I learned on our recent yet very brief visit that Glacier National Park is named not for the famous Grinnell glacier but because of the distinct glacier carved valleys that make the place so dramatically beautiful. A few days before our intended visit to Glacier a fire broke out on the east side of the park shutting down the eastern portion of the famous Going-to-the-Sun road that runs the width of the park. This joins the news of the fire in Jasper National Park in Canada that we would also be heading to as well as fires in California, Washington and Alaska to name a few. There was also news of major flooding in Arizona and much of southern California was under flood watch for some days.
When I think of water I think life and rejuvenation. Water makes up most of our bodies and seeing it whether in ocean, lake or flowing form people find peace in it’s movement as well at it’s stillness. I can watch waves or a waterfall for hours. When I hear about flooding and see the pictures or videos I feel scared and sad for those who may suffer loss. However, when I put on my ecologist hat I remember that flooding is also life and rejuvenation. Flooding washes down dead or weak plants and trees, it moves nutrients and seeds. The seeds wash up on new openings where there was none and new fresh life starts there. Sometimes there is nothing more grand in this world than a big old tree but old trees die and trees work very hard to replenish their species, as much as any other living creature. Some plants only grow in newly disturbed land whether opened by flood or fire these plants have a job, and do it well, to grow quickly and stabilize this new land. Moving through the massive glacier carved valleys of the Canadian Rockies, as well as admiring a few stream carved gorges, it’s visible that water is constantly scraping away at what the land has built up.
Fire is warmth, it is cooked food and I can also watch a fire for hours. After some time by the campfire when it’s almost time for bed and it’s just the hots coals left I like to watch the red glow swell and subside as it slowly cools. When I hear of fires in places I love I tremble in fear. I’ve lived through days of orange light and snowing of ash, or staying in doors and watching the world turn to gray dust out the window. I’ve given a friend newly developed pictures and they were then his first because the only possessions left are whatever he had in his car. He was at work while his home burned to its foundation. Fire is scary and yet fire too is life.
Being a California native I learned early that fire is and was a natural part of the California ecology. Traveling this year through out the states I’ve learned that fire is a part of all ecology everywhere. Even the Everglades in Florida are fire adapted. Fire has a way of clearing out our human errors as well. Traveling through the Rockies one cannot help but to see the utter destruction that is “beetle kill”. We had heard of it, of course, but seeing it across the landscape and entire hillsides is jaw dropping. Past clear cutting, letting the forests grow back and then making sure it didn’t burn for several decades meant trees all about the same age. Beetles most enjoy trees approximately 75 years old. These dead stands are itching to be burned clean. Traveling in Yellowstone and north into Montana where the fires of 1988 helped to create more natural mosaic and ecologically desirable forests we hardly saw beetle kill. Instead we saw lots of new life nudging and shoving for it’s share of sunlight. We saw snowshoe hares, dusky grouse and deer enjoying the fresh greens.
In the town of Jasper, AB I picked up a local rag. The cover is of a fire fighter smiling big in a burned out forest. They managed to save some beloved structures and in the meantime let the fire do what it is supposed to do. There is a healthy attitude and understanding of the fire, they’re happy about it. After just a few days and a little bit of rain fresh, bright green grass is popping up through the ashes. It begins again.