Looking for the Fireweed of Life

Fires are deadly and destructive. At both Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, I saw first-hand the damage that wildfires can do.

On a hike along St. Mary’s Lake in Glacier National Park, I could even still smell the effects – the odor of burnt wood still wafted in the air.

Fires unfortunately happen. Sometimes it’s negligence, which is incredibly frustrating, criminal-even. And often, it happens more naturally – dry conditions and a lightning strike.

I’m not a botanist, or a naturalist, or a park ranger (obviously!) but I do like looking for the meaning and significance in the natural world around me. And I think fires have something to tell us.

Fires change the terrain. There is a ton of interesting reading one can find about the value of fire to the environment. Here’s a snippet from the National Park Service (click the images below to read more):

“Fire is part of a cycle in most ecosystems. It reduces dead vegetation, stimulates new growth, and improves habitat for wildlife, many of the details park visitors imagine when they think of a national park. With fire suppression, fire was removed from the cycle and ecosystems began to get out of balance.”

An informational sign for the Three Falls Trail, my aforementioned hike, noted “The Reynolds Fired burned most of this area in 2015. The fire opened up new vistas and wildflowers abound in this dramatically changed landscape.”

And I love this description from a National Geographic informational book on the impact of the great fires of 1988 on Yellowstone:

What an interesting metaphor – the creative destruction of fire.

As I hiked through the burned out forest at Glacier, and yet was overcome by the beauty of the view of the lake and the beautiful wildflowers growing everywhere, I couldn’t help think of what a picture it painted for my own life. Metaphorical destruction, and yet beauty coming up from the ashes.

Don’t we all have fires in our lives?

Sometimes, they are fast and quick, the damage can be minimized. Other times, the fire is all-consuming, destroying everything in its wake. Nothing is familiar, and you’re forced to navigate wholly unfamiliar terrain. Perhaps even your body bears the physical scars, an additional handicap to moving forward.

How to go on?

First, grieve the fire. Give your body, your heart time to rest.

And then?

Accept the force of the fire. Look for new vistas and fireweed blossoms.

“Fireweed is a tall showy wildflower that grows from sea level to the subalpine zone. A colorful sight in many parts of the country, fireweed thrives in open meadows, along streams, roadsides, and forest edges. The name fireweed stems from its ability to colonize areas burned by fire rapidly. It was one of the first plants to appear after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980. Known as rosebay willowherb in Great Britain, fireweed quickly colonized burned ground after the bombing of London in World War II, bringing color to an otherwise grim landscape.”

Where are the new landscapes opened up in life – that you never could have dreamed of before?

What are the new wildflowers that are now free and open to germinate, blossom, and flourish – bringing unexpected beauty and delight?

How are the debris and dead trees providing an opportunity for new life to come alive?

I am not minimizing the utter destruction, pain, and impact of fire. I know it first-hand. But I have also experienced the complicated beauty of the wildfire. Life can find a way. There is always newness available. Fireweed will appear.

And above all else, on the moments when there’s not a glimpse or a hope of the fireweed, I can know that the Creator of this vast world is with me – when my reality and body are threatened, my soul is always safe:

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

(Isaiah 43:2)

It is truly incredible to me how the earth can regenerate after fire. Nature is pretty amazing! And yet, I don’t think it’s surprising given that is just how God works – always working towards redemption.

Keep looking for fireweed, friends.


Leave a Reply