Hiking in Oregon's Kalmiopsis

New Blooms Dot Wilderness Scarred by 'Biscuit Fire'

Kalmiopsis Flower

hide captionKalmiopsis leachiana: A prehistoric relic

Lee O. Webb
Biscuit Fire Map

hide captionMap of Oregon showing the size and location of the Biscuit Fire

View enlargement.
Courtesy the USDA Forest Service

Hiking in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness a year after the Biscuit Fire of 2002 was deeply disturbing. Charred skeletons, everywhere. Majestic evergreens with only their very tips still green, certain to be dead in a few years; craters where the fire reached right in and devoured entire stumps. NPR's Ketzel Levine tells the story on Morning Edition.

Not all that surprising, perhaps, except for the rock. With layers of needles and soil burned out of existence, the ground was dominated by stone.

Yet once you've adjusted your eyes to everything that's missing, and accept that this rugged wilderness has burned many times before, there is ample beauty: long-haired grasses, ankle-high wildflowers, and pools of emerging green leaves.

True, the Biscuit Fire was the largest recorded fire in Oregon history. It burned 500,000 acres in the Siskiyou National Forest, including virtually all of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. And yes, there is great concern that the forest's majestic evergreens, which may need a century to recover, could be overrun by weeds, shrubs and faster-growing trees.

But arguably, cataclysms are just bad days in the life cycle of a prehistoric wilderness. And if you're lucky, out there hiking just as the sun nudges its buds open, you might see the ancient face of Kalmiopsis, the soul of this wilderness in bloom.

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