Alternate Histories: 5/7, 6/5


I live in the forest in southern Oregon and each year, we get less rain than the year before. Two summers ago, it was raining embers from the Brimstone Fire all summer long. They said if visibility was less than half a mile, the air quality was hazardous–I couldn’t see 50 feet through the smoke. I don’t have anxiety, I have straight-up PTSD from these fires. Two months ago in Portland, Portland normally gets tons of rain, it was just like this, the cherry blossoms were just like these. In March. People were saying they enjoyed the weather but they couldn’t enjoy it because they knew what it meant. There’s no snow in the mountains, and that means extreme drought, and that means extreme fires–forest fires there are like blizzards here.

What would have to change for reforestation to really take hold?

The heads of the timber industry would have to not be in charge of it. It’s a conflict of interest.


When his treatment was complete, P went back to Oregon and offered his cabin as headquarters to the relatives of the receptionist at the clinic where he used to go.

A few months later, a group of Klamath and Modoc families showed up at the offices of the Associated Oregon Loggers’ office in Salem. They said, We’ll manage the forest for you–we’ll do the burns, we’ll handle reforestation–if you support the legislation to un-dam the Klamath River and cede the forest land back to us over the next ten years.

This could be a barbecue pit over the next ten years, the forest policy manager said.

Then it’ll be our barbecue pit, said one of the spokeswomen. But it won’t be.

It’s national forest, he said feebly.

We won’t tell if you won’t, she said.

Trees grow slowly, and the rains and snowmelt have been changing along with the temperatures. The conditions that nurtured trees now mature don’t exist for today’s seedlings and their commensal species; the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin foresters consulted people in northern and central California and made decisions about what to heavily protect, what to let go and what, even, to introduce. There was more western juniper and ponderosa pine than there used to be, and hairy woodpeckers tapped disconsolately in the stumps of mountain hemlocks. Students from Rogue, Southwestern Oregon and Klamath Community Colleges helped keep down invasive plants–“They’re just like you,” the grandmas and aunties half-joked–and spot tree blights. On burn days in the fall, some Umatilla volunteers and even some Portland residents came down, and they fanned out grimly through the understory, ready to leap on a spark that might betray them.


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