“The Waldo Canyon fire burned all the way around camp,” Grant tells me. I’m impressed, and I see the hand of God in the story as clearly as if he were opening the camp gate to let us in. But to me it is just a story still. In the year of the fires I was in Minnesota, celebrating my graduation, finding a new job, planning travels for the next year. I didn’t understand just how close the fires had come until I began to explore.
I walked back to the horsebarn one evening. There are trails and work roads that split off into the hollow woods as I walk, and I notice that the forest is scarred and sooty. Black and gray trees point up like crooked bony fingers. They stretch down to the very edges of this tiny green valley, closer than I imagined. With practice you could stand at the edge of the barn and spit into the burn area. It is the same when I walk around the rest of the camp, stretching my legs on a cool afternoon and looking for the places I will walk with Erik in the lazy days ahead.
“This is Excursions Valley,” Grant explains as we crest a hill and walk down towards the cabins dotted along its side. There are more wildfire scars here. We walk in the spring-green valley and when we look up at the next hills their rounded tops are clearly arched against the blue sky. There are no evergreens filled with the low rush of breeze to obscure the edges of rising mountains here. No, there are only the skeletons. Here the green pines are gone and only seasonal grasses and the young whip-like Aspens bring color to the hillsides.
But there is color. The grasses have come back; their green ranks have pushed through the dry growth from last year and are springing up, brighter with every sunny day. Where mature Aspens grow in the mountains they form delightful streaks of bright green amongst the evergreens, and here instead of veins and pools of lighter green amid dark, they form a haze of bright growth around the bases of old burnt stems.
There is an unused wood stove in the Dining Hall that people have set wood paintings of encouraging sayings on. A small one near the front says Beauty From Ashes. I remember it day after day when I sit at our kitchen table, looking out at the burned slope reaching down almost to the camp; the soft green haze of fresh leaves reaches a little higher and shimmers a little brighter every time I look. Glory and growth are springing up from the graves of old trees. Beauty from ashes.
I have given up on writing many times. There was a year when I scarcely wrote at all, even to journal. There were a few months when I pushed through a large project only to set it aside, unfinished, for over a year. I eventually began to consider it pointless to pick up again. The last season has seen me working and spousing and parenting all together and addicted to my phone in between. There wasn’t time or energy to write. There wasn’t quiet space to find creativity.
I’ve discovered the vitality that walking and silence bring to my creative side this season, and writing has been possible again. Fear has been sliding away. I’ve been pushing fear away; fighting for my words, my inspiration, my quietness. Some beauty is returning to this old love of mine.
I keep praying over my writing. I’d love to be famous you know, and perhaps I have it in me, but I don’t think that’s what my writing is for. If my goal is to be a well-known and well-loved author, it will get in the way of having a unified, sound marriage, of parenting with connectedness and wisdom and presence. Those goals are more important.
But God is the God who “can do far more than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20) I keep asking for beauty to come from the ashes of my writing habits, my creative desolation. I keep asking that God would do far more than all I could ask or think – that he would use this creativity and desire for His purposes, that he would help me to focus on what is most important, and bring the writing to fruition in its own time.