Jewel Beth Davis and Barbie Fischer

Barbie Fischer
Inspiration piece

The Last Tree
By Jewel Beth Davis

After the fire had been extinguished, the landscape, once so beautiful and lush, was empty except for the blackened skeleton of one tree. Ros thought all the shades of gray and black had their own kind of beauty but it was such a lonely artistry. She wandered away from the food table where she’d been serving refreshments to all the firefighters. “I’ll be back in a few,” she told the middle- aged woman she’d worked beside for the last three days.

She walked toward the mountains that had once been thick with pine and other trees. The habitat of thousands of animals had been destroyed and the only movement on the horizon were soft cirrus clouds and drifts of remaining smoke. Not a blade of green grass nor a leaf remained. If the earth were a person, she’d be very depressed.

The fire had started in San Bernadino County in Chino Hills State Park near the Bane Canyon entrance. Ros had worked for hours volunteering with the fire professionals, feeding them, providing water, first aid, clearing underbrush, anything they’d let her do. She was a teacher by trade so helping others was habitual with her. She had used her time from a school break to work with the brigades. It was heartbreaking to witness the devastation that an out of control forest fire could produce. Her face was blackened, her lungs hurt to breathe, but she had stuck it out, side by side with hundreds of other volunteers. They had managed to contain the fire to only forty-eight acres, which was a blessing compared to other forest destruction she had read about.

In an odd way, it was peaceful. She walked along the blackened, crackling earth covered with dead branches and trampled dark grass towards the one tree left standing. It had once been stately and brimming with life, she thought. She reached towards its trunk.

“Hey, don’t touch that,” one of the firefighters yelled. “It will still be extremely hot.” She startled as if out of a soft gray dream. He moved towards her as if to stop her physically. He was very tall and bulky, like a former football player, though he must have been well into his forties. His face was covered in soot like hers so it was difficult to discern his features. She could sense his exhaustion like a gray cloud surrounding him.

“Thank you,” Ros said. “I wasn’t thinking. I just wanted to connect with the one tree left standing. I should have known better.”

“You’re tired. When you’re this tired, exhaustion can wear away the last vestiges of common sense we have.” His face and eyes were soft. “I’m Steve, by the way.”

She introduced herself and they stood side by side gazing at the tree that stood at the foot of a range of mountains.

“It’s just the loss of all those animals,” she said. “And the vegetation. And those that are left have no habitat.” She took in a deep breath but all she could smell was scorched earth and trees.

“Well, I won’t tell you it will grow back. We both know that will take a very long time. We stopped it from spreading any further and that’s a good thing. Best we can do.” He squatted down and with thick-gloved hands, he rooted around in the black soil and pine needles. He picked up a chain with dog tags on it. “One of the guys must have lost these,” he said, checking for a name.

“And now they’re found,” Ros said. She smiled and they continued to stand by the tree, looking off into the mountains.



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