Climate of Change

When faced with changes in our environment, our internal climate can be shaped by grief or gratitude.

Over the past week I got the opportunity to witness man-made climate change up close.

The Eagle Creek forest fire spread to 33,000 acres and counting, the smoke was so thick that it transformed the sun into a weak red orb so weak that I had to remind myself not to stare at it, the temperature fell far short of forecast highs, and the area was covered with more ash than it’s seen since Mt. St. Helen’s blew its top in 1980.

The fire affected many people’s internal climate, too. It was allegedly started by a teenage boy from Vancouver, Washington carelessly tossing firecrackers around on the popular trail. Those who have hiked that beautiful waterfall-lined trail faced the challenge of coming to grips with the destruction and the insult that it didn’t have to happen.

Maybe it did have to happen.

The young man who sparked the destruction was simply combining two things that he loved. I can’t blame him for loving Eagle Creek. I love Eagle Creek. I can’t blame him for loving fireworks. I was disappointed by the cancellation of the Oregon Symphony’s annual Waterfront Concert, which usually culminates in a performance of the 1812 Overture and a big, bombastic fireworks display. I know that fireworks are bad for the environment. I always keep my asthma inhaler handy in case wheezing is triggered by the air pollution the fireworks create.

What’s more fun than setting off firecrackers? How about setting off firecrackers and listening to them echo through Eagle Creek?

It’s not something I would do. But, I’m glad that I didn’t have the opportunity to do it when I was a teenager, before the judgment center in my frontal lobe developed.

When it comes to facing change in our environment, we can choose grief or gratitude. We grieve when we think of the good things we’ll miss. We’re grateful when we think of the good things we’ve had. I’m grateful that I knew Eagle Creek as it was before the fire, and I hope I’ll have a chance to return.

I’m also grateful for the ongoing efforts of the firefighters to preserve what remains. I’m grateful that folks will still be able to visit the Multnomah Falls Lodge. I know many homeowners are grateful that their houses were saved.

And, when the fire finally burns out, as it will, I’m grateful that the fire scar will be there as a reminder that we mustn’t take such precious gifts as the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area for granted. Maybe the lasting impression of one moment of carelessness will cause others to think twice before accidentally sparking fires of their own.

This weekend I hiked the Heart of the Park loop of Forest Park and added a little extra gratitude to my forest bathing. I try never to take Forest Park for granted. But I’m grateful for what destruction has taught me.

The first time I took an awe walk by Mt. St. Helen’s, sixteen years after the blast, my jaw dropped at the scope of the blast zone. Yet the ranger on the tour by Johnston Ridge kept pointing out signs of how new life was taking hold where the old had been obliterated.

On the drive back home, I marveled as I walked along the Hummocks Trail at the miniature forest taking root in the wake of the one that had been decimated. On a subsequent visit, ten years later, I marveled again at how fast the trees had grown.

Author: Bruce Cantwell

Writer, journalist and long-time mindfulness practitioner.