There is not any advantage to be won from grim lamentation.Homer
A recent article in a San Francisco newspaper bemoaned the end of thru hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. Hundreds of aspirants still show up at the southern terminus in April with the intention of making the long trek to Canada by summer’s end, but most will be turned back by wildfires and trail closures at some point. At present there are still 242 miles of closures resulting from last year’s fires, which created safety hazards. That is better than last year’s closure of 1800 miles, but the summer is young.
There are other challenges that force thru hikers to turn back. Heavy rains in areas where vegetation no longer stabilizes the soil has caused serious flooding, washing out bridges, making river crossings increasingly precarious. And at the other extreme, drought has led to the disappearance of water sources on the desert sections of the trail and elsewhere.
The Pacific Crest Trail Association has added an interactive layer to their website, allowing hikers to check air quality as they make their way along the trail. The air on several sections last year was deemed to be unhealthy or hazardous.
I experienced this first hand last summer when wildfires burning near my home in the Okanogan Highlands made the air unsafe to breathe. For weeks we kept our windows and doors closed so that we could retreat from the searing smoke, causing our log home to heat up like an oven. I did little hiking. I did not even spend much time on the deck with my morning tea. The view was obscured by smoke, and it hurt to breathe; my eyes burned.
A couple of days ago I drove across the North Cascades to attend my granddaughter’s high school graduation. This scenic highway was closed for most of the summer last year as wildfires raged. It is surely one of the most beautiful highways in the nation, so I was looking forward to making that scenic drive again, taking in the vistas of jagged peaks that are sometimes called the Alps of North America.
Of course the reminders of last year’s fires extended from the highway to the ridge tops, broad swaths of charred snags, brown needles still clinging to the branches. Patches of snow remained beneath the trees.
I found some degree of reassurance when I thought about how it will be when that snow melts, how quickly life renews itself. By the end of the summer there will be green grass and fireweed emerging beneath the dead trees, even a few seedlings after the cones drop.
The photo above was taken on the Pacific Northwest Trail in July of 2015, three years after wildfire blazed across that section in the Kettle River Mountains in northeastern Washington. The charred remains of trees will not be replaced by green standing ones for many years, not in my lifetime nor yours, but the profusion of goldenrod reminded me that even after the devastation of a forest fire, life returns, and it is ever beautiful. It is a good thing to remember as the world continues to heat up. It is easy to get lost in the darkness of a charred forest.
But I was making the trip for Chloe, my granddaughter, and the next evening I would be watching her march onto the field in her cap and gown, that radiant smile as bright as fireweed. When the many speeches had ended, the names had been called, and the diplomas handed to eager graduates, the seniors would march off the field into a world of fires and floods, accompanied by Pomp and Circumstance.
Of course it is a time to give advice, for this generation will need all the help they can get. They spent nearly two years of their high school experience at home in front of a computer screen, instead of in the classroom, while the pandemic burned like wildfire, missing out on proms, parties, football games, and all the other important activities that are so essential to learning to be with people. I am reminded of what Harry Truman had to say on the topic: “The way to give advice to people is to find out what they want to do and then advise them to do it.”
But I am her grandma, so I feel entitled. This is for you Chloe: Walk toward the flowers and keep dazzling the world with that beautiful smile.