Pine River, Boundary Waters Wilderness, MN – July 8, 2012
The branches are gone. The leaves are gone. Everything is gone. Only lines of blackened trunks still rise into the sky. They stand and wait for gravity’s final push.
The woods here are thick, walls of branches and leaves. Try to walk in them for a moment and you understand why the lakes, islands, and rivers have old names and the land has none.
The forest pushes to the edge of rocky shores, clings to every inch of space, and races toward the sun. Life bristles inside, concealed in the thickness. Deer walk in the shadows. Birds sing. Bears peer through branches. The land feels full.
Then a barren island jars the horizon. You don’t notice any difference at first, the details are too far away, but something feels off and terrible. Then you get closer and stare at the violence covering the land.
The forest is gone, wiped clean by raging flames. The first barren island becomes a second and a third. I imagine the wind pushing embers into the sky, coloring the horizon red.
Around the Granite River, fire has eaten everything, leaving only trunks to twist into the sky. Some are bone white like the rib cage of a carcass picked clean.
Green shoots push through the ashes and I wonder how many years until they rise into a forest, how many seasons they will fight for sunlight before shadows cover the ground, how much time it takes to weave a wall of branches and leaves.
Then I wonder how long before fire comes again.
That is what unsettles me, that is what makes the world feel off and terrible, what makes me long for the lush forest where I can almost forget that fire always comes again.
It comes for all of us one day.