When the creative art of photography first reached in and grabbed hold of my soul, it was in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. Driving east one morning in late Spring between Troutdale and Corbett felt magical, with light glowing in the meadows behind the leafed out deciduous trees that flanked the interstate. It looked like a fairy land.
I didn’t have my camera with me at the time. But my brain started making photographs in my head. The shapes, light, and color created a pastoral beauty I’d never witnessed before, nor seen anywhere else. I had to go back and capture this light..this unrivaled and stunning place.
It’s a dreamy, inspiring beauty that crawls into your very being and demands you pay attention.
For so many Oregonians, this is our church. Our place of quiet contemplation and spiritual renewal. It’s where we escape the rigors of daily life and meditate. It’s where we create. It’s where we dream.
And it’s being consumed by wildfire.
This fire has many authors. It was lit by careless teenagers whose parents failed to oversee them. It was laid open by a fiercely hot summer without rain, exacerbated by climate change. It had become “Disney Gorge”, or so said my contemporaries, who saw it overrun by tourism and careless visitors choosing to clog the trails and choke out the streams. Some are asking if land management is also a contributor, and while I haven’t the expertise to speak definitively on that topic, I find it plausible that the conditions for devastation were there regardless.
This might seem trivial to non-Oregonians. But if you’re from here, it’s a devastating blow. Imagine if Bostonians were to lose Fenway Park to a disaster. And not only would it take decades to rebuild, it would never be that place where the Red Sox finally won the World Series. In your lifetime, you’d never seen Fenway in it’s glory. Ever again.
That’s what this wildfire has done to our beloved Columbia River Gorge.
And so we grieve it’s loss and hope for it’s renewal. When the haze and smoke lift we will be able to truly take stock of the loss not only of our treasured landscape, but of the homes and businesses lost. Our love of this place is so ingrained in us that I have faith Oregonians will come together to heal it the best we can.
But for now, we mourn for our cherished place and we will miss it desperately.