Peripatetic blogger Larry Kurtz has Black Hills dirt permanently under his fingernails. He offers a remarkable account of the 2002 Grizzly Gulch fire, which he watched from the north side of Deadwood as the town faced imminent destruction from flames rising 800 feet. Only a switch in the wind saved Deadwood and perhaps, says Kurtz, Whitewood and Sturgis.
Also remarkable, says Kurtz, is the resiliency of the ecosystem. What we see as disaster, nature treats as healthy renewal:
Using my cell phone I gave live updates to Jack Daniels at the head-banger radio station. His home was just one of hundreds threatened by the blaze. His family returned to a near-miss now a place where oak is returning to those canyons at the foot of Pillar Peak.
In two hours during the following Spring I picked over 200 pounds of morels which carpeted the skidder trails. A hard rain made another 1000 pounds unusable.
Ten years later aspen is exploding into the hills where pine once infested these draws and buttes [Larry Kurtz, "Deadwood Not Dead Nearly Ten Years After Grizzly Gulch," interested party, 2012.05.08.
Lawrence County Commission candidate Robert Romanov drew some skeptical hissing and clucking from audience members at a Spearfish public forum last week when he suggested that one response to the pine beetle infestation is to plant different trees. He also recognized the forest's ability to come back from fire.
I look with dismay on those reddish-brown beetle patches on Spearfish Peak, not to mention the wide-ranging beetle devastation further south in the Hills. But whether those trees come down by beetle, blaze, or chainsaw, we should keep in mind the long view. Nature used to clear out patches of the Hills with fires like the Grizzly Gulch blaze all the time. And as Kurtz shows us around Deadwood, those fires clear the way for new life and healthier Hills.