The Cold Canyon Fire Journals: Green Shoots and Silver Linings in the Ashes
“In these days of isolation and disconnection, Carlson shows us how to enrich our own landscapes, both inner and outer. What seems barren at first can reveal hidden treasures.”
Robin Lee Carlson's The Cold Canyon Fire Journals does two things brilliantly. On one level, this is a book about fire in our landscape. Carlson vividly describes how what seems at first completely destructive can reward patient looking over years to reveal beauty, resilience, and hope. Yes, there's loss, but there's also gain. Having known the canyon well before the fire, Carlson expects to mourn its loss. She starts with the question of how the fire affected the many species she admired. The answer turns out to be complicated:
“Without more research, though, we can’t know for sure. These are the questions that animate science. They animate me too, as I notice, record, and entangle myself with the lives of the plants, animals, and fungi of Cold Canyon. While I wish we knew more—now—about fire in these habitats, I am at the same time excited by all the discoveries to come. I try to be a sponge as I walk these trails, absorbing the details around me, eyes open for the things that change from visit to visit and for all that stays the same.”
Not surprisingly, Carlson’s patient and careful looking is rewards. She sees that fire is as much help as harm.
“This recently burned land is a bright place, with light reaching where there was only shade before, now that much of the canopy and cover have been turned to gas and ash. With each visit to Cold Canyon and every month that passes, I see how vividly this landscape illuminates the scenes of fire’s place in the ecosystem, a narrative usually hidden.”
Carlson’s sketches and watercolors detail the changes and burgeoning life, allowing the reader to experience the canyon’s rebirth as the Carlson does herself. The art echoes what the words tell us:
“Fire is not the end of everything, no matter how true that seems when we walk along ashy trails. The burned limbs and persevering roots are just as much a part of the life cycle of some of these plants as their flowering, fruiting abundance in their mature years. And fire is in turn an integral part of the entire ecosystem.”
The paintings are more than beautiful illustrations. They move the book to another level, one that demonstrates the power of writing about and sketching experiences, how journaling can connect us to a place and to ourselves. The simple act of putting words and images on paper make for a greater understanding of ourselves and of whatever we're drawing. There's something about careful looking, really seeing what's in front of us, that is deeply healing.
“As I take stock of the changes I’ve witnessed in the canyon, I am filled with gratitude for my front-row seat to this unfolding spectacle. I feel a part of the narrative. . . . As I record each noteworthy find, pen in hand, drawing the ink lines into my sketchbooks takes my observations out of the realm of the purely objective and gives them emotional weight.”
In these days of isolation and disconnection, Carlson shows us how to enrich our own landscapes, both inner and outer. What seems barren at first can reveal hidden treasures.