UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Spirit Story

From the ashes

By David Giuliano

A fire crew has been burning down the forest at Ontario’s Pukaskwa National Park. Not all of it, of course. But last May, a fire was lit near the Pukaskwa visitor centre off the shore of Hattie Cove, Ont., so visitors could learn about the importance of fire to the forest. Like acolytes in flame-retardant
vestments, firefighters pour fire from drip torches or launch fiery ping-pong balls from helicopters. It’s called a prescribed burn.

A few days after the fire, we were at the visitor centre to hear some local musicians. Wisps of lingering smoke drifted over the blackened landscape. Ash a foot deep covered the still-hot earth. A few charred and limbless stumps testified to the devastation. Animals, birds and insects had either fled or perished. The desolation left no cause for them to return. Save for the sound of our own breathing, our own hearts beating, the silence was complete.

The audience also saw a video about the fire being set. Flaming pillars scorched the sky, billowing clouds of smoky incense. Whole trees torched like matchsticks. The forest howled. Branches snapped and popped like a valley of a thousand bones breaking. Yet this tiny demonstration fire was birthday-cake candle compared to the ravenous wildfires that devour the landscape, jump over roads and rivers and suck up all the air.

Late last August, my daughter Naomi and I set out to hike to the nearby White River suspension bridge. The rugged, day-long journey starts at Hattie Cove and heads south, passing first through the burn. Before the scents of soil, brook, moss and autumn mushrooms would fill our noses, we anticipated the acrid smell of wet campfire.

We were surprised instead by the scent of wildflowers and tender shrubs and saplings — the preferred food of moose and hare. A chipmunk chattered territorially from atop a skeletal log in which she had made a home. Blackflies and dragonflies coasted on the morning air. Bees hummed among the tiny succulent flowers. A chickadee skittered about, gorging on an entomological feast. A heron stalked the shallow waters of the cove.

Naomi noticed a motion detector set back from the trail to monitor the return of wildlife. I did a little dance there in the resurrecting forest so that our return would also be recorded.

Forests need fire. Soil is regenerated by the release of carbon. After a burn, ground cover previously choked off by windfalls and debris thrives. Some plants and trees, like Jack pines, only release their seeds from the cone in intense heat. When fire opens up the high canopy, sunlight streams in and plant and animal diversity proliferates. Bears sniff out the fattest sun-ripened blueberries. Birds, moose and hares come to the feast. People around here will drive for miles with their empty ice-cream pails to pick and eat the berries made better by fire.

When asked what he would take with him if his house were on fire, the French writer Jean Cocteau replied, “J’emporterais le feu” (“I would take the fire”). Hiking through that greening burn, I recalled the fires of the spirit that have burned down my certainty, my accomplishments and my towering convictions. Amid the debris, new life opened up; light penetrated a dark place where I thought all was lost.

I have feasted, at times, on fruit that can only be had after fire. Perhaps you have too.  



Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image