I remember the day it burned. I remember the giant plume and we were up here, out of touch with the rest of the world I have never been able to be much of a part of anyway, and together in our awkward silence we watched and worried and wondered what was burning, something big and angry and then we saw the news.
I remember walking up the Box one fall during hunting season with my son when he was still close to my height, maybe even just a little smaller. We had left the old Blazer by the summer homes at River Hill and Bob dropped us at the bottom of the Box and Forrest and I kept to that trail all the way back up, high on the hot hillside above the river, following the one-horned big horn sheep we nick-named Tighty Whitey.
I did not cry going through there yesterday. I did not think. I did not judge. I did not contemplate how I “felt.” I simply observed. I took over five hundred photos. I was with my boys and they made me laugh as they skated down the river on their knees.
It was a good way to see it, starting a little bit distant from the center of the frozen Rio Grande, the hillsides softened still by snow, the air warm and river singing loudly below us as she broke open to her black abyss at times and left you wondering so many others. By afternoon the new days water ran over the old winters ice and the dog learned to trust it would still hold him up.
On one side of us where the fire had raged were a lot of black sticks in white snow and long grey shadows. On the other side, the south facing slope, the snow had mostly melted off exposing places where spot fires had burned and the ground was ash and thick and dull and scratched into by the melting snow. Sometimes a footprint of no more than a single tree. Other times the size of a Walmart parking lot.
I look at the pictures now and want to cry but can’t. I feel I should because I know it is sad and a tremendous loss. But I am over it or distant enough or maybe still in denial. I know I should be concerned still because of the fragile soil, destroyed wildlife terrain, and inevitable years of a blank stare that these hills will remain where we are all so excited to see a new blade of grass and a spouting willow emerge but will never see a spruce forest again in our lifetime.
But there is finality there. An open slate. Ready for rebirth. And in that starkness, there is great hope.
As we drove home, back up the mountain and found ourselves passing by the last of the burn and then into the beetle killed hillsides, then is when the sadness hit. I stared out the smeared window as the trees moved by in blur of paling green and fading brown. These hills are still dying, slow and steady, in their silent way. I was tired. Too tired to shed tears.
Among the crying trees.
Today I walk the trail to Sweetgrass Meadow. The tallest of trees still standing though not a needle remains on their dried branches.
Almost fifty out after lunch and the warmer air gets the sap running.
A new batch of dying trees emerging. A new generation of expiring trees. The next wave of the slow tsunami comes to conquer.
Trees with green needles. Like watching them take their last breath, an extended exhale that will last all spring until the needles fade and fall and so silently they weep, without drama and attention, flames and fanfare, plumes or headline news. No one hears, no one listens.
I stare at a long drip line of sap sparkling in the afternoon sun and let my eyes lose focus in the light and for a moment it is almost beautiful. Watching the life blood leave the tree.
I wrap my arms around one tree and press my nose against the slipping bark and dried sap and breathe deeply and smell very little. How can I describe this odor? It is dry. It no longer smells alive. Yes, you can smell death. With my trees, it smells like nothing at all.
Now I can cry, we shed our tears together, and to them I say farewell.