The summer of 2018 had been hot, dry, and smoky in British Columbia and Alberta. There had been many forest fires. Recent previous summers had also known significant forest fire damage.
As a family, we had chosen to do the Stanley Glacier hike. The area had been affected by fire in a recent year. Rain had fallen earlier in the week of our hike, so the air was clearer than usual, and so we took the opportunity to get out to the mountains.
Early on, our hike went past many short young coniferous trees growing close together. Some of the cones of evergreen trees actually require the heat of a fire to crack them open and make the seed available for germination. The fire that had burned away many taller trees and left charred stump also had eliminated the canopy that prevented sunlight from reaching younger trees, and now the new growth was plentiful.
There were, however, the blackened and barren remnants of the tall trees that had once dominated that landscape. They stood out like sentinels watching over the newer life below them – the new trees, the fireweed. A poem began to form in my mind, nearly spontaneously. It’s a rare occurrence for me, but it does happen- perhaps the result of a lifetime’s fascination with words and ideas, how words sound, and how ideas are shaped. So here it is.
Dead Sentinels – by Art Koop (September 1, 2018, during a hike toward Stanley Glacier, through terrain scorched by a huge forest fire just a few years previous)
Dead sentinels still standing guard
Over nurseries of toddler trees and fireweed
Determined in their youth
Asserting life within
Their rockstrewn charred domain
Certain in some grander scheme, they win.
We, wending our way over, through, and past
Begin to feel our circulating breath and blood,
The warmth of working muscle pushing us ahead.
And start to feel we too are more alive than dead.
The intrepid potentilla, bursting into bloom
While holding fast its roots in molecules of dirt
Between the rocks, bears witness to our wandering
And seems to cheer us on, while we,
Amazed at its endurance, hear its positive prodding