On several of the hikes I’ve been taking lately, I walk through burn zones of recent fires. This time of year, the golden state is a spring green state. Everything looks fresh. Except for the trees. Wildfires have swept through these open spaces in Sonoma County in the last few years.
I hiked in Foothill Regional Park last week, the home of thousands of oak trees. Some of them survived the fires and some did not. Those that did not are charred black and many have fallen. Some look like they might revive, but they might not. Others are showing new leaf and new growth, even though they were clearly traumatized. Still others don’t appear to have been touched at all.
I’ll admit it. I’m a tree watcher and a tree hugger. They have so much personality. They are fellow creatures on the earth. Have you ever really looked at a live oak tree? They not inanimate. True, they may move much more slowly than we two-leggeds, four-leggeds, winged, and swimming creatures, but they are no less expressive. No two are alike. And when I’m in a grove of them, I can’t help but think of them as a community, as kindred to one another. I don’t know whether trees feel pain and loss or, if they did, how that would even work, biologically speaking, but when I walk among the charred trees I experience a traumatized community which is nonetheless resilient and still capable of great beauty.
About halfway into the loop I was hiking, I came across a fence with locks on it. I’m not sure of the meaning of it, but I’m pretty sure it was a memorial because one of the items affixed to the fence is a dog collar with tag and another is a cross with the name of Brian W. Starbuck, a U.S. Marine, and the words: “You were your mother’s son, your sister’s brother, and my friend. Poppy.”
Death and life. How precious and fragile it all is, how fleeting. Whether we realize it or not, we are all a community of the traumatized. Some of us didn’t make it. Some of us appear to thrive. Many of us are charred but not yet dead, still finding a way to turn green for at least one more Spring.
I need you, dear reader. I can only be me with you, just as you can only be you with me. The fire has swept through. Surely another one will come soon enough. Let’s be kind to each other with the time we have, helping each other to become.