After it first happened, I would feel myself wince as I caught glimpses of the blackened redwood trees on both sides of the highway in Santa Rosa, bearing the scars of the fire’s assault as it catapulted across all six lanes. Somehow, the crispy-brown scrub oaks or incinerated grassy banks didn’t hit me in quite the same visceral way as the redwoods did.
Maybe it’s because redwoods have stood as our county’s proud “mascot” for so long. Seeing them in this victimized state was just as shocking as it would be to see our beloved Snoopy with a black eye. And now, on this one-year anniversary of the firestorm, these trees are showing us they are still “mascot” material.
While brand-shiny-spankin’-new (or at least newly-restored) buildings have sprung up on both sides of the freeway, I can’t say I have a lot of respect for them. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for the people who own and work in those businesses…it’s just something about the buildings themselves. Bottom line, they look too good. So clean. So perfect, with no soot or singed landscape left. Instead, everything, everything new, new, new.
It reminds me of the face of an actress who has had so much “work” done that the furrows and smile lines hinting at her life story have been erased. And the softening and wrinkles that would give us a clue about how much life she has lived are gone. All that’s left is a generic face. I guess, in a way, it feels like a sham.
But not our redwoods. They wear their rugged honesty well. When I take in their still-blackened trunks supporting old brown and gray-green branches alongside soft, full-of-life spring green ones, I just want to walk up and …hug?…er…congratulate and thank them. I want to congratulate them for enduring hell, yet still standing. And I want to thank them for their humble testament to what we already know: While this cataclysmic tragedy has marked us all in different ways, those “marks” are now a part of us, adding perspective, shading, and depth to our life stories. No “makeovers” necessary.
And just as I will be paying more attention to those trees’ magnificent foliage as they grow taller and broader with time, I am determined to look more closely as I drive by–close enough to see the marred bark that remains, because I never want to forget what those trees survived. Then I will take in a deep, full breath and exhale, giving thanks that they are still standing–that we are still standing–before I move down the road toward another day in my own scarred, beautiful life.