I have the pleasure of working with The Nature Conservancy, which I lovingly think of as ‘the thinking mans’ conservation organization. They do thoughtful, science-based work through partnerships with pretty much everyone, all in the name of ‘protecting nature and preserving life’. On a recent visit to one of the Conservancy’s gorgeous preserves, I had the chance to see their fire team in action, and to learn about the value of fire in the management of environmental landscapes, the value of burning old growth in order to bring about a restored and healthy system. No, this is not a conservation blog, but the lesson is very relevant!
The forests in need of burning are overgrown. The trees have crowded close together creating a shade over the ground that limits sunlight, and therefore also limits diversity in the plant life below. Wildlife cannot benefit from the variety of plants needed to sustain them, the soil becomes stagnate, and the overgrowth leaves the entire system vulnerable and fuel-filled for a lighting (or man-made) disaster.
Enter the fire. The Conservancy teams use fire as a tool to clear the overgrowth, to take the system down to its fundamental bare bones, to rid the unwelcome suffocation of unkempt canopy, and allow the soil to once again breathe. The ashes begin to immediately fertilize the soil; green sprouts are seen again within days of a burn. Within months, the charred and smoky landscape is laden with fresh growth, new life, and new vigor with new resilience and a new chapter is able to finally begin.
It is like that with life my friends. We don’t always know when our system is in need of a good burn. We don’t always know when we are suffocating under the old growth and stagnate soil. We are devastated just like an overgrown forest is when a fire happens in our lives. An illness, a divorce, a loss. We are devastated because we are unaware, unprepared and unhealthy in our comfort zone. A fire, an event that burns us to the ground is horrible and painful.
And yet, inevitably, at some point after the fire comes the regrowth. Yes, the charred scars are still there, but they are made beautiful against the contrast of the new and tender beginnings of a different, healthier story. Once the fire and ash subside, a new chapter begins, and because we’ve been made aware of what we didn’t see, didn’t appreciate, didn’t understand before, this new chapter is more poignant and beautiful than we could have imagined.
Yes, there is sadness and a loss in the new beautiful, but now our soil is diverse. Our habitat is made healthy, and we will withstand future fires with a strength and resilience we did not previously possess. Healthy systems are those that experience the full gamut of life and death. Burn baby burn.
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