Truncated

 

Image of a Suze Woolf painting

I have realized that it is the fire-scarring, the chunks of carbonized wood structure, that, for me, are the visual essence of forest fire impact. I was struck by the folded and corrugated surface of this tree on the West Rim Trail during my residency in Zion National Park. At right is a poem written in response to the painting during its exhibit at Art Port Townsend's annual competition.
 
Painting Details

Watercolor on shaped Arches watercolor paper
51 x 20

Truncated

after a watercolor by Suze Woolf

 

A wounded trunk of scorched bark

prods a bumpy adhesion on your heart

still tender after twelve years.

 

Forced from your retirement sanctuary

by a juggernaut of flame-laced smoke ad searing heat

exploding through the forest

across Arizona’s high country

 

When the hissing and roaring departed

you return after two weeks to your house

surrounded by charred spires

leaning above the mounds of gray ash

 

A bereft, empty sky above the silence

where ravens once crisscrossed

through the green canopy

stretch miles of blackened, burned-out ridges

 

After running from that wildfire,

you landed in a moist corner of Puget Sound

but can’t forget that cremation

of your naïve dream of safe, green retirement

 

You now accept

life is never nailed down at all four corners

and transformation defines this world

ever since the universe was fired in the kiln of a Big Bang

 

Twelve years.

 

The smell of charcoal no longer hangs in the air

blackened trees were felled and shipped to Japan for chopsticks

scattered ash nourished new seeds

prised open by conflagration

bright green understory swathes the valleys and ridges

 

So heal your singed heart like an elder shaman:

Cut a limb from this truncated trunk

carve symbols onto to it, paint it,

attach raven feathers with a leather thong

 

Don’t squirm at the archaic flavor of this idea

give that hillside you abandoned some spirit food

jam your prayer stick in the ashes

at the foot of this charred snag

make an offering, not so much logical as geological,

 

In reluctant reverence

salute the huge dispensations

of this place called Earth

larger than your retirement dreams

 

Take that feeling home.

It will sustain you.

 

-Bill Mawhinney, 2014