Ring of Fire - Jan Edwards
Change attacks suddenly. For decades you are growing peacefully and then out of nowhere a gust of wind hits from behind and snaps off a limb. Or you struggle to overcome grey mold and twig blight only to be uprooted in a winter storm. One moment you stand among friends and the next you are alone. Planning ahead is pointless. Asking why gets you nowhere. The only way through is to put your trust in life.
I remember the day was oddly still. No breeze rustled the
brown needles. Even the raven was silent. The summer had been
long and dry but by afternoon gray clouds began to pile up on
the ridge. The forest waited, heavy with the hope of rain.
Then without warning, the clouds cracked and a blinding flash
struck the top of the hill. Clumps of parched grass caught fire
and flared. The tinder-dry hillside ignited as the growing blaze
rolled over shrubs and small pines, flushing birds and setting
animals racing. A sudden wind, thick with smoke, pushed the wave
of fire down the slope towards the ocean - towards us.
The raven took to the air heading south. I envied his wings
as we stood our ground. Our family had lived here for centuries;
we were rooted to the spot. As the fire stormed into our grove
flames leapt from branch to branch, engulfing trunks and turning
them into torches. Even the biggest could not withstand the ferocious
heat. It burned through their protective bark, into their wood,
vaporizing their very sap. I stood helpless at the center of that
blazing circle as flames stripped my needles and singed my bark
Tested by fire and singled out by chance, I survived. It was
the year of my century ring and deep inside I would always carry
the charred circle in memory of those horrible moments when my
world turned to ash.
Before the fire I lived a sheltered life, the harshness of
nature blocked by my taller relatives. Now I was the only tree
left standing in a field cinders. I wished I could sink with the
remnants of my grove as they melted slowly into the earth. But
that was not my fate. So when the rains came I grew new needles.
And then one day the raven returned.
Spring brought a miracle. The burned trees which appeared to
be dead had instead gone underground. Their roots lived on, sprouting
tender saplings. As the elder tree it became my role to capture
fog, cast shade, and buffer wind until my tiny cousins grew to
My family circles flourished and thought it took centuries
the forest grew back as vibrant and varied as ever. Over time
I began to view the fire more as transformation than tragedy.
I added 1000 rings and remained the tallest on the bluff top.
Generations of ravens nested in my branches. The grove was a wonderland
of soft sun and gentle rain - that's how I remember it before
Alarm spread first through the root system: destruction was
coming. Soon we heard the ripping of branches, the splintering
of trunks and felt heavy thuds shake the earth as the giants fell.
The clear cut took years, bringing all the terror of fire in slow
motion. When it was finished the devastation was complete. Not
one of us was spared.
I did not believe that the forest could recover, not from this.
But it is in our nature to fight for life. We adapt, even to
horrific change, and start to heal. I pushed my longings into
the earth and became a mother tree, spreading my roots to grow
my own circle of daughters.
On the north coast where we live these circles of trees are called fairy rings. It's said that standing inside a fairy ring can calm the wildest mind and crack the hardest heart open just a bit. Sleeping in one can change a life forever. I've seen it happen first hand. The metamorphosis is real and fairies have nothing to do with it.
To see me now you would not guess that I was once an ancient
giantess. The loggers had to work in teams to saw through my immense
trunk only to abandon it when the blackened circle near my heartwood
was revealed. Marred timber was not worth the effort it took to
drag it down to the cove. So they left me where I fell. My huge
flat stump became a stage for squirrels and rabbits, until some
fishermen decided it would make a sturdy foundation on which to
build a shelter. Nearby lay my body, ready to be milled for the
walls and roof joists.
As you can imagine, the change from tree to cabin was disorienting
and adjusting to my new circumstances took time. Luckily that
is something I have always had in abundance. And soon I had a
project - a different sort of seedling to protect.
They're as noisy as ravens and even more foolish, but it's
really not as bad as it sounds. They run about like nervous ground
squirrels at first, but after living inside me for a while they
seem to calm down. Their antics are amusing and, in spite of their
reputation, I've seen a tender side. Unfortunately, it has been
difficult getting them to root. They often appear to be settling
in then take off unexpectedly while their bark is still fragile.
Letting go is hard after you've shared their days and nights,
made peace with their quirks and adopted their rhythms. Some you'll
miss more than others, of course. I've been raising them for over
a century now and I still get attached. It's worse if you name
Today on the bluff top, inside the cabin built on my stump,
an iron bedstead rattles. The young one named Deirdre rolls to
her side and a shaft of light cuts a path across the quilt she
calls Wild Goose Chase.
Walls creak as the afternoon sun warms my planks. The light
broadens, brightening her auburn hair as it trails across the
pillowcase. Soon the whole room glows golden. But the Deirdre
one still dreams; wrapped in the quilt, on the iron bed, inside
the cabin, in the center of my fairy ring.
At dusk, she finally awakes. With the quilt still around her
she walks outside to watch the sunset from the porch steps. She
has lived on top of my stump for years, never knowing. (A perimeter
poured a decade ago hides my trunk from view.) My ring of daughters
has grown so large that Deirdre doesn't recognize it as a circle.
She just sees a cabin standing among huckleberries in a grove
of redwoods. Although blind to my roots beneath the floorboards,
she still feels them, always has.
"I'll miss this place," I hear her whisper.
As a parting gift, a small round seed cone drops from a branch
above and rolls toward her foot. She picks it up and puts it in
"Life is change!" The raven calls from the rooftop.
True, my friend, so true.
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