The Mullen fire ravaged the wilderness along the border between southeastern Wyoming and northern Colorado in the summer of 2020. Smoke covered southeastern Wyoming, at times so heavy that Cheyenne’s sky glowed with brownish-orange clouds, creating an eerie midday look.

A few weeks ago, I drove through some of the areas that burned. Instead of forest dotted with clusters of grass and wildflowers, the landscape is now dominated by blackened trees resting on charred ground. 

Even in that bleak, incinerated landscape, life persists: yellow and pink and purple wildflowers peek up from the bare ground, offering a counterpoint to the fire’s devastation. 

Fire savages the vegetation and wildlife, but it can’t stop persistent, resilient life from springing up again afterward.

Life doesn’t stop even after devastating loss.

* * * * *

Last month marked the fourth anniversary of my father’s death from Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. My grief persists, though it’s changed over the years. 

In the months immediately after his death, my grief was sharp. A memory or a word would cut through my exhaustion that persisted for months after he died, and I would feel lost in and overwhelmed by pain.

Year two was an exciting time for me, as I’d just moved to Wyoming. The sharp grief had mostly subsided, but I could be leveled by something as simple as seeing cranberries in the grocery story, reminding me that my Thanksgiving table would be empty. I’d pick up the phone to call my dad, and my stomach would drop and my eyes water as I’d remember that he had flown past Verizon’s reach. It’s objectively absurd to say that I was surprised he was still dead… but I was.

By the third year after his death, I’d more or less come to terms with his absence. Of course I missed my dad, sometimes acutely. But I’d settled into my new life, and I no longer counted the months since he died, only the years. People reached out on the anniversary of his death, and we shared happy memories.

This year was different, though. I felt the pain of his death almost as acutely as I had in the first year. And yet, only a few friends remembered the anniversary of his death. I felt as if everyone else had moved on with their lives, forgetting my dad in the process.

Grief ebbs and flows, and when it flows — no matter how long it’s been since the loss — it’s devastating. Even the good and rich parts of life feel as if they’ve been incinerated.

Pink flowers among charred trees
Pink flowers among charred trees

When I drove through the fire-scarred Wyoming land a few days after the anniversary of my dad’s death, I was still feeling the tenderness of devastating loss. And then I saw vibrant pink and purple flowers and green leaves growing among charred trees. 

I realized nature’s lesson: no matter the magnitude of the devastation, life persists. Life is tenacious. Life seeks a foothold and grows even when fire’s ravages would make fresh life seem impossible. 

The landscape may be bleak for a time, but the beauty of life will reassert itself if we allow it.

If flowers can teach themselves how to bloom after winter passes, so can you.
Ngor Shirazie