Like much of the country, the Northeast was experiencing a severe drought in early Spring. And, in spite of fire warnings, people continued to do stupid things, like light camp fires and throw cigarettes out their car windows. The New York region was awash in brush fires. A brush fire had started up on West Mountain in Harriman State Park – my back yard – and was spreading rapidly through the tinder stick forest.
We slept with the windows open – to hear the helicopters, to smell the smoke, to hear the calls of forest rangers fighting the flames, to know if it was time to leave.
Luckily, the winds and temperature died down, and swarms of hard-working rangers and DEC firefighters got the flames contained. Rains a few days later finished the job. Over a hundred acres burned, but no people or property were lost.
I cried at the sight of such devastation last week when I walked back in that area of the woods. Over a month later, the acrid smell still hangs in the air, stings the nostrils. The forest floor is a carpet of black and brown, dotted with tree trunks turned to charcoal – the charred remains of a vibrant ecosystem.
But as my footsteps crunched along the scorched earth, I began to notice bits of green highlighted against the black. Small patches of life had inexplicably survived; bushes and patches of moss stood like verdant oases. Overhead, the canopy was filling in, leaves growing from the tops of charred trunks. And already, just a month later, blades of grass were sprouting up through the ashes.
I realize this may sound terribly cliched, but I am astounded by nature’s tireless urge toward life and renewal. The landscape may be altered, the devastation severe, but there is always an effort toward life.
I find that comforting.