I live on a plateau seven thousand feet above sea level in North Central New Mexico. This habitat is called the Pinon-Juniper Forest though the dominant tree here, apart from juniper, is Ponderosa Pine
A bit higher up, in the Subalpine Zone, pines mingle with fir and spruce. Verdant meadows moistened by melting snow promote diminutive wildflowers harvested by bees and brilliant butterflies. There are chipmonks, squirrels and small black and white woodpeckers. Dragonflies patrol the more sluggish sections of streams and garter snakes glide harmlessly through knee-high grass.
Two years ago, I called this region paradise. I don't know what to call it now.
Not that we weren't warned, and so what has happened should come as no surprise. I'm referring, of course, to human-caused global warming due to carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. In the Southwest this translates to extended periods of drought which turn the landscape into an open invitation to forest fire.
There have always been fires, of course, but not of the ferocity, frequency and extensiveness of what we have now.
In the year 2000, the Cerro Grande Fire destroyed 400 homes in the city of Los Alamos. Last year the Las Conchas fire destroyed over 100,000 acres, and recently, the Little Bear Fire near Carlsbad Caverns has burned nearly 5,000 acres and is still not completely contained. Each new wildfire is labelled the worst in recorded history.
Among the many examples of human ingenuity is the ability to turn Lothlorien into Mordor in the space of a few weeks.
Zombie sentinels. Those are the words that came to mind during my latest trip to the Jemez Mountains. The slopes are crowded with the arrow-straight, blackened forms of what once were the soft contours of native conifers. And yet, to me, these trees don't seem entirely dead as if some dark will could still muster them into action. "When Birnam Wood shall come to Dunsinane..."
Around these solitary trunks new growth flourishes, enough to convince some people that forest fires are really not such a bad thing after all. So long as they're kept away from human habitations.
But the new growth is not the same as what was there before. Locusts, miniature oaks and various low-growing shrubs but not pines or firs or spruce. Those will not come back for many years, if they come back at all.
Recently a guide from our local environmental center predicted that our once-forested mountains will become a shrub land. And so from the ashes of the inferno comes life -- a new and different life, a competitive tangle of rambling, ground-hugging plants replacing the towering pines, the majestic spruce and fir.
I wish I had not lived long enough to see this. I wish I had protested harder, fought more fiercely on behalf of the natural beauty that I love. For, if I place the lion's share of the blame on corporate profit-seekers, I must also place part of it on myself.
On TV shows such as Law and Order the cops always say to the families of the victims, "I'm sorry for your loss."
Such a feeble, inadequate sentiment yet it comes to mind now because it's all I can think of to say to my grandsons' children who will probably never wander in the shade of the Southwestern forests.
I am sorry for your loss...