A hike in the wilderness helps FRCC professor see that hope and beauty can follow destruction.

Like many of us in this fair state of Colorado, I enjoy a good hike in our mountains from time to time. Summer hiking is some of the best.

I like to pick out trails that I know will offer me beautiful views and a great opportunity to move myself through the landscape. Hiking always leaves me with a feeling of connection to the earth that no other activity allows.

A Scorched Landscape

This summer I hiked through areas scarred by the 2020 Cameron Peak fire. I thought it would feel like a desolate wasteland.

The area had been scorched by the largest wildfire in state history. I remember the dark and sooty skies that summer. As I planned the hike, I was prepared to revisit the sorrow and sense of loss that I remember feeling as I watched the news of the destruction in the summer of 2020.

New Growth

The hike was surprisingly pleasant and serene. There were burn-scarred tree trunks—and the ravages of the fire were evident—but there was also an expansive openness and abundant new growth.

The trail was more lush than I had anticipated. New grasses, tiny young fir trees and wild roses gave a soothing green quality to the landscape.

These were clear signs and helpful reminders that after devastation new possibilities have the chance to push through.

Devastation and Rebirth

The old was not completely wiped away. The burned trunks that remained reminded me that the former state of the area I hiked through was dense with trees, not open like it is now.

The area was different than it had been before. Not better or worse, just different. It was a strong reminder that rebirth can follow after destruction, that new beginnings can have a freshness to them.

Nature Regenerating

‘Ecological succession’ is the term for the vegetative regeneration that occurs after a wildfire. Succession has a nice ring here. It signifies that one state follows another.

Rebirth follows death just as summer follows spring or August follows July. Nature does not wallow in the destructive state. It is only a phase of an ongoing cycle. There is new vegetation that emerges once the fire passes and dies down.

More Vibrant Than Before

In many ways the new growth can be healthier and more vibrant than the old.

Nature moves on. It begins again. We have that chance too.

One of the many things I deeply appreciate about working in academia is the regular opportunity to begin again. Each fall colleges around the world welcome new and returning students to a new school year.

There is so much possibility for growth and discovery at this time of the year. There is the chance to follow new ideas and curiosities. There is the chance to build and further develop skills and knowledge that are already present and are waiting for refinement.

Time to Start Learning Anew

We all have the chance to learn new things regardless of the time of year or our stage in life. However, the start of the academic year signifies a clear new beginning with new classes for everyone. It’s a bit of a blank slate for us all.

Students begin new classes. All the teachers I know are constantly refining what—and how—they teach, so there is something new in every academic term for them just like there is for the students.

Change Can Be Hard

It can feel like too much change sometimes. And we may not feel ready for change.

We might all feel a bit singed after the last few years.

It has been hard to navigate education and work and family and friends and health and, frankly, everything during the pandemic. Most everyone I know has had significant struggles, has been burned, in one sense or another.

Hope For What’s Next

The fortunate among us are able to find a way to hold on to reminders of what we had before while also welcoming the new possibilities ahead. I, for one, am looking forward to the new academic year as a chance to bring forth new possibilities.

While I always feel this way when August rolls around and we return to campus for a new year, this year feels a bit different. I feel like the potential to establish what will be our new normal holds promise.

Challenges and Possibilities

This promise is not without its challenges. It might be that some of us coming to campus this fall have scars from past experiences—much like the trail I hiked had scars from the fire.

But there is the potential for new growth too. My hike this summer helped me to find the perspective that the new succeeds the old and can, possibly, offer fresh possibilities. 

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