Still Burning

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The North Bay wildfires were extinguished months ago and signs of renewal abound, but to Marilyn Englander in many ways the devastated landscape is still burning.

A friend and I decided to take a hike in Sonoma last week, hoping the rains would have transformed the land. We chose a destination new to both of us, so as we left Highway 101 in Santa Rosa, we were following our noses.

It didn’t take long.

In the grey drizzle, the acrid stench of smoke and burn immediately surrounded us. We’d stumbled right into the heartbreaking remains of Coffey Park. Six months on, the place still looks newly ravaged. A long line of debris-removal trucks plodded ahead of us as we zigzagged west. In the middle of a gaping expanse of ruin, a limp American flag hung lonely on a pole. Someone had propped up a Christmas tree, decorations now faded, on another blackened stretch. My eyes stung, not just from the smell. A little white tent sheltering photos of lost pets summed up the feeling. The suffering is still raw.

We crossed to the other side of the freeway, realizing our trailhead actually lay further east. This landed us in what was once prosperous Fountaingrove. The winding road that climbed to the ridge was lined with flowering white plums, creating a lacey foreground obscuring skeletons of trees and leveled lots. New green grass covered the embankments where pale flowers abounded: death camas, a plant that reclaims land fire has devastated. Such beauty against the bleak background of destroyed homes, red-scorched trees. Nature’s trying hard amid the stark “For Sale” signs.


We finally found our trail and hiked across a foothill meadow where the energy of spring lightened our moods --- juicy clumps of poison oak, budding maples, bushy willows and creeks running everywhere. Life robustly starting anew.

The emergency shelters have long since closed and insurance money --- for those who had it --- won’t last another year. There’s a lot of struggle still in fire country. It’s good to be upbeat, yet I want to keep in my mind the images of last week so that my compassion and generosity don’t burn out.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander is a North Bay educator.