Fire Season

I haven’t posted lately on the North Fire, which has now burned more than 30,000 acres in the San Mateos and is still going strong, and I don’t have the heart to follow the progress of the Dog Head Fire on the east side of the Manzanos or the fire closing on Show Low in AZ, or the fires in Utah, Colorado, California and elsewhere in the West. Nobody comes to this site for red-hot (sorry) news anyway. If you’re interested in tracking the various conflagrations, I generally look at NMFireInfo and Wildland Fire Assessment; otherwise just surf Yahoo and other news sites for the latest.

Personally, I find it too depressing. I hate Fire Season. I know it’s all part of Mother Nature’s Grand Plan (the bitch), the cycle of birth, growth, destruction and renewal that governs not just Western forests but all creation so comprehensively that it can’t be anything but God’s message writ large: this is life.

But I hate the smoke. You would think a forest fire smells like a campfire, but it doesn’t; my eyes itch and my nasal passages burn with it, my abused lungs labor for a breath of fresh air. And I hate the sense of dread it carries with it on the wind. Is it someplace I know and love? Have I ever hiked or camped there, and will I ever return?

I haven’t tracked the FS reports on my map, but it appears likely the North Fire has moved up Bear Trap Canyon toward Monica Saddle and is threatening to descend the ridge toward Monica Spring. I believe that’s approximately the same route Nana and his Raiders took through the mountains in 1881, and I know that country pretty well. The forest recovers, and it’s life-affirming to watch the progress over a generation. But in the immediate aftermath even a low-intensity ground fire scars the terrain for years. Mother Nature has time without end, but I personally don’t have a lot of years left.

It’s tempting to think we could remove fire from the forest ecosystem altogether. But we tried that  with disastrous results – which should make any thinking person pause to consider the hubris underlying our grandiose plans to control the climate. Now fires are “actively managed for multiple resource benefits.” It will probably be another generation before we know whether that strategy is more successful than Smokey’s old prescription of total eradication.

In the meantime, every time I see smoke in the mountains I think of James Baldwin’s rendition of the Biblical promise of the rainbow: “No more water, the fire next time.”

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