No, we aren’t literally hiking through fire, or even close. But the signs of it are all around us — of wildfires past and present, and of how incredibly common they are in this part of California.
The trail today wound back and forth between parts of the forest that were intact, and parts that had been burned recently. (I think this fire was as recent as last year, in fact.) Some of the burned sections are nearly bare, while others have lots of trees still standing — but dead, causing their needles to create a vast orange mat all over the ground. It’s actually kind of a cool effect, and makes you want to camp there because it’d be so soft…but then you’d actually be among lots of standing dead timber, which is just asking to get hit by a falling tree.
When you look across to other hillsides, you see the same thing, too: this odd, seemingly-random patchwork of forest that burned and other forest that stayed intact. It’s this mottled canvas of orange and green that spreads across the majority of the mountains out here. I can’t imagine what it looked like when it was all ablaze; the scene must’ve truly been comparable to medieval painters’ visions of Hell. It’s interesting and beautiful to walk through, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be here when it was burning.
However, that’s far from the only way in which fire affected us today. All morning long and into the afternoon, the sky was covered with a thick, dark haze and smelled like the world’s biggest campfire was over the next ridge. Apparently there’s a large wildfire near Mt. Shasta that just started a couple of days ago, and, although we’re plenty far enough away to not have to worry about it directly, it’s pumping huge amounts of smoke and soot into the air. The effect it creates is a bit disconcerting: the sunlight feels like it’s perpetually just after dawn, even though it’s 9:00, 10:00, 11:00 AM. The light has an orange hue and stays dim — which is actually much appreciated, since we’re in the middle of a heat wave here and temperatures are getting close to 90°, even at 7,000 feet. But it’s bizarre and somewhat spooky, too.
In other matters: we left our hotel in Etna this morning to great sadness. Part of the sadness was, well, leaving the motel instead of sleeping in…but the other part of the sadness was learning that Treeman has an infected blister on one heel, and so they had to stay in town and get that treated instead of hiking out with us as planned. Argh! After all this time, we finally catch up with our great friends, and then this happens. I know that’s just the way things happen out here, but it’s still very frustrating. (I did learn via text message later in the day that everything went quickly and they were able to get out of there around lunchtime, so they won’t be all that far behind us…but, still, I miss them so much!)