I was nervous for what we would see.
Under a warm blue sky, we motored north through the cold, deep waters of Lake Chelan, past rocky ridges, charred pine, and ashen mountainsides. One year ago…to the day…we were evacuated from Holden Village as the Wolverine Fire raced through the dry wilderness. We drove out through thick smoke and arrived at the Lucerne dock to wait for the ferry that would both deliver the forest service crews who would battle the fire, and deliver us from harm’s way.
I had learned about Holden more than a decade before. I had seen pictures. I dreamt of it. I traced the contour lines of its valley on a topographical map long before I ever made the trip. Sometimes when you build something up so large in your mind, real life has a hard time competing. But this wasn’t the case for Holden. I anticipated the scenery, the stunning and remote setting at the base of dramatic twin peaks. I understood the adventure of the journey, with a 2-hour boat ride up a wilderness lake, followed by a 10-mile drive up gravel switchbacks in a repurposed school bus names Linnaea. I was all in before I even started driving west. What I failed to understand was the sense of community. Holden wasn’t just a place. It was a group of people living together intentionally in the wilderness, in close quarters and with limited resources. Holden was a place that both sought, and embodied spirit.
So on the day we evacuated, I left feeling like I had briefly tasted Paradise, but with a heavy realization that Paradise could soon be reduced to ash.
We worried. We prayed. We scoured social media and the Internet for any shred of news we could find…and we waited. Some things are out of your hands.
In the end, the Wolverine Fire was a bad fire in a bad season of fires. More than 100,000 acres burned, but Holden was spared, and this week, we got to return.
I was worried for what we would see. The fire had ravaged the wilderness and the forest was reduced, in many places, to charred stumps and barren ridges. But just twelve months later, the fireweed had blossomed. Carpets of purple softened the landscape of ashen grey. And even as some areas appeared to be totally devastated, others were more of a patchwork, with green and brown alternating in a mosaic across the valley.
I went in feeling like I would witness total destruction, and found sustained life, and new life as well. In fact, Holden was still Holden. Some things…many things…had changed, but it was part of a bigger cycle, and life carried on.
Then I wondered, if the same could be true for our world…for our country.
At the moment, I feel like we live on the edge of tragedy. Maybe it’s the political season, but maybe something more has shifted. Maybe we are no longer interested in finding common ground. Maybe we are most interested in being right. In many ways it feels like our society is as fragile as I have ever known. And I worry that if someone were to toss a lit match into the dry landscape of our social fabric, it would quickly go up in flames.
Maybe. But we are stronger than we know.
Holden Village survived because people took care of it. They planned. They replaced wooden roofs with metal. They installed Rain Bird sprinkler systems to eliminate the burning embers that would drift in to settle on historic structures. They wrapped porches with foil to resist the heat. And when the inferno came raging up the valley toward them, they lit backfires to eliminate the fuel that could feed the oncoming fire.
Can we do the same? Can we fortify our social compact against tragedy? Are there systems we can put in place that make us stronger? Together, can we find ways to remove the fuel that would feed a fire that could consume us?
Can we do that? Will we?