As The World Burns Around Us

On Thursday, AmeriCorps NCCC Shuffle Round Team Sun 6 got the opportunity to work alongside the staff and volunteers of the Missouri Department of Conservation as they set fire to a 547 acre area in the Spring Creek Gap Conservation Area.  As the prescribed burn slowly made its way through the glades and woodland area, we found ourselves surrounded by smoke and ash. 

The destructive nature of fire brings about both death as well as new life.  It’s a slow change that creeps across the landscape of blackened grass and leaf litter.  It is a destructive force that consumes everything in its path, but paves the way for something more. 

In the song “Bloom Again” by Charlie Hall we are shown the power of this destruction that, in the long run, brings us closer to God.

The beauty of the ash of love
When you emerge
You are more beautiful
Bloom again

Like the fire and smoke moving through the forest, burning everything in its path, God’s love moves through our lives and completely destroys our plans.  Everything we thought we would be, everything we once held dear, our future, present and past.  We are stripped clean by the blood of Christ, the burning love of God. 

It hurts.  The pain is intense.  We realize what and who we were, are and are created to be.  It’s not always a gentle process.  It wrecks the world as we once saw it. 

And then something beautiful happens.  God doesn’t leave us broken, burnt and covered in the scars of our past.  He builds us up into something much more beautiful than anything we ever imagined.  He gives us passion and joy to live for. 

As with the fire that burns through the forests and glades, God’s love strips us down completely.  In the forests, the fires burn the leaf litter, the dead grasses, paving way for new life to emerge and flourish.  Without the fires removing everything that was there, blocking the sunlight and using the nutrients in the soil, the new grasses and saplings would not have the chance of the opportunity to grow and flourish. 

The loving fires of God are trying to wash over us, taking away everything that holds us back from God.  Let go.  Allow the flames of love to burn.  Embrace the knowledge that from the ashes, God will not leave you, He will reveal the beauty that is hidden deep within each of us.  He will make us more beautiful than before.

God Bless and PEACE


Fire and Water

Life out in Missouri is filled with extremes.  On Monday, we (the current Sun 6) decided to play with both water and fire in the same day.  Within hours of one another, we went canoeing and wading through the water then turned around and lit off three different fields and watched as 15 foot flames consumed 60+ acres of conservation land. 

Our first task was to check and clear bird houses for Wood Ducks.  We all piled into canoes and paddled out to the bird houses and checked for evidence of use, from egg shells to depressions where the mother duck sat.  We were also checking to make sure other animals (Screech Owls and Raccoons) were not using them as well.

While most of the waters were shallow enough to walk through (no more than 3 feet deep) we found that it was easier to just stand in the canoe than getting out the ladder to reach the bird houses.  We also found out that there were some deeper sections when one of the guys (see above) decided to walk from one bird house to the next.  He got a little wet when the water came over his waders.

Just a couple of hours later, the same guy that was soaking wet was basking in the heat of 15 foot flames.  With little instruction, we were handed drip torches, pointed towards a field and told to burn it.  So we did.  And we enjoyed it. 

After setting off a couple of head fires (where the flames race across the fields) we took a couple of moments to bask in the glory of our work.  So we took pictures (see myself above) and tried not to breath in too much smoke that was rising into the air around us. 

And so, we went from wading through water to burning off fields of grass.  Oh, the life of a Corps Member.  Can’t wait to see what AmeriCorps throws at us next.

God Bless and PEACE

Running With Deer

On Tuesday, my shuffle round team (Sun 6) out of the Denver campus of AmeriCorps NCCC arrived in Williamsburg, Missouri to work with the Conservation Department of Missouri.  After a history of the Kingdom of Calloway, a Chainsaw Safety course and a very abridged fire management course, we started work building firelines today. 

Earlier in the week, as I went for a run down one of the roads in the Whetstone Conservation Area, I heard a crashing beside me.  As I looked over, on the other side of the road were two white-tailed deer, a young buck and a doe running with me.  For those couple of seconds, the world seemed to stand still. 

Part of me was in awe.  These majestic creatures, leaping past.  Elegant and powerful. 

At the same time, part of me was in fear.  In my head, I was yelling, don’t come close. 

This is the same feeling that I have had in the presence of God.  This is how we should feel in the presence of his power.  We cannot understand it, but we should not be comfortable.  God is so powerful, so loving.  We stand before him gazing in wonder, but shaking in fear. 

