There Must Be Magic

By GirlWithACamera

Scotia Barrens, After the Fire

I told you the story in yesterday's posting of the wildfire that moved through the local Scotia Barrens on Monday afternoon into the evening. Many fire trucks showed up with personnel to manage the blaze, and by around 8 p.m., it was mostly under control - on our end of the Barrens, at least.

Tuesday morning, I had a dentist appointment, and my husband and I did a thing or two in town. We stopped for a short hike at the other end of the Barrens where we used to go years ago, but as we walked up that hill together, into the woods, I knew what I needed to do, must do, was compelled to do: I had to go and see the fire.

So on our way home, my husband dumped me out of the car at the top of Tow Hill, where a number of fire and emergency vehicles were parked. "Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked, shaking his head. But I told him I had to. I needed to go and see. (As the Penguin might say in Batman Returns: "Touring the riot scene. Gravely assessing the devastation.") "I will go as far as they let me," I said. And I walked into the woods.

The gate was open, where all of the emergency vehicles had gone through the day before. So I took my trusty camera, and I made my way down the left path that was all squashed down from their tracks. And about half-way down to the beaver ponds on the bottom, the charring began. I girded my loins, and continued on.

This is a pine barrens habitat, and like it or not (so say we, the people who live nearby), fire is a part of how such habitats are managed. In fact, in the past few years, they have arranged controlled burns in the Barrens. It takes out the brushy under-story, makes it less habitable for ticks.

Did you know that some pine cones only release their seeds upon the application of fire and/or high temperatures? Fire is part of the ancient mystery of how a pine barrens rebirths itself, again and again.

As I stood and took some pictures, and wandered around, my shoes were covered in soot and my lungs were full of smoke. For the fire was not over; it was still burning in the Barrens! I fought the urge to go stomp some of those little patches out, but I had only rubber soles and I did not want to ruin my shoes!

There were fire personnel still around with axes and chainsaws, doing stuff in the woods. As several dudes with chainsaws walked past me with all of their gear, I said, "Thank you. Thank you for all you are doing." They nodded, tired, kept walking. Some lady who wasn't official told me that twenty-some acres had burned; I don't know if this is true, but it's what she said.

I watched as the ground around me burned, smoke wafting up into the air like angels. I think this is the first time I have seen the ground on fire since Centralia, in the 1980s. The pizza shop where I worked for that summer at Knoebel's had a branch in Ashland, not far from Centralia. Yes, like so many others, I went and watched Centralia burn.

But it is different when the fire is as close as this, which is to say less than a mile from our home. For I am not a pine tree but a regular mortal girl. And as far as those things go, I am a short-timer (compared to the pines, anyway).

Let me admit the raw truth: knowing all of what I know about the life cycle of a barrens, and accepting it mentally, it still pained me to watch "my" forest burn. It is not pretty now. It sucks to walk here. It smells like smoke. Yes, after the fire . . . the fire still burns.

I am a walker, and these woods are my home walking woods. I am in the Barrens more days of the week than I am out of it. This is our first major fire on our end of the Barrens, and I must take note of it. I will not be walking here every day among the smoke and the dust, but I will keep track. I will watch, and I will document its rebirth.

My soundtrack song can only be this one: Roger Daltrey, with After the Fire.

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