Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cycles of death and rebirth- Natural disasters

As is typical this time of year in the American West, it's smoky outside.  Fire season is in full swing, and all over the Western U.S., wild fires are burning.  Homes and lives and land are threatened, but we often forget that fire is as a creative a force as it is destructive.  I grew up in a desert during a historic drought.  One fourth of July, I watched a fire descend the Sierras into the Eagle Valley rather than the fireworks.  It was as beautiful as it was terrible, but it was also an amazing transformation to watch.

Fire consumes vegetation quickly and dramatically.  It scars the land, and we rightly fear its power, but when faced with the awesome destruction that a large scale forest fire can bring, we often fail to see what else it has done.  Those tall trees that now are charred skeletons have fed the soil.  That dense brush that made climbing a hill impossible, is now gone, and for some species of plants, fire is as essential to their birth as water is to ours.  They cannot burst to life until their seeds are charred at a sufficiently high temperature.  The slate is wiped nearly clean after a fire, and within days of that fire cooling, life begins to create something new.  Insect infestations are halted through fire.  Landscapes are changed.  Grasses and wildflowers begin to reach for the sky.  Those patient seeds that had to wait so long for a fire to free them begin to reach for sun and soil.  Microbes dismantle the dead into the building blocks of new life. Soil is freed to move to new locations.  Ash that darkened the sky falls back to earth, bringing nutrients with it.

A few years later, scars are still visible, but growth is also obvious.  It doesn't take long before we forget the devastation we once saw.  As humans, we often focus on the moments of destruction that natural disasters visit upon us, but we tend to downplay the importance of what this destruction does for the world at large.  A flood, while inconveniently destroying my mom's basement living area last week, also distributes fertile and vital new soil from the river.  A fire may kill off all the trees in a stand that are infected with bark beetles, and severe windstorm often clears pollutants that choke us while pulling a few roofs off of buildings.  In nature, there is nothing without purpose and value.  If we learn to live with these cycles of death and destruction, rather than fight futilely against them, we make space in our lives  to see good in situations that aren't optimal.


  1. Great post on the life-death-life cycle. Very well said! HAPPY LAMMAS :O)

  2. Thank, Joanna! Happy Lammas to you as well!


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