Essays: Twisted Stalks

Written August 1990

by Kenneth Lea Barbalace

Against the deep-blue, otherwise cloudless Wyoming sky, billows up from the tree tops a bleached white cumulonimbus. Lone thunderheads are not uncommon here, but this one is different. Thousands of feet below the puffy precipice of the great cumulus, the virgin whiteness turns black. Instead of freely floating with the wind, it is solidly anchored to its source. At the cloud's origin, hundreds of lodgepole pines thunderingly explode like kindling into a massive firestorm that arches hundreds of feet above the tree line. To little avail, a slurry bomber dumps its load of red fire retardant in its path. Hundreds of yards ahead of the main fire, trees burst into flames as if they were the heads of matches.

Oblivious of the gaping jaws that approach, filled with flaming teeth, the empty--hurriedly abandoned--Old Faithful Inn pleads for weary travelers to fill its mezzanines with life once again. Around the Inn, midday turns into a blistering, choking night. Dark, churning clouds of smoke grow still blacker, blocking out the sun completely. Devouring cabins like the ravenous beast it is, the fire works its way towards the Inn for a great feast. A barn blows up, spewing a cloud of black smoke and burning shingles skyward. The Inn, like the forest around it from which it was created, is about to return to the earth as a great pile of unrecognizable ash and charcoal.

Ash and burning embers rain onto the barren waste-land of the Upper Geyser Basin. Old Faithful Geyser is playing with no one to watch. The choking smoke and heat are becoming unbearable. Burning embers are now pouring out of the sky like hail...

Abruptly, the winds change directions. Northern winds turn the fire south. Old Faithful Inn has been spared, but its surroundings have been forever altered.

All about are scars; were once stood trees, burnt and twisted stalks remain. Rocks lie shattered by the intense heat of the fire. Black dust devils rise from the thickness that blankets the earth. Among the ruins of a barn, a tanker remains smoldering, nothing left but twisted metal, save a sign that reads "NO SMOKING FLAMMABLE."

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