I love to look at the trees. Even when they’re burning. It adds a more immediate impact – a sort of emphasis on the ephemeral nature of all things. It’s one thing to look at a forest of oaks, each dozens or hundreds of years old. Yet to see the fire rise up and tear even these mighty organisms down…

Some may find it morbid. I find it to be visual poetry.

That may be one of the reasons I volunteered for the fire teams some five years past. Most people only worked a year, maybe two, before passing the duty on. It was hard work on your body, but for most it was equally hard on the soul. I suppose people preferred to think of the old forests as eternal. Enduring sentinels at the edges of our lands, untouchable and impenetrable.

Being on the fire teams taught you that none of that was true. Even when you left, went back to farming, or teaching, or researching, or any of the other vital tasks of the community. The illusion was gone. The fragility of everything we’d built here was forever touched on your awareness. I couldn’t blame my fellows for fleeing. For me, though, it was a strangely pleasant sort of melancholy.

It’s because of this that I was the second most senior on the fire teams, despite my young age. Eventually, we would need to rotate veterans back in. We weren’t growing at a fast enough rate to keep up the current volunteer schedule. And there was no sign that the fire, the burning, the destruction of the old wood… that any of that would become obsolete. I imagined that my children and my children’s children would need to do the same.

As the helicopter took off, I saw the peak of a hundred-foot tall elm crack and collapse. A cloud of ash and sparks flew into the air, nearly reaching us at our perch in the air. I murmured a small prayer at its passing and began to plan ahead to our next target.