After the fire

Earlier this summer, a wildfire destroyed part of the Turnagain Arm Trail, which is located right outside of Anchorage and is one of my favorite running spots.

It’s a gnarly trail, with lots of steep hills, tree roots and iffy footing, and there are bears in the area, both brown and black bears, though luckily I’ve only come across blackies, and usually sows with cubs (last summer I encountered 17 bears while trail running; this year, only two).

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What I love most about the trail, though, is how wooded it is, and how green, and how lush it smells in the summer. And how at the end of the run and back down the hill to the trailhead, I can glimpse slices of the inlet through the trees.

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That changed this past summer, when a wildfire broke out around McHugh Creek. The fire, started by an unextinguished campfire, burned for weeks and destroyed hundreds of acres.

Last month my partner and I hiked through the burnt areas and it was surreal to see the damage, the charred trees, the areas burned black and empty. I cried a few times, it seemed so wrong, almost a sin.

Yet at the same time, there were glimmers of optimism, patches of green sprouting up through the damage so that as we walked, the scene became both forlorn and yet hopeful.

And it occurred to me that there can be beauty in endings, beauty in damage, beauty in an empty and desolate landscape.

So when I heard that a writing friend had died last week, had in fact killed herself, I thought of the fire along the Turnagain Arm Trail.

I took out these photographs and looked through them again, and I noticed the haunted quality, the contrast of the burned trees against the sky. Mostly, though, I was struck by the eerie loveliness of an area struck by fire but stubbornly holding on.

Maybe that’s all we can do, hold on until we can’t hold on any longer. Maybe some of us are unable to hold on; maybe we aren’t meant to hold on. Maybe, sometimes the bravest thing we can do is to simply let go.

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P.S.

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17 thoughts on “After the fire

  1. Sorry to hear about your friend That’s gotta be a hard one.

    The pictures are haunting. We have wildfires every year in Northern California. Whenever I drive through the burned areas afterwards — for years that follow those fires — watching the rebirth of the areas is always interesting. No matter how green the areas become again, you can see the damage left behind.

    As for Wool — based on your last post, I bought it and am reading it now. It’s a good read.

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  2. Thanks, Mark. And so glad you’re reading “Wool.” It is odd and yet engrossing in the strangest of ways. I still can’t shake the silo world, all of those steps. I think I’m going to have to read the next book in the series. Cheers and happy weekend.

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  3. Please explain about the bears. (I love bears BTW). How can you encounter 17 and not have something bad happen? How are you not afraid? What do we lower 48 need to know about bears that we apparently don’t? And why are there so few this year? Worries me after reading how many animal species are in process of disappearing and have already disappeared.

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  4. Hi, Luanne!

    Most of the time the bears run off after they see you, or if I see them in the distance, I’ll turn around or turn off on a side trail, if one is available. Black bears don’t usually attack, and the sows will charge but mostly they’re fake charges and if you stand your ground, wave your arms and yell, they will usually turn around and run off. Grizzlies are another story. Brown bear sows with cubs will attack the minute they see you. I am TERRIFIED of coming across one and wear a loud bear bell, as a warning. I doubt it would do much good if there was a grizzly in the area, though.

    I saw so few bears this year because after a very scary black bear charge last summer, I stuck to trails with less bear activity. Or so I thought. Because the night after a long run on these very same trails, one of my partner’s friends saw a big grizzly ambling down along the path.

    But no, the bears are not disappearing, at least not from Alaska. In fact, just a few days ago, a grizzly sow attacked a high school wrestling coach in Seward as he jogged early in the morning. He’ll be okay, thankfully. But attacks are not that common. There is a better chance of getting in a car wreck on the way to the trails than being attacked by a bear on the trails.

    Hope your writing is going well and that you’re enjoying the cooler temps down there.

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  5. I’m with Luanne in marveling at how brave you are to run in areas where there is the possibility of seeing any kind of bears. Yet, I think it is wonderful, too. I have always been timid, so when I saw a coyote on my walking trail, I felt the surge of adrenalin and stopped walking until it turned on a side path and fled.

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  6. I am so sorry for your loss, Cinthia, but, wow, what a powerful way to honor her death: “Maybe, sometimes the bravest thing we can do is to simply let go.” And maybe her death is what can spark the life in others, much like the fire eventually leads to a spark of life in the forest. Nature is so incredibly resilient, and, in truth, fires are not always a bad thing. I always feel sad when I hear that a fire was set by accident and furious when it is arson.
    As for running with bears, I’m glad to hear you wear a bear bell. Hopefully, the brownies want less to do with you than you with them, so the bell can be enough to keep them at a distance. I admit, I would be nervous to be appear anywhere in bear country. We have bears in Florida (mostly black bears) but we rarely cross paths. I see them much as I do alligators: I have a lot of respect for them. I just don’t want to cross paths 😉

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    1. Thanks, Marie. I’m jealous that you have alligators down there. I’ve always, always wanted to see one in the wild. They are such strange and primitive beasts, aren’t they? And with such large, large teeth. Cheers and happy writing.

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      1. Well, if you ever make your way to north Florida, I’ll know exactly where to take you for alligator viewing 😉 On our last walk at our favorite refuge (St. Marks), we came across three or four alligators sunning themselves along the trail. These were relatively young ones, from 3 to 4 feet, but we still gave them a lot of space 😉

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