Tucked away in the Oregon Cascade Mountains lies Breitenbush Hot Springs. I’ve been going there mostly every winter for over 25 years for a getaway with friends and sometimes solo. It is an intentional, off-grid community dedicated to living in harmony with nature and providing nurturing experiences to its guests.
In 2020 a catastrophic wildfire tore through the area. Through massive efforts, Breitenbush is being rebuilt. I just returned from a two-day stay there with a friend.
The fire left a mosaic
of green among black
surviving trees standing proud
above layers of ferns, mossy rocks,
and the glossy red leaves of Oregon grape
I recognize familiar voices
chickadees, nuthatches, crows, and jays
busy among the treetops
as squirrels scamper below
Thanks to the bravery of a few souls
the stately lodge remains standing
the meals served there are
still ample, still delicious
with nary a scrap of meat
The stone-lined pools in the meadow
and the hot tubs down the hill
offer respite to the body as they always have
their hot minerals sinking deep into muscles and soul
We sleep in new lodgings
in the spot where forested rows
of boxy brown cabins once stood
and mice once played
in the heart of night
The river still flows with vigor
a roar of rapids over stones
unconcerned of the surrounding devastation
a vein of life in a wounded land
its soft breeze on my cheek reminding me
that life goes on
no matter how much pain we endure
the landscape has changed
as have we
destruction and rejuvenation
stand side by side
as the earth's heart
beats strong and steady
beneath our feet
It’s good to be back
In the 28 years I’ve lived in my home I’ve watched the surrounding hills logged acre by acre making way to vineyard land. I used to live out in the country. Now I say I live in the “wine country” to add a reference point to the location. To some this is no big deal, but for me losing our forests is a tragic loss of shady walks, natural habitat, and carbon storage. We shame the loss of tropical rainforests but turn a blind eye to the logging of our own temperate forests.
When this happens nothing is left for wildlife, no corridors for migrating birds for deer, or any of our native species to survive on. Where do all the creatures go that made those forests home? Most die. It’s all for human profit now. This collateral damage is met with barely a shrug. Add to that the recent catastrophic wildfires in Oregon have left thousands of acres of forest graveyards. I was heartsick on a recent camping trip to the Cascade Range where we drove through miles of blackened mountains, burnt towns, and majestic forests turned to black matchsticks. This was once verdant scenery. Rampant salvage logging is only making matters worse for long-term recovery.
I have written letters to editors, congresspeople, and blogged about the environmental issues at hand but reciprocity to nature is not a concept our culture embraces. It’s about profit. There is a total disconnect in our relationship to the earth and the long-term consequences of our consumerism. We take without giving back and that will be our ultimate demise. I’ve realized through all this the only real power we have is through our actions and not those of governments or corporations. This includes our own piece of ground.
So in an act of defiance, I am bringing nature home to my one little acre in Oregon. I am starting the slow process to convert my land into a tiny nature sanctuary by planting native plants and creating a wildlife friendly habitat. Until recently I landscaped my yard the way everybody does-by what would look nice. That meant planting common cultivars from Asia without a thought to what nutrition and cover they would provide to native species including pollinators, butterflies, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
Will this make a difference? Well to me it does! To future furred and feathered visitors it will, and if enough other homeowners join in it will make a huge difference. All I know is that when we recently planted a big leaf maple in our yard and planted my overgrown planter barrel by the porch entrance with milkweed, and native wildflowers I felt empowered. If you would like to join me on my radical gardening journey, tune into my other blog, One Sweet Earth where I will be sharing my process bit by bit.
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.
We are among the lucky. Thus far we have only lost power and internet service. There is a fire a few miles away but it seems to be holding. My heart goes out to those who have lost everything and the 500,00 who have had to undergo the stress of evacuations.
As Oregon Burns
A dry wind howls from the east
We extinguish the candles
and do not sleep
As Oregon burns
A black cloud draws across the sky like a flat curtain