There are fires raging out of control across the western United States this summer. Across parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, New Mexico and Nevada, forest fires have burned many thousands of acres of land, destroyed homes, and wreaked havoc. Most of the fires have started because of exceedingly dry conditions and extreme high temperatures, creating the perfect conditions for forest fires to burn. Some readers are familiar with forest fires and the incredible damage they create; others live in temperate zones with enough rain to keep the land moist and fires at bay.
Growing up in Denver, Colorado, and having lived in Wyoming and Northern Colorado at different times of my life, I am well acquainted with this sad fact of life in dry, mountainous regions. The Rocky mountains belong to some of the most beautiful land in the world, certainly in North America. Towering mountain peaks, clean, fast moving rivers, lush mountain valleys and ample nature are its hallmarks, with Colorado and Wyoming taking the lions’ share of high country. Many who live in these states consider themselves lucky to live among such gorgeous views, clean air and sparkling waters, and affectionately call it “God’s Country.”
When forest fires come, things change quickly. As in any emergency situation, one minute the land is quiet, calm and peaceful, then in a moment everything shifts. People living in high-risk areas learn to live with the threat and the reality of fire, of loss of nature, and sometimes their homes and property. Much can be said about this, but what I find interesting about it is the effect that the element of fire has on our collective psyche when it burns in such vast, out of control amounts.
Whether caused by humans or by nature, fire destroys completely. As an element, it represents energy in the extreme, a reflection of the sun, tremendous heat. To our psyches, it can represent anger, rage, and a kind of dancing, uncontrollable energy. Fire is red and yellow, colors which speak to group energy, as in China’s red sun flag. It also represents the east in north American shamanism, along with illumination and vision. We all have archetypal images associated with fire. Fire is primal energy; it clears, destroys, and makes the way for something new to grow.
When I hear of these fires, some of which are nearly a hundred thousand acres in size, consuming basically everything in their path, and think of all the thousands of firefighters which are working round the clock to try to control them, I admit I feel a mixture of sadness and loss. I think of the beautiful forests which have turned from peaceful, nurturing places for the wildlife and humans who live there, to charred, destroyed wasteland. I feel sorry for the animals who have lost their homes and some their lives. And I also feel for the people who had their homes destroyed, along with all of their possessions, who don’t know what to do next. Fire is so dramatic, so flamboyant an element. It is so beautifully deadly. But at the same time, I understand that it has its place in Nature’s cycles, to clear out what is old, no longer needed, and ultimately create space and new soil. Within a few seasons of a fire, new growth begins on the forest floor. Certain species of trees actually need fire in order to open their acorns and begin a new cycle. Fire must be respected and honored, in the midst of its destructive wake.
Recently I wrote about the need for us to clear out our personal lives, both our physical, as well as our psychic space. The massive fires burning across the west now are taking this clearing to a large, collective level. I believe that when psychic clearing needs to occur, nature will step in, often dramatically. We can choose to see this process as a tragedy, or as an opportunity. After all, we are in the midst of huge shifts in our collective consciousness here on Earth. Every ostensibly tragic occurence of nature: floods, forest fires, tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc., can be seen as something necessary to our world, even as they bring destruction and loss to humanity and nature.
Once, many years ago, I walked out of my home in Loveland, Colorado, on a summer’s night, looked up at the sky, and saw the moon. It was blood-red, hanging in a graceful arc above the trees. It was red because of the forest fires which burned in the mountains to the west of our town. The image was so amazing that I made a painting of it, which still hangs in a friend’s home and which still fascinates me each time I see it again. Nature is the ultimate conqueror, as well as giver of gifts. Despite all of our technology and artificial intelligence, when faced with the awesome power of nature in these ways, humans quickly become small and helpless, humbled before what was once worshiped as gods and goddesses. Perhaps the ancients were right and wise to appease these nature gods with sacrifices and prayers. What good could we moderns do for our world if we took a similar attitude of humility and gratitude towards these forces of nature, how could we work to soothe the fire gods, the river gods, the volcano gods? To befriend them again, instead of to rebel against them?
On a personal note, my dear family in America is traveling to Colorado as I write this blog here in temperate, safe Denmark. They are crossing the midwestern states during a heat wave of epic proportions. Their destination is outside of Denver, a city which lies at the base of the Rocky mountains, with forest fires burning to the north, west, and south of it. My prayers for cooling, for rain, for a calming of the angry fire gods go with them. May all who are involved with these nature elementals be safe, and may the fires end soon.
There is a time of Water and a time of Wind.
This is the time of Fire, and Fire eats time.
The sands of the desert are uncountable!
Let go of the reckoning! Let go of time!
Let go of rain! Let go of forgiving!
Fire eats rain and Fire eats trees. Fire eats
The leaves of corn. Fire is the grain and the husk
Of corn. Fire is the raging of Water. Fire is the roar,
the hum, the sting of Wind. Fire is the pepper pulsing
from the flower. Fire is the frenzied volcano dancing.
It is the lightning’s blitz, the drumming, the singing,
The beat of tribes, telling their story all night,
Piercing the bottom of dark, birthing the light.
Fire is the Earth exhausted, folding, sleeping
from days and nights of love, til there is no counting.
When flowers bleed, when lions sleep, when angels sigh, oh bleed, oh
sleep, oh sigh then! Oh, burn with mountains!
When leaves flame and fall to the ground,
When grass grows brown then gray, grieve not.
Grieve not, but follow the eagle and follow the grass.
–Elaine Maria Upton
In Rocky Mountain Forests, More Fires and More People (newswatch.nationalgeographic.com)