Direct light pierces the canyon above Wahclella Falls in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.
I haven’t really written anything about the recent fire in the Columbia River Gorge. With having such a deep connection to the area it’s been hard to find the words and sift through the emotions. Like many others, I have gone through the stages of grief in dealing with the fire. To know that the area where I used nature to fight my most challenging personal demons was raining down on my car in ash was one of the biggest heartbreaks I’ve ever felt. Disbelief that the fire grew to such proportions so quickly, never expecting it to reach far beyond the Eagle Creek drainage and then waking up every morning to learn that yet another favorite creek, waterfall, or hiking trail had been in the path of the blaze. The anger, disbelief, and pain were all very real and I’ll never forget those feelings. It shook me in the deepest parts of my soul. Flashbacks of specific moments, experiences, and views filled my head for days, knowing that those exact things have been tarnished by the acts of another.
But that’s selfish. The reality is that fire is a natural part of the ecosystem and while it was caused by a human, the hotter and drier summers that we have been having combined with the exponentially increasing visitation to the area leads me to believe it would have happened eventually. This is nature’s way of hitting the reset button. The litter and graffiti are just symptoms of the overall problem: arrogant disrespect and misuse of our natural areas. If any lesson is learned from this fire I hope it’s the one where we learn how fragile these places are; that they are not to be taken for granted and are to be respected and taken care of. The gorge has been burned, cut, and pillaged for centuries and it has always bounced back because that’s what nature does. The fire itself will help clean out invasive species that we have introduced and allow the native plants to flourish. Soil has been enriched, seeds will germinate, and growth will return in abundance. New views will be opened up, the land will adjust and heal, and we will move forward with a deeper appreciation of what we do have, and hopefully a higher level of awareness around our collective actions. We are but blips in time and space in the grand scheme of the earth and to view the fire as something that destroyed the gorge is not only shortsighted, but also closed minded.
This is Wahclella Falls. While it’s a place of immense beauty I have never really connected to it in a way that compelled me to photograph it. On the day I took this photo I was accompanying two friends who were doing some work and as I sat in the sun watching them play in the water with their cameras, the light shined into the canyon above the main falls. It’s these deeper looks into the scenes which I have really been drawn to lately and I take solace in the fact that there will be beauty like this everywhere in the gorge despite the fire.
The gorge is in its most unique state in our lifetimes and we have a front row seat to watching the regeneration. Yes.. some areas burned heavily and will take longer and some areas have burned but the trees will survive. But no matter where we look there will be beauty to be seen, if either we look hard enough or through a different perspective. Photo © copyright by TJ Thorne.