Wildfire–friend and foe–explored in new Cold Canyon Fire Journals
By Aaron Collins
Although fire season in California’s heartland was notably muted throughout much of 2022 with little to no impact to SRT lands, wildfires continued to rage throughout the American West. Perhaps the fire threat’s momentary lull–one reasonably assumes that good years are anomalous in a transformed climate–has left us in a sanguine enough mood to consider fire’s merits, its potentially beneficial aspects for landscapes.
Perhaps some constraint is in order, however, as today’s fires burn much hotter owing to dryer and warmer averages. What experts once held as beneficial is now calamitous, particularly considering the 20% mortality among the world’s monarch giant sequoias, with even the largest of them incinerated in staggering numbers throughout their lone and dwindling 70-mile stretch in Central California’s Sierra Nevada mid-range elevations.
Those worsening impacts may cast a new light on Robin Lee Carlson’s exploration of fire and its presumed effects in The Cold Canyon Fire Journals: Green Shoots and Silver Linings in the Ashes (Heyday Books, 2022). But her nonfiction work remains relevant nonetheless.
When the Cold Canyon nature reserve burned, Carlson embarked on a five-year journey to learn its legacy. Spurred by her scientific curiosity, Carlson’s exploration of this fire-swept ecosystem recasts nature’s wild wisdom as a force for renewal, underscoring what scientists are urgently working to understand: that wildfire functions as an elemental power that does not destroy the diverse habitats of California but rather nourishes them.
Richly illustrated in pen, ink, and watercolor, Carlson’s snapshot of wildlife emerging from the ashes revels in the cyclical wonder of the Golden State’s wild places. The author’s artistic and scientific journey ultimately leads to new understandings of fire and a growing awareness of what we must do to live harmoniously with the land. As fire suppression practices and climate change undermine wildfire’s regenerative work, Carlson’s views on ecological kinship are urgent ones, showing us how to cultivate intimacy with our natural world and teaching us what we need to do to sustain that.
“The Cold Canyon Fire Journals is a celebration of a beauty that is larger than our comprehension. Our beloved world has burned and will burn again, Carlson tells us. But these pages offer a new way to relate to fire, kindling a respect for the natural world on its own terms. This is a book to cherish, to share, and to hold close when the skies once again darken with smoke.” -Kendra Atleework, author of Miracle Country