My friend G. is a research scientist living on Long Island. He also loves to hike and kayak and explore natural places, and is keenly interested in (and writes about and photographs) the ecology of that part of the world. The recent wild fires on Long Island were nearby, and when he sent me these photographs as part of a letter, I asked if it would be OK to share them with my readers. G. expanded on the text a little, and this is the result. In his first paragraph he speculates, tongue-in-cheek, about the origin ofthe fire; in the past week, however, he wrote to tell me that ongoing investigations are increasingly suggesting arson.
When it is over in the morning, I read that over 1100 woodland acres have been scorched, several homes and businesses destroyed, but mostly astonished relief at how much worse it could have been, with only a few minor injuries among the fire fighters. After catching up on the "where were you when..." stories with friends and acquaintances, it is time to think about mourning for the woods that feel like my own, through which I often walk to work, solitary miles of sandy paths, through pitch pine and scarlet oak, blueberry and cat brier, more likely to encounter white-tailed deer and wild turkey than a fellow walker.
The disaster tourist's urge to gawk is restrained by closed roads, continuing fire danger and police investigations for a day or two, but eventually I am drawn to the smoky devastation, to see for myself.
Unnamed sand roads cross in the woods.
Hidden by overgrown pitch pine saplings, stands a street sign
incongruous, once red, now charred and blistered,
East Firebreak and North Firebreak
dividing four quadrants of scorched earth.
Our western neighbors, toward "the city", have already cleared and paved their habitat, leaving a few parks and many lawns, but little wild land or wild fire danger, just as thoroughly as we have exterminated wolves and bears. We need not pave and exterminate, indeed we depend on these wild acres not only for their wildness, but also to recharge our wells with rainwater better than what we drain through our cesspools. But those of us who choose to intrude on the woods must expect to be part of nature's cycles, like tenants on the fault line, or in the flood plain.