I spent the weekend hiking and relaxing in the canyon where I grew up. It’s different now. The beaver pond has shrunk to a puddle and the bridge where I had pretend tea with my Mrs. Peabody doll has collapsed into the stream. Time takes its toll.
In pursuit of gold and lost history, we scrambled up a steep slope covered in granite tailings. Hands and feet clawing for purchase, we reached the summit of a scraggly peak. I stopped, breathing heavily, my bare legs scratched and starting to bleed. There, in the sun and wind, the world spread open before me, I paused to take in Ponderosa pine, red rocks, and aspens shimmering in the breeze. We did not find the elusive mine, or the famed Prisoners Road. Instead, we found a moment of peace.
Later, we drove as far as we could before hiking to the overlook — a sanctuary for Peregrine falcons, deep in the backwoods. On cliffs towering more than a thousand feet above the canyon I call home, we surveyed the mountains, streams, and forests. When I looked down, my stomach thundered with vertigo, but when I looked to the horizons east and south, I was calm, resilient, and whole.
To the north, a plume roiled against the crisp, blue sky — white, red, orange, and purple streaked with angry gray, the breath of a dying fire. Monarch butterflies spread bright yellow wings and flies buzzed. A chipmunk darted up a tree. Wild raspberries and strawberries shed their petals, the budding fruit a beckoning.
A long time ago, my sister – a conservation activist and forester – told me that a healthy forest has integrity in relationship to itself. For years, I believed the chaotic clamor of life struggling, like we did, for purchase on the rocky slopes was what she meant. This weekend, I learned that a healthy forest isn’t cluttered or choked. It is tall Ponderosas and sweeping, park-like turf. Big, natural fires, occurring about once every forty years, used to clear the weed trees, tangled vines, and unhealthy overgrowth.
The realization, and subsequent discovery, of relative health stunned me. I had thought that everything was in balance the way things were. Fires terrify me. When we drove on Sunday through the recent burn, I experienced a revelation of sorts. The blackened earth, scorched trees, and absolute lack of chaos were a precursor to recovery and eventual health.
I started thinking about how creatives operate most of the time. The soil in our minds is fertile, primed for growth. Teeming with nutrients, different seeds take root, each competing with the other for room, water, and sun. Over time, our minds become cluttered, chaotic, and rough. The white firs choke out the old growth thoughts. A story prompt takes us away from our WIP. A blog insists we belong on Pinterest. As the seeds sprout, we lose integrity in relationship to ourselves. Then, our work is clumsy, noisy, and irrelevant, part of a teeming whole out of balance with itself.
Walking through the woods, standing on that cliff, and listening to the quiet of the creek, I started to do some clearing – chopping, bagging, and discarding dead debris. Just because I get an idea or feel compelled to do something doesn’t mean it’s good for the work or me. I want the Ponderosas and singing meadows, the grace and calm of a mind and heart in harmony.
Like the forest service, we have a choice. We can wait for lightning to strike and the fire that will follow – a string of negative reviews, dismal sales, a marriage collapse – or we can manage ourselves by cutting the weed trees and raking up the duff.
What are your weed trees? Social media? A clean house? The blog posts you feel obligated to read? I’m thinking about all the things that choke my forest. What’s necessary? What contributes to a sustainable ecosystem and helps the good ideas thrive? What doesn’t? Let me know. I love to hear your thoughts.