Journalist Patricia Prijatel and her family built a tiny cabin in a remote Colorado mountain valley where they embraced the silent, the wild, and the beautiful—until June 2013, when the East Peak Fire incinerated their forest. Their beloved cabin was saved by firefighters, but their woodlands and their gorgeous mountain—the East Spanish Peak—were devastated.
After the fire was contained, after the camera crews left, the ruin of the land and its people grew, with flash floods on eroded land; invasive weeds crowding out grass and seedlings; hurricane-level winds breaking healthy trees in half; dangerous orphaned animals; toxic air; and disease-causing stress in all living things.
Prijatel and her family returned after the fire to do what they could to help the mountain rebuild. Burn Scars: A Mountain Valley Memoir follows them through six years of living in a changed ecosystem. They learned that nature has the last word, especially when it is unleashed from its normal patterns. The land that had been their healer and refuge now needs healing.
This is the story of a love of the land, of hope challenging despair, of climate grief, and the growth of a climate warrior. Through her personal account, bolstered with climate science, Prijatel shows how to fight through, and come to terms with, such a loss.
It’s a loss she shares with lovers of the land throughout the world. Sixty-six million acres of America’s forests have burned in the past decade. That’s a wildfire nearly the size of New Jersey every year. Scientists are clear on why fires have increased in size and intensity: the climate crisis. And psychologists have a term for how this affects those who live on, or care about, this land: climate grief.
Prijatel and her mountain valley are a petri dish for the effects of warming temperatures in America’s forests, which lead to fires that warm the earth even more, wounding the land, often irreparably, and leading to PTSD, stress, anxiety, and fear.
Burns scars is a forestry term for the physical damage to the land after a wildfire. This is the story of the East Peak Fire’s many scars.
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Patricia Prijatel is a journalism educator and writer whose goal is to help people make sense of things with hope and humor. Her last name is the Slovene word for friend.