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The Green After the Fire

IN 1979, a camper left a fire untended. The fire smoldered and then broke out and swept the Bend, Oregon, watershed and the surrounding area. We moved here in late 1987, when I was in sixth grade, to take on the job as the caretakers of the city of Bend's water inlets. Many people who were up here before the fire remark that the place seems ugly to them now.

I'm walking up the trail toward a 97-foot waterfall in the summer of 1988. All around me, I see evidence of the burn. Tall trees stand scorched or dead. Blackened logs crisscross the ground. The forest to the right of me looks like a silver cobweb of fallen trees.

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But I'm seeing new life around me too. The fire destroyed cover for animals like foxes and coyotes, but the new growth provides a perfect habitat for smaller animals, and in time, will once again provide cover for the larger ones.

The dog snaps eagerly at a grasshopper, and dozens of black butterflies startle into the air, dance briefly, and settle once again on their spears of grass.

Daredevil goldenmantle ground squirrels dart under the dog's nose. I haul back on his leash to let them get away. I understand that he thinks it's his job to kill them, but I don't like to watch him doing it.

The sky above me is deep summer blue, with high, fluffy white clouds.

On the hills to the right and the left of me, there are diverse shades of green: the deep brassy green of the manzanita, the bright light green grass, the bright emerald green of the moss, and the dark green of the ponderosa pine seedlings.

The Forest Service planted ponderosa pine here shortly after the fire. In perhaps 300 or 400 years, this area will be forest again. There will be tall thick trees and lush ground cover, and somebody will be laughing over photos of the place just after the infamous fire.

I would like to see this place then, but I can only gather from photos of it before the fire what it will look like.

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I have been home schooled all my life, and this area is, in part, my classroom. It is a perfect place for learning about nature, identifying wildflowers, and especially learning about the cycle of plant and animal life before and after a fire. Since I've always liked natural science, I find this part of my studies especially interesting.

On my way back, the dog lunges at a brown blur which scurries into the bushes.

I push the bushes aside to get a look, expecting to see a hedgehog or a rodent. Instead, a toad as long as my hand stares back at me with cold, nervous eyes. Its heart beats fast under its brown skin.

I let the bushes spring back into place and go on.

As I trudge up the driveway toward the yard, gravel slipping under my feet, silver drops from the hillside sprinklers fall on me. I watch their rainbow arcs against the bright sky and observe the green grass they are nurturing.

The grass is evidence that right after the fire, new life began to grow. It is growing now, and will continue to grow as the years go by and stretch into centuries and into milleniums and into eternity.

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