Thursday, September 1, 2011

The healing begins

There is no question that 2011 has been one of the more difficult years for us. It started with a serious lack of snow which progressed to an outright drought. In April we laid to rest three of our four beloved horses and felt a great loss to our family from their passing. In June a forest fire caused by an illegal campfire and drought conditions forced us from our home for a week and kept us on evacuation alert for another 10 days after we were allowed to return.

I am sure that anyone who has been through a trauma finds it hard to get back on track afterwards. That was certainly the case for us. July came and went and we just seemed to be going through the motions but not really getting back into our groove.

Then in August our neighbors and the owners of Trails End Ranch decided the neighborhood and other local friends needed a party so they threw a great barbeque and concert for all of us. Paul said it had been on his bucket list for years and this was the year to do it. More than a hundred folks enjoyed a wonderful evening and a great private concert by country music legend Charlie Pride and his band. To say it was amazing doesn’t go far enough. As I told Paul later in the evening, it was the medicine we needed. Our energy and focus have returned – we are moving forward again.

After staring at the results of the fire from our perspective for more than two months, last Saturday we decided it was time to take a closer look. We headed up to the last campground and trailhead winding through pockets of completely charred forest and other areas where only the vegetation on the ground was burned. Some pines were scorched on one side, others were reduced to blackened skeletons.

At the trailhead we ran into our local Forest Service ranger, Jeff. We spent over an hour talking with Jeff and learning about the varying effects of the fire and the ongoing restoration efforts. In these two short months since the fire, mother nature has already started her restoration work with new growth everywhere. The fire’s release of nutrients and the increase in sunlight in areas that were once shaded by pines has caused a burst of growth resulting in three foot tall aspen shoots with the biggest aspen leaves I have ever seen. In areas of heavy scrub oak thickets the fire either ran on the ground leaving the tops un-touched or completely burned the thicket and left a charred landscape. Even the areas burned the worst were already showing new growth with oak shoots over a foot tall and grasses and forbs popping up.

Depending on the weather conditions of the day, the fire skipped around and left some areas completely un-burned creating what the forest biologists call a mosaic. As the recovery continues in years to come, this mosaic will produce a vibrant forest of varying ages that is much healthier than what was there before the fire.

Jeff also described the human restoration efforts that had been underway even before the fire was contained and would continue this week. Fire lines that had been bull-dozed in an effort to manage the fire were being re-worked and in many cases closed to prevent future motorized use, grass and forb seeding was ongoing to help reduce erosion, new trail signage was up to replace what had burned, and hikers and campers were already using the area.

After four months of living alone, Mandy, our 26 year old mare has a new companion. Cal arrived on Monday, a loan from a wonderful neighbor who wanted to help out. Cal is a 36 year old gelding who has seen it all, spending 30 years on a dude ranch near Durango before his well deserved retirement. He is a kind, gentle horse who immediately palled up with Mandy. They have been inseparable since he arrived. Cal has brought so much comfort and contentment to all of us.

And so the healing has begun – to our psyche, to the forest, and to Mandy’s enjoyment of life.

From Fleur Creek Farm