The moose have returned to Camp Senia again this summer, although we no longer have the only bit of green for miles around. Grass, huckleberries, fireweed, harebells, and other flowers are spreading across the mountain slopes which were horrendously blackened just two years ago.Although we no longer put out salt licks, two stumps behind our cabin are saturated with forty years’ worth of salt and will keep the moose and deer visiting us for years to come. They don’t just wander in for a few licks and leave; they lie down on beds of kinnick-kinnick just behind the cabin, or on the meadow where my sister and I are building a labyrinth, to take their daily naps. They don’t seem to be bothered by people. I do keep an eye out for them, so that I don’t accidentally antagonize any of them. Last year I stayed for a long time in the bathhouse to avoid coming between a mother and baby. Healthy respect on both sides is wise in any relationship.
The people in camp have become closer, sharing experiences of the fire, grieving together, and rejoicing over the new beauty of our forest. Our neighbor Roger installed a new curved post on our porch to replace the one cracked in the 2007 windstorm. Our woodpile has continued to grow, with contributions from several guardian angels. We visit more, enjoy cocktail hours and shared dinners. A shared walkie-talkie system among the cabins has increased communication: “Heading to town, anyone need anything?” sometimes cuts through the stillness in our cabin.
Last summer many of us repaired our cabins and our shared bathhouse. I put a new roof on our ancient outhouse and fixed the hinges on the door. We’re using it more this year, since ashes clog the plumbing every time we have a hard rain. Fortunately we have enough amateur plumbers and carpenters among us, and I intend to learn from them.
The forest is repairing itself. The burned trees are not as black this year; the burned bark is beginning to peel, and eventually the trunks will fade to silver, as some of the branches already have. The flakes that chipped off the rocks in the intense heat are becoming part of the soil, and lichen will soon return. All the wildlife, along with the ashes and decaying wood, are fertilizing the soil. Invisible under the ground for now, lodgepole pine cones burst open by the heat of the fire are preparing to repopulate the forest.
Grieving the devastation of a forest fire is a unique experience. Most people can’t relate to the loss. “Your cabin is ok, right? Well, the forest will grow back.” True, the forest hasn’t died—indeed fire is part of its natural life cycle–but specific spots with unique memories are gone, and change is hard to accept. We are conditioned to think of green trees as beautiful, black trees as ugly results of “destruction.” The mudslides reshaping the slopes and wreaking havoc with our hiking trails and roads are disconcerting reminders that we’re a long way from serenity as yet.
We’re all making progress, though. Like the new meadows, the people in camp are more open and bursting with optimism. We’ve lived through an historic event, and when my grandchildren gather around the fireplace to roast marshmallows in the old stone fireplace, I can tell them how I was nearly trapped by fire at Timberline Lake and had to run down the mountain. After all, whatever you survive makes a great story later.