Sunday, July 31, 2022

Cruel Beauty

Looking north from Holman Hill.

Since April 6 the Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon fires have scorched 341,735 acres of land. That makes the combined fires the largest ever in New Mexico. As of today, the fire is 96% contained and there is no new fire activity. As is so often the case, both fires were caused by operator error. The Hermit’s Peak Fire was started by a prescribed burn at the base of the peak 12 miles northwest of Las Vegas, NM. That the fire was caused by a perversely timed burn just as New Mexico entered its spring windy season is the subject of heated discussion, excuse the pun, and much derision. The Calf Canyon Fire began as “pile burn” that lay as embers under the blanket of three winter snows which ignited after the thaw. These events join others that have besmirched the judgment of U.S. Forest Service. It recalls the Cerro Grande fire of May 2000 which charred 43,000 acres of timber west of Los Alamos and torched 400 homes. It, too, was started by a prescribed burn in the spring. The parallels of cause and timing of Hermit's Peak and Calf Canyon Fires and Cerro Grande are obvious. Who would prescribe a burn in the New Mexico’s windy season?  We are not amused.

Charred Pines and green grass

Ebony trunks and ochre needles

Lone pine on the hilltop

The aftermath of the Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon Fires drew me over US Hill on NM Highway 518 on Saturday to see what nature and man had wrought. I found denuded mountain sides and stands of charred conifers interspersed with aspens that survived the searing flames relatively intact. I need to ask my botanist nephew why that’s the case.

Cruel Beauty

Blooms beneath the ruins

Thanks to four weeks of monsoons so far (that’s a predictable as April winds) the fecund forest floor was lush with new green grass, and blooming flowers and shrubs. It spoke to the resilience and tenacity of the natural world and its will to rebuild and to flourish. It also spoke to the merits of forest thinning and controlled burns when used intelligently at the right time and place.

I found the juxtaposition of the blackened trunks of the Ponderosa pines, the nearly white aspens, and the bold shrubs hard to capture. And, to the extent that I did so, color leant promise to the tragic scene. The russet limbs and needles of the conifers showed the aftermath of the fiery onslaught and the vibrant undergrowth showed a new day dawning.

Color and black and white tell very different stories, much like hope and despair. The color shows that nature’s appetite to regrow is voracious. While the monochrome is bleak and tells truer story of the devastation.

It's oddly wondrous either way.

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

Today's blog totally encapsulates nature and some of its phases, and explains, photographically, the transition between them. From fire to flood and mud to rebirth and new growth. For anyone who has witnessed the devastation of fire and flooding, the first and immediate response is "it will never be the same." And it won't. It will be different. We are definitely not amused at the dereliction of duty by management in the Forest Service. But as with most transition, humans and other animals will become accustomed to the end result, whatever that will be and however long it takes. What is wonderful is that the monsoon season has brought enough rain to make the grass, underbrush, and flowers grow, and you captured that to contrast the burn remnants. It would be wonderful if you made the trip back to this area next year to see what has changed. In the mean time, your photographs are oddly wondrous indeed! Thanks, Esteban, for both the factual and photographic documentation you did. A great edition!