It was a hot, high noon in July as I topped Pyramid Pass headed down canyon on an eight day backcountry trip to the heart of the Bob Marshall. I’d seen the burn scar late last fall after the fires subsided. I knew the devastation that lay ahead, but as I rode through it with fresh eyes of summer, I felt my heart strings twinge and the insurmountable lump in my throat form. I worked to fight back tears as my eyes took in the charred landscape sending more heart pangs deep in my chest and feeling them make way to the pit of my stomach. Gut punched. Heartsick.
Tears welled, and I pinched my eyes shut feeling them trickle down my dusty cheeks wondering if that were the one drop of moisture that I might feel all damn day on the twenty odd miles of barren trail ahead. My throat swelled and felt dry. I reached out to the burnt and gnarled alpine fir and felt it’s brittle branch snap as I pulled my sooted hand away and brushed it against my jeans. I watched the powdery dust plume with every step my horse took, and I lifted my eyes skyward. I didn’t ask why. I didn’t care anymore, but the thirty plus years of memories flooded back; memories of green, of the tree with grandpa’s initials carved in it marking his presence in the Bob; miles upon miles of memories riding different horses for long hours down this Young’s Creek drainage I literally grew up in. And I know the heaviness of those memories I felt, my parents and Aunt and Uncle feel ten fold as they ride these same trails.
I can’t begin to explain in any sort of tangible fashion the amount of space this place has in my heart or that of my family’s, and no matter how much I tell myself to not be attached to such earthly places and things, it can’t be helped. Or maybe I don’t want to help it. Being of the mountains, this place is steeped in every memory, every fabric in the tapestry of our life here. I know this place made me. It shaped character. It made me tough. The drastic change of the landscape, in some places almost unrecognizable… it just feels like a well aimed kick by the meanest son of bitching mule you’ve ever met.
I recenter myself in the saddle, open my eyes, and look ahead. I have to look ahead. We all have to look ahead. And as hard as that may seem, I look again at the curled, burnt, little pines that turn earthward after a fire, almost as if they signify a slight circle of hope. Little sprigs of green bear grass show their tufts here and there, the fireweed blooms it’s brilliant purple, the birch leafed spirea softening the blow of black. The quiet bubbling springs and elk wallows that never before revealed their presence now show as if to remind me this too will be beautiful again one day; even if it never happens in my lifetime.
Strong enough to bend. That’s what it means to see something that means so much through it’s worst of times. This new reality of living through fire reminds me what true rejuvenation means, it reminds me to grow and change with it, to love it thoroughly and wholly, and let it’s scar be a part of my family’s story of how we were all strong enough to bend.
Remember there is always beauty in every state of being in this life. We’re all strong enough to bend, and we’re all better for it when we do~