got me out of my blogging slump.
I am terrified of fire. I can handle, say, cooking on a gas stove, or being around a lit candle, but not much more. Even campfires make me nervous. This fear has mellowed over the years, but it was especially bad when I was a child. I couldn’t watch a TV show that had a fire in it after dark. The yearly wildfires that sweep through the Intermountain West were terrifying to me. My first full-blown panic attack came at the age of 12, during one of these wildfires, when my family was the last vehicle let through on a road before the firefighters shut it down. Even writing about it, I’m starting to hyperventilate.
My point is, I can, and do, connect to earth, air, and water. Fire is something that is to be avoided, if at all possible. Fire is not my friend.
The image to the right was taken after the massive wildfires that swept through Yellowstone National Park in 1988. I was seven, at the time, and can remember seeing (or thinking I was seeing) the smoke from the Yellowstone Fires a state and a half away.
As destructive as they were, the Yellowstone Fires turned out to be very important to researchers because of their size. Yellowstone became a laboratory in how nature heals itself after the devastation of a fire. And how nature heals itself after a fire is pretty amazing.
When fire comes though, it destroys the trees, but it also clears away for new growth. In Yellowstone, for instance, wildflowers were abundant in the years following the fire. Fire clears the clutter, so to speak, while leaving the ground unharmed. Fire resets areas the way nothing else can, and the results become a matter of point of view. Yes, the trees are gone, but they have opened the way for new plants, and new ecosystems.
When I look at my psyche, I see something incredibly dense and crowded. The thought patterns and habits I have are not especially healthy. And yet, clearing them out, setting fire to them, as it were, is incredibly scary to me. I think the image of the meadow I saw, as well as remembering the years after the 1988 fire are telling me that I do need to make these changes. And when I do, the results will be beautiful.