The wild raw power of Nature

Approx. read time: 3:05 minutes

Eagle Rock catches late afternoon sun along the McKenzie River.

The wildfires that have ravaged my beloved McKenzie River Corridor sparked into being a month ago. The evening of Labor Day, to be exact. 

Sparked, I say, because of downed electrical wires, the unsurprising outcome of a ferocious out-of-season windstorm.

A hundred seventy-three thousand acres in the lower McKenzie River watershed have succumbed to the relentless force of the Fire Beast. A fire all fang, all fury.

“That would be Brother Fire,” the gentle Francis of Assisi reminds me.

Brother Fire, like a wily and ravenous wolf, has devoured most everything in its path. A wildly intense blaze, erupting at the height of an extremely hot, tinder-dry late summer spell, and driven west, down valley, by those ferocious eerie winds.

With a heavy heart for the massive forms of loss, I am relieved that Brother Fire did not touch my hiking trails east and uphill of the corridor.

A “total stand-replacing fire,” they call it. Which means the fire consumed pretty much all the timber standing in the path of the fast-moving inferno.

A month later, at less than eighty percent contained, the fire still burns, and likely will send up smoke columns through the coming winter.

I do not mean to be so hard on Brother Fire. We share this one beautiful, resilient Earth.

It’s just that the peace I feel when I hike the woods, alongside the swift-running McKenzie, leads me to forget the untamed forces of Nature which could as easily kill me as renew my soul.

Burned to ash are the soft soils of the forest floor—those rich layers of deciduous leaves and conifer needles, whose fragrance instantly cleanses the soul. Duff soils that could absorb autumn rains and protect the hard earth beneath from liquifying.

With the rainy season coming soon, we can expect landslides in these western foothills of Oregon’s Cascades. Stabilization crews are scrambling to hold back soon-to-be saturated heavy soils from breaking loose and taking with them everything—whole trees, limbs, roots, boulders, buildings, foundations. Forest animals.

Whatever debris that flows downslope to the river will affect my drinking water. Ash, soil, tree debris, asbestos, mercury, lead, fire retardant, all of it, come the autumn rains.

Yet amid the devastation, our beloved chinook salmon have been seen heading upstream to their spawning grounds.

Life! Amid the devastation life continues, the urge toward new beginnings and next generations.

And yes, landslides could bury all those hard-won salmon eggs, tucked into nooks and crannies along the riverbank.

Life is precious, I am thinking, perhaps because it is so precarious. Everything hangs in the balance—as it always does, even when I seem to forget.

Winter will tell whether this river valley becomes a log-jammed floodplain.

This too would be a work of Nature. Creation is dynamic, alive. And it carries me in the flow of its force. It carries you.

So I ask you: When has Nature reshaped the spaces you have loved? And what was that like, for you?

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Photo credit: Mary Sharon Moore, Eagle Rock, McKenzie River Valley, 2011

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