The devastating Northern California firestorm that swept through Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma Counties in October left the earth scorched.
Now less than three months later we begin to see the landscape recovering. With a few inches of blessed rain since the fires, the annual grasses have started to green up, creating a eerie juxtaposition to the blackened trees.
Clearing out the understory is a periodic process that can be disastrous for homes built in the woodlands, but an opportunity for an ecological cleansing. The California landscape has evolved with fire, indeed, the native Americans regularly burned grasslands to regenerate grasses and keep down the shrubs.
All of the leaves on these trees below were scorched, this is not autumn foliage color, and when the land recovers in the spring it will look like a green park.
Walking in these woodlands now is a raw experience, not ready for human interpretation. Nature just wants to recover and not be watched. I feel like I am trespassing in a boudoir; the woods are bare, naked, the underbrush is mostly gone. There are no birds.
Yet, there is a determined beauty. The landscape has been abruptly transformed, but it is not dead.
California Oaks evolved with fire and now, after a conflagration, these trees show their strength in new ways. It will take many months to fully evaluate which trees will survive, and years for the landscape to recover but the signs are already unmistakable.
Leaves are resprouting:
Some trees are even trying to flower:
Charred saplings are putting up fresh growth from the scorched earth:
Acorns are cracking open and putting down roots.
Bunch grasses are rejuvenating:
In some places ashy remnants seem to be pools of destruction in a surreal landscape of fire ravaged trees, some burned charcoal, some an ashen gray, some with browned, scorched leaves still hanging on them.
Some of the trees look like standing ghosts.
Other trees simply burned black.
I find these trees to be a extraordinarily beautiful and I don’t know why I am not sad. They may be dead; they are certainly damaged, but without a human to determine beauty or function, the trees just are; strong, silent, and noble, connecting the earth and the sky.
Recovery will take years and it surely will look different once we know which trees survived. It will be beautiful still.
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