Catastrophe, Renewal & Beauty

Catastrophe, Renewal & Beauty

You can not think, sitting in an evacuation shelter with your wife and kids, of what will come next. Yes, you can think of the days in front of you, wondering when you’ll get to go home, if you’ll get to go home. This might actually be all you can think about, but it’s not really what comes next.

A few times in my life I can recall walking or riding into greening moonscapes, the recovering acres left by wildfires or planned, controlled burns. The first time I was barely a teenager, hiking through the Pisgah National Forest with half my body weight on my back. The second time was in college, when I worked one spring break in Apalachicola on a reforesting project. Another time was on a recent trip to Colorado, riding mountain bikes in the Sandy Wash section of Buffalo Creek.

It is aberrant in the extreme to see swathes of land that have burned, but also inspiring to see either green shoots or immature saplings struggling back up toward the sun, to see the soil self-tilling, turning from ash back to fertile earth.

In Colorado, even up high where the trees strain to reach modest heights, the signs of renewal were everywhere, wildflowers and tall grass. I had to stop, despite the trail snaking away in front me, despite my 12-year-old brain screaming DON’T STOP, just to breathe in the beauty and ruin, to look at a landscape at war with itself, and to know that beauty would win.

Our friend Padraig can not think like this today. No. He’s sitting in an evacuation shelter in Santa Rosa, the sky black overhead, his kids fighting with one another as brothers do, almost oblivious but not quite. There are days when beauty is no solace, and renewal has no value, and the bike just won’t take you there yet.

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11 comments

  1. David B

    My son is up there in Santa Rosa too. But better than Texas or Puerto Rico, or all the other drowned and wind blasted moonscapes. Pay attention out there guys, it’s dangerous occasionally.

    1. James

      Pro Tip: Telling someone who has had a combination of their community, friends, family, method of employment, animals and plants burned to death in an uncontrollable flame that “it is worse in….” is no way to show compassion or empathy and will only make a person feel worse in a time of tragedy.

      I hope your son is safe. My family is in Napa and the reason I’m not is because I’m away for work. Have a nice ride today.

  2. Miles Archer

    I woke up in the middle of the night from the smoke. It was silent, except for the sound of leaves and acorns blown around on my roof. I knew the fire was far away. When it’s warm in October around here, the wind is usually from the north or north east. Opposite of the prevailing bay and ocean breezes. I had no idea it was from 70 miles north in Santa Rosa.

    I hope Padraig and his family are doing ok under the circumstances.

  3. Girl

    My parents are in the evacuation zone. Waiting to hear is pretty stressful. Fingers crossed, but my parents’ friends have lost their homes, so the reality of the situation really hits you. (Sigh.)

  4. Pat O'Brien

    We had the evacuation experience with the Monument Fire in SE Arizona in 2011. Driving away from town with nothing but smoke behind you is an experience no one should have to go through. We hope that Padraig and family are well and can return to an intact home soone.

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