Pine beetles have devastated the lodgepole pines in Middle Park, Colorado, turning the mountainsides from Grand Lake to Winter Park brown. No one knows where the beetles come from, but they are destroying forests from Canada to Mexico. Global warming may play a role, as does altitude; the 8,500 feet of our valley, unfortunately, is ideal.
Nowadays fire is on everyone's mind. In June one broke out at the Snow Mountain YMCA ranch in Tabernash, forcing the evacuation of the special needs children using the camp. The kids spent the night on cots in the Granby Elementary School gym, eating sandwiches courtesy of Mad Munchies, while over one hundred county firefighters battled the blaze. Twenty-four hours later the fire was out, the kids were back, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. It was only a small fire this time, not the big one we all fear.
The threat of fire has changed the landscape of our valley and our understanding of it. A year ago, when my husband and I bought our house in Fraser, it was hidden among towering lodgepole pines. At the time we took pleasure in the solitude and privacy the trees gave us, but now they are a source of worry and alarm. The bark on our pines is a sickly orange color, their needles are brown and brittle, and their trunks are ringed by tiny piles of sawdust from the holes the beetles have bored. Some people in the valley have turned to spraying to keep the beetles at bay, but the efficacy—and environmental effects—of the pesticides are far from known. After much deliberation, and with great reluctance, we decided to cut our trees down.
One morning last summer, I sat on the deck outside my kitchen, watching the tree cutter at work. He had told my husband he could take down thirty trees in a day, and I believed him. Using a chainsaw and a tractor with a claw-like tree-grabbing appendage attached, he attacked the trees, and within minutes they began to fall.
Death, we tell ourselves, is a natural part of the life cycle of a forest, even death by pine beetle. The growing season in the mountains is short, and it will take time, but eventually the forests will recover. I reached the half-century mark myself last year, and life cycles have been much on my mind. I've witnessed a lot of changes in my lifetime, but there was something particularly sobering about watching the pine trees fall. One day the woods around our house will be back, and I hope my children will still be here to see it, but I will be long gone.