After the fire

Charred shell of an oak that the fire entered, snakes of flame darting through the logging slash, the wind turned poisonous: I was not there, only stopping by for the first time yesterday to see how the few trees left by the loggers fared in the May Day blaze.

We study crowns studded with the brown & shriveled remnants of leaves that budded out & started to grow, my friend tells me, in the weeks following the fire — as long as the sap already in limb & branch could maintain the illusion of life, like a sleepwalker trying to speak. The trunks still bear the forester’s blue mark that meant do not fell, save as a source of seed.

But this one — the one that stops us, appalled — never leafed out at all. The fire slipped into a hollow burl at ground level & fed on the heartwood, which had probably already acquired a certain predilection for the sweet & vastly slower flames of decomposition. The fire made a nest for itself in the spent shell from some earlier battle that the tree had managed to win, then ate its way back out through several new holes, burning a random sort of mask. You might want such a thing if you were acting in a play that included a role for Chaos, I suppose.

I give the charred wood a gentle kick, testing for weakness. It answers with a quiet boom, resonant like nothing living, tuned & tempered by the immense tree-shaped silence that continues above.

For more on the May Day forest fire, see here [PDF].

If you have a blog, please consider writing a tree-related post for the next Festival of the Trees.

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