Two weeks ago, we drove through the Columbia River Basin on our way to Portland. Eight days later it was engulfed flames. The beautiful watershed we witnessed is gone and won’t be back for a century.
We've since been to the Oregon coast, Squamish British Columbia and Banff National Park in Alberta. On our way into Banff, we drove through the neighboring Glacier National Park. We were all surprised to see the smoke rising up from the hillsides and realize how close we were to the fires smoldering across hectares of forest floor.
We've wanted to go to Banff ever since we were introduced to the Banff Mountain Film Festival. We arrived there on a beautiful, clear day, took lots of pictures and marveled at the turquoise river, the arching peaks and the crisp blue sky. The fresh smell of pine needles made everything that much sweeter.
The next day smoke from Glacier Park fires blew downwind to fill and obscure the Banff valley. The blue skies were replaced with smoky haze; a different kind of beauty.
These past two weeks seem to have been weeks of major disasters: Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, the earthquake in Mexico, the wildfires throughout the Pacific Northwest. When we drove through the Columbia River Basin it was green and verdant, now it’s black and charred. When we lived on Fezywig near the Caribbean island of St. Maarten it was lush and vibrant. Now it’s decimated. I know nature has it’s cycles, and destruction is just as much a part of the life cycle as anything. I believe many of nature’s cycles span the equivalent of many human lifetimes and even the duration of multiple civilizations. Valleys carved by glaciers and are rivers are only one example. Nature won’t always stay the way we know it. And that’s okay. But I don’t want to miss it. I assume Yosemite Valley will always be there. But maybe not. I assume the Grand Canyon and the Caribbean will always be there. But maybe they won't. If I keep putting off doing the things I want to see and do, they may not be there when I'm finally ready.
We’ve received word from friends in St. Maarten. Everyone we know appears to be safe. They have very limited water, electricity and communication, but they are safe. Then again, Hurricane Jose is bearing down on them as I write. If you'd like to help, click here.
We're dropping off our second daughter at college this weekend, which I suppose is one reason I have loss on my mind. And I’m witnessing the rapid speed with which our world can change. Just as nature changes, so do our relationships. People die. Kids go to college. Friends move. As we Ortons take this road trip, I’m grateful to be with my family doing what we said we’ve always wanted to do, not putting it off. Someday I hope to come back to these beautiful places. I like to believe they will still be here. This week in particular, I’m reminded, if we wait we might miss it. I'm sad for everyone who won't get to see the Columbia River Gorge as I did. But undoubtedly, from destruction comes new growth. I see that in every student beginning something new. And even though we don't study Latin much these days, I hope every student knows what the Roman poet, Horace, meant when he said, "Carpe Diem."