It was the year 1988. CDs outsold vinyls for the first time, a movie ticket cost $3.50, gas was at 91 cents/gallon, and rainfall in Wyoming was higher than average in the spring.
As the rest of us were trying to figure out Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Wyoming’s weather grew unusually dry. So dry, in fact, a few fires started in Yellowstone National Park, though nothing the park couldn’t handle. It’s actually good to let some of the dry brush in a forest burn naturally (aka when started by lightning). It prevents larger disasters from occurring.
Summer came, Dirty Diana topped the charts and as July 15 came and went and only 8,500 acres of the park’s 2,221,766 acres had been burned. Around this point the park decided it was time to fight the fires, just to make sure they were under control.
Dry conditions and winds only cause the fires to worsen—some of which were not naturally caused. One of the most damaging fires, the North Fork fire, starts from a discarded cigarette butt. North Fork fire consumes 504,025 acres from July 22nd to November (no specifics on which fires were put out when, just that all fires had officially ceased November 18).
Then comes Black Saturday.
August 20, 1988 sees hot and windy conditions. Winds average 30 to 40 mph with gusts up to 70 mph. Fires roar and double from where they were burning to 480,000 acres. By this time the smoke is so thick visitors to the park have to use headlights to see.
On August 31 park officials note that the North Fork fire may soon threaten the Old Faithful area, including the historic Old Faithful Inn. On September 7, the fear became more of a reality, as a firestorm blasts through the Old Faithful area, destroying a few structures, but the Inn is saved. (Apparently cars left too close to the fire had their wheels melted!)
Finally on September 11 snow comes to help save the day, calming many of the fires, making previously feeble attempts to stop the fires now actually productive.
I remember driving through Yellowstone after the fires, though I was pretty young at the time. Charred lodgepole pines stuck out like charred tombstones in black ashes. Many of us wondered how long it would take before Yellowstone recovered–if ever.
I think in life, whether with our writing, our jobs, our families—whatever it is we’re focused on—there may come those times when we feel like our forest is burning down. And then there are those times when fire ravages the jujubes out of everything and you’re certain life as you know it has just ended and all you’re left with is a graveyard of charred trees.
How will you ever rebuild? How long will it take? What good can even come of the charred ruins now?
Forests need fires. It’s a natural part of their growth and existence. In many forests its the only way the trees will release their seeds. It’s part of nature to tear things down only to build them back up.
Take muscle growth for example. Unless you’re tearing those muscles down with training, and making them face resistance, they will never come back stronger.
We will have to face our own fires in our lives. Some of them may be manageable, others may rage out of control. But if we understand and embrace that these trials of fire are meant to strengthen us, if we let them, there’s no limit to how strong we can grow in any field.
Yes, there will be times when the devastation caused by these trials seem more than we can bear. But with strong reliance on the process, on the friends and family we trust, on those things we believe in that are greater than ourselves, we can make it through. We will make it through.
It’s not always easy to recover from these fires. It may take a few days, it may take a few months, it may even take a few years. But the important thing to remember is that recovery can and will happen—if we let it.
Can you imagine if the rangers went through Yellowstone and plucked out every sapling that managed to push its way through the charred ground? But isn’t that what we do to ourselves sometimes? We find hope too painful and we want to crush it. It reminds us too much of what we’ve lost and we fail to see what will be, only if we give it the time.
If you haven’t faced the metaphorical damage of a Yellowstone Fire in your life, be warned its coming—often when you least expect it. But if you understand these things are only meant to strengthen you, you’ll pull through it much faster.
And for those of us who have faced our Yellowstones and may face even more of them, remember these are small moments. Each of us, whether writer, artist, mom, scientist—even the high school janitor—all have the potential to accomplish something great in the course of our lives.
We just have to remember to let our hope pull us through the bad times.
Have you been through your own Yellowstone? What do you do in times of devastation that helps you get through? What advice would you give to others? What does hope mean to you?