--John Eickert


It is wonderful how nature heals itself after sweeping dramatic change. No matter the cataclysm: flood, fire- in the wake, nature turns to the whole, not the individual, to spin the interwoven wheel of life. Elizabeth and I adventured to Glacier National Park, in northern Montana, for a refreshing weekend of mountains, hiking and camping under the sky.


The number of burned areas throughout the northern Rocky Mountains is growing as our earth heats. Fires are now a summer constant. Unreliable words, spoken by verbose politicians, debate, yet the meaning of this change remain elusive. Here, after a great burn, a pioneer species known as fireweed is the first to take hold. It is a quick growing single stalk plant with a magnificent flowering head. The flower is a cheery light, pink-red color. It is a wonderful site to witness fireweed in full bloom, during the height of summer, amidst the hulking ruin of fire-blackened, standing, dead trees. It is observable and apparent that there is life after cataclysm, but what, if anything, is certain?

Native legend explains that fireweed chronicles key timing elements of summer. When the leaves turn green, the legend tells, there will be no more frost; when the stalk has bloomed all the way to the top (fireweed blooms in a whorl with the first blooms beginning low on the stalk and blooming in turn towards the crown) this is the height of summer and also marks the seasonal march to fall. Weeks later, according to legend, when the blooms have dried and floated out onto the wind using a cottony seed, frost will come soon. Therefore, summer communicates essential timing as “the fireweed is all the way up” or “the fireweed is all the way down.” These predictors are observable and certain.

We sat in the morning, after sleeping away a chilly night cozy in our tent and sleeping bags, in a fire-burned area amongst silent, sentinel, charred naked trunks. All around the fireweed sent cottony seedwhisps drifting up with the slight morning breeze. It was clear, calm and quiet, while we watched the morning mountains and whispered our delight in hushed reverent tones. We were conscious of the simplicity and wisdom of nature in spinning the wheel and the endless character of life. Somewhere, deep in the fireweed, a wolf howled and that one primordial sound tolled the reliability of nature. Nature may change, but it will never die. It is either on the way up or on the way down, always dynamic.


Our adventure, though brief, was glorious. It is the getting up and going out, despite the myriad of reasons to resist, which brings a closeness- is there ever true understanding?- with nature and the wheel. We sat by clean mountain lakes and dined on calorie laden sweet pastries. We hiked among towering peaks and listened to the shrill warning whistle of golden marmots. And we watched fireweed-cotton drift in and out of that superb setting. When is your next adventure? Cheers.



( Picture:  Fireweed, a flower of the Astor family

The sun-dial at Konark, Orissa, representing the wheel of life )


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