Patricia Prijatel

Writer, Reader, Watcher

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A ridge in the foothills of Colorado’s East Spanish Peak two months after the East Peak Fire

This fearfulness is new. Once a sunset was just a sunset, a raincloud a blessed sign of needed moisture. Now, though, our refuge, our place of peace has an overlay of danger. My confidence in the steadfastness of the mountain and its valleys and ridges has been shaken.

Three years ago was the big event, the disaster, the fire that burned our mountain and its forests, turning the sky a bruise of red, orange, and purple, and leaving the earth an ashen black. But the years after the fire are even harder, with floods, landslides, and confused wildlife whose entire lives have been shattered. More evergreens die each winter and our few patches of green forest continue growing pockmarks of rust, with trees more than a century old breathing their last bits of mountain air, more delayed effects of the fire.

We plant hundreds of seedlings and cut down hundreds of charred trees, turning their glory into woodchips. We’re here to help Nature out. But, we increasingly learn, Nature has her own way and is a whole lot more powerful than silly little humans. And that powerlessness unnerves all of us because we are a bunch of control freaks up here, living tucked into a mountain ridge at 8,000 feet because we’re after our own piece of the wild.

But, while we are in awe of natural forces, we thought we could have our own way here. The fire and floods have told us otherwise. We’re puny, little stick figures shaking our fists at elemental forces—fire, wind, water. We continue to try to find order in it. It is not our way to just let anything take its course. We must control. And when we lose that power, or the sense of it, whether real or imagined, our world shatters. Without order, what do we have? We are frantic to regain our lost balance, but we’re not sure how to do it, and it’s impossible to tell what’s working, what we should do, why we should do it, who the hell we think we are, what the hell is happening.

NOTE: This is an excerpt from a book I am writing about the East Peak Fire, tentatively titled Burn Scars. Read more about it on my Books page.

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