A legacy of fire suppression and poor forest management, coupled with human induced climate change have turned the forests of the western United States into a tinderbox. Wildfire, once a benevolent force – nurturing the forest with minerals, opening the cones of Lodgepole pine and clearing the understory of dense or invasive species, has become catastrophic – leaving our sick forests denuded and barren.
Yet, the capacity of these woodlands to heal after such devastation, is truly astounding. Even after the hottest of wildfires the Forest sends in its healers. First, the plant medicines – Arnica and Yarrow as first responders come in to mend the wounds of the forest floor. Then, Aspen and Fireweed rhizomes find their way through the scorched soil, popping up where nothing else will grow and securing the ground. Lupine and northern Bedstraw come in next to start the tedious job of fixing nitrogen for the benefit of the whole. Even sick the system is not broken. The cycle of life continues.
Just like good medicine fire can function as a restorative mechanism in forest ecosystems. What is diseased is the dominant western narrative that categorizes fire as something to treat, regardless of where it is burning or why. Most of us have lost our capacity to understand wildfire, let alone embrace it as an alternative remedy for forests in need of healing. Woodlands Naturopathy is my own attempt to reconcile that. By observing and learning from burnt forests in the West, I am taking up the role of apprentice to the great teacher that is Nature.