Patricia Prijatel

Writer, Reader, Watcher

PHOTO: Southern Colorado’s East Spanish Peak four years after a forest fire

I had just come back from a discouraging walk, full of reminders of the beauty we lost in a forest fire four years ago, and I sat down with my tea to browse Facebook. The photo of the clear ocean off Key West’s coast caught my eye. “The azure waters are returning,” wrote the person who posted the shot, a week after Hurricane Irma. That image has stuck with me, an image of hope and revival. I know from personal experience that such hope in the face of a natural disaster is essential, a bit of blue sky popping out of black clouds.

But I now believe we sometimes go too far and send the message that things are healing nicely when they simply aren’t. In so doing we normalize tragedy and allow those not affected to shrug it off and get back to their coffee or wine or orange juice, or whatever crop hasn’t yet been decimated.

Telling only the good news can create an incomplete and misleading story: that this was just a little aberration, nothing to worry about here. Just move on. The people in California will rebuild. Elon Musk will create a new electric grid for Puerto Rico. It will be better than new.

I don’t think so, but I do think it’s much easier for us to believe that than to face the fact that huge swaths of the American landscape have been destroyed and the land and its people are hurting and will be for years, perhaps forever.

I have juggled this good-news-versus-real-news world since the fire in 2013 that devastated our beautiful mountain valley in southern Colorado. Nearly 70 percent of the trees on our 200 family-owned acres burned, and the fire was so hot the soil itself turned waxy and water-repellant. Foresters call this hydrophobic soil, literally meaning “afraid of water.” Before the fire, we’d had a drought; after, we had floods. The blackened earth was a magnet for torrential rains that saturated our phobic soil and, with no trees and bushes to slow down the water, our tiny creek became a wild river full of burned husks of trees, clumps of grass, mud, even rocks. Read the full article here, on my Psychology Today blog.

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