Mountaineer Creek Char

Suze Woolf painting



midday dusk, smoke confusion, wind-tossed shadows bounce
on the forest floor, sun’s a faint orange disc in a roiling sky
and i follow the fire, packing the jerry-can
on bootsoles nearly melted, on soil that still smokes
past a bush, burning, but no orders from god this day


we who live here can’t explain what we’re doing
leaving at down towards a lazy pillar of smoke
and when we return sixteen hours later billowing
clouds of ash are elbowing each other out of the sky
you guys playing with matches out there teenage boys
shout or what? or what: the fire moves, toward town,
then away, grows its own wind, turns and crosses
the new burn, eats as much bark as it can, leaving
sappy wood charcoal-carved like grinding molars
or indigo cobblestones on hell’s highway, useless
even for firewood unless you wash the soot off
your hands each time. these burned snags
will stand a long time—some of us will be in the ground
before weather and wind make them lie down.


i have miles to go before i burn—wonder why
you never hear of forest fires back east. bone-tired, i
push ahead through the half-light, yelled at when i stop
not by the crew boss but by the looming blaze itself yeah
come on, follow me, if you get close enough i’ll take you too

then in a moment turned, awry, confused, no way out
skin reddened, blistered, charred raw, breath stolen
equipment softening in the torching heat.


Geoff Bowman 

For Suze Woolf
August 2015

Painting Details

Watercolor on torn paper
52" x 18.5"
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. This trunk was in the area burned up Icicle Canyon, southwest of Leavenworth, WA, on Cannon Mountain.