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Viewpoint: Wildfire recovery includes taking time to heal from trauma and loss

In Plain View by Lachlan Labere
This small collection of rocks was gathered along the Upper Flume Trail earlier this summer, before the Bush Creek East wildfire burned through it. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

On the banister just inside our front door sat a collection of four small rocks.

Apart from glittering when the sun hits them just right, these rocks don’t appear to be anything special. I expect most people wouldn’t have noticed them, let alone bother to pick them up, clean them and take them home.

I did just that earlier this summer during a walk along one of my favourite trails in the Shuswap: the Upper Flume in Tsútswecw Park.

I’ve walked this trail countless times over the past 25-or-so years. I’ve seen it transformed somewhat after weather damage forced its temporary closure in 2014. Rickety bridges were replaced with more substantial structures. Part of the trail, including a little boardwalk area at the west end, was closed and left to return to nature. The former sketchy-to-access parking area at a bend in Holding Road was closed, and a new one constructed north of the bridge. For the most part, what was damaged had been restored and/or improved for people to enjoy this amazing trail system.

When our son was younger, he enjoyed poking around areas along the trail where Bear Creek no longer flowed, searching the dry creek beds of smooth, exposed rock, picking up stones that caught his eye. Inevitably, when it came time to continue on our trek, my wife and/or I would have several small rocks in our pockets.

One fall, when walking the Upper Flume, we found the creek stirring more than usual as bright red salmon journeyed towards their spawning grounds. It wasn’t something I expected to see, and was a shared family experience I won’t forget.

This year I was on my own when I returned to the Upper Flume. My wife and son were away helping their mom/grandma. Feeling nostalgic, I stopped at one of the accessible rock beds and did my own poking around, looking for stones I thought my son might have grabbed when he was into that sort of thing. I wound up taking four. When I got home, I placed the stones on the banister railing for my son to see when he returned home.

And then the Bush Creek East wildfire happened. For the past two weeks or so, this terrible, trying, traumatic event has been the focus of so many people’s lives – obviously those directly affected by it, who either evacuated or chose to stay behind – as well as hundreds of firefighters, emergency operations staff, volunteers and many others.

On Wednesday, Sept. 6, most evacuation orders for the North Shuswap were downgraded to alerts, and evacuees were finally able to return home. And so, for many people, it was the start of their transition to recovery.

Recovery entails much more than repairing or replacing structures and infrastructure. It’s when we truly begin to grasp and absorb the full extent of what was lost. Yes, it may have just been a “structure,” but for those who lived there, it was where experiences were shared and memories made. It was home.

It seems we’re always expected to move forward, but if you need time to look back, take it. And if you need help with your personal recovery after such a traumatic experience, don’t hesitate to ask. There are resources and supports available.

With the Upper Flume Trail also ravaged by the fire, my collection of rocks has taken on significantly greater sentimental value. I know that in time the area will come back, as nature does, and that what was damaged or lost can be rebuilt. But that doesn’t make the loss, any of it, any less heartbreaking.

Read more: Viewpoint: 2023 brings cruel irony to back-to-the-lander Shuswap environmentalist

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