Fire-killed trees and wildflowers on Storm Mountain ~ Summer 2003
Noisily and with great gusto I blow my nose and rub my itchy eyes, while peering up at the hazy sky above my home in Glen Haven, Colorado.
The smoke from the Big Elk Meadow fire has turned the sky a thick hazy gray, creating an atmosphere of gloom and doom that dampens the spirit, but does little to filter the unforgiving rays from the scorching sun above.
On my fire radio I listen to yet another smoke report, which turns out to be a cloud lingering in a valley. People are edgy and paranoid, the possibility of fire on many resident’s minds. I too tense up each time I hear static on my radio.
Feeling the need for some cheering up, I decided to take a drive up Storm Mountain just five miles from my home. Storm Mountain is where the Bobcat Fire had raged in 2001, and burned 10,600 acres along with nineteen homes. That uncontrollable fire put fear in the hearts of residents living in the small mountain towns along the front range of the Colorado Rockies, from Loveland to Estes Park and surrounding areas.
I’d heard how beautiful an area becomes a few years after a wild land fire, but I needed to see the healing process with my own eyes. So I hopped into my trusty Jeep, and the two of us bounced and ground our way up the dusty mountain road leading up Storm Mountain. After the Bobcat fire two years previously, I’d seen huge mounds of personal belongings heaped by the side of this road awaiting trash removal. These blackened heaps of rubble had once been treasured belongings. I’d cried at the sight of a child’s teddy bear peering at me sadly from a torn black garbage bag its fur shriveled into a hard ugly black mass.
As we climbed I saw evidence of the fire that had raged here. Nearing the crest of a hill I saw the blackened skeletons of trees come into view, creating ominous outlines against the gray sky.
We are currently in a three year drought with very little moisture, so I felt sure that not much regeneration would have taken place. A few withered looking plants and some skimpy frail looking grasses were all I expected. Imagine my surprise when I topped out over the hill and my vision was filled with an abundance of bright yellow flowers on a back drop of deep green vegetation. As I drove deeper into the scarred forest, I felt a deep warmth penetrate my soul that had nothing to do with the heat from the sun. A radiant smile formed on my face and my breath caught in my chest. It was beautiful.
I pulled over to the side of the road and waded into the knee-high grasses and flowers. Standing in a patch of wildflowers too numerous to count accurately, I estimated about 20 different species of flowers, weeds and grasses grew within a two foot radius of my feet. With the help of my field guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers I identified a few; There were huge Mullions with little yellow buds of flowers waiting to explode into the world, delicate pale blue Harebells and tiny white Field Chickweed. Most startling were the masses of Rudbeckia with their bright yellow petals boldly standing out against the green backdrop. There were thick stands of Wild Bergamot, Mountain Sorrel, Fireweed, Daisies, Desert Parsley, Lodgepole Lupine, Indian Paintbrush and many more that I could not identify adorning the mountainside.
I sat on a burned out stump and peered around me contentedly. The green was so rich and the flowers so abundant that I barely noticed the burned out trees, which faded into the background of such rich beauty. Indeed, the rest of the mountain paled in comparison with this breathtaking new growth. With my eyes closed I smelled the flowery fragrances carried to me by the gentle breeze, and listened as bees hummed and flew busily from flower to flower. Fly’s landed annoyingly on my skin, crickets took to flight and birds sang their praises to the sky’s.
Eyes open I drank in the landscape around me. Without the trees blocking my view I could see for miles. Hills and valleys unfolded before me. In the burned areas I could see jagged, fascinating rocky outcroppings that had previously been hidden. From this distance I could not see the new growth I now knew was there and was glad I had taken the time to get up close and personal with this extinct forest.
Driving back down the mountain I found my spirits had lifted. Having witnessed the regeneration of the forest personally, I knew that should there be a fire in my area there would be beauty afterwards. Indeed, the area may be even more beautiful than it had been previously.
As devastating as the Big Elk Fire was, at least no homes were lost. As for the forest, have faith, it will be beautiful again.
Myself on the Elk Ridge fire in the summer of 2003
~ Roxy ~ a Nomad for nature
Written for The Estes Park News in the summer of 2003.
This article first appeared on http://NomadforNature.wordpress.com/
Comments previously submitted:
Interesting, moving, good article – enjoyed reading it. Very encouraging that the countryside has moved on following such devastation, but nature always try’s to spring back.
Harebells do return after forest fire,
A sight that makes ones heart inspire
Feelings of thankfulness and tears
Knowing they wont be gone for years
Nature springs back after flames and heat
A humbling thought knowing no defeat
Anne & Michael in the UK
That is wonderful…most touching. Thanks much! It will touch and help many heal.
Kris ~ Estes Park News