To say that we are comfortable in his presence would be lying to ourselves and to who we are as children.  As Christians, we should know how scary his presence is.  His will is not our own, we are not in control of this world. 

I had a friend that once told me that the scariest place to be is in the palm of God’s hand. 

While it is awe-inspiring, it is also the most frightening thing to experience.  Like running side by side with deer that could turn at any moment, trample you, gore you, life with God by your side will take your breath away. 

God Bless and PEACE

Fire on the Mountain

As many of you know, I was up in Crown King, AZ with Sun 3, one of the Fire Management Teams with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) based out of Denver, CO.  In the four weeks that I was up there, I fell in love with the Bradshaw Mountains and the mountain community of Crown King. 

The day after we departed the ghost town, we received news of a fire up in the Bradshaw Mountains, between Prescott and Crown King.  While I do not know much about this particular fire, I do know that the Crown King Fire Department did not respond to the fire. 

I could not find any information on the fires condition or the threat to Prescott Nat’l Forest, but I doubt that it is threatening the Crown King community.  I am also sure that the brave men and women that are fighting to control the flames know what they are doing. 

[Edit:  I did find out that the Forest Service had planned to do a 2000+ acre burn a week ago.  This is probably the fire that we heard about as we departed the area.  If this is the case, I’m sure everything is under some semblance of fine.]

This past week, there was also a fire up in Boulder, CO that caught the eye of all three Fire Management Teams here in Denver during our transition week.  All of us had hopes that we may be called up to join the 120+ fire fighters that are fighting the blaze just a small drive up the road. 

Fortunately, we are not needed for either of these fires (which is a good thing). 

I am now preparing to head out to Missouri to work with the Missouri Department of Conservation for the next two months (9 weeks).  As it is shuffle round here in Denver, I get to work with two members of my previous team (Sun 7) and nobody from my current team.  We (the new Sun 6) will be doing various projects out on the prairies and grasslands, from seed collection to planting, building bat/bird houses to prescribed burns up to 200+ acres. 

I am excited and am looking forward to this opportunity, esp. the fire management aspect of the project. 

God Bless and PEACE

Confidence or Arrogance

Earlier this week, I walked into a meeting with my Unit Leader and all the Corps Members in my unit who were applying to be a Team Leader next year and found myself beside numerous individuals of varying talents, strengths, backgrounds and attitudes.  As I was sitting there, I found myself looking over each of them and I caught myself thinking “I’ve got this.” 

In an instant, I had found that I had looked over all these individuals, team members, leaders and decided that I was better than all of them.  And I began to ask myself if this was Confidence or was it Arrogance. 

To survive in this world, we must have confidence in our abilities, but more importantly in the will of God.  We must know our selves and our limits, but we must also have the courage to rely on the strengths of others and the strength of God to push past our limits. 

As Christians, we walk with confidence in the knowledge that God has washed away our sins.  This confidence is something that is known in our hearts and is something that cannot be taken from us. 

But there is a fine line between confidence in our own lives and arrogance that makes us believe that we are better than others. 

I know I am a good leader.  I have been tested and tried many times.  But I cross the line from confidence to arrogance when I look at others and begin to compare their abilities to mine, and determine that I am better than they are. 

Arrogance is assuming that you are better than everyone else because of you abilities, gifts or opportunities in life. 

It is easy for Christians to take the confidence that they have received from the forgiveness of sins, then turn it into arrogance by looking at those that do not believe and feeling better than them.  I believe that when we become arrogant about our faith, we throw it back into the face of God. 

Confidence is one thing.  Arrogance is taking that same confidence in ourselves and placing ourselves above others. 

Back in the meeting with all the perspective Team Leaders, I found myself being arrogant.  Yes, I may have a lot of the skills, experience and strength that it takes to be a leader, but I am not the only one.  Each and every single one of them has strengths that I do not have and they have experiences that separate them from the rest of us. 

My challenge to everyone out there is to humble yourself so that you do not become arrogant, but continue to keep your confidence, both in God and in your own abilities. 

God Bless and PEACE

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Recently, the Roman Catholic Church celebrated Ash Wednesday.  The beginning of the season of Lent which leads to the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Many flocked to churches and attended service to receive ashes on their foreheads.  The symbol of the ash, for me, is a symbol of death and resurrection itself. 

