For the past four years, we’ve taken off after Christmas to enjoy the winter beauty in Yosemite. This year was different. I am usually awestruck at the beauty of the snow blanketing the valley floor, and the white puffy marshmallow caps on every granite boulder. This year, I was awestruck by the charred trees and glowing hue of red and brown surrounding us as we drove through the mountains. The snow was missing this year. It couldn’t mask the devastation of the Rim Fire last fall. For a moment I had to remember that these trees were supposed to be evergreen. As we drove the windy road the trees changed from green, to brown, then to black. The pines and redwoods on the edges of the char zones had brown needles, but the trunks still looked alive. These, we heard from the ranger, would probably make it. Then, as we proceeded further, I could see the graceful branching structure of the native Manzanita bushes. They are known for their oil-filled, smooth, mahogany branches, which were still identifiably graceful, but now black charcoal. It felt like we were walking through the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. Noisy logging trucks pulling long beds of black tree trunks would pass us now and again as we made our way to the valley floor. Along the road, fresh straw-filled netted worms were laid on slopes to prevent erosion due to lack of vegetation. The shiny new metal towers connecting power lines stood out like sore thumbs.
As we passed through the dark granite tunnels which opened up to views of the valley, it was surreal to see that nothing had changed. The view of Half Dome looming over the Merced River, framed by Seqouoias and Redwoods was just as breathtaking as the years before. The missing blanket of snow revealed the grass in the valley was brown but lush. For the first time, I started appreciating the lack of snow. We would not have been able to see the power of the Rim Fire, nor appreciate the immense beauty of the valley floor it spared.
Here’s some more information about the Rim Fire in Yosemite http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/01/140120-rim-fire-restoration-forest-ecology-science/