This spring a forest fire ignited in Algonquin Park, just down the road from Camp Arowhon. Thankfully the water bombers and forest firefighters were able to get on top of it quickly, but nonetheless, about 40 acres of forest ended up burning. I walked out there with a group of students a week after the fire was out. I thought it would be a good opportunity for them to see whatever was left. We stood together in a charred clearing and did an “I wonder” circle. Someone wondered if the trees still standing were still alive. Another one wondered how many people and how much water it took to put it out. We stood there in the rain wondering out loud about how the fire began, how many years it would take for the area to regenerate, and how exactly it started. We traipsed back single file through the muddy hydro cut, the lingering smell of smoke in the air. At the time I don’t think I fully realized how much that moment would stay with me. The thing that struck me the most was the new growth. There were little sprouts of green emerging from the blackened land. I felt a moment of awe, or maybe it was hope. It’s hard to exactly pinpoint emotions these days with everything going on. As we tried to navigate getting back to camp without losing more rubber boots in the deep mud puddles, I was thinking about the resiliency of those sprouts, and what lessons they would bring me.
I remember learning long ago that even when there has been complete destruction of above-ground growth, there are several species that have such extensive root systems that dormant buds are protected underground. I had learned that the nutrients stored in the root system allow fire-induced sprouts to grow quickly, but I had never seen it with my own eyes. During some of our fire building lessons we use jack pine cones to show how their resin melts and releases their seeds, and yet standing in the middle of a forest impacted by fire is very different than holding one little pinecone to a flame.
There was something about those fire-induced sprouts that spoke to me. They were a symbolic reminder that even when things feel dark, beauty awaits. Maybe it’s a stretch, but as we moved through the pandemic what I realized more and more is that even though what we do at ALIVE was paused for a long time, we were fortunate to have a very strong root system.
As we rebuild our instructor team and work to recover, I am going to keep the image of those sprouts at the forefront of my mind. I am going to remind myself that ecosystems do recover. Regeneration takes time, and yet with the proper support, things grow back, often stronger and more vibrant than before.
There’s a new tune by Julian Taylor that really resonated with me the other day. One of the lines says, “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” Cheers to all of you out there working to regenerate. With the right support, sunshine, nutrients in the soil and care, I believe we will all get there.