Working in and studying Wildland Firefighting, I have come to both fear and respect the flames that blacken the ground before them.  They leave a wake of destruction, death and emptiness that cannot be filled.  To see the blackened ground, to stand in the ashes of the fire is humbling and eye-opening. 

In 2008, the Lane 2 fire ripped through the Bradshaw Mountains, stopping short of Crown King, AZ.  The destruction can still be seen.  Blackened trees stand broken, like bones protruding out of the ground.  The ground is barren and empty, and in places you can still see the black ash left by the flames. 

People recieve ashes on Ash Wednesday to remember the coming death of Christ, but more importantly, how he took our place on the cross.  We die to ourselves each and every day because Christ died for us.  We are marked by his death and take that upon ourselves. 

But fire and ash also bring life.  In the prairies and grassland that cover the midwest (between the Mississippi and the Rockies), fire brings life.  In burning off all the dead, overgrown, and dense grasses, the ground gets a chance to replenish itself and begin again. 

The phoenix rises from the ashes of its own death.  We rise to life from the ashes of a death that should have been ours.  The ash is a reminder of how we should live, constantly dying to ourselves so that we can live in the fullness of life that has been granted to us by God. 

The ashes and the meaning behind them mean nothing unless we live as God has called us to live.  Being marked by God is deeper than ashes smeared across ones forehead, but actions throughout our lives. 

As we go into this time of preparation for the celebration of the resurrection, let us be constantly reminded of the life we live and how we die for something more each and every day. 

God Bless and PEACE

Images of a Journey

This past Spike (round of projects with AmeriCorps NCCC) has been an adventure, struggle and journey that has led me across states, teams and projects.  The journey started before this round even began, back in November when I found out I was an Alternate for the Fire Management Team. 

I started the round heading down to Colorado Springs to train alongside of Fire 2 and the El Paso County Wildland Crew.  After the week and a half of training and becoming a Type II Wildland Fire Fighter, I rejoined my own team (Sun 7) out in Tulsa, OK and worked along side the Community Action Project of Tulsa doing tax preparation.  After a short two weeks working with those that I had come to know and love, I was abruptly called up as an Alternate onto the Fire Management Team.  For the past four weeks, I have been up in Crown King, AZ working with the Fire Department doing fuels reduction and fire mitigation work. 

The following collection of images are views into this journey and my story here with AmeriCorps NCCC. 

While training with Fire 2, we had the opportunity to have hands on experience under the watchful eyes of the local volunteers.  They not only helped to train us in the classroom, but showed us what it ment to be part of a team and a crew on the fire line.  They worked alongside us, encouraging and pushing us to do our best in everything we did. 

Above, Niles, a member of the Jackson Hotshots (based out of Mississippi) takes the time and effort to instruct us in the proper maintenance of our wildland tools.  He demonstrated the proper techniques of sharpening the edges of the Pulaski, Shovel, Combi Tool (see image below), Rhyno (a modified shovel), McLeod, and various other tools used on the fire line. 

 Above is one of my favorite tools for the fire line, the Combi (Combination Tool).  Built and designed like a military folding shovel, these light tools fold out into a shovel and pick, allowing the firefighter more versatility in a single hand tool.  Mainly used to scrape down to bare mineral soil in the construction of a fire line, they are also useful in scraping between rocks, getting under roots and chopping away at stubborn grasses. 

The edges of the tools above are covered in a biodegradable tape that protects the sharpened edge during travel. 

 Before we could officially be certified as Type II Wildland Fire Fighters, we had to complete the class sessions of S-130 (Firefighter Training) and S-190 (Intro to Fire Behavior) as well as participate in a field day that consisted of simulating a fire, digging line, responding to spot fires and working as a single unit. 

Above, we gathered at the station in the early morning light before heading down to Ft. Carson for our field day.  Below is a video that I put together from our day out in the field.

It’s not the best video, but it’s my first.  I’m proud of it and extremely glad I purchased an Ultra FlipHD right before this round started.  If you are interested in beginning video, it’s a definite buy (though I don’t use the Flip Video Software that it comes with…).

