Posted on February 20, 2018
We’d just rounded the curve from Wagon Wheel gap, when we looked into the cloud of blowing snow and saw them, a brown streak moving in a pasture near Wason Ranch. It was a herd of elk–29 wild, beautiful animals, bugling, bouncing over the snow, running, then stopping in the storm for no apparent reason.
A friend of ours in Creede says that’s when you say to yourself, “This is why we want to be here.” We bought a small place here ten years ago and try to spend as much time as possible sitting on our porch, looking at the rocky pass at the end of our street, the clouds drifting over the valley and the sky show–the Milky Way painting the path of our humble ridge top observatory.
This year I’ve been thinking a lot about the summer of 2013. That was the year of our “Big Burn,” the West Fork Complex Fire. I made a documentary about that experience and am working on a follow up, “Five Years After.”
After the smoke cleared, people here began the hard work of figuring out how to carry on, how to be ready for the next time. Some people are pretty anxious this year. The snow pack so far is well below normal. There are still thousands of acres of dead trees, stretching from Wolf Creek Pass, Creede, Lake City and beyond. But this new documentary is not about fear. It’s about resilience. It’s about better warning systems, economic development that can withstand a natural disaster and the emerging forest.
I’ve been in Creede for enough winters to remember a time when the weather was so severe, some people quietly began feeding the elk that sought shelter in their pastures. The elk were starving. Deep snow covered what little they could forage to survive and yet, they did. They managed to weather the weather in part because their neighbors gave them hay and in part because they are resilient just like the people who live here.
Here’s a glimpse of what I hope to have finished by June, the fifth anniversary of the fire.