I truly love being a photographer. There is nothing more visually stimulating for me than watching light play upon a surface, creating contours through shadow and highlight, sculpting a subject’s face and resonating character, or transforming a simple sand dune into a complex pattern of ripples.
Photography, however, is also about capturing those aspects of life that have affected others in a deeply adverse fashion. I am, of course, eluding to the destruction the Rock Creek fire left in its wake exactly four weeks ago.
As I made my way along Highway 33 for the first time since before the fire began, I could but gasp in disbelief, not only at the charred remains of people’s homes, but also at the scorched forest that used to be so lush and full of life. Sections of it are now jungles of charcoal columns, stripped of most of their limbs, some supported by roots desperately clinging to a forest floor barely able to hold them. Some of the trees will survive, but many have been lost, as a powerful reminder of how Mother Nature (or possibly a human) can affect life on earth through the unleashing of fire.
Yet, despite my initial reaction to the devastation, there slowly emerged a beauty of sorts, or, at least, a promise thereof.
The burnt tree trunks formed an impressive pattern in my viewfinder, especially when sunlight brushed across their blackened surface, glistening off the shiny residue that the scorched bark produced. As I looked more closely at the ruins, I found poignant reminders of the people who once called them home; not particularly personal items, but things like kitchen utensils, metal coat hangers and even an old Mercedes star, buckled and twisted by the flames’ heat. The beauty in all of this lies not in the artifacts’ existence, but more in their eventual removal, and the subsequent beginning of a rebuild. Still, my eye was drawn to these piles of rubble and steel, not beautiful in the traditional sense of the word, but powerful in their intimation and emotion, and I felt compelled to photograph them, which I will undoubtedly do until the clean up is complete and the rebuilding process underway.
As for that part of the recovery, I have, somewhat surprisingly, heard some positive reports of insurance companies’ quick response to people’s claims. One contractor I spoke to, who had successfully bid on several site clean up jobs, was impressed by the speed at which one insurance adjuster, upon accepting the contractor’s bid, directed him to start work. Already, collapsed buildings are being removed chunk by chunk, and the remnants of metal roofs transferred to a makeshift transfer station. There the waste will remain until the scrap metal market rebounds from its current doldrums and the person storing it can at least turn a modest profit.
Another interesting tidbit regarding the disaster clean up to come out of that conversation was the fact that burned-out sites had quickly been inspected and assessed for hazardous materials such as asbestos, giving the green light to clean-up crews to begin their work.
On the lighter side, school is back in session (ah, the beauty of routine) and there’s been some rain (smells so good!). The first event is bound to keep me hopping, as school happenings come thick and fast; the second will hopefully save me some money in animal feed, as the moisture combines with the forecasted warmth and turns my pastures green again.
Soon, Thanksgiving will be here and, before we know it, Christmas will be upon us and a new year beckoning.
By then, the summer of 2015 will be a distant memory, though the events that unfolded in the middle of August will be forever stamped in our collective conscience, while we pray for a cooler, wetter 2016, despite Environment Canada’s somewhat gloomy predictions of another dry and mild winter.