Another big one goes down.
Two more logs for a wall.
Finding the bright side does not make the dark go away.
So, you learn to see in the dark. And laugh. We definitely manage to laugh.
It lightens our tendency of taking it all too seriously. Taking ourselves too seriously. Yeah, lighten up.
From across river looking back at where we work, with the dead knocked down, burned up and dragged out, it begins to look fresh and young and alive. Green. The blue spruce are blue.
We are not fooled. This is Round One of our work. The smaller ones will be next. We see the signs. They already bleed.
At times I’d rather look at the surface and see only the remaining green. Not deeper through the branches at the slipping bark, pin holes, dripping sap, and first of the yellow needles down along the base, but I am here, and I do see.
Out of curiosity, I’ve started amassing before and after pictures. Here, before and during. Starvation Gulch. Twelve miles up the mountain. Maybe my favorite place in the world. The first picture, three years ago. The second, last year. What do you think this summer will reveal?
Maybe it will stop. Just like that. Maybe the devastation will end at the boundaries of the Weminuche or the Upper Rio Grande or… wherever the damage has now spread to.
Maybe it won’t continue. Maybe all the trees that still look alive will remain alive.
Maybe I’m wrong, there is no real problem, it’s all just me and my over active imagination and my sense of drama.
Maybe the trees will all survive and beat the beetles, the drought will end, the climate will cool, and we’ll all wake up next week and the hills will be alive with deep, dark timber once again and our children and their children will run through the big beautiful old trees and celebrate… life.
But I don’t think so.
We’re not going backwards.
Even if we don’t go any further. Look at what we lost.
Me, I’ll have a new house. Cheap.
Cleaning up our little pin prick of a piece of land in this big wide wild expanse is all we need to build with. What do we do about the other half million acres around us?
This affects us all. If you don’t see it, you’re denying it, or you just haven’t been down (or up) to these mountains in southern Colorado where it slaps you in the face.
I hear from readers who have survived the fires. Their scars are deep. They still cry.
I have dead trees. I am awaiting whatever is next. Will life return quicker in an area cleared and cleansed by fire?
Maybe that’s the big lesson in all this: Learning to believe in, if nothing else, the Great Mystery.
The big picture.
Little things like hundreds of thousands of acres of dying trees help you open your eyes, which in turn, may help you open your heart and mind.
There’s much more to it than my trees. This is just a little window. I guess I’m lucky to have this chance to see.
One night last week, I tried.
I tried to see the aurora borealis. Rumor had it, and science confirmed: they were going to make a showing this far south into Colorado.
So that night around midnight I bundled up in a fat coat and mittens and chunky boots and wool hat, and headed out with the barking dog. Bob was in town; the nearest human being was probably eighteen miles down a closed road and I’m out there running around looking like the Michelin Man in the middle of the night with my camera and it’s okay to let the dog bark all he wants for a change. Who the hell is gonna hear?
Have at it, I say. And he does.
I’m safe. In fact, I rarely see any wildlife any more, day or night.
I’ve got the wide angle lens on the camera, a tripod already attached, and the settings set for night photography. I’m gonna get me some amazing pictures of the aurora borealis.
But a snowstorm blew in and stayed in and here we are three days later and only this morning did it really blow out. No, I didn’t see the aurora borealis. I could barely see the moon.
Now I see, it wasn’t just me. Even if there were no clouds…. Would there have been no show? Depends on what you were looking for. No, I wouldn’t have seen the northern lights. But what of the light of the moon and stars across the deep winter sugar snow of the southern San Juans and the wonder of the winter sky?
Plenty of magic for me.
When was the last time Forrest saw a star? Forget the big events of the northern lights or even a shooting star. Just a star, up there, twinkling.
So, there we are.
The Great Mystery. The Big Picture.
I want to figure out why, not why me.
I am here. I can not turn my back and close my eyes and tell you it’s all okay and pretend it is natural.
The last count I saw said our loss of trees was over ten times greater than what Mother Nature has ever done in the Lower 48. And that’s before the latest figures, which are remarkably hard to find. Maybe it’s morbid, but I need to know. The death toll in my back yard. Southern Colorado. The Weminuche Wilderness. The high end edge of the Southwest and Four Corners. The beginning of the Rio Grande.
Finally, I’m getting warmer (not just me). Getting some answers. I’m not surprised what I’m finding.
Here’s the secret to bark beetles.
They only get the weak ones.
Tell me, what does that say about the nearly half a million acres of Wilderness that spreads from my front door?
Rather than blame the beetles, let’s start thinking about what’s making these trees so weak.
I know, I know. I’ve spent too long on this. Let’s move on. Think of my poor husband. How many hours have I spent on the web searching in vain for current facts and figures?
Take a break, he tells me. Let’s go fell a big one. Take out your anger by burning the slash.
At least in the burned areas, recovery can begin. The past is gone and there is room for the future to take hold. A clean slate. If it does not wash away.
What will it take for the rest of the forest to recover? Rot is not really an option. We’re high and dry here. This is not a rain forest. This is the edge of the arid southwest.
There’s a log we sit on at camp. Rainy Day Camp, we call this place. At the Forks of the Utes, maybe three hours in by horseback if all goes well. Bob tells us the story of how this log was already dead and down when he and his buddy Doug were camped here on a rainy family pack trip when they were maybe ten. They hacked at that log as boys will do and finally cut it in half. That was forty-five years ago. The log is still very much there, and no, nothing is growing out of it yet.
Things don’t happen that fast here.
Can you say, “There is nothing we can do,” accept those words and walk away?
I walk away from the work site today. A growing pile of timber for my new home. For a moment I look back to the other side. It’s a green hillside. Green as I remember it, only without the big trees.
Before we finish felling the big ones, the next group of browning trees appears.
It’s the bigger picture. We’re trying to make the most of a bad situation.
That’s great, you say, but that’s not enough. Take my trees and build my house and pretend it is all okay and not look beyond my little bit of paradise to the big wide world beyond.
Felling our trees is not the answer, only a small solution to a bigger problem that most aren’t seeing, and those that see, deny or do nothing. I don’t know what to do either, so I fell my trees, plan my house, stomp my feet and raise my voice. What else can I do?
It’s not about my logs on my hill for my house. It’s not even about a half million acres of dying trees, in this part of the state alone. It’s about what caused that.
Is she beautiful now that she is a mountain of dying trees? Yes, she really is, she always will be. Will she be beautiful after she burns or rots or whatever will be her fate? Yes, I believe she will be. But can we not see beyond her surface beauty to her silent cry as tears flow like dried sap down the last of her old wise ones, and her pained wail is in the dry wind which strips her bare of needles on even her young trees?
Can we not be wise (or is it compassionate?) enough to wonder WHY and realize our answers so far are superficial, the questions deeper, the truth still out of reach, and we should be reaching if we care?
Needless to say, I’m not done. But that’s all for now. Enough food for thought, or what ever you want to call it. I might just call it fuel for the fire.