Tillamook Burn Country

Tillamook Burn from the sky, 1933

Tillamook Burn from the sky, 1933

While vacationing on the Oregon Coast recently, I came across this book in the quaint and cozy Manzanita Library (so quaint and cozy that there was an oldschool elderly librarian who shushed the 2 year old with admonishments of ‘use your library voice’). Since I could not check it out and return it in a timely fashion, I did the next best thing – I ordered it from Amazon when we got home.

 It’s a fascinating book full of pictures recounting the great Tillamook Burn, which features as a backstory for Cotton in Bust It Like a Mule, and comes up in some short stories I wrote for the Bust It companion Bygod Stories

My grandpa told me about the Tillamook Burn when I was a boy while we drove to the Coast from Portland, Oregon (place of my birth). My mom remembers these same tales about the Tillamook Burn from my grandpa, her daddy, who worked in mills along the coast in the 50’s, with the devastation still fresh on the minds of all Oregonians, but especially locals in the area.

This book about the burn is both heartbreaking and inspiring. It’s a story of the loss of one of America’s greatest old growth forests, but also a story of redemption and the unflagging spirit of humanity to replant and reforest what we see today (my dad, who was born and raised in the Portland area, remembers his Cub Scout Troop planting trees in the 50s in what is now the Tillamook State Forest).

I guess these old tales my grandpa told me of a devil fire eating the Oregon Garden of Eden lit up my imagination and this is why I feel sick in my belly whenever I hear a great forest fire is raging, just like these fires in my home state this summer. 

This is why, when you die - in Cotton’s way of thinking, at least - “there aint no fires to burn up the forests for the earth is living and it warms itself and the trees are bygod bigger’n anything we have ever seen…” (Bust It Like A Mule pg 247)