Today I am watching my land burn. A cool masterpiece of greens and blues has been set ablaze. I didn't officially grow up in Oregon, but I did grow up in Oregon. I became an adult here, and so this is my land. This is not my land in the sense that this land belongs to me. This is my land in the sense that my soul found solace here, found something big enough for it to widen in. It is the land that I made the time to connect with. This land I trusted and opened for, and it painted the inside of me. It is the land I partnered with to regulate my process. This land is mine in the way that this country is home for a child who was carried here across a border as a wee one so that she could thrive. This is her home because this is where she came to know herself.
Through seasons of consistency and generosity, this once calm and collected landscape of the Columbia River Gorge became my secure base. Its warm crevices cradled my tense body. Its winds shhhhhed my anxieties. On its many peaks I encountered awe that would cancel out my heart's weariness. Those rocks and those trees selflessly absorbed my ruminations. This land witnessed the crystallization of my most important breakthroughs, the lessons that are still alive in me. Its magazine highways urged me to venture into the vast unknowns only to find myself and my own secrets to living a beautiful life. Its fresh waters against my ankles helped me to feel love. Its icicles reminded me of what was solid in me. The way the trees were endless and the land stretched offered broad and fresh perspective to a sometimes fearful and constricted mind.
The trees are not endless. Now they are burning before my stinging eyes as I sit locked indoors on these last precious and stifling days of summer. These flames are at zero percent containment. The destruction goes unchecked for the fifth day now. This fire is meeting up with other nearby fires, and this smoke is mixing with smoke from a massive stretch of crisping land from Montana to Washington to California. Our lungs are becoming vessels for this devastation. If only the branching trees inside of these breathing organs in us could offer the same kind of containment we have received from her trees. We have borrowed her stability and her grandmotherly wisdom over and over. She is the one we would go to when things got out of control and we felt like we do now: heartbroken and helpless. She might tell us this is normal and this is natural. If it didn't happen with a teenager and a firecracker, it might have happened with a strike of lightning, she might say. She might soothe us by imparting the clear seeing that comes only from witnessing eons of nature's cycles, letting us know that life goes on, and for some, a charred and blackened forest is a new, necessary, and even exciting turn. A broken and devastated land is followed by a fresh start. A torn and shredded country will stitch itself together. It needed to come undone, she would tell us.
We want to return her gifts, grounding her chaos, providing the same kind of cool comfort as she smolders. And because in these moments we can't seem to do it in the same way she has done it for us, we hold her ashes in our lungs and we grieve.