The Purging Effect of a Wildfire

As I crest the Three Witches Climb on today’s ride, I am startled by the charred earth and campfire fragrance of the recent wildfires.  Instinctively, I slow my cadence (to catch my breath), stand on my pedals (to go real slow and without falling over), and stare at the brunt brush along the road.  The area is huge.

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When the wildfires burned through this area, I was in Chicago on a business trip.  The text message, “Are you being evacuated?” was my first warning that something was wrong.  Immediately, I called home.

In a brief discussion with my wife, I learned that we were not under evacuation orders. Nevertheless, we agreed to fill a couple boxes with items just in case the order came. Since I wasn’t home to do any packing, I felt sheepish asking my wife to pack my bike.  Instead, I rambled through a quick mental list of important documents and mementos.  When I returned home and stared at a single box, I was amazed at how little I needed or wanted.

Staring at the charred earth, I contemplate my small box.  What about all the things I saved that didn’t make the box — my race medals and numbers, my souvenir t-shirts from past places and events, and board games that I saved from childhood?  I have a ski jacket which hasn’t been worn since the 1980’s (very retro now, see below) and ties from the 1990’s (I’m sure they’ll come back into fashion soon). Do I really need these things?

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My mind wanders to a lesson I learned during a recent trip to Yosemite National Park.  While staring at the enormous sequoia trees, the park ranger explained that these trees only release their seeds during a fire.  In certain ecosystems, fire is necessary for plants to germinate.

While the blackened hillsides speak of destruction, life is already returning.  New sprouts are breaking through the ash covered bark, and grasses are growing.  While I would not wish fire on anyone (or myself), I am thankful that fire purges and makes room for new life.  My small box reminds me that I don’t really need that ski jacket or those board games.  In fact, the things I treasure really can’t be put in a box anyway.  Jesus tells us in the gospel of Matthew (Mt 6:21) that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

Thank you for the fire and the reminder of what I truly treasure.

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