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


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









As the climate warms, forest fires are becoming more frequent and catastrophic in the western United States. My deep anxiety with the impacts of climate change on wilderness are emerging in this series. Burned-over areas of forest are riveting. Unfamiliar tree forms are newly exposed. Formerly hidden terrain features become visible. Normal greens, blues and browns are transformed. All the worst fires of the last fifty years have occured in the last five years.

Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about any of my images. All represent original paintings, not reproductions. I have many more paintings than are shown on this site. And, since I frequently work in series, there may be additional views of the subjects shown here.