Originally printed in the Sept. 2, 2002 edition of the Illinois Valley News
Today, as I write this article, it’s a beautiful sunny blue sky day. A wonderful respite from the smoke of previous weeks. It brings to mind the hectic days when the Illinois Valley was under the threat of a 30 minute evacuation notice. Difficult decisions were made as to what we should put in the car and what was to be left behind. Filling a moving van was one alternative which we chose not to take. Family pictures, financial – legal records, and medical necessities were our first priority. Dishes, appliances, food storage, and winter clothes were abandoned to the fire, possibly.
These thoughts then brought me to the decisions the fire bosses had to make and their priorities. Residential areas and transportation corridors apparently were highest, while the vast natural resource, the Kalmiopsis Wilderness had to be a lesser priority. They had little choice and I am not finding fault with their decisions. I am very thankful for them and their workers which have allowed us to unpack our car and try to get our lives back to normal. The Kalmiopsis contains many renewable resources unlike our cedar chest full of family treasures which we would have left behind.
The Kalmiopsis has also been the source of many personal memories which, unlike the trees, flowers, and animals, can not be destroyed. As I watched the newspaper maps of the fire, I saw it gradually engulf the entire wilderness. But it was uplifting to know some areas were not burned and we can only hope that there are many islands of plant and animal life that are still intact.
One area which has been important to our family is the trail to Babyfoot Lake. Even the road to the trailhead is significant in many ways. The first part of the road, after crossing the Illinois River, passes through a dry, desert like section. It has this appearance because of the lack of many plants due to the serpentine soil.
Once that part is passed the differences in plant life is very noticeable, not because of a change in rainfall but due to the granitic soil it is able to produce more plants.
The road also passes through a landslide on Fiddler Mountain which is visible from the Illinois Valley floor.
When we moved here 30 years ago it had the appearance of a giant cross or an airplane shape high up on the mountain. The shape is caused by the road passing through the landslide which creates the wings and body of an airplane.
Gradually over the years the shape has grown fainter as the plants have filled back in the space. This helps me to realize that the forest will grow back.
Hopefully, the destruction of the plants due to the fire will not lead to more landslides this winter when the rain saturated soil on the steep slopes will not have the plant roots to help stabilize the soil.
The trail to Babyfoot is very quiet, cool, and peaceful unless you’re with a group of cub scouts or teenagers. I’ve never been there in the winter but every other season provides a great variety of flowers and other plants to enjoy. There are a few steep spots at the beginning and near the lake but generally it’s a very easy hike.
One newspaper report stated that the area near the lake had not been burned and that is a good sign. The stands of cedar, fir, and rhododendron create a very beautiful spot in the mountains. The lake itself is in the bottom of an ancient glacial cirque and is one treasure which will still be available to all when the fire is just a memory.