My family doesn’t have a lot of traditions, so when I went to college I made a lot of my own with friends. For Easter, there’s this church in my college town that always used to have a Sunrise Service by Bellingham Bay. Everyone woke up freezing and tired and groggy, but after reading scripture we waited in expectation for the sun to break over Mt. Baker. It’s stunning. One time there was a gospel choir singing “This Little Light of Mine” across the bay and it was one of my most favorite Easter moments.
This year I spent Easter at home in Vancouver, WA. It’s a suburb that’s close enough to Portland, OR and the wilderness to spark a dangerous curiosity. It’s home to a place called the Gorge – you remember it – not the one that Dave Matthews visits every summer, but the place where Multnomah Falls inspires tourists and the walls of Oneonta Falls make you feel like a true explorer. If you know someone from here, you know that hiking in the Gorge is part of our culture. It was our first taste of freedom as a teen. It was likely our biggest adventures as a kid. And it never, ever gets old to turn a corner and find a new waterfall. (No matter what TLC says…)
In keeping to new tradition, I got it stuck in my head this year that I would drive to Angel’s Rest for my own version of a Sunrise Service on the Saturday before Easter. I’ve done this hike too many times to count and I knew the familiar switchbacks and the rocky field just before the near 360 degree view of the Columbia River. I knew that the sun would break over the hills in the East. My hope was that I would be struck down to my knees in a moment of clarity in the familiarity of it all. All of my post-grad questions that I had been carrying would be answered and then God would come down and gift me with two stone tablets entitled “The 10 Commandments of Following Me in a World Where Everyone Follows Everyone”.
The drive out was beautiful and solemn because no one is on the road at 4:30AM. I made French-pressed Case Study coffee which is a very important detail because it was so good and so special. I stopped by the Vista House for a sunrise, watched the fog clear and then made it out to Angel’s Rest for a quick 6-miler all before noon. I didn’t receive stone tablets outlining my life’s mission but I did remember feeling extremely alive and seen even though I was hidden on a trail. This solo morning hike would be the last time I would experience the Gorge as I knew it.
You see, I go to church but I’m not one of those who believe that church is a place. I believe church is when two people meet, anytime and anywhere and about anything. Church creates holy spaces that teach us more about the stuff that makes up a soul.
The Gorge is our church. If you only knew that my holy place would teach you respect for people and the land by having the mantra “leave no trace” etched into our memories like a prayer. It would teach you how to have the humility to slow your speed in order to walk alongside your tribe rather than pushing your own limits to prove yourself as capable. It taught intangible lessons like perseverance and curiosity and wonder and discretion. Part of our PNW liturgy is hiking here and you took that away without knowing what you were losing out on.
I get it. I was a kid once and we do stupid things to show the world that we’re okay. You probably didn’t even know at the time what kind of destruction you were causing for the sake of a Go-Pro video. You figured someone else would deal with the smoke and it would be nothing; later you would laugh about it.
Being a grown up isn’t an act of being flashy and hoping someone cleans up your mess. It’s owning your own actions. It isn’t creating chaos to distract from your own hurts and it isn’t using people/living things for your own gain. If you had spent time in the Gorge, you would have learned all of this. But you didn’t. Some people never do.
I know with the hundreds of other natural disasters and strife happening in the world, the Eagle Creek fire seems like a drop in the bucket, but this article does a great job explaining why it matters to me. We’re all grieving this place. This letter isn’t just to those who light the fireworks that lead to wildfires. It’s also to those who signed legislation that steals away someone’s right to work & live in a country they’ve grown up in and call home. It’s to those who think that by taking away someone else’s power that they will somehow amass more of their own.
Despite your actions that result in only hurt and destruction, I feel sorry for you. I don’t know why you make decisions out of fear. Maybe you’re afraid because you’ve never known how freeing it is to experience grace and mercy from someone when you know you don’t deserve it. So you throw fireworks to gain enough street cred to make you feel adequate. Or maybe it’s because if you boast and show off then you can distract people from your deep insecurities that you will never be good enough. You tweet and stoke fear because you think it all covers up the truth: you’re small and scared. But I’m just speculating here.
The earth is created to be reborn. Time heals a lot. The trees will come back and the soil will regenerate nutrients and life. Even though it will be different, there will be new growth. There are new leaders who are learning what true courage is right now. There are movements that are disrupting your systems that have been trying to divert power away from people. There’s a new generation finding their voices and lifting others up with them.
You stole parts of our home, but you didn’t destroy our hope.