The Flames and the Grass on the Other Side

I usually try to update my blog every weekend, but this past Saturday and Sunday I was unable to get internet access.  Even if I could, I doubt I would have found the time to write about my adventures.  Part of this journey with AmeriCorps St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT) is that our schedules are (and will always be) up in the air, especially during fire season and disasters.  My team, AmeriCorps Gold, was requested to extend out stay in Winona, MO with the USFS Eleven Point Ranger District due to the expected fire behavior over the weekend.

The five of us hunkered down with a perverse joy as we waited for fires to spring up throughout the Mark Twain National Forest.  Last week, every single team (with the exception of ours) participated in Prescribed/Planned Ignition Burns, so we were eager for our chance to go.  It didn’t take long before we started seeing columns of smoke (mostly from RX Burns with MDC to the north of us).

Then it happened.  In an instant we were rushing off to face off against the flames.

The adrenalin started flowing.  The excitement happens.  Your pace quickens.  And for a brief second, everything goes silent.  You’re in the zone.

But reality comes crashing back, pulling you into the present as the heat hits you like a blast from the furnace when the winds shift.  The smoke obscures your vision, choking your lungs.  Your eyes sting and water.  You cough, remembering that you forgot to put on your bandana.  And with drip-torch in hand, you continue behind the dozer, burning out the fuels between the line and the flame front.

Over the course of the weekend, we had three wildfires.  156 acres of blackened forest.  The first was caused by negligence, the others unknown (most likely arson).

As I lay there at night, I couldn’t help but remember the flames, the destructive force of nature.  I dreamed of wildfire.  Of flames and burning lands.  I awoke smelling of smoke.  And we set out once again to face what the next day would bring.

We all have patches in our lives where the ground has been scorched in anger.  We can look back and see the smoke that lingers in the spots where we have burned the bridges between relationships.  We can see the evidence of the flames, the scorch marks, and the wreckage when the smoke settles and we come to our senses.  I’ve seen it too many times.  In the lives of those around me and whenever I look back on my own journey.

Some bridges went up with a bang, their flames burning with such intensity that the fires spread throughout the rest of our lives.  Others smoldered into ruin from neglect and forgetfulness, crumbling over time when it could have been maintained.  And too many times we turned our backs and walked away.

Drive through the Ozarks.  The mountains of Colorado.  Many great wilderness areas out west.  You will see the result of the flames.  Many years later you can still see the blackened snags that reach skyward.  You can still see how the landscape has changed.

But look closely.  Notice the grasses and the flowers that have sprung forth after the flames have died.  Now look back at the bridges that once spanned the chasms between old friends.

So many times I see green grasses on the other side.  It’s a healing that cannot be explained.  A natural progression of the scars that slowly fade.  We can never forget them, but we can start to notice the beauty of time.

Yes, there are some places that still smolder and spit fire every now and then, but there is always a chance to rebuild those bridges.  All you can do is forgive and make an attempt to reach out.  It doesn’t always work out, but its better than the alternative: to live with the fires still burning away at your heart, leaving it blackened for the rest of your life.

We may never be able to completely rebuild the friendships and the love that we once had, nor can you reverse the destructive nature of fire through the forest.  But you can wash the ash off your skin, forgive and move on with love.  It may not be easy, but it can be done.

And the next time you face the fires, you may act with more confidence in the face of those flames.

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