Sept 9th, 2012


Thunder Clouds in the waning twilight.

Two nights ago, a moonless night where the blackness sets in with an ink-like thickness that blots out even the most well worn paths, we had our first thunderstorm of the season.

The thunderstorms are the first signs of fall rains, and the replenishing water that they give to the forests and gardens across the state.

This recent thunderstorm, coupled with the darkest part of the lunar cycle, made for a tremendous show of fireworks in the sky. The darkness being lit by the instantaneous flashes of fire from the sky. And the low rolling thunder that echoes through the pines and oaks. It was absolutely beautiful. Nature in the a splendid and impressive form.

Sitting in the forest that night, enjoying the light show, there is a sinking feeling that accompanies it. Because the beauty comes with it's own dangers. More than 70 wildfires were started by those rolling thunderstorms across the state. Some beginning too close to home for comfort. And, in the following days, those small fire were fuelled by high winds, and the continued dryness of a forest at the end of summer.

A view of the Mt Adams Fire near White Salmon.

Most of the fires are in remote areas, no where near human settlements. But some folks in the Wenatchee, WA region are being evacuating and some buildings have been lost.

But still, many of those wild fires rage. And act like a beckon to remind and humble us before the shear power and fury of nature at her most passionate forms. Ultimately we are not in control, and when we find ourselves in the path of a wildfire, we can do little to stop the consumptive flame.

The trees in the foreground has been thinned. Notice the spaced out trees and lack of low branches.

Something I have been working on with others on-site is to exercise what little power we have: thinning our forest. Removing the dry and low hanging branches of the trees so that when a fire arrives, it will face substantial challenge climbing up the trees preventing it from getting into the canopy and killing the trees. The fire will stay closer to the ground. It will move hot and fast through the grass and brush burning up the small amount of fuel quickly. And, if we are lucky, the fire will move too quickly to set our buildings ablaze.

In effect, by taking out the brush and dried material, we are trying to get right with nature. For, if humans were not to continue to put out the wildfires, this forest would have already burned, and the underbrush removed. Some say, naturally, it is expectable that a series of small fires hit any given area of the forest every 5 years or so. Burning up the small accumulation of dry material, and keeping the forest in balance, in the ways it has evolved to do so.

An unthinned portion of our 130 acre property in Herland Forest. Notice the closely-spaced trees, and low branches that could act as a fire ladder.

Right now, a fire rages near the White Salmon river with only 30-40 miles of dry, fuel rich forest between us and it's consumptive power. Currently it is the largest fire in the state, and fire departments from around the state are mobilizing to fight it. Even with all this effort, there is a real possibility that the fire could get out of human hand, and end up at our door step.

Daily, we are faced with this fire, as the great swathes of smoke settle upon us and the scent of burning conifers fills the air.

For today, we continue our lives. Checking often, the daily incident reports from the fire fighters in our back yard. For today, we put off the inevitable reality that fire will knock on our door. For today we can admire the beauty and respect the dangers of the forests we call home.

stunning clouds the morning after the thunderstorms