Fire Musings

These piles have been gathered from trimming and thinning the forest and will be burned. Fire is often used to protect forests from even more catastrophic wildfire. 

I sat by my blazing campfire today staring contemplatively into the flames. It had taken a bit of work to get the fire to this stage as the wood was wet from all the moisture of the past week. Temperatures in the low 20’s this morning had frozen the wet wood into chunks of ice. That resulted in the use of lots of newspaper, although I didn’t have to resort to Scout water, to start and maintain the blaze until the wood could burn.

As I watched the flames dance and leap like devilish acrobats, I wrestled with a thought: nature seems full of contradictions, yet things always seem to work themselves out. That doesn’t seem to be the way my life goes when I am full of contradictions.

A piece of wood, finally thawed enough to burn, snapped in the fire, tossing a glowing ember on my old jacket. I quickly brushed it away before it could melt the fleece. I thought about how the fire, just seconds ago warming and friendly, had in an instant turned antagonist, threatening my very existence.

Where I live is considered one of the most at risk communities for wildfire in Island Park. Over the past several years, the Forest Service has gone to great lengths and expense to reduce fuel and the ability of a wildfire to spread from the adjacent forested land, or I suppose, to the forested land from the dwellings. Thousands of tepee-shaped piles of trimmings have been created from the clearing process which removed smaller trees and so-called ladder fuels, the lower branches of trees that help a fire climb the tree from the ground. The result was a much more open forest, and to my mind, the perfect beginning of an old growth forest 200 years from now.

These piles have been drying for several years in some places and just this week, a large orange sign on an adjacent forest road informed us that there was fire activity ahead and not to report the fires. The fire crew was taking advantage of the wet weather and burning the piles, using the same natural force to remove the piles that they had worked so hard to protect against.

I added a couple of small logs to the fire to maintain the heat, for hotdogs and kids would soon be arriving and we needed this fire to fulfill our life-in-the-woods fantasy. The fire was a hazard, but a controllable one, just like in the forest where small pyres of wood burned in order to save the forest from catastrophe.

Fire is a friend or a foe, but cares not a whit about being either. It is just fire, a tool used by man and nature to sculpt the landscape. The past 30 years since the fires of 1988 swept through Yellowstone National Park should have told me that. Once touted by many as a great natural disaster, the Yellowstone of today is nearly fully recovered. Some of the burned areas are so thick with lodgepole pine that nothing else can grow beneath them and wildlife seldom visit. For a period after the fires, these were verdant meadows full of grasses and wildflowers. Now they are a lodgepole desert begging for another fire.  

The hotdogs and the kids arrived and I set aside my musings—deep thoughts were never my forte—content to accept that nature is full of paradoxes and contrasts, subject to a constant push and tug between elements and forces, and often unpredictable. Maybe that is what keeps it so interesting.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho