The day the B and B fire started in 2003, I actually saw the initial smoke plumes rising from within Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. A friend and I were traveling home after a day of mountain biking on the McKenzie River. We were headed east bound on Oregon State Highway 20 making our way down Santiam Pass. Eventually the the trees on the side of the highway gave way to a view and there they were, two single columns of smoke. One rising from Bear Butte which marks the boundary between the Warm Springs Indian Reservation from other claims and another coming from Booth Lake on the South end Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. The conditions were right and eventually those two smoke plumes joined into large fire complex that burned up nearly 100,000 acres of along the Cascade Crest. I called the fire in, along with several hundred other concerned citizens. We motored on to catch a BBQ and a Ben Harper show and the fire fell from my mind. Then, the fire grew larger.
There was no stopping it. After a century of forest management practices that excluded fire from the ecosystem the perfect scenario had been built for a large scale fire. Coincidentally, President W. Bush was scheduled for a Central Oregon stop when the fire began. The Secret Service had been roaming all over Deschutes and Jefferson County in their Black vehicles and helicopters. Local residents of the area reported observing a trio of Chinook military helicopters flying over the exact areas where the fires began. Rumors developed that somehow, President W. Bush was somehow behind the fires. Some say, it was engineered as theater to embolden the Presidents agenda for forest management (The Healthy Forest Initiative). Whether this is true or not was never proven, but that did nothing to detract from the novelty of the conspiracy.
The B & B did its thing, leaving behind a changed landscape.
It was a great disturbance inspiring a new generation of life set upon a new stage. Silvered tree skeletons stand stoically recounting the story for passerby’s. Ceanothus, Bracken Fern, Bear Grass, Saplings and other starters flash their resilient green. Bobbing, floating and waving Bear Grass flower pods created an other worldly landscape. Summer heat radiated painting the atmosphere with sweet scents of the new forest community.
Splashing through textures, colors and scents; a world of new beginnings surrounded me.
Here, upon a ridge sculpted by the last ice age a Pacific Bleeding Heart emerges from cracks in the exposed rock. Bold, leafy with an exceptionally long tap root, the perennial exhibits all the traits of resilient life.
Less than one half mile away, the B & B burned so hot that it sanitized the soil eliminating all organic material, seeds, fungi and other soil goodies. Down there, almost nothing grows, even now, except some wind and animal deposited seed. Up here though, on this burnt and rocky ridge the Pacific Bleeding Heart flourishes and life marches on. Once, these views were obscured by beautiful conifer canopy, but with the tree canopy gone, unparalleled views of the Cascade Crest volcanoes persist throughout. That was not the first time wildfire happened here, nor, will it be the last. I was impressed upon by nature, life’s tenacity and immense beauty. Indeed, among the destruction and waste of the last forest the most amazing beauty had taken root and grown. Traveling here provided me an opportunity to observe micro-moments along a vast time line transcending my own. When my bones turn to dust I’m sure the Pacific Bleeding Heart will persist and perhaps another observer will enjoy it’s beauty among a new forest.
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