Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.Albert Camus
Change. Adapting. Each day, week, month, season, year, brings something new and evolving, something challenging, a change anticipated or maybe not, but necessary to absorb in order to move forward.
My life-long mantra: Change is good.
Change may not always feel good at the time, and rarely do I have any control over it, but eventually, with hindsight I can say, Yeah, that change was necessary. I learned something. I grew. I’m better.
Autumn is a wonderful reminder of the benefits of change. On the surface it seems nature’s beauty is dying, spring wildflowers long gone, summer’s green leaves turning yellow, orange, red and brown before shriveling and dropping to the ground, temperatures increasingly chillier and daylight shorter. Nature is simply preparing for a long and well-deserved rest under winter’s mantle of life-giving snow before a new generation of beauty explodes with exuberance next spring.
I love watching this play out across my local landscape year after year, the same grand scheme yet always different in the details, my mind and arms open to endings because they bring new beginnings. The rhythm of nature, of life.
Everything changes, even stone.Claude Monet
Running trails through areas of forest that have burned in past wildfires brings change into sharp focus, but through a long-term lens. The seasonal changes are still there – spring wildflowers, summer meadows, fall leaves and winter snow – but I can also see the slower changes of decades, of nature re-seeding scorched ground, patiently waiting for the young forest to grow tall and green amid the silvered and blackened trunks of the forest that was, enticing wildlife to return.
Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.Frida Kahlo
The seasons do not push one another; neither do clouds race the wind across the sky. All things happen in their own good time.Dan Millman
Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all.Stanley Horowitz
I like to think that to one in sympathy with nature, each season, in turn, seems the loveliest.Mark Twain
Each moment of the year has its own beauty.Ralph Waldo Emerson
There are certain trails in the Payette National Forest that are personal pilgrimages. They’re trails with special meaning, trails I first started running in 2005 with Maia and Meadow as they helped me explore our new home. Trails where, after their passing in the summer of 2013, I left some of their ashes. These “memorial” trails were chosen for a variety of reasons: frequency of use; photos of the girls in that location; a particularly beautiful landscape or vista; a memorable occurrence.
Last week the boys made our annual pilgrimage to a trail that falls into the last category. It’s the trail where in 2006 the girls and I were visited by a curious wolf, a magical encounter that still gives me shivers of delight when I remember it. In late July of 2013, Finn and I ran to the spot where the the girls and I saw the wolf. Several feet off the trail and into the trees I left some of the girls’ ashes, then built a small cairn of rocks to shelter them. Every year since then, I’ve returned at least once to check on the girls’ cairn. Almost always I run right by it, turning back when I reach an uphill stretch I know is past the cairn. For some reason I always recognize – feel? – the location when heading in the return direction, the direction the girls and I were running when Maia first sensed the wolf.
As Finn, Conall and I approached the trailhead for this year’s pilgrimage – late; I usually go in July when wildflowers are blooming – I was shocked to see wildfire damage to entire swaths of forest along both sides of the road. Trees on both sides of the dirt road accessing the trailhead had burned.
I’d forgotten about the Nethker Fire, which started August 5, 2019 and raged for weeks in that area. I had no idea how the fire impacted our trail, whether the section of forest where I built the girls’ cairn had burned or not. The boys and I would simply have to run the 3.5 miles up the trail and find out, hoping for the best.
To my immense relief, after the first half mile or so out the trail, there was no fire damage.
Because the rocks forming the cairn have usually tumbled under the weight of winter’s snow, most years I find them hidden beside each other in the low shrubs and grasses. That was the case this year. It made me ridiculously happy to find the rocks where they should be. I rebuilt the cairn, took some photos, and before leaving whispered to the girls, “I love you. I miss you. Thank you. I’ll be back.”
I was grateful that the section of forest where the girls and I met the wolf remains unscathed. Just a couple miles farther out there’s another old burn scar from the 1980s or 1990s. Moving about a forest as large as the Payette, one can’t help but see and appreciate its fire history, reminders that this, too, shall pass.
As the boys and I ran back toward the trailhead, my thoughts returned to the destructive power of a wildfire. Rather than healthy firs, shrubs and grasses, I began seeing blackened trunks, brown fir needles, black soil and charred boulders littered with burned forest detritus. It pains me to think of the wildlife that didn’t escape.
As sad and shocking as it is to see the ravages of wildfire up close, fires caused by lightning are natural parts of the ecosystem. Harsh, yes. Nature is both beautiful and terrible. The land and forest will recover, slowly. I was glad I had run through the area that burned in 1994 a few days earlier, giving me a long-term perspective I could hold close as assurance that yes, despite the awful scene before me, change is good, ultimately.
By the way, the wildland firefighters did an amazing job of protecting “assets” threatened by the Nethker fire, including a historic backcountry resort. They’re true heroes. The pit toilet for the unimproved campsites at the trailhead the boys and I visited survived unscathed. (It was even well-stocked with toilet paper!) The firefighters must have wrapped it, because virtually all of the trees around it burned, a situation too hot and dangerous for anyone to remain on scene.
The one law that does not change is that everything changes, and the hardship I was bearing today was only a breath away from the pleasures I would have tomorrow, and those pleasures would be all the richer because of the memories of this I was enduring.Louis L’Amour
As the boys and I ran through the forest to visit the girls’ cairn last week, I was intrigued by Conall’s body language. He’s been here before; I think this was his fourth annual visit. And normally he loves going somewhere unusual; he gets bored with our frequently-run routes. On this run, though, he was constantly stopping to listen and stare into the trees, or back down the trail, as if we were being shadowed. When I stopped to take a photo, Conall hoped it meant we were turning back, as if going farther up the trail made him uneasy. He didn’t require coaxing to keep heading out, thought, and he always led with tail held high, but still, something was bothering him. As far as I knew, no other people were about; mine was the only vehicle in the parking area and there are no intersecting trails.
Then I realized there was a déjà vu quality to the skittishness. Conall’s hyper-awareness was exactly like Maia’s the day she saw the wolf. That memory made me happy, as well as extra-vigilant, scanning the forest as we ran, hoping to be graced once again with seeing a wolf dancing in the sun’s rays filtering between the tree trunks.
Not this year. But I will always hope.
Feature image: Following the boys up a mountain trail into the morning sun, September 27, 2020.