Smokey the Bear tells us that only we can prevent forest fires.
But that’s not really true.
I mean we can avoid throwing lit cigarettes on top of dry pine needles and we can faithfully cover our campfires with dirt before retiring for the night. But those measures won’t stop the errant spark from catching a ride on a gust of wind. They won’t redirect the lightening’s path away from the dead wood that riddles a mature forest. Even the professionals, with their fire breaks and controlled burns can’t really stop forest fires. They can only hope to mitigate their damage.
Because forest fires are an inevitable part of nature and nature always has its way.
We tend to focus on the destructive properties of the fire. And certainly, when fire and civilization intersect, the results can be devastating. The loss is apparent in every charred stump, the once verdant forest transformed into an alien wasteland.
We focus on the loss because it is what we feel acutely. It is sudden and catastrophic. We cannot help but contrast the blackened skeletons with their once proud and rich forms.
But the fire is more than an ending. It is a beginning.
The conflagration clears away the dead and dying trees, making room for the seeds protected just below the soil to begin their journey to the sun. The blackened trunks enrich the soil, replacing nutrients that had been leached for centuries. Any illness that may have gripped the forest is extinguished with the flames, allowing an opportunity for new and healthy growth to emerge.
I’ve begun to see my divorce as a forest fire. Devastating. Destructive. Inevitable. Yet also cleansing, burning away all that was dead or dying or diseased. Leaving behind richer soil and brighter sun to nourish even better growth. And I’ve now gone from wandering lost through the charred stumps of the old growth to reveling in the beauty of the new.
So even though Smokey is wrong and we cannot prevent every forest fire, we can do our part and when they do happen, we can strive to see the potential hidden just beneath the newly exposed earth.