These baby Aspen trees have just taken root in the ashes of a grove of Jeffrey pines which had probably stood for hundreds of years but were killed along with millions of other trees in a very short time during a human-caused wildfire this past summer in the mountains of Southern California.
These Aspens had grown back in just a matter of weeks. The Aspens are able to grow back so quickly because they never died. Aspen trees are like mushrooms, in that the entire grove of trees is actually one big super-organism that lives underground, and the trunks themselves are just the organism's way of getting the sunlight and air it needs. So when a wildfire destroys a grove of Aspens, it notices the absence of the trees and sends new ones up to replace them.
On this day, I took the opportunity to visit one of the burn zones of one of our recent California wildfires. This one incinerated one of my favorite places for hiking and photography. To visit this place was to step into a dream, or a nightmare, like a post-apocalyptic movie. It felt like entering Chernobyl after the meltdown, or the site of a volcanic eruption. Every blade of grass, every tree, every piece of moss, every pine needle had been completely engulfed in flame and incinerated. All that remained was layers of ash and charred trunks of dead trees.
But in this desolation I found the dawn of a new beginning for the forest. Walking on the layers of ash, the soil felt like a spongy loam or peat. It was as if someone had dumped fresh topsoil onto the entire forest, and the plants weren't wasting any time in utilizing it. Beneath the charred trunks of an entire forest, a whole new generation of trees had begun to grow, in just a matter of weeks. Thousands of bright green shrub-sized trees had already taken root, reaching their tiny tender branches towards the sky, now unimpeded by the shade of a canopy that no longer existed.
It was such a powerful and heart wrenching reminder that even in total desolation when all hope has been lost, nature makes a new beginning, and the cycle of life starts anew - often better than it ever was before.
As an artist, it was also a strong reminder that nature's strongest messages often lie in its quietest scenes.
In today's HD-3D-VR-faster-louder world, it seems that in order to be accepted – let alone liked – nature images must be cranked up to the max with strong contrast, vivid colors, epic skies, and shocking scenes. But sometimes the images that speak to us the most do so softly and clearly, in a still-small voice of sorts. The images I found here seem to do just that, and I think that's a good thing.