 This is David, our lead instructor in the S-130 and S-190 classes and the sponsor for Fire 2, the Fire Management Team that is currently working with the El Paso County Crew.  He is an amazing instructor who shared his love for Wildland Fire Fighting through teaching and sharing stories of his own experiences.  He has touched the lives of the 19 of us Corps Members that had the privilege of training under him. 

 I guess I just love water bottles.  As I returned to Sun 7, we had an Independent Service Project (ISP) building / improving trails.  We all set our Nalgenes down and I had my camera.  When I eventually departed for Crown King, my team gave me a print of this image. 

 One of our site supervisors with CAP (Community Action Project of Tulsa) invited us out to the ranch to ride her horses.  After our ISP of fixing trails all morning, we spent the afternoon being cowboys and cowgirls as we attempted riding horses. Jessie (above) wasn’t as excited about it as some of the others, but she was a good sport and we all enjoyed hanging out with one another.  It was an experience that we got to share together. 

 As her owner states, like her two eyes, this beauty has two sides to her, an angel and a demon.  As a show horse, she was penalized for having two different color eyes.  As the mother of one of the horses that Sun 7 had the opportunity to ride, upon our return, we got to see her protective side. 

 In the summer of 2008, Crown King escaped being burned to the ground by the dedicated work of the local Fire Dept, Forest Service personnel, multiple crews from across Arizona and the shift in the wind that stopped the fire moving into the town.  The effects of this fire still scar the land surrounding Crown King.  The mountain side is covered in charred stumps of trees and death seems to reside on those forsaken slopes. 

Started by humans, this fire is an example of how things can go wrong in an instant.  Note, if you don’t know how to start and control a signal fire, you probably shouldn’t be starting one.

 We worked long hours burning piles of slash, cut brush and limbs to clear the properties of fuels.  We tended the fires, chunking the branches together and eventually putting them completely out by mixing dirt with the ashes (as well as snow and water if available) until the ground was cool to the touch.  Above, Nick, the Squad boss for Bravo tends to a fire. 

 The Crown King Fire Department consists of a number of full-time employed firefighters and first responders and is supported by volunteers throughout the community.  During the fire season, they receive help through several interns and different programs to give those in school the opportunity to gain experience working with a Fire Dept. 

 One of the fun things we got to do was light stuff on fire, using drip torches.  Basically, it’s a fuel can with a handle.  Inside is a mix of gasoline and diesel fuel that ignites the fuels you are trying to burn (aka: a pile of branches or a field of knee-high grass).  Though, when there is snow on the ground, things don’t seem to want to light, so we used a lot of drip torch fuel to ignite burn piles. 

Above, Nick and Angie of Squad Bravo refill empty drip torches so they can light off another set of piles (I believe they burned over 20 piles that day).

 In this round, all the teams were required to do a day of service to get the community to band together and get things done.  Nick organized our day of service with Turning Point, an emergency and long-term shelter for youth who have nowhere else to go.  We helped to build three individual garden beds and made an extra compost bin afterwards. 

Above, Nick organizes the forces and directs everyone to where we need to go. 

This is Bear, the dog that resides at Turning Point with the youth.  He loves bagels, AmeriCorps NCCC and AmeriCorps VISTA because we will feed him bagels.  I got him to pose by holding up the bagel I was eating directly above the camera.   

 This is the map that Chief created on Paint that shows how everything is connected.  Before we saw this, many of us, myself included, were wondering why the heck we were out in the middle of nowhere burning stuff.  Chief explained how everything is connected through the individual properties. 

The stuff in green is what has already been mechanically treated (fuels reduction by burning, wood chipper, etc.).  The properties in blue are what is currently being worked on because funding is there.  The few red areas are where people said “Stay off my property.”  These breaks in fuel will allow the Fire Dept. to prevent a fire from hitting the downtown of Crown King and wiping the town off the map.  They have started working on the areas that would do the most good for what little funding they get.  These breaks helped to save the town in the Lane 2 Fire. 

 Each of us needs the time to reflect upon the day.  Some of us write.  Others talk.  Lyndsay sits up on top of Engine 5 and enjoys the noise of the town around her.  Each of us has our own way of looking back on the days work. 

Yes, this round has been a struggle, but it has also been a blessing.  So much has been learned and the experience of working in the smoke has given me the drive to become a Wildland Fire Fighter.  God has been showing me the way, now I just need to follow where he leads. 

 God Bless and PEACE