It feels somewhat easy to distance myself from the devastation in Texas, and I turn only a concerned brow toward what lies in wait for Florida. It’s tragic, and my heart aches for all who have lost their homes and livelihoods (and all this month, I am donating 25% of all proceeds from print sales to Harvey relief efforts). But once the news is turned off, my personal life creeps back in, pushing the drenched scenes, the tears, the pleas for help – back across the miles from whence they came.
But when tragedy strikes so close to home, I can no longer shut it out – intentionally or otherwise.
The Columbia River Gorge is one of my many playgrounds, and I’ve blogged about several hikes in the area. In fact, I just wrote about the famous Multnomah Falls last week. The Gorge is lush and green, spidered with tantalizing trails and breathtaking views. It’s full of waterfalls and moss-covered trees, paths begging to be explored, and hidden nooks just waiting to be photographed. I love it dearly, and I’ve remarked on more than one occasion how grateful I am to have it in my very own backyard.
And as I type this, it is being destroyed.
A senseless act of recklessness sparked a massive wildfire that has consumed tens of thousands of acres of this stunning landscape.
It has threatened homes, and it trapped hikers. It has closed a major freeway and diverted boat traffic.
Multnomah Falls was on fire.
Visibility dwindled. Ash sprinkled from the sky and collected on the cars. And it has darkened the city’s skies for days, forcing residents to remain indoors to take shelter from the harmful air.
The only meager silver lining is that it has made for some powerfully compelling photos.
But documenting this tragedy is all I can do. The fire is still burning, and it will likely continue to burn until the autumn rains return. Beautiful trails are being ravaged. And all I can do is wait for it to stop.
I hike there every summer. I take visitors out there whenever they’re in town. Aaron and I got married there. That historic highway was one of the things that made me first fall in love with the Pacific Northwest.
And it is forever changed.
I can’t ignore it when I’m surrounded by thousands who are likewise mourning this loss. I can’t shrug it off with, “I’m glad that didn’t happen to me.” This literally hits home. And I am utterly heartbroken.
But I also know that I’ll return. New trees will sprout, and with enough time, it will be green again. I’ll do whatever is in my power to restore the grandeur of that beautiful wilderness and ensure this playground is around for future generations.
A news article quoted a spokesman from Portland Fire and Rescue saying, “The Gorge still looks like the Gorge; it’s not a wasteland.” That’s heartening amidst this despair, and it’s exactly what I needed to hear. I may feel somewhat helpless right now, but I’m not without hope that I’ll play there again.
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