When is a Kid No Longer a Kid at the Eagle Creek Fire

I’ve driven through the Gorge more times than I can even remember, and each and every time it is a beautiful sight to see, one we Oregonians don’t take for granted, especially this week as the Eagle Creek Fire continues to ravage the hillsides and ravines. 

A careless act of a 15-year-old child apparently started this inferno. It has displaced families and chased wildlife from the area. It has stopped commerce in its tracks with the closure of I-84, put the lives of countless firefighters in harms way, has had a detrimental effect on the young, the elderly and the sick, not to mention the sore throats and headaches of those who tend to be healthy, and has caused entire cities to evacuate. The devastation to this pristine area will be felt and mourned over for decades…but it will grow back, it will be different, but it will still hold a beauty we will all grow to appreciate once again. Earth is funny that way, it takes a charred up forest floor, black and ashy, and brings forth life once again. The damage is done, but Mother Nature basically says “hold my beer”, I’ll show you what I can create from these ashes…and she will. Hikers will marvel at the fireweed that springs forth throughout the burnt areas and bear will thrive on the huckleberries that will once again bear fruit.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know this won’t happen overnight, I realize this is going to take some time. But, we’ve got time, let’s wait around and see how things turn out, after all what choice do we have now? 

Tears come easily to my eyes when I think about the fires that are currently ravaging our land and the fact we could have lost our historic lodge, just like they did in Montana this fire season….Fire season…what the heck, isn’t that one of the scariest things to think about?? Fire season, a season that those of us in the west know all too well. Thankfully Multnomah Falls Lodge was saved by the fearless few that chose to put their life on the line for the sake of those of us who are sitting comfortably, safely in our homes. 

To tell you the truth I didn’t start writing this to talk about fire season exactly, or the devastation that our beautiful state is currently experiencing, not to mention the eight other western states having the same experience. Nope, I didn’t intend to spend much time on the topic of fire itself, but it really is so completely heartbreaking to know that while I sleep tonight trees that have been withstanding Pacific Northwest storms for decades will be charred to death. We’ve all seen it. Time and again, summer after summer, the devastation continues, acres and acres of lush green forests are turned into virtual wastelands.

Yes, my heart is heavy, the loss is great, the act was senseless, but we must go on. We have to figure this whole thing out, because right now there is a 15-year-old scapegoat and my heart breaks for him and his family.  My heart breaks for the 15-year-old child that (allegedly) stupidly, acted like a 15-year-old child. I know I wasn’t the smartest child in the room at 15….for example….I thought it would be great, in the very first nine weeks of school, to change the ‘F’ that I got in science (I decided I really liked socializing, and flirting with a certain 15-year-old boy, much more than science that term)…anyway…I raced home to be the first one to the mailbox and changed my ‘F’ into a ‘B’. Easy Peasy. ‘F’s can be turned into ‘B’s with a quick swipe and swoop of a pen. Yep, I suddenly had a ‘B’…life was good…until I realized that every report card showed the previous nine weeks grade!! My entire school year I lived in a stress unlike any I had ever experienced before. Every report card day I had to be sure that I was the first to the mailbox, because if I wasn’t it was hard telling what my mom and dad would have done….(I know now my punishment wouldn’t have been too harsh,…I was actually a little spoiled, but don’t tell my siblings. I felt, however, that my life would have been all but over if they would have ever found out.) Of course the previous grades were written through carbon paper, so I had to go home, find carbon paper, and carefully turn that lovely glaring ‘F’ into a ‘B’ each and every term throughout the entire school year. Worst year of my young life. Does this compare to setting two states on fire, absolutely not, but my point is, we can do really stupid things when we are young. And even laugh when we are doing it. Some of us get really really lucky and no one ever finds out what cruel things we have done, or what careless things we have done, or what things we have done that were completely intentional and completely awful. And some of us start two states on fire and everyone in those states know we’ve done it….and some of those people….some of those adult people say things like “I hope he goes to prison for a long time”, or “string him up”, or “I’d like to whip his a**”….some of the things being said I can’t even bring myself to type. Think back to yourself at 15….did you ever make a mistake, one you regret, one that changed your life, because this kid did and there are a whole lot of adults that are saying and thinking the unimaginable about him and to me that is another piece of the tragedy here. 

I understand the severity of this situation, I’ve been on fire lines (not working the fire line, just lucky enough to get a chance to photograph those on the fire lines), I’ve lived where evacuation notices had been put into place, I truly understand the severity of the situation. I understand people are losing their livelihood, I understand there are people who are having severe medical issues because of this and I am not trying to make light of those situations whatsoever. Our forests are in trouble, obviously, and everyone is pointing their finger at this young man that in one split second made the biggest mistake of his entire life. All blame is being placed on this boy, and that is what he is, he is a boy, not unlike your son, or grandson, or brother, or nephew, he’s a boy…boys do stupid stuff (yes of course, girls do stupid stuff too…see paragraph six). I would like to encourage each and everyone one of you that has taken the time to read this to soften your heart a little toward this kid. This is a mistake that will most likely haunt him for the rest of his life, but if his parents handle it right, and we as a society handle it right, maybe he will be the one that solves the issues that are so prevalent in how our forests are currently managed, maybe he will grow up and change our world.

Young man, I refuse to hate you for what you did, because truth be told, what you did affects me; you damaged my Oregon, a place I am so proud to call home. Yes, I refuse to hate you because of this senseless act, but I would like to challenge you to continue to mature, and you will, and to become the best man you can become; grow up and make amends for your mistake; make Oregon and Washington better states; make the world a better place. I see amazing things in your future, because out of great devastation is the opportunity for greatness. Yes, I challenge you to go boldly into the world and do good, and may you find peace in your young life once again.