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 black.

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 giant redwoods.

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 the cut.

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 them.

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 her pocket.

"Life is change!" The raven calls from the rooftop.

True, my friend, so true.

END


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