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).
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.
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.