I’m hiking up Welcome Creek Wilderness through the old burn. Fireweed lines the trail by the sinuous stream that’s thick with thimbleberry, wild currant, snowberry, red osier dogwood and birch, cottonwood, fir, spruce, and ponderosa. Charred snags and burned living trees serve as reminders of the fire that hopscotched through here more than a decade ago.
My attention turns to fireweed. The tall stems that earlier bloomed in purplish pink abandon are now a curly, tousled, sculpture releasing downy cotton seed parachutes to the wind – as many as 80,000 per plant.
Th essence of autumn lies here in this fireweed. I’m struck by the gift of seeds held in tiny white feathery bundles and the way the two parts of the seed pod curl backwards to release the delicate downy gift of fireweed future. The curls form circles.
In that repetition, I begin to see all that is circular — the round bowl of the cerulean sky, the frothing bubbles in the headlong creek, and the globes of white snowberries in clusters. How many reminders does it take to remember that life returns life, that days circle, seasons circle, and love? Love circles too—the love that goes deep into your heart has no ending, ever circling, ever returning before and after death.
Out of fire comes the fireweed that thrives, and reminds us of all fire does with the burning too –the recycling of nutrients in the soil and in the streams, the rejuvenation of huckleberries, the bounty of wild mushrooms, and the opening of serotinous cones of trees like lodgepole that need fire. And then, there are the birds –the black-backed woodpeckers feasting on the beetles that tunnel into the burned wood, the bluebirds delighting in aerial insects and new nest homes.
Today, fireweed reminds me of something else—the end of summer and how I grieve for that as I grieve for the burned ancient trees. The days shorten. Chill descends in the morning. All that is blooming, blossoming, lush and growing starts to close up. Birds flock and many favorites migrate south. Spring is my favorite season, followed by summer, and then fall and last oh last—winter.
Yet, now as the fireweed gleams in the sunshine so stark and lovely in its arcs, circles and seeds of hope, I’m feeling a little less like choosing favorites. Embrace the cold. Bundle up! Gasp at the wonder of turning colors. Catch the migration of eagles. Watch more constellations and moon shine in the dark. Build fires for warmth, camaraderie, and magic.
Remember, all that is circular, all that is returning. Fireweed. The phoenix plant. You rise from the flames. You show us the way. We cannot hang onto any one moment, any one season. We may long for the past, yet in every arcing circular pathway I see in the fireweeds upon the trail, I am reminded that our pathway is not linear, not a one-way street to the end. All that we have loved, we will always love and will always return to us as sure as the dawn.