The Cold Canyon Fire Journals

Join Robin Lee Carlson and John Muir Laws in a discussion of nature journaling in the aftermath of a wildfire.

When the nature reserve at Cold Canyon went up in flames—a casualty of California’s raging fire seasons—Robin Lee Carlson embarked on a five-year journey to learn the legacy of the burn­. What she saw challenged prevailing assumptions about the destructive impact of wildfire, and with a new fire season on the horizon, her debut book The Cold Canyon Fire Journals (on sale August 2) opens our eyes to see that beneath the burn and beyond our despair lies another story.

“Wildfire feels like loss, like a hole in our heart where a beautiful, mature ecosystem used to be,” says Carlson, “But when fire comes at healthy intervals, far from being an unnatural cataclysm, it is an essential part of western habitats’ normal life. The damage and destruction of fire are essential for the vigorous flowering to come.”

Drawing on natural science, years of patient observation, and richly realized field sketches, Carlson’s study of the canyon—a site that sees over 65,000 visitors a year—reveals how wildlife survives and thrives in the crucible of wildfire. From flame-repelling foaming newts to fire-following wildflowers, her portrait of a land re-sprouting from the ash illuminates the necessity of disturbance and renewal forged by flame. In this text she explores the purposes of good fire—well understood by Western Native Americans whose practices of prescribed burns were abandoned and criminalized by modern fire management policies—as well as the threat of too-frequent fire, exacerbated by climate breakdown.

Helping us to see that fire is more than merely a destroyer, The Cold Canyon Fire Journals shows us that where there’s smoke, there’s hope—and that fire fits seamlessly into the natural world’s normal and necessary patterns of change. As Carlson reveals, familiarity and deeper knowledge of this much-feared force are the antidote to our grief.