What We Lost in the Fires

DAVID RYDER/GETTY IMAGES Phoenix, Oregon

September has been a gruesome month in my home state of Oregon. We were traumatized by wildfires and smoke that began Labor Day Weekend staying in our homes for 10 days to avoid breathing the toxic cloud of air that descended over the state.  Thousand of people were evacuated from their homes.  The fires ravaged over a million acres of land burning several 2800 structures including homes and businesses.  About 11 people lost their lives.  Many are homeless and without jobs. The towns of Detroit Lake, Talent, and Phoenix were decimated as with many communities up the McKenzie River Hwy.  Many of the larger fires are still burning.

Particularly heartbreaking to me is knowing that some of my favorite places were hit especially hard; the Breitenbush Hot Springs Community, the McKenzie River corridor, and the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center and Wilderness.  These were places that recharged my soul.  Nature will renew them- but not in my lifetime.  It looks like my ashes will be scattered among the ashes.

Among the aforementioned casualties was George Atiyeh, nephew of former Oregon governor George Atiyeh.  George was the main force in saving what is now the Opal Creek Wilderness into a giant clear cut.  George was a logger.  He had spent his childhood at Jawbone Flat the tiny mining community that his family owned in the heart of the Opal Creek wilderness

In the 1980s he flew over the Cascade Range and saw how much of the land had been ravaged by logging and was dismayed by the devastation. When Opal Creek, the last old-growth watershed in Oregon and perhaps the largest tract of old-growth forest in the nation was scheduled to be logged, he put away his logging equipment, became a staunch environmentalist, and started to fight for the forest that he grew up in. 

At the height of Oregon’s timber wars, both he and his family were threatened.  Still, he continued with the fight.  George had a plan to educate the public and get them to visit Opal Creek so they would help in the preservation of the area.  In 1993 I visited Opal Creek for the first time and was smitten. I joined Friends of Opal Creek and the group of docents he was going to train to lead hikes into the area on the weekends.  George taught me and the others about the intricacies of old growth forests and how valuable they are for the health of the planet.  In return, we would dispense the information to others on guided hikes.  The area is astoundingly beautiful with its cathedral forest and emerald pools.  It didn’t take time for the public to fall in love with the area and join the fight too. Finally in 1996 Opal Creek was designated wilderness after over a decade-long fight- really because of the initial vision of George Atiyeh. He was to Opal Creek what Ruth Bader Ginsburg was to Women’s rights.

There is so much to grieve for in Oregon.

HOW DO YOU MOURN?

How do you mourn a forest?

The universe it contains

Tree, fern, fungus, moss

Lichens draping from branches

How do you mourn the creatures

That lost their lives

Their homes taken in an inferno of flames

Fanned by devil winds

How do you mourn a place

That offered cool refuge

From the attacks of daily life

While the creek sang you lullabies

How do you mourn entire towns

burned off the map?

Homes turned to charred rubble

How can one fathom such loss?

In my home that stands

Beneath a blanket of smoke

I hide in the blankets of my bed

Unable to answer my own questions

All I can do is go on.

Donate to Oregon wildfire victims: The Oregon Wildfire Relief Hub , https://oregoncf.org/oregon-wildfire-relief-recovery/donate-to-support-wildfire-emergency-relief/

Images by the author

Alanna also blogs at onesweetearth.com

10 thoughts on “What We Lost in the Fires

  1. A beautiful and poignant write Alanna and we’re so sorry for the loss of George and the natural wilderness taken by the fires. May George’s vision, integrity and good heart live on through all who knew him 💚

    Liked by 1 person

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