I visited Bastrop and Buescher State Parks this week. The two parks are about an hour outside of Austin. They are 12 miles apart and are connected by the incredibly scenic Park Road 1C. Bastrop State Park is home to a unique geographic feature called the Lost Pines Forest. The Lost Pines Forest is a 13-mile group of pine trees that is almost genetically identical to a much larger forest that is 100-miles east toward the Louisiana border. It is thought that at some time around the Pleistocene or “Ice Age” they were separated.
In 2011, Bastrop State Park suffered a devastating fire. Of their 6500 acres of land, 96 percent of it burned in a wildfire. Buescher State Park being so close, has similar geographic features and fortunately was spared from the fire. By visiting the two parks, you can experience a remarkable before and after effect.
Traveling through Bastrop State Park left me with an unforgettable feeling. Seeing charred tree trunks for miles on all sides of me was haunting. I spent about an hour and a half walking through what once would have been an impressive forest. You can’t help but reflect on the impermanence and fragility of life. The Lost Pines Forest had been growing for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. In the span of a few days it had been burnt to the ground.
Surrounding the burned trees, new life has already sprung up. With the destruction of the forrest canopy, light now floods the forest floor. Pine and oak saplings have already taken root and begun to grow and everywhere was covered in tiny yellow flowers. The ash from the fire provides nutrients for all the new plants.
After walking around Bastrop Park, I jumped in my car and headed down Park Road 1C towards Buescher. The burned trees go for miles on both sides of the road. As you get closer to Buescher Park, the landscape changes dramatically. You can see where the fire was stopped.
After checking in at the Park Headquarters and getting my pass, I parked next to the beginning of the Winding Woodland Trail. The landscape in Buescher Park was unbelievably different than Bastrop. There were big healthy pine trees growing everywhere instead of blackened tree trunks.
Hiking through the pine forest made me nostalgic for Tennessee. I grew up in Tennessee and Georgia and the smell of pine resin reminds me so much of home. I set up my hammock between two big pine trees to breath in the amazing aroma and to think about my day in the two parks.
It takes so much to grow a tree, and so little to destroy it. This thought just kept turning over and over in my head. The Earth evolved for billions of years before conditions were just right for life, and it was millions more before conditions were just right for human life to flourish. I’m afraid that we have started a fire that we have no idea how to put out.
I don’t fear for the Earth. I fear for humanity. The Earth will outlast all of us. The Earth was born of fire and, like the Lost Pine Forest, through fire will be reborn. While I am sure that the Earth will live on, if we don’t take dramatic steps I’m not sure that we will.