Here we are at the one-year anniversary of the Chimney Fire. Started on Aug. 13, 2016, that wildfire burned 46,344 acres of these Santa Lucia Mountains. In certain areas, the canopy is completely gone. Pine trees that were alive with vibrant green needles are now charred remains. Some are lifeless black arrows that point skyward. Others, toppled in death, lie across one another like giant pick-up sticks on what was once a shaded forest floor.
No doubt about it, though much fuel remains, last summer left us with some bleak and barren landscape. The good news is that 12 months after the Chimney Fire started, new life has taken root in the sunshine among the dead and wounded vegetation. Vigorous flora have emerged. The fauna and the people have also adapted to the dramatic changes.
That’s not to say residents don’t miss the way it was. For those of us who live in the burn zone, when we drive by the places that were ravaged, we still feel the loss. Even though we’ve long since arrived at a place of acceptance, we reminisce about the dear departed old oak where bucks lounged. We recall that big-leaf maple where hawks nested. We notice the absence of the madrone grove where bear cubs played.
For mountain folks who had various structures burn to the ground, of all the inconveniences, one of the greatest seems to be their lack of tools. Every time remote fire victims set out to accomplish a task, they remember that they no longer have the proper equipment to do the job. In a place where everything is a do-it-yourself deal, tools are essential. No tools means impeded progress. Opportunities for improvisation and patience abound.
Still, over the past months, there were no pity parties and no theatrics. Everyone simply went about their new normal. They did what they could do, with what they had, and they continue to do so.
It’s hard to tell by looking, but whether survivors and/or witnesses of the Chimney Fire were affected physically, psychologically, spiritually, or all of the above, most of us are somewhat different than we were a year ago. We’re less attached to stuff. We’re more empathetic. We’ve developed an even greater respect, awe and love for nature.
Like our environment, due to adversity, we’ve evolved. Awake and present, we’ve become more of who we’re meant to be.