The next time I return to Oregon and travel through the Columbia River Gorge, what shall I see?
Our family doesn’t plan to return to Oregon until 2019 on home assignment from South Africa. By that time, the cataclysmic fires of 2017 that scorched and scarred the souls of Oregonians like me will be a memory.
Just as the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 left an indelible mark, so, too, will the Eagle Creek fire of 2017. I am sure we will hear Portlanders say, “I was there when the fires ignited. I saw the ash drift through the sky and cover the Portland landscape. I was there when the fires threatened Multnomah Falls Lodge. It was then that my heart shattered into a million pieces. I realized the Columbia River Gorge will be something very different and unfamiliar for the remainder of my life. I remember when I cried for the Columbia River Gorge and I cried for my family and me.”
Mt. St. Helens blew her top all on her own accord. Her seismic rumblings alerted the world that she was ready to become something new.
The Columbia River Gorge had no such inclination. Its 80 plus mile canyon with its diverse and grand ecosystem of grassland, woodland and temperate rain forests was set alight by hurling, vandalous smoke bombs.
Kids. Not thinking. Not considering. Not pausing to reflect. Played with fire.
And we all burned.
I don’t know these kids. And I don’t know their parents. However, the searing impact of what has happened to this part of the country – my country – as a result of the foolhardy hands of youth will not be easily overcome. The shame will be brutal and scandalous – if these kids have any sense of care, responsibility, or remorse. The Eagle Creek Fire will be their fault. Always.
In these days and times when shaming insults and harsh and cruel accusations are hurled with arrogant intensity, what chance do these kids have of ever making amends? For they haven’t just injured one person, they’ve mortally wounded a world of people – picnickers, hikers, scenic enthusiasts, meanders, campers, nature lovers, climbers, adventurers, scientists, foresters, lovers, friends, and family.
Because that is what the Columbia River Gorge is to us – she is a member of our family. The host of memories we have made with her from childhood are cherished and held dear.
We traveled to the Gorge for that very purpose. To make life-long memories.
I can’t tell you how many trips John and I have made to and through that wondrous Columbia River Gorge together. And with our kids. I don’t even know.
And that next trip?
In 2019, I cannot even imagine it.
But one thing I do know, even as I grieve and shudder at what shall become of our Columbia Gorge as the fires continue to burn, it is my prayer that we will find a way to forgiveness. Reckless children failed to steward and care for our national treasure. They failed to care for us. They thought they’d enjoy their last day of summer throwing smoke bombs down a cliff – never realizing, I’m sure – the intensity of hatred and revulsion that would arise from their foolishness. Some will not forgive, I know. However, for me, I do not want to shackle anyone with shame for the rest of their lives.
Therefore, I pray:
I am devastated by the images I see of the raging fires in the Columbia Gorge. I am so sad that a place that is part of my family’s life will be changed forever – its recovery only occurring well after my days on earth are complete. O Lord, my home state of Oregon is suffering. Many of the people who live in this region are being evacuated from their homes and businesses – unsure if their places of refuge and livelihood will survive. Lord, in your mercy, protect them and shield them. Strengthen the firefighters with the endurance they need to combat each roaring and splintering flame. Encourage people to reach out and support one another through this devastating time.
And Heavenly Father, lead us to a place of redemption. Show us the path of peace. Help us forgive those that harmed us. Channel our thoughts to You, O Lord. May the beauteous and rapturous wonder of the Columbia Gorge remind us of the glorious splendor which awaits us in your Kingdom to come. Our hearts ache, Lord. May we seek You and find You during this heart rendering time. Comfort us so that we may in turn, comfort others in their mourning.
Amen and Amen.