By Kaitlin Bryson
October 2, 2016
Usually I find burned forests to be a special kind of graveyard. A point of interest, and the place where I first typically wander off to (if it’s available). I like these places because I can usually see exciting moments of re-composition happening. Bursts of new life transforming what has been lost to something that will recoup. It is a place of great metaphor, as well as an embodiment of nutrient exchange – of life’s vitality, many examples of things I genuinely revere.
However, in this burned Ponderosa forest, I see a different world. It is one of real death, but without the beauty of rebirth happening close behind. There are subtle moments but most profoundly, there is mass starving and dehydration. The old Ponderosa trees are petrified nearly to dust, and there are baby saplings barely holding on. Plants that are usually so tolerant and forgiving of adverse conditions and soil, like mullein and sage, are scarce – or only stretch up from the ground a couple of inches.
I was shocked to find out the fire that passed through happened 12 years ago. With that amount of time I would expect a substantially more vivid recovery. Speaking with Jessie, a native to Valle Vidal, I learned the slow recovery is largely due to the Elk grazing on the saplings, who are desperately fighting to take hold and reconstruct the forest. The Elk have plenty of grasslands to graze on, but overpopulation (due to the removal of their predators) causes them to graze in new and unusual areas. If these saplings were able to grow it would cause a ripple effect for the entire forest ecology. Moisture would be held in the ground, fungi would repopulate the soil community and nutrients and water would be distributed throughout. Erosion and sun scald would be scarce – instead of the plant life, and a diverse range of wildlife would return, creating a more balanced system. Learning about this situation made the human/ecological interconnection more evident to me than ever before.
After spending many days wandering through this forest I decided I wanted to make a fence around a baby sapling in hopes of protecting it and allowing it to grow past the Elk’s reach. The attempt was futile, due to my lack of proper materials, and the fact that there were many saplings who needed a nursery – not just one. But, the action did make me think about the importance of protection, and the metaphorical act of establishing a personal boundary around yourself for that protection in order to foster and nurse some kind of growth. Even if that line might be illusionary or just a constructed ‘idea’ of safety, it is still necessary and vital for personal development.