A Lesson from the Trees

Nature is an amazing teacher: After devastation and loss, rebirth and regeneration. In my life, this has proved true.

I live in a forested part of Northern New Mexico, an area where ongoing drought and thick forests make for extreme forest fire danger. My home in Santa Fe is near piñon forests and Rocky Mountain foothills. We’ve had dry times, periods when we had to have getaway bags packed in case of fire. Thankfully, so far the preparations have not been needed. But as the Southwest grows drier and hotter, we never know what the next season will bring.

Our neighboring town to the north, Los Alamos, has not been so lucky. Twenty-one years ago, the Cerro Grande forest fire destroyed over 40,000 acres, mostly in the Jemez Mountains. Four hundred homes burned to the ground. No lives were lost but damage was estimated at over a billion dollars. At the time, my late husband and I worked at Los Alamos National Lab and lived in both Santa Fe and Los Alamos. Bob’s house was spared, but I had friends who lost everything. One of them, a fellow bicyclist named Faye, lived at my Santa Fe home for six months while she got her life back together. Before the fire, Faye and I had been bike training. Despite the fire, we shared a bicycle adventure, doing RAGBAI, (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). The New Mexico fires eventually quit burning, leaving charred hills and blackened tree trunks in their wake. Faye moved away to start a new life living near her sister.

The Jemez mountains were denuded, their contours charred and brown, like a giant Earth Person who’d been scalped. The lush piñon and ponderosa forests were gone. A scene of ashy devastation remained. Recently, a friend and I drove north to hike in the Valles Caldera area above Los Alamos. We spent the day exploring several trails. The tree remains stood like black toothpicks against the sky. In the years that had passed, new trees had self-planted. New Aspen trees were filling in. 

Four Autumns ago, I suffered a hiking injury that could have been the end. Instead it was the beginning. After a year of recovering from a spinal fracture, I got serious about finishing my novel-in-progress, Hand of Ganesh. I realized that I’d been spared from an untimely demise, and that it was time to “knuckle down.” Thanks to a temporary inability to do anything at all, I gained a new appreciation for simply being alive. Hand of Ganesh has been accepted by Pocol Press and will be published in 2022. New growth!

Aspen forest, the first to arrive after fire devastation.