Summer of Smoke
I dreamed I was walking through a young forest not quite regrown from the last fire. In my dream the song of a mountain chickadee was cut short by the rising wail of an air raid siren. It screamed in slow echoes through the forest. The sound was straight out of World War II and evoked an impending disaster. When the siren finally faded the forest was silent for a moment then a pack of wolves began to howl.
September 16th Sprague Fire is 15,995 acres
Smoke still hangs around our house so we drive up the canyon. Clouds part and reveal a dusting of snow has landed upon the blue craggy cliffs all wrapped in yellow leaves of fall. I go running up the mountain while Whitney, still recovering from weeks of illness, naps in a meadow.
I run away from the dull roar of the highway in search of something wild. After a week in the office I need something really wild. Half a mile up the trail I cross the train tracks into the park. Rails laid across my trail are the opposite of the wild, cold, mechanical, loud, and I hurry past them.
As I go up the mountain the wildness deepens. I reach the first patch of snow and take in a beautiful undeveloped view into an obscure canyon. Few people ever come back here and it feels wild to me because of that.
I keep going and the snow thickens. The snow itself makes things feel wilder. For one thing it's cold and wet and beyond human control. It makes an entirely safe excursion into the forest feel a little dangerous if one were to get too cold and wet. But it also reveals a wildness that was there all along. I follow coyote tracks up the trail until they veer off to chase and snatch a squirrel. A wild story that was always true but only revealed by the snow.
As I climb the final ridge the snow is blown into drifts and plastered against stunted trees making a wild scene and I'm soaking it all in. Then a mechanical and entirely not wild sound fills the valley from below. I look down and see the train, wheeling steel on steel, moving past where I'd been an hour earlier. Apparently I haven't ventured quite far enough to escape everything unwild.
By the time I reach the summit the sound has faded and I can see into the heart of Glacier National Park to places and things truly wild. At the heart, the wildest thing in my vision, in addition to the undeveloped valleys filled with fresh snow and left over storm clouds catching on jagged peaks, is a smoldering wildfire. It was naturally caused and burned wildly through wild old growth forests and there was not a thing humans could do about it, but the snow will now slow and end this season of smoke.