Smoke in the air. Every summer we watch hundreds of thousands of acres of forest burn. As I listen to folks anguish and wring their hands, I have to remind myself it is all part of nature’s cycle in the West. Granted, we try and blame the Forest Service, the BLM, the pine-bark beetle, untended campfires, tossed cigarettes or arson.

Smokey the Bear admonished us as kids, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” But is that really true? On a centennial scale, certainly on a millennial scale, it seems fire is inevitable. You can only put it off for so long.

The stages of a forest’s growth go from seedling to pole (or sapling), to young, to mature and to old. Our Western pine forests can reach 140 years. But eventually they will succumb – to fire, storm, disease, insects or timber – but they do succumb. Lightening strikes a match in a mature forest and cleans house. Then the cycle starts over.

Enter Man: Homo sapiens. It’s only been in the last 200 years of our continent’s existence that forest fires have become an inconvenience to humans. We became civilized and presumed we could encroach on the forest’s natural cycle. We have found that unless they are completely destroyed there will always be a threat. So that’s what we do; we pave it.

There are many examples of natural cycles and extreme changes that give man pause to question his own influence. Build a city below sea level, dam a river, put a freeway over an earthquake fault or live in the desert. Stay there long enough and Earth will try and take it back.


We have given much attention to global climate change. Duh, in the grand scale, our Earth has frozen over and heated up on a regular basis. We worry man is polluting the atmosphere. It’s a bit pretentious to think that man, over the millennia, can have much effect.

If man disappeared like the dinosaurs, in a short 1,000 years the Earth would begin to putrefy, erode, digest and bury our human footprints. Oh, the Sierra Club’s National headquarters in San Francisco might last longer than a cow path in a wildlife refuge, but sooner or later it will become dust.

And the floods and fires and earthquakes and volcanoes and ice ages will carry on. This is no consolation to those who have been victims of nature’s power. We can only sympathize – but man is stubborn. No doubt we will continue to try and tame acts of nature with our own unnatural acts.

So, with a tip of the hat to the many thousands of firefighters risking their lives to protect man-made possessions, fire is simply Earth renewing itself, as it has since Genesis.

The mountain outside my living room window is on fire as I write this. It’s part of a National Forest. We moved the cows out of danger. Let ’er burn. PD