Death and Rebirth on Vista Ridge
On August 26th, 2011, a lightning strike on the north side of Mt. Hood produced a smolder that would eventually ignite and become the now-infamous Dollar Lake Fire. By the time autumn rains extinguished the blaze, it had consumed over 6,300 acres of forest. The “mosaic” burn pattern in some areas meant that pioneer species of flora would eventually be able to take root and propagate at an accelerated rate. At the beginning of 2015, a two-year dalliance with heroin had spiraled into full-blown addiction and transformed my life into a similarly decimated landscape.
When I entered detox in March of that year I had already lost my best friend as well as my girlfriend, and a hard-fought, burgeoning career as an outdoor writer was being actively flushed down the toilet. After getting clean, I moved into a friend’s house and began what I knew would be a painfully slow process. What the Dollar Lake fire had done to the trees of the Mt. Hood Wilderness, heroin replicated on my endorphin receptors. Recovery, in both cases, would require time and patience.
Neural receptors can eventually be repaired. Luckily, one of the things that helps the process along is fresh air and exercise. The outdoors of Oregon is what inspired me to become a writer in the first place. Before losing my way two years prior, hiking had been my drug of choice. It would now become a critical component in returning to health. But good lord, it was some tough sledding. I fatigued easily and wasn’t getting the same mood boost that climbing a mountain or finding a new waterfall used to elicit without fail. Which was expected to some degree, but it felt like I wasn’t gaining any ground. It takes so long to feel okay, let alone good again that having the patience to get to the other side is one of the hardest things about recovery.
In the years since the fire, the forest was occasionally checked in on by hikers who formerly enjoyed a canopied Vista Ridge Trail to an aptly named Eden Park. It took a few years, but eventually, the avalanche lilies came. The ethereal, white lilies seemingly push receding snowfields up the mountains every spring. Not long after they were first spotted, spectacular carpets of countless lilies announced the rebirth of the wilderness with a floral roar. It was a phenomenon I wanted to witness in person.
So in the late spring of 2016, I watched the hiking and wildflower forums with bated breath. When someone came down from that mountain with the recon I had been waiting for, I went. Somehow among the scorched trees, life had come back in spectacular fashion. Bluebird skies, white lilies, and black snags produced a palette of colors and textures unlike anything I had ever witnessed, and I was summarily moved to tears. In that moment the parallels between the landscape and my life were too much to bear.
That afternoon in June, Mother Nature put her hands firmly on my shoulders and told me everything would be okay. She said I'd feel strong again, find love again, and eventually be myself once more. She reminded me to take care of my body and soul and to come see her often. I obliged. She kept her promise. And today I am eternally grateful for death and rebirth on Vista Ridge.
A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of 1859 Magazine.