From Ashes Comes Hope

By Amy Hirshberg Lederman
The Arizona Daily Star, August 11, 2003

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” were the words that ran though my mind the first time I encountered the devastation wrought by the Aspen fire on Mount Lemmon almost a month ago.

I struggled to locate something familiar – a porch light, a bird house, anything at all, as my husband and I hiked the streets of upper Loma Linda trying to remember the details of what had been there. For over twenty years we have visited, hiked, picnicked and camped on this mountain. For more than fourteen years, we have owned a small cabin which became a sacred retreat for our family and friends. I can’t remember a single time that we visited Mt. Lemmon when we didn’t return refreshed and renewed from the simple pleasures of hiking its cool trails, sitting on our deck listening to the birds, cooking dinner together, reading books. Even our kids didn’t mind the absence of television or video games; they seemed to sense that our time on the mountain brought out the best in all of us.

Walking past the rubble, ash, and melted structures where houses used to be was traumatic. But watching the faces of my neighbors, searching through the molten debris to find the remains of anything that would connect them to their home and life on the mountain was simply heartbreaking.
I reflexively held my breath as we walked into the town of Summerhaven. It looked as close to a war zone as anything I have ever seen with one notable exception; the multitude of eager volunteers stationed in make-shift tents who provided us with useful supplies, food, water bottles and emotional support.

The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Pima County Flood Control District gave us bags of seed and bales of hay to help us begin the re-vegetation efforts which were hauled up the mountain and unloaded by the Arizona National Guard. My family and I donned face masks and heavy cotton gloves before we began the difficult work of seeding the steep slope around our cabin, then dragging heavy bales of hay across the blackened ground to mulch it.
I’ll admit that I had my doubts whether our novice, somewhat haphazard effort at re-vegetating the land would result in anything more than the allergic reaction I had to the hay that found its way into my jacket sleeves and boots.

So I was thrilled beyond belief when we went up to Mt. Lemmon this past weekend and saw the most amazing sight- lots of beautiful, shiny green shoots of new grass popping up from the earth that had been burnt and barren less than 3 weeks before. Everywhere we looked, there were signs of new growth. Trees stumps were now surrounded by clusters of proud, new leaves and bouquets of columbine, daisies and lupine greeted us along the road.

The Aspen fire will leave its mark on everyone who ever lived, worked or visited Mt. Lemmon. In the aftermath of the fire, we should look with optimism at what we can do to restore our national treasure. Through efforts like re-vegetating the land and rebuilding the many homes and businesses that were lost, we have an opportunity to create a stronger, more vibrant community. It will undoubtedly be a difficult, expensive, and time consuming process, but we have before us the chance to construct a beautiful, more thoughtful and community-based mountain for future generations to enjoy.