Decades After the Wind and Fire

Forest growth goes slowly at the high altitude and cold climate of Yellowstone, yet this is more than most “experts” expected after two devastating events at this spot, four years apart.  In 1984, an extremely severe downburst roared across areas near the Norris Geyser Basin, streaking for miles eastward at high speed, leveling hundreds of thousands of lodgepole pines, and leaving only a few surviving trees behind.  The resulting deep swath of log rubble and sticks, four years dried and cured, helped to fuel a segment of the massive, legendary 1988 fires that ravaged a much larger area of the park.  The fires were so hot that the storm-flattened forest debris mostly burned to ashes, and the charred ground mistakenly was believed to have been sterilized.  Instead, as often happens after such destruction, new growth sprang forth from unsterilized seeds that germinated out of those nutrient-rich ashes.

By 2013, a quarter century after the fires, the dense, low, nearly level field of young pines testified to that regrowth, albeit gradual.  Meanwhile a couple of the downburst survivors at right leaned eastward, warped that way for life by the downburst.  Along the highway for many miles eastward, occasional trees still stick up much higher than neighbors, also bent toward the east, also thanks to a few minutes of wind 29 years before.  Other, more vertically erect trees either sprang back to their vertical orientations, or more likely, were protected for a longer time by self-sacrificial neighbors that fell right before the most intense winds ended.  What a contemplatively powerful experience it was to stand here and imagine the forces of fire and wind that yielded this disjointed scene, and then to reconcile the notion that someday, far more violent forces will blast it all high to the sky as many cubic miles of hot particles to be wafted across much of our continent.

Yellowstone National Park WY (15 Sep 13) Looking